Pét-Nat and the bold art of sunning your unmentionables

Written by Clifford Roberts; Photography Johan Viljoen

Of all the weird things to come out of the early days of Covid, one of the biggies must be the concept of sunning one’s perineum. We’ll leave you to google that for yourself.

The point being, some thought it was natural. More natural however, and certainly more of a trend too, is the natural sparkling style of wine. It has many names, Méthode Ancestral or Pét-Nat among them.

The latter is an abbreviation for the French term “pétillant naturel”, translated as “natural sparkling”.

What is it?

Pét-Nat wines differ in a few ways from other bubblies including double fermented wines like Champagne and Cap Classique, and carbonated wines.

The biggest difference is that the former duo comprises finished wines that have undergone a primary fermentation and are fermented a second time in bottle with the addition of yeast. Yeast consumes the sugar in the wine, producing carbon dioxide bubbles.

In the case of natural sparkling or Pét-Nat wines, the wine is bottled while still undergoing its primary fermentation. This occurs with the help of yeasts already present in the air, winery and on the grapes. It is possibly the way wine was made in the first place.

The ramifications of the process however, are that winemakers have very little control over what is happening in the bottle. It’s also the reason the style is generally at the low volume or small-producer side of the scale.

Why should I care?

Johan (Stompie) Meyer of Mother Rock Wines in his vineyards on the Piketberg mountain pouring a glass of the Force Celeste
Jurgen Gouws of Intellego Wines with his Pét-Nat, Hey Mila!

If you’re on this site, you’ll know that many wineries of the Swartland have a close association with the making of “natural” wines. The Swartland Independent Producers for one, states among its core values that wines bearing its logo be “naturally produced”.

“By this, we understand a minimum of manipulation in both vineyard and cellar; so that a Swartland Independent wine: has no inoculated yeast, or added yeast supplement; will not be acidified; has no added tannin; will not be chemically fined; [and] will not undergo any technological process (reverse osmosis) which will alter the constitution of the wine.”

This explains the interest and presence of Pét-Nat wines in the region. But it also fits with the general adventurous reputation of Swartland winemaker.

“These are sustainably produced, handmade, wild-fermented wines that wear their idiosyncrasies proudly and change subtly, bottle to bottle,” wrote Jonathan Cherry in DrinkStuffSA last year. “It is high-wire winemaking and, many concede, some are ‘sh-t’. But, for many, that unpredictability is exciting. Sulphur mutes everything; it makes wine orderly, neat, considered. With natural wines, there are extreme highs and lows.”

The wines are generally bottled under a crown cap, have lower alcohols, are unfiltered and are categorised by different label references. Also, where few grape varieties feature in the making of Cap Classique, the Pét-Nat style is applied to a wide range. An example of this is the Swartland Wine of Origin Force Celeste Cuvee PN Methode Ancestrale (10% alc), a collaboration between winemaker Johan Meyer of Piketberg and the Ex Animo Wine Company. The 2021 vintage comprises 76% Chenin Blanc and 24% from Pinotage grapes.

Johan Simons of Fynbos Estate in the Paardeberg with his natural sparkling wines, the Dragonridge Supernova and Dragonridge Orion’s Belt

More examples

Intellego wines in the Paardeberg

  • Hey Mila: Only a few bottles of this salmon pink wine were produced from the 2021 vintage. Made from Mourvedre with an alcohol content of 11%.

Dragonridge produces two, made from organically farmed vineyards.

  • Orions Belt Méthode Ancestrale: The 2018 vintage comprises 900 bottles made from Chardonnay. The alcohol content is 10.5%.
  • Supernova Méthode Ancestrale. The 2017 vintage is a 50/50 blend of Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, with an alcohol content of 10.5%. Only 732 bottles were released.

Testalonga also has two, under the El Bandito range.

  • I Am The Ninja: The Chenin Blanc wine produced 10.3% alcohol in its 2021 vintage.
  • I Wish I Was A Ninja: The wine is made from Colombard with the 2021 vintage emerging with an alcohol content of 8.1%.

The bottomline is this. The wines are known for their rarity, interesting characters and suitability as a natural, lower-alcohol summer sparkler. Consumed at considerably lower risk than pointing your sensitive bits at the brightest star in the galaxy, for sure.

Contact the bespoke local wine shop, The Wine Kollective in Riebeek Kasteel to get your hands on some Pét-Nat from the Swartland. They can be reached by sending an e-mail to anton@thewinekollective.co.za or dialling 022 448 1008.

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