[Editor’s note: To close out Bubbles Week, a survey of Texas Pet-Nat!]
There’s something about those friendly, unpretentious, iconoclastic pét-nats (short for pétillant naturel) that mirrors Texas’ frontier-loving spirit. No wonder so many of the state’s acclaimed winemakers, operating amongst hilly, flower-flecked terrain, have been producing some of the most stellar examples of this naturally sparkling wine.
Trendy among consumers in recent years (though long entrenched in regional gastronomy in winemaking areas of Europe), these typically fruity, low-alcohol bubblies get bottled during initial fermentation. This traps the CO2, thus allowing the sugars from the grapes to provide the effervescence. Born from an ancient technique called “methode ancestral,” the approach has no second round of blending or fermentation. The rustic, unfiltered result matches Texas’ bucolic wine land, where imbibers might sip beside a longhorn cow, tipple amid peach orchards, or toast beneath gnarled oak trees.
Ready to imbibe these festive fizzles? These canny Texan winemakers are eager to tell you more.
Co-Founder, William Chris Vineyards
“We first started making pet-nat in 2012, after I tried one after a long day of harvest. I thought the wine was so fresh and delicious. I did a loittle reading about it on the web, and walked into the winery the next day and announced a plan to make it. The first 30 cases came out with a lot of sediment, lots of attitude, and were delicious. We were hooked and have been perfecting our process ever since. Now, so many folks have jumped into the game, which is exciting. I feel pet-nat can be many things, but when we make our wine, we focus on sans sulfur, ambient yeast, and mouthfeel. We also try to embrace the vintage, which I feel is very important to our brand, as every vintage is different. We use predominantly saignée, which adds to the complexity.”
More on the Winery: The stuff of Texas stereotypes, William Chris Vineyards occupies a pastoral chunk of terrain in tiny, historic Hye, built around a circa 1902 farmhouse. Created by two grape farmers turned winemakers, the winery uses only Texas-grown fruit, and assiduously seeks to evoke the Lone Star state’s specific, Hill Country terroir. Their bold wines are hands-off and landscape driven, with the grapes, not the makers, setting the tone.
Brand Ambassador, Brennan Vineyards
“Brennan Vineyards has made its first pet-nat, to be released sometime in early 2021. The 2020 Brennan Vineyards Pet-Nat is pale salmon in color, with bright aromas of rosewater and orange blossom, medium-minus weight, and bright flavors of quince, ruby red grapefruit, and roses. As it is, 2020 has been such a challenging year, so why not add a new winemaking style to the list of challenges? Overall, it was a fun project, and we cannot wait to share it with our customers…because, who doesn’t love bubbles? They are simply fun. Pet-nat is always a surprise and you never know what to expect—other than that it can be a “predictably unpredictable” style of wine, which offers such beautiful and complex aromas, textures and flavors.”
More on the Winery: Located in one of the oldest remaining homesteads in Texas, Brennan Vineyards dates back to 1876. Its adjacent 33-acre estate vineyard, established in 2002, provides beautiful Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Viognier fruit. Brennan Vineyards was the first Texas winery to receive two double golds for Texas appellation wines at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. It also received the first-ever TEXSOM International Judge’s Selection for ‘Top Texas Red’ and ‘Top Texas White’ in 2017.
Co-Owner, Pedernales Cellars
“2020 marks the 3rd vintage of our Kyla pet-nat. We served our first pet-nat, the 2018 vintage, largely at wine club, pick-up parties. It was a wonderful treat for wine club members. We also frequently serve it as a greeter wine to events with a great deal of positive feedback from guests. Kyla (pronounced “shoola”) means “chill” in the native tongue of our Swedish relatives. The 2019 Kyla, made from 100% Tempranillo, has fresh berry, floral, orange and fresh bread notes. It is cheerful and light-bodied—great for pairing with crisp or grilled vegetables, seasonal fruits, grilled chicken or fish. Bubbles are always fun, and the pet-nat offers unique challenges given the bottle variation and getting the packaging just right. Pet-nat can be temperamental. You never know whether you are going to get one of the frothier ones that gush out of the bottle, but that is part of the fun.”
More on the Winery: Pedernales Cellars, one of Texas’ premier boutique wineries, specializes in Spanish and Rhone style wines. Its award-winning Texas Tempranillo and Viognier stand out as benchmarks for these varieties in the state. The estate vineyard, Kuhlken Vineyards, was planted in Texas’ oldest AVA, Bell Mountain, which lies within the Texas Hill Country AVA. The winery devotes itself to sustainable practices. It features the largest underground barrel cellar in Texas, kept at a steady 55-60 degrees by an environmentally friendly geothermal cooling system. Guests can tour the facility, then relax with a glass of wine on the tree-covered deck with breathtaking views of the Texas Hill Country.
Owner, Spicewood Vineyards
“My winemaker, Todd Crowell, and I were among the first to make Texas pet-nat. We made our first pet-nat in 2015—a Spicewood Vineyards Riesling pet-nat, which we made as an experiment, just for ourselves for fun. The 2020 Spicewood pet-nat has tutti-fruity notes; it started off tasting a bit like Hawaiian punch but as fermentation has finished in the bottle, it has lost the sugar and is super crisp and clean, yet still retains the fun, fruity notes. The Ron Yates 2020 pet-nat is light in color with notes of strawberry and watermelon. I have had success turning on beer drinkers to pet-nat. They may not be big wine drinkers, but they end up liking the pet-nat.”
More on the Winery: Spicewood Vineyards focuses on estate wines from 32 acres and a 10-acre vineyard located west of Spicewood in Round Mountain. Ron Yates bought the winery in 2007, continuing a wine legacy begun by Ed and Madeleine Manigold, who founded one of the first Hill Country wineries in 1992. As Spicewood’s sister winery, Ron Yates works with well-established growers to source excellent fruit for its wines. Near-term vintages will include grapes such as Albariño, Grenache, Malbec, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Touriga Nacional and Viognier.
General Manager, Bending Branch Winery
“Bending Branch Winery has made two vintages (2018 and 2019) of its Texas Frizzante Rosé. This sparkling Tannat wine is a fruity, fanciful, and remarkably refreshing crowd-pleaser. Bubbles, strawberry, and citrus zest. It pairs well with crab cakes and fried calamari. Goat cheese and strawberries are also a nice match. Frizzante means ‘gently effervescent,’ and this rosé is a delightful surprise to customers who may not typically choose a sparkling wine. It sells out quickly. As pioneers of the Tannat grape in Texas, we love making Tannat wines, and this sparkling rosé shows the versatility of the variety.”
More on the Winery: Boutique Bending Branch embraces sustainable growing and winemaking practices, recently winning top honors at the inaugural Texas Sustainable Winegrowing Competition. Lauded for intense wines, such as Picpoul Blanc Tannat, the winery uses innovative winemaking processes, such as cryo-maceration and thermoflash (the only unit in Texas) to improve color, structure, and the taste of Texas red wines.