Pet Nat, short for Petillant Natural (Natural Sparkling Wine) is one of our favorite kinds of natural wine. A Pet Nat is distinguished from Champagne in that nothing at all is added to it. The fermentation starts in a tank and then the juice is transferred to bottle where it finishes fermenting. The bubble is usually softer and finer than in Champagne, more natural if you will. The wine doesn’t need sulfites added to it because instead the gas inside the bottle acts as a natural preservative (sulfites are used as preservatives in most wines).
As the yeast finishes converting the natural sugar to alcohol, it dies and falls to the bottom of the bottle, just as it does with Champagne, and the winemaker turns over the bottle gradually, letting the yeast settle in the neck. It is then disgorged to get the dead yeast out, often by hand, topped up with a little more wine from another bottle, and recapped. This process is really cool to watch, so we shot this short video of Dante, the winemaker for Colombaia in Tuscany, Italy doing some hand disgorgements. A very small quantity of this rosé just arrived into New York city, and you can drop by Osteria Morini to try some, they’re pouring it by the glass!
On our recent trip to Italy, we did this brief interview with Henry and Massimilliana of Castello di Tassarolo winery. We talked all about what it’s like to work biodynamically, with horses, and why they decided to make 3 cuvées with zero sulfur added. We were even graced by a trickle of rain during the interview that really added to the ambiance. Enjoy the video!
On our recent trip to Italy, we learned about a truly authentic and regional product heretofore unknown by the global market: Prosecco. You may think you’ve heard of Prosecco before, but in fact that sightly sweet, inoffensive bubbly beverage is a modern invention, targeted to capture a specific demographic, focus-group tested and marketed to the masses. Col Fondo, or on the sediment, Prosecco, is another animal entirely. Now, we’re no stranger to lost methods of winemaking. We’ve been working with petillant naturels (pet nat for short) from France for quite some time now. So at first when we tasted Ca’ dei Zago‘s Col Fondo Prosecco, we assumed this was a similar story, a lost method brought back by curious and experimental natural winemakers. But in fact, when you visit Valdobbiadene in the Veneto, you discover that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Col Fondo is in abundant supply, but 99% of it is drank locally and never leaves the region.
Commercial prosecco is made in the charmat method, fermentated in large, pressure sealed, generally stainless steel tanks, and the finished wine is transferred to the bottle under pressure. Made with selected yeast and toss in some sugar, and you get the product most people think of as Prosecco. Slightly sweet, clear and filtered, this is a bubbly commercial beverage. Col Fondo Prosecco, however, is initially fermented in a tank, but then transfered to the bottle about 1 degree of alcohol before it is finished fermenting. The remainder of the fermentation takes place inside the bottle, and as the yeast finishes its job, it falls to the bottom, leaving a small amount of sediment behind. Col Fondo bottles are stored standing up to leave this sediment at the bottom, and then decanted into a pitcher at serving time, reserving the last little bit of cloudy wine in the bottle, to be tasted and enjoyed separately. The flavor is light and pure, something innocent enough to be enjoyed at any occasion, with any food throughout the day.
Glera, the grape used in Prosecco, is a late ripening variety, that naturally finishes fermenting around 10% alcohol depending on the vintage. Most commercial Prosecco ends up around 11% alcohol, thanks to the addition of sugar and yeast. The Col Fondo from Ca’ dei Zago we are working with is a representation of the natural 10% level the grape attains on its own, with no additives whatsoever.
Col Fondo Prosecco, is not some lost method, brought back through the use of arcane writings or related from stories told by grandparents. Col Fondo is in fact alive and well today in Valdobbiadene. Everywhere we went, be it Christian Zago’s great auntie’s, or the local bar in San Pietro di Barbozza, we found unlabeled Col Fondo bottles. Every family in the area that grows grapes reserves a tiny quantity for themselves and makes their own Col Fondo, before selling them to the commercial Prosecco maker. The sad fact today is that a grower can earn a lot more by selling his grapes to a big house, rather than by making his own artisanal product that reflects the history, culture and terroir of the region. As a result, Prosecco Col Fondo almost never leaves the region. The first person to make and export it outside the region, was Louis Follador of Casa Coste Piane. Christian Zago, our young winemaker, says he has a tremendous amount of respect for this pioneer who was the first to bring this style of wine around the world.
The story of Col Fondo stands in stark contrast to Champagne, its bubbly counterpart to the north. In Champagne, growers struggled for years to free themselves from the tyranny of the big houses, and are now experiencing a revival of small production and new-found economic independence. In Valdobbiadene, however, the region has firmly attached itself to the production of commercial Prosecco. In fact, Champagne now struggles to fill the economic void created by this less expensive but powerful new-comer. For now, that story is one of great economic success for the region, as thirsty drinkers worldwide crave a less expensive bubbly wine. But, as we know, world-wide tastes ride trends, and always seek the next best thing. What happens if the world moves on from the commercial Prosecco style? Who knows, maybe then the Col Fondo winemakers will become the heroes of the region, as people increasingly seek out the myriad real and authentic experiences small regions have to offer.
