unfiltered & unfined
When people ask me if they should be scared if wine looks cloudy, my answer is always “are you scared if your orange juice looks cloudy? To be honest I am scared if my orange juice looks clear.”
Fining and filtration are processes used to remove “unwanted” material from the wine before it goes into the bottle. Fining can be done pre or post fermentation. There are a variety of organic and inorganic materials that can be added to the must or finished wine to trap particulates and proteins and settle them out for easy removal. Sounds simple enough but it gets more complicated when you look at the reasoning behind it. Most of the time this is done for the purpose of stabilizing the wine, but it is also an aesthetic choice. People often equate clarity with quality. It is more than possible to make stable wines without fining and filtration. In fact you might find that wines that contain a little extra sediment end up being more dynamic and flavorful.
For our sparkling wines we use two methods to help minimize sediment without forcefully removing it with fining agents or filtration processes. First, we hand-disgorge bottles. Disgorging is the process of removing lees and sediment after bottle fermentation is complete. It is an incredibly labor intensive process, but each and every Pet Project has been carefully bottled by a member of our staff.
We allow the wines to naturally cold stabilize in bottle by placing them in a covered area over a few cold weeks of winter. From here the sediments, lees, and tartrates collect in the neck of the bottle, effectively creating a natural pressure seal. The wine continues to ferment under pressure as it clarifies and after a minimum of 2-3 months, we uncap the bottles (read: explode) to clear out the sediment and release some of the pressure. It’s messy beyond belief. It’s freezing cold. And it’s so much fun. The wine is then topped with reserve still wine to reduce the truly eye-watering level of bubbles and resealed.
The second method we like to call, Natural Tank Method. This is a single fermentation process in which the wine is added to a tank prior to completing fermentation. The tank is then locked down and becomes pressurized naturally in the same way that a pet-nat wine would complete fermentation in bottle and become carbonated. This process skips over the disgorging step as the lees are allowed to settle in tank. The wine is bottled off the lees, under pressure, using a counter pressure bottler. It’s less messy, but equally as delicious.
Each pétproject wine is fermented naturally, utilizing wild yeast from the vineyard. Native fermentations are dynamic- always unpredictable and lively. They present a challenge each harvest that I am happy to accept.
Every pét project wine is fermented naturally, utilizing wild indiginous yeast from the vineyard, as opposed to cultured lab yeast. I opt to use a pied de cuve to begin each fermentation- it’s a small, "starter" from the vineyard- which I begin in advance of the bulk fermentation. I often compare this method to baking sourdough bread with a starter. Using this technique helps build up a healthy and diverse natural yeast population, allowing the primary fermentation to take off strong.
I have been asked on occasion if this process yields the same result as leaving the grapes and must to ferment on their own, completely untouched. In fact, it can be almost the exact same result, however, using a pied de cuve is more intentional, it promotes a healthier fermentation and in my opinion adds an element of intention to an otherwise uncontrolled process.
To make the pied de cuve, I pick about 25 lbs of exceptionally healthy looking fruit at the vineyard about a week before harvest. I hand destem this fruit into a large-mouth glass carboy and use what looks like an oversized potato masher (it’s actually a large potato masher) to crush the fruit and make a mash of juice and skins.
The environmental yeasts get to work and after 3-4 days the fermentation really starts bubbling away. I do a series of mini-punch downs to wet the cap and introduce oxygen before lightly pressing and straining off the fermenting liquid to add to the harvested fruit in a whole-cluster format or to recently pressed juice depending on the intended direction of a given wine. The result is stylistically consistent, yet the product is always unique and the quality of the wine depends entirely on the quality of the raw material from the vineyard.