Making Pét-Nat Is A Bitch (So Enjoy Drinking It!!!)

If you google me deeply enough, you’ll find many published quotes from me, c 2015, along these lines:

“Pét-nat is the simpler, more fun version of Champagne.”

“Because pét-nat — short for pétillant-naturel, as in French for ‘natural sparkler’ — requires only one fermentation, it is easier to make than Champagne.”

“Want something to crush on the patio? Grab a fun, easygoing pét-nat!”

Ohhhhh, how little I knew.

The first statement, I will qualify, is definitely true. But now that I have actually made pét-nat, from grape to glass, having done nearly every single thing minus farming the grapes and some work involving forklifts (forklifts kind of terrify me), I can testify that pét-nat is NOT easy to make.

While it is certainly fun and easygoing to DRINK, the actual making of pét-nat involves intense PRECISION and KNOWLEDGE, coupled with hours upon hours of dutiful, exhausting, repetitive handwork.

If you already follow me, you are aware that I am in the middle of a natural winemaking journey, which takes place in South Australia. I’ve been fortunate to produce some wines under my own brand, Persephone Wines. It’s a wild ride.

Of course, when I was given this opportunity, I thought, I’ll make pét-nat! Because I love nothing more than a good bottle of fizz. So, I am going to share here the process, from start to finish. It will be a long post, but if you bear with me, you’ll have a deep understanding of how sparkling wine is made and why you should really appreciate every bottle you consume.

I know that there has recently been a bit of an Internet drama regarding some California pét-nats that were made in a rather industrial style. There has also, in the past, been debate over the proper definition of a pét-nat. As writer Zach Sussman has pointed out, the term is new, but the style seems to be very old; therefore, pét-nat is a postmodern phenomenon (when the old, abandoned way becomes new and cool again).

Sussman writes that,

“Many of today’s ancestral method wines undergo a technological approximation of this process through temperature control, artificially halting fermentation in the tank via refrigeration. After several weeks, the half-fermented juice is then bottled and the fermentation resumes. Pét-nat, on the other hand, almost always goes straight from tank to bottle—an uninterrupted continuation of the primary fermentation.”

But in many cases, including mine, that’s not exactly true. I’ll explain why later.

Furthermore, Zach says that pét-nat is generally bottled with the “lees” — and then released without disgorgement.

“Unlike many ancestral method wines, which are disgorged in the interest of creating a more stable commercial product, pét-nat is almost always bottled with the deposit of dead yeast intact: hence the style’s signature cloudiness.”

It’s true that disgorgement has typically been associated with Champagne method wines. But many pét-nats today are, in fact, disgorged, and in my opinion, it very much improves their drinkability by making them less explosive.

Sussman wrote that piece in 2015, and I really think that since then, partly because of the success of wines like Les Capriades, a lot more producers now seem to be opting to disgorge. (Les Capriades is an all pét-nat house in the Loire Valley that disgorges religiously, written about very nicely in that link by France-based author Emily Dilling.)

And disgorgement is one of the reasons that making pét-nat is such a bitch!

Read on to find out how incredibly tiresome and annoying (but ultimately rewarding) it was.

Picking the Grapes

Because I am a bit of a sucker for Champagne, I opted to make my pét-nat with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. These were picked in the early days of harvest — the Pinot was one of our very first picks, starting on 24 February, and the Chardonnay came soon after.

A wonderful picking crew was employed by beloved, incredibly knowledgeable mentor Anton Van Klopper of Lucy Margaux Wines, and so those of us who were more on the winery crew were tasked with carrying buckets and sorting out any bad berries (there were very few). All organically farmed fruit, by the way. That’s important for making natural wine! Vital! Nothing good can happen in the winery without growers who are willing to farm without pesticides or other chemicals.

(From left bottom corner going clockwise, in the photo above: that’s Alberto, who until recently was the wine director at Racines in Reims; Niki, who has a mezcal brand in Oaxaca and runs dinner pop-ups around the world; Sev, wine director of the Ten Bells; and Rapha, who works for the wine importer Vine Trail in the UK. Amazing people!)

We generally picked in the morning, and then spent the afternoon processing grapes, although sometimes we picked all through the day and then had long, long nights in the winery. Lots of midnight dinners, and then 6am wake-up calls next morning.