Our company began 12 years ago with Jenny and François’s dream to share their passion of a style of wines they fell in love with while living in France. That passion has spread gradually over the years with thanks in no small part to other importers like Joe Dressner, and today there are a whole host of natural wine lovers: customers, sommeliers, wine store owners, and an ever-growing list of importers, who love these wines as much as we do. With all the attention Natural Wines are getting in the media lately, we thought it would be fun to do a series where people talk about all the things they love about these wines.
Donkey and Goat began making wine in 2002. Jared, and his wife Tracy spent a year interning in France with the great winemaker Eric Texier. Since then they have been one of the leaders in the California natural wine movement. You can read their manifesto here. On our recent trip to California, we knew we just had to get some of Jared’s thoughts down on film:
Christine and Joel Menard of Domaine des Sablonnettes have been making beautiful and affordable natural wines in Anjou for over 20 years now. Their simple yet elegant fruitiness and affordability have become many people’s introduction to natural wines. For more on their philosophy, check out this video interview we shot with them in 2011. Few people know that they actually got their start making sweet wines in the Coteaux de Layon appellation. We’re pleased to offer these wines today, by DI only.
All of Christine and Joel’s Coteaux du Layon are harvested in several carefully selective passes through the vineyards (tries) in order to produce ideally ripe cuvees with the help of botrytis alone (and never chaptalization). The harvest generally extends from mid October through the end of November. Indigenous yeasts help guarantee an authentic expression of the grape, the vintage and terroir.
LC4959 Domaine des Sablonnettes Fleurs d’Erables Coteaux du Layon 2011
- Harvested at 15-16% potential alcohol, 70 grams residual sugar.
- These grapes harvested from several parcels in Rablay show the beginning signs of Botrytis.
- Vinified in tank and bottled in the spring.
LC4937 Domaine des Sablonnettes Coteaux du Layon Rablay Les Erables 2009 -500ml
- Several passes at harvest through several parcels in the village of Rablay.
- 100% Noble Rot, 20 – 21% potential alcohol (150 to 170 grams residual sugar).
- 100% Noble Rot, a blend of several parcels of Rablay and Faye d’Anjou harvested at around 23% potential alcohol.
- Champ du Cygne is the official name of this plot which was declassified by the INAO in 1996.
- 100% Botrytis – some years harvested berry by berry!
- 21% potential alcohol (150-170 grams residual).
- Also harvested from the declassified parcel Champ du Cygne
- 100% Botrytis – in some years the grapes are harvested berry by berry.
- 25 – 26% potential alcohol (250 grams residual).
For pricing information, please contact your sales rep today if you’re interested in ordering some of these wines!
Our portfolio tasting is coming up! We’ll be there bright and early (starting at 10 am) September 12th, and we wanted to share with you, members of the trade, a few of the surprises wines we’ve got in store for you. The tasting will be your only chance to taste these wines until they arrive by boat, so don’t miss this chance for an advance first-look! Log on to your trade access account to access all the exclusive content below:
Hardy Wallace has been involved in the California natural wine scene for several years now, first while working with Kevin Kelly at the NPA, and now with his own project, Dirty and Rowdy Family Winery. Hardy has a keenly developed sense of humour, and is no stranger to video shoots about Natural Wine, so we knew we’d get some good stuff from him.
We’re really excited to be distributing his wines in New York very soon. While we love many of the natural wines made in California, the Jenny & François palate is geared towards something a little bit lighter in texture, and Hardy’s wines fit that bill exactly. Look for them on a shelf in NYC any day now!
Oh, and here are some things Hardy likes about Natural Wine:
Laura Maniec has been one of our favorite sommeliers for a long time now. She’s the youngest master sommelier ever, and now that she’s got Corkbuzz Wine Studio going, she’s decided to make her mark on the New York City wine scene with her latest endeavor, the Champagne Campaign. Laura thinks not enough people drink champagne, mostly because it’s too expensive, so she’s decided to give a 50% discount on every single bottle of champagne in the house after 10pm, every day. Corkbuzz features a stunning list of champagnes including our Jacques Lassaigne Vignes de Montguex Brut Blanc de Blancs. This bottle normally goes for $100 on their list, and let’s just say that at $50 a bottle, Corkbuzz is not making very much money off this wine! This is a price you will find nowhere else in New York City.
So what are you waiting for? Head down to Corkbuzz for these outrageous specials, and you might just see one of us there, sneaking a peak at the other fantastic grower champagnes on the list, like Guy Larmandier’s 1er Cru Brut Rosé!