Pet-nats, or more formally, pétillant naturel (naturally sparkling), have garnered some serious attention over the last decade. But what is it? How is it made? And why is pet-nat now entering into the mainstream of wine drinking?
In this Kaddy exclusive piece, Jono Outred dives into this ancient fizz to find out why pet-nats are winning hearts and minds all over the country.
As is so often the case with many newly-trending products in the beverage industry, pet-nats have garnered a cult following almost out of thin air - and with it, a level of dismay from the more traditionalist and conservative-leaning within the wine world.
But despite its recent fanfare, pet nat has a history that runs deep. The French have labelled this method of production ‘méthode ancestrale’, with the production style predating, and even laying the groundwork for, the more refined ‘Méthode Traditionnelle’ (Champagne). Unlike its more revered cousin, pet-nats usually require far less time and facilities to produce, too, even if they yield a less refined end product.
In simple terms, pet-nats are created when actively fermenting wine is transferred from tank (or barrel, amphora etc.) to bottles and then sealed. Fermentation completes within the sealed bottle, trapping carbon dioxide and creating carbonation. Some producers may disgorge to remove sediment, while others will ferment to dryness before adding sweet, unfermented juice and bottling. In any case, the process is far less laborious and much quicker than Méthode Traditionnelle.
Today, many producers in Australia (and beyond) are creating pet-nats of significance, particularly within the fringes of ‘natural’ winemaking - which may or may not encapsulate organic, biodynamic, sustainable and lo-fi/minimal intervention producers. This is in part due to the style's identity as an old-world style, created via a simplified process that enlists the help of a ‘natural’ fermentation.
Pet-nat’s natural-leaning disposition is further bolstered by the fact that minimal restrictions exist around how the style can be produced and presented, i.e., any grape variety can be used to make pet-nat along with no limitations on barrel/amphora/concrete use and aging. ABV and colour can also vary, while sediment and clarity are merely consequential and typically unaltered.
With all this variation in mind, the style is becoming more mainstream, now sitting comfortably alongside other alternative beverages.
Delinquinte Wine Co’s Con-Greg Grigoriou explains further.
‘Pet nats are synonymous with natural wine, and are generally fermented with vineyard yeast, unfined and unfiltered, with no added SO2, so they really tick all the boxes in that regard. Couple that with the fact that, when made well, pet nats are delicious, fun to drink, and insanely refreshing, it’s a strong combo. Pet-nats are the ultimate “unstuffy” wine, they are a long way away from the big bold reds the older generations have drunk and revered. Pet-nats are an approachable entry point for younger drinkers in wine – it gives them something to grab hold of and have as their own.’
For many consumers, pet-nats offer a point of difference compared to much of the wine on the market, both in their marketing and the variation that can be found within the bottle - factors that can prove a little divisive at times. Chris Ford of Commune Wine Store (Perth) believes many consumers are chasing the unknown within a bottle of pet-nat, while others find the newly popular genre confusing.
‘I feel like pet-nats can be divisive, to a point. If you like the natural/lofi/minimal intervention style wines, you’re going to look towards those wines and if its sparkling, even better! I feel people who drink the more traditional styles of wines probably find it a bit confronting to see all manner of weird and wonderful colours in the bottle. I’ve drunk a lot of pet-nats, and a lot are seemingly strange blends on paper. However, I’ve never had a grape and thought that was a bad decision. It’s all part of the process.’
Andries Mostert, Fermentologist at Western Australia’s Brave New Wine agrees with Ford's sentiments:
‘Because the wines are outside the ‘norm’, some people see it almost as their duty to knock them. Some wines can be challenging, some can display what in commercial winemaking are seen as ‘faults’. These things are a constant battle working sulphur free, but it’s also when interesting things can happen (that don't happen) when the winemaking is tightly controlled. Natural wine drinkers understand that the risk is worth the reward, but many consumers don’t.’
Grigoriou elaborates further on the decisions at play in the winery with pet-nats.
‘It all depends on the winemaker, the region, and the way the wine is made – you can’t make a good Pet-nat without making good wine. Clearly, being a sparkling wine, fruit-forward, high acid varieties tend to work best, but it’s also about varieties that are appropriate to where they are grown.’
Winemaking nuance aside, much of pet-nat’s allure comes from its entry-level pricing and approachability. For most Australian consumers buying a pet-nat, there’s an understanding that the product in the bottle will vary between brands, grape variety, region, climate and so on. That broad and unpredictable nature can be disarming for many consumers and leaves the door open to explore without the stature or supremacy of higher-end sparkling wine. In Australia, the typically warm climate further bolsters the argument to delve into a bottle of pet-nat.
‘Pet-Nats have become popular in Australia because they’re fun and available at a relatively low entry price point for sparkling wine. They also tie into our outdoorsy lifestyle in Australia. Whether going to the beach or the park, pet-nat is the wine of choice. They’re approachable for the younger generation, and if people come in and are interested, I often offer them a cleaner, sediment-free pet-nat as a starting point.’
Although carrying a reputation for ruffling feathers, the pet-nat – in its renaissance phase, at least – has proven itself a worthy contender among progressive Australian drinkers. Though broad in its appeal and its stylistic parameters, this contemporary take on sparkling wine now seems well-understood and well-regarded among Australian wine consumers.
‘Pet-nat’s are super fun wines to drink. Fruity, fizzy, interesting colours and flavours, and different to most wines people are used to. I think their popularity has really peaked in the last year or two but will continue at a similar level from here on out.’