The 2020 vintage was a big year of changes at the winery. We made the decision to go full tilt on organic certifications for all of our wines. This lets you know you can trust that everything made under the pét project label came from vetted sources and contains no SO2 (check out the section on organic practices for more info on the certification process in the US). The growing season was relatively predictable, however as harvest approached, severe smoke from fires in California and parts of the Pacific Northwest created a lot of uncertainty. Because of potential smoke taint, we avoided the use of any skin contact on our whites this year, which saved us from serious smoke impact.
We purchased fruit from Arete Vineyard this year, a new (to us) vineyard in the Columbia Valley AVA near the town of Othello, WA. This vineyard has some of the oldest Chenin Blanc and Gewürztraminer in Washington State (38 years old!). Also joining the line-up: Riesling and Syrah. Along with the new wines we tried a few new wine-making techniques (both during fermentation and in the cellar) in an effort to continually push for more complexity and diversity of flavor in our pet-nats.
Both the Syrah and the Gewürztraminer were started using carbonic maceration to naturally boost aromatics and fruit intensity. This process is most famously used in Beaujolais to produce lively, fruit-forward wines. For us the process begins by adding the grapes to a tank with a little pied de cuve and some dry ice to purge the tanks of oxygen (see our notes on native fermentation to learn more about pied de cuve). The tank is closed off with a fermentation lock which allows gas to escape without letting oxygen enter. The absence of oxygen allows the fruit to begin an anaerobic fermentation and over the course of several days the fruit begins fermenting from the inside out. The Gewürztraminer spent one week in these conditions while the Syrah spent about 10 days.
Also new this year, we utilized more pressure tanks in our production. Typically, with our hand-disgorged pet-nats we bottle just before fermentation completes followed by 3-4 months of lees aging, then disgorging. With this new method we add the fermenting wine into a pressure tank at about the same time it would typically go into bottle. The tank is locked down and the wine completes its fermentation, building CO2. After a settling period we bottle the wine under pressure off a higher racking port, leaving the sediment behind. This process does two things: it gives the wine less time on the lees, and it allows us to bypass the disgorging process while maintaining a naturally sparkling wine without filtration or additives.
The idea of making a natural wine in the cellar, without natural practices in the vineyard seems a bit out of step. When I became interested in making natural wines without additives I knew that I had to begin at the vineyard level, using only organically farmed grapes. I began searching for certified organic sites throughout the state of Washington and quickly learned just how rare they are. There is not a deep focus on organic farming practices in Washington State vineyards like there is with ingredients in other agricultural industries like dairy or fresh fruit industry. Only about 5% of vineyards around the world are farmed to certified organic standards and most of these vineyards are in France and Italy. Less than 2% of wines produced in the US are made using organic grapes and even less are made with native yeast and minimal intervention in the cellar.
I choose to undergo USDA organic certification at our production facility and estate vineyard because it let’s you, the consumer, know that at a minimum we adhere to these baseline rules. Certification is an intense, borderline excessive process, but I took it on because I feel it is worthwhile to participate in a standard of best practices that promote environmental, consumer, and producer health.
Organic protocols can be confusing and intricate so here is my short outline to help clarify and demystify the rules and regulations of natural, organic, and conventional wine.
Natural Wine (how we make the pét project wines)
- Made from organic and/or biodynamic grapes (no synthetic chemicals / as naturally as possible)
- No additives in the cellar (native fermentations no added nutrients)
- No so2 (some natural wine camps say a little is ok)
US Organic Wine
- Certified Organic Fruit
- NOP (National Organic Program) processing standards (must use only approved
organic additives and processes) organic yeast and yeast nutrients are approved for use
- No So2 added
US Wine labeled “Made with Organic Grapes”
- Certified Organic Fruit
- NOP (National Organic Program) Processing Standards (use only approved organic additives and processes)
- Max 100ppm of So2
EU Organic Wine
- Certified Organic Fruit
- EU Approved additives and processes
- Max 100ppm So2 for Reds
- Max 150 ppm So2 for Whites
Conventional Wine (USA)
- Hundreds of different synthetic and systemic sprays are permitted for use
in the vineyard including Glyphosate
- Hundreds of additives not derived from organic sources that are available to conventional winemakers including GMO yeast strains
- Max 350ppm So2
A note on sustainability.
Sustainable is a broad unregulated term in the wine industry but generally speaking the many certifications that are out there exist to provide oversight on the environmental impacts of farming. This is a big plus but it isn’t strict enough and a lot of the rules are more like strong suggestions. For example, the weed killing chemical Glyphosate is discouraged but still permitted by many sustainable certification bodies.
Sustainable and Organic are not interchangeable terms. A farm can be sustainable but not Organic but it is more difficult to be Organic and not Sustainable because the products that are approved for use in Organic farming are, on the whole, less impactful on the environment. Some have argued that because Organic sprays are less effective than synthetic/systemic sprays that the use of more diesel required for the tractor to spray a field is just as bad or worse for the environment. I would argue that removing chemicals from our food and the land is achievable now so we should start there. Better sources of clean, affordable energy will hopefully become more available in the near future but why should we sacrifice soil health and our personal health in the meantime.
For the 2019 vintage, we are pleased to release five pét-nat wines and our first Piquette. This group includes second-generation versions of our Roussanne and Grüner Veltliner. We also produced a Pinot Gris from Acadia Vineyard which saw 24 hours of skin contact that imparted a brilliant gold color- quite unique in appearance and flavor profile to last year's Pinot Gris.
New to the group is a same-day-pick and co-fermented Chardonnay / Pinot Noir blend also sourced from Acadia Vineyard. This wine is delicate and fresh, a tip of the hat to single vineyard-style Champagne. Next is the Albariño with a bright lemony acidity. We bottled this wine in 375ml bottles particularly for those folks who don’t like sharing their bubbles. This wine is in a dead heat with the Grüner Veltliner for top seafood friendly wine - but which to choose is fairly straightforward. If the flavors in a dish would be complemented by fresh lime then go with the Grüner and if they lean more towards a lemon profile, then choose Albariño.
Last but not least is our Piquette of Pinot Noir. Piquettes are often called second-wines. They are made from soaking previously pressed grape pomace in water and then pressing them a second time producing a simpler, low alcohol, wine-like beverage. Our Piquette spent two days marinating on the skins and finished out at 8.5% alcohol.
I hope you enjoy this year's lineup. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Feel free to join our mailing list to get first access to the releases and follow us on Instagram for updates and info on special tastings and events.