Fermentation

Chardonnay was pressed directly at the winery, in the pneumatic press (read: a modern, electrical one — I used this press only for my sparkling wine; all of my still wines were made in an old-fashioned, manual basket press). I took a barrel of that juice for my pét-nat.

The Pinot, however, I decided to macerate (leave on the skins) for a short time, to have color in my final wine, and also because the fruit was too beautiful to press directly. For about 48 hours, the Pinot was in a large, wooden open-top fermenter, and each morning and evening I’d climb into it and jump on the grapes to get the juice flowing.

Then it was pressed, and I transported the juice bucket by bucket to another barrel.

And then, my lovely Chardonnay and Pinot fermented away happily in their separate barrel homes, for several weeks.

Over the course of fermentation, I tasted the two wines regularly. They were beautiful from the start and got better and better. Pinot tasted like ripe strawberries and crushed cherries. The Chardonnay had an incredible minerality to it. When I tried doing a 50-50 blend with the wines, that minerality was lost. So, I opted for 60 percent Chardo, 40 percent Pinot in the final blend. 

And before we knew it, the wines were totally dry!

Bottling

You can’t make pét-nat with dry wine. The residual sugar is what causes the wine to re-ferment in bottle. We didn’t have time to bottle mine, so it fermented to dry. But there’s another way: at bottling, we first racked and blended the two wines, then added some Gamay juice that still had a bit of residual sugar left to that blend.

We carefully calculated the correct amount of Gamay to add (it was a couple of liters, ultimately) based on our target baumé, a French system that measures the density of liquids. We added just enough Gamay to get to a specific baumé that we knew would allow the wine to referment once bottled. The wines were bottled, as is done with nearly all pét-nat, under crown caps. 

About 370 bottles were made. Of course, that’s pre-disgorgement. 

A few days after the wines were bottled, I repositioned them upside-down in a large bin, so that all the lees would sink into the bottlenecks.

Disgorgement

The idea of disgorgement is to simply use the pressure created a bottle of sparkling wine to push out the lees. Many people freeze the necks of the bottles, using a chilling machine. We didn’t do that; instead Anton brilliantly drilled holes into a fermenting bin and we simply opened the wines into that, making sure the liquid was touching the caps as we flicked them open with a regular old household beer opener. It worked really well!

When you disgorge, you lose some wine — the lees come out along with liquid. So, each bottle has to be topped up with more wine before it is resealed, in this case with a crown cap. 

All of this was truly a massive job. Each bottle had to be wiped down carefully with a cloth after it was disgorged. We went though about twenty tea towels doing this!

In the end, though, the wines are cleaner and they won’t explode when opened.

And voilà, that’s pretty much it! I loved the process; I learned so much about the chemistry and physics of fermentation, and all sorts of practical things related to the nature of liquids and alcohol.

I made some other wines, as well — all reds — but none of them compared to the pét-nat in terms of labor and time.

But I hope all this doesn’t deter you from fully enjoying pét-nats! They are meant to be fun and delicious. Now that you know how much work goes into them, you may even enjoy them more.

Any questions or feedback? Leave ’em in the comments.

xxRachel

 

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Weekly Apéro Hour: Luxuriating in Sangiovese and Rachel Cusk’s World of Dialogue

Sometimes, I make a list in my head of the living people whom I’d give anything to have dinner with. Novelist Rachel Cusk is at the top of that list. She is a writer who has reinvented the genre of the novel, by giving it new form, seemingly without effort.

Reading Cusk’s critically acclaimed trilogy, of which I’m now on the last segment, feels simultaneously like you have become witness to an act of genius, and like there’s nothing simpler, more comforting, more enjoyable, than this simple book in your hands. This tension between ingenuity of form and bare bones writing is what I love about Cusk’s work. 

The plot of each of these books revolves around a narrator who is doing not much more than living her life, as a writer — it’s very hard to write a book about writing that isn’t super annoying, but she has mastered this — while having conversations with people who are deeply entrenched in the throes of emotional maelstroms. To quote critic Dwight Garner, these dialogues “branch out like broccoli florets.”

Kudos is the latest in Cusk’s series, and I treated myself to it after finally launching the Kickstarter for my book Nomad — which is off to a good start! Please check it out if you haven’t yet. If you know me, whether from following me on social media or IRL, you’re surely aware that I’ve long wanted to write a book. Ultimately, I have plans to write something more complex than Nomad, which is more like a long essay than a full book, but I see this attempt as a crucial step in breaking through the obstacles I feel are between me and that future book.

If you are thinking about going out to grab Kudos, you definitely can jump right into it, although it will probably make you want to go back and start the trilogy from scratch. I highly recommend it — the whole series is a meditation on the contemporary world and how it makes us feel at an individual level, with close examinations of relationships, both romantic and familial, and deep studies of femininity and masculinity and artistic creativity.

I also treated myself this week to a very special wine, a beautiful red from Pacina, an organic estate in Tuscany that consists of grapevines, olive trees, grain and vegetable farming, and a monastery dating back to 900 A.D. Having spent the week bottling Sangiovese (including my own, for my forthcoming label, Persephone Wines), I was ready to sit back and drink a fine example.

You’ll note that this is a wine from 2013. In the world of natural wines, it’s not very common to be able to enjoy a wine that has undergone extensive ageing like this. Many natural wines are made in a “fresher” style, meant to be light and low in alcohol, and there’s also the unfortunate truth that quite a few natural winemakers who would prefer to age their wines for longer simply can’t afford to do so, as anything held in stock represents potential immediate cash income.

Pacina makes this wine, comprised of nearly all Sangiovese, with a bit of the local blending grape Canaiolo/Cilliegiolo mixed in (two local red varieties traditionally used for blending with Sangio), with extreme care and respect for Tuscan tradition. The grapes are first macerated for six weeks in concrete, and then fermentation continues also in concrete for six months. Then there’s ageing in old oak barrels of different sizes, followed by one year of resting and integrating in bottle. No sulfites (or anything else) were added.

The result is an extraordinarily elegant wine that delivers the satisfaction of experiencing a vintage several years later. Although the wine is somewhat high in alcohol (14% — normal for a wine of the sunny Tuscan hills), this is only one component of its profile, as the ageing helps the alcohol to integrate with the other flavors. On the very aromatic nose, I found ripe cherry and pickled plums. The palate had a totally smooth texture, featuring musky sandalwood and charred rhubarb. The wine was such a treat to drink, and despite its complexity and meditative aspects went down very quickly — it wasn’t weighted down in any way. A serious red wine doesn’t have to be overly tannic and massively heavy on the palate, if the maker is artful enough. Surely, the Pacina wines are aided by the fact that Giovanna, who along with her husband Stefano run the estate and the winemaking cellar, is the third generation to do so — the knowledge must have been passed down to her from previous members of her family, and so she can rely on the older ways to some extent.

Have a great start to your week, everyone! Thanks for reading this edition of #apérohourweekly and feel free to subscribe to the blog via the homepage if you want to receive this in your inbox each week. Around mid-August I’ll be headed to Europe, to visit vineyards in Slovenia and Spain, and check out the wine scene in Berlin and London, and I’ll be continuing to write as a I travel — it would be great to have you along with me. (Of course, I also blog as I go on my persona Instagram, so hop over there if you don’t already follow.)

cheers! xxRachel

 

Introducing Pipette Magazine (Take Deux)

Today, I am writing with some bittersweet news. Essentially, Terre Magazine will be no more in the coming weeks.

I write this with some level of sadness. Over the past year and a half, I saw that Terre was really exciting to people, that this magazine added some joy and wholesome intellectualism in their lives. Over the course of two issues, I have had the pleasure of working with authors and photographers in truly rewarding ways, seeing a vague idea develop substance and then become a solid draft — and finally, something we could be proud to publish in print.
But the good news is: I won’t be giving up. I’m starting a new magazine.
The new magazine will be called Pipette. A “pipette,” you may know, also called a “wine thief,” is a glass siphon used to draw tastes of wine from barrels. I am naming the new magazine Pipette in honor of a very special experience I had recently while visiting Slovakia. The winemaker Zsolt Suto of Strekov 1075 brought us to visit a friend of his, a Hungarian man making natural wine in a beautiful old cellar, with no commercial intent, at all–he bottles the wine for his own consumption, only.
This winemaker, Gabor, led the tasting using the most lovely pipette I had ever seen. He also had us tasting out of 100-year-old wine glasses! I remarked on how beautiful the pipette was — apparently it’s common in the region but I had never seen the style before. Gabor, noticing how enamored I was, ended up cleaning it carefully and giving it to us as a gift. It was very touching and symbolic of the non-commercial nature of what he does as a natural winemaker. The pipette unfortunately broke during a dash through the Vienna airport — but that generosity will remain in my memory forever.
And that’s what is important. Natural wine to me is about generosity. Writing, even, is about generosity. My financial benefit from writing is basically nothing. My personal benefit, however, is massive, when I hear from readers that something I’ve written has touched them or shown them a fresh perspective. And the same return is involved in editing, and working with talented creatives, to make a unique print product that brings us away from the constant noise of social media and fake news.
That’s all I ever wanted to do by founding a print magazine about natural wines: add beauty and thoughtful discourse to the world, in a time when there’s so much consumerist bullshit and greed. So, I’ll be doing that with Pipette. The magazine will, as with the previous iteration, be print-only, and it will still have minimalistic design with great photos and artwork, and hopefully still enjoy wide distribution around the world. I am going to have to re-do a lot of work, from scratch. It’s hard, because I was already so strapped for time, editing Terre while building its network, also making wine and doing assignments for magazines. But I’ll write emails in my sleep to make it happen.
I will have more news soon; I know that many of you subscribed and are wondering what will happen to your subscriptions. For now, if you could please follow the new magazine on Instagram so I can re-build a following, it would get me off to a great start. And please spread the word!
Thank you for your support!
xxRachel

The First Barrels

Never did I think, even when I first got into wine writing — first stepped into an expansive vineyard with a notebook and pen and wondered how the plants I saw, budding in late spring, would eventually translate to the lovely drink in my glass — even in moments as beautiful as those, never did I think: I’ll make wine one day.

How could I, a writer, possibly dream to make wine? Friends I knew who had made wine had worked three, five, eight vintages around the world. I’ve worked harvest for two weeks in France, and done some picking here-and-there in Burgundy and Napa Valley.

But here I am, at the end of vintage (Aussies say “vintage,” versus harvest, and my English is quickly becoming Aussie-fied, you know, mate?) in the Basket Range of South Australia, with several barrels of wine tucked away in a shed, and one sparkling wine already in bottle. We just opened one the other day, and when the bubbles rose up in foam, I was kind of in shock. I made the wine, but the wine made itself sparkling. Isn’t that incredible? I know, I know — it’s all fairly straightforward, fermentation creating carbon dioxide as the yeasts consume sugar. Winemaking 101. But I was terrible at chemistry and physics and all that in high school and university. And yet, I can still make them work to my favor. I made bubbles?!?!? It’s truly awesome.

It’s funny, when you visit winemakers as a journalist, you ask certain questions that you think might help you communicate something, to future readers, about the wine: When did you start picking? Did you de-stem? Tank or barrel? But it’s impossible to really understand the reasons behind the answers to these questions, I think, unless you’ve made wine.

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Making my own wines was a meditation on the meaning of individualism, and of the concept of work itself. Nearly all of what we did, we did as a vintage team — up at dawn to get to the vineyards, all day picking and sorting, then processing the grapes. In the vineyard, we worked alongside a picking crew mostly from Laos and Thailand. Weeks after vintage has ended, I still dream about the incredible food they brought — every day, different dishes — for “smoko,” the Aussie word for the mid-day break.

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But when it came to making my own wines, it was all up to me. Each of my red wines were macerated in open-top, wooden fermenters that I climbed into and jumped on once each day for about two or three days; then, I did punchdowns (“plunging” in Aus) by hand, morning and night, to keep the cap wet. That was the first choice: whole cluster, non-carbonic fermentation. I liked this approach because I could always see and taste the grapes and evaluate whether they were ready to press.

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Next decision: when to press? With the Gamay, I wanted a light and pretty lunch wine, so five days of maceration was plenty. Cabernet Franc was about the same. Right away, I saw how different it was to press Cab Franc than Gamay. The juicy Gamay berries had been a breeze, oozing juice nonstop, whereas Cab Franc’s thicker skins were tougher to crack.

The press itself was also a choice. I opted not to use the modern pneumatic press, and rather chose to use an old-fashioned, small basket press that a friend of ours bought new from Italy. With the basket press, I didn’t require any forklift, no electricity was used, and I could literally do everything all by myself . . . OