Have you ever had a Pet Nat? Pet Nat is short for Pétillant Naturel and it is the oldest method of making a sparkling wine. It involves bottling the wine while it is still fermenting. In simplest terms grapes are full of sugar and they have a natural coating of vineyard yeast on their skins. The yeasts eat the sugars which is the fermentation and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide as by-products. If you bottle the wine before the fermentation process is finished you’ll end up with bubbles in the bottle from the residual ferment and this is how Pet Nat is created. It’s sometimes cloudier than your usual sparkling wine due to sediment from the fermentation not being required to be removed by disgorging.
Pet Nat is different from Champagne in that Champagne is made with fully fermented still wine that goes to bottle with added yeast and sugar to create the fizz.
Unico Zelo is a favourite winery of mine in the Adelaide Hills. Wine-making couple Brendan and Laura Carter make wines that are very site expressive and their ethos pays homage to our First Nations people whose custodianship maintained the land for thousands of years. Their wine projects are focussed always on sustainability and include supporting local farmers through their Harvest Wine Growers’ Co-op. This is their first foray into Pet Nat territory.
So what about this wine you ask? Sea Foam is made from Riverland Fiano and it sings of summer and beach vibes! Gorgeous stone fruits, a hint of passionfruit and fresh sea spray, with beautiful fizz. It is the perfect summer juice.
I don’t know where the warm weather went this week but I can pretend it’s still sunny and warm with this gorgeous South by South West 2020 Rosé. This wine is made from Shiraz and Viognier with a dash of barrel fermented Chenin added for complexity. This is just gorgeous, on the nose I get a toffee stone fruit note almost like a toffee peach and florals from the addition of Viognier, the palate is dry yet fresh and crisp with berries and savoury notes, it has beautiful acidity. It’s the pink you’ll want to drink this summer. Mij and Liv, the owners and winemakers, are about making minimal intervention wines that represent characteristics of the region they are grown. I love these ladies they make good wine.
A gorgeous find was this Cantina Puianello Lambrusco Rosso Ancestrale from Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy. Gorgeous dark red in the glass with dry and creamy fine bubbles, notes of red fruit and spices. I’ve always been fond of dry Lambrusco, growing up a with extended Italian family it was common place at the dinner table. It’s a very versatile food pairing wine and with bubbles it cuts through rich foods. This is made in the Ancestrale method where it spent time fermenting in bottle and is unfiltered. I paired this with a comfort dish pancetta and chickpea pasta. Si, grazie!
My friend and winemaker Josh Pfieffer has started the Barossa Wine Cartel label with his wife Ellen. Formerly the winemaker at Whistler Wines in the Barossa run by his family where his ‘Dry as a Bone’ Rosé is one of my all time favourite Rosé, expectations were high for this and I was not disappointed. This 2020 Grenache Mataro Rosé is made with fruit from Heysen Estate vineyard in the Barossa which is managed using organic and biodynamic practices. Gorgeous salmon pink in the glass, dry and crisp with aromas of strawberry and grapefruit, on the palate citrus and saline notes reminiscent of seaspray freshness, lovely acidity backed with creamy strawberry mouthfeel. It’s gorgeous drinking, I only ordered 6 and I feel they won’t last long it’s going to be a new summer favourite. If you follow Barossa Wine Cartel the bottles are able to be sabered and they are encouraging those who get a bottle to give it a go – there’s a video on their ‘gram! I’m yet to attempt my first saber but will keep you posted!
A recent visit to the Frankland River region led me to call in on Swinney Wines viticulturist Lee Haselgrove who resides on the vineyard. Lee has been at Swinneys for 6 years but has been tending vines for much longer in his career. He has a deep understanding of the land and vines and his background in viticulture is an invaluable asset to any winery.
I was fortunate to spend a couple of hours with Lee talking all things vines and touring the vineyard. Most people when tasting wine will ask about the winemaking process, but few will take time to understand the level of work required, maintenance and care involved of the fruit and vineyard that goes into that bottle of wine.
The vines Lee cares for have served many great winemakers in Western Australia’s Great Southern region including favourites of mine Brave New Wine and La Violetta among many others. If you’ve had a wine from the region, chances are it may have been made with fruit that was cared for by Lee.
During my visit Lee tells me about bush vine viticulture which is a passion and his focus on dry farming. A practice in many old world regions of European winemaking, in fact in some regions irrigation is outlawed to prevent diluted wine and to prevent quantity over quality. It’s long been controversial. Lee, like myself, loves wines that express the site and the season, an authenticity an uniqueness that comes from getting the vineyard site to express it’s characteristics. He explains that he uses irrigation very carefully.
“Our whole industry has grown up thinking irrigation is crucial, and that we need all sorts of instruments to tell us how much water vines need, and all of it is very well intentioned, and earlier in my career I used lots of those tools, but the premise they are all based on is at best partially flawed, and at worst quite wrong. I know that its much better that the plant feels confident. My goal is to anticipate its needs and help it, not control it”.
The whole vineyard has been irrigated since its establishment in 1998. Lee started the direction towards dry farming in 2013 when he started at Swinney’s. In more recent years irrigation systems have been removed from some vineyard sections after 5 years of weaning them off the water. Minimal irrigation and dry grown grapes tend to produce concentrated, intense wines that drink well young and have great potential to develop with bottle age.
I learn Grenache is a very drought tolerant variety and it is clever in that it has its own mechanisms for regulating moisture levels. Lee explains that the plant decides early in the day how much water it will sacrifice when environmental conditions are unfavourable, “Grenache thinks its better to look after yourself, than expect someone else to come along and keep you alive (at least from a hydration perspective). Shiraz exhibits the opposite behaviour”.
“I started becoming a much better viticulturist when I thought about all the great fruit and vegetables that I’d eaten and who grew them, and how” he says. “My grandma had an orange tree, and she would water it for about a week once a year, really slowly. She moved the slow dripping hose all around the plant’s base every few hours. The orange tree was in the chook house, so it was getting plenty of organic treatment. Those oranges were the best I’ve ever eaten. No sensors, no science. Just sense.”
Lee is all about managing vines from the root systems up. He tells me of techniques to encourage root systems to grow outwards and seek nutrients. A good root system is vital to overall vine growth and quality and particularly important for early season vine growth. Lee uses deep row cultivation between vine rows to assist in developing larger root systems. Ripping vine roots encourages new growth and like in gardening, offers better physical conditions for the new roots to explore, and leads to a stronger plant over time and can also minimise the likelihood of water stress effects.
He demonstrates to me pruning of vines and he explains how this is important for new growth for the next vintage, he has come to rely on the wonderful local Afghani community in the Mount Barker region during vintage and pruning. We discuss vineyard composting which can save considerable costs. Lee prefers to use compost over fertilisers and wants all of the soil nourishing the plant, not just the bit it can reach.
Interestingly we discuss how climate change is not only impacting irrigation but also how it is impacting the diversity and change in wine varieties grown in the region. Australia is known for a lot of French varieties like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, but diversifying into more heat and drought tolerant varieties such as vermentino and cinsault is being considered more. Of course this problem is not confined to Australia, but is a global problem.
My visit was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and with not much attention paid to viticulture in wine media a thought provoking visit. Swinney’s Farvie Grenache and Syrah recently received 98 points from Ray Jordan and this can be attributed to the hard work that goes into all levels of winemaking including the care of the fruit.
I dreamt of eating at Liberté restaurant in Albany in Western Australia’s Great Southern since it opened. It is renowned as a national darling, and was named best bar in Australia in 2019. I’m always excited when dreams come true!
Housed in the historic London Hotel in Albany, which was built in the early 1900’s, it is a bar and restaurant with Parisian decor, antique furniture and gilded mirrors.
Liberté’s menu is a fusion of French and Vietnamese bold flavours, that deserve all the chef hats. Most famous for its chilli crab and garlic noodles, these are the must have dish, and after trying them I would actually sell up and move to Albany for them.
I also tried their delicious kingfish crudo with ginger, chilli oil and lime served with seaweed crackle, it was fresh and zingy with lots of crunch. On the menu also sizzling squid, prawn and pork dumplings, crispy pork belly with a delicious remoulade of apple, brussel sprouts, mint and sesame, and for dessert ginger brûlée complete with toffee and dragonfruit.
For drinks, the cocktails are extensive and there’s something for everyone from spritzes to smoky drinks. I had a special “West of the Tracks” with gin, makrut lime vermouth, orange juice and samphire bitters.
A beautiful meal with memorable flavours and definitely worth the visit if you are in the region.
I’m Sloane, and here you’ll find me writing on all the things I love to eat and cook and sometimes drink. I’m known for the best Monday bakes in my work office, I have also freelanced in my spare time for local publishers on the latest bars and restaurants around Perth. I love to travel and explore food and wine and love learning in this space. I am a home cook who is all about nourishing your soul, exploring flavours and I don’t think that calories count on weekends. I look forward to sharing with you my thoughts, recipes and writing. You can also find me on Instagram here https://www.instagram.com/crumbs_and_corks/?hl=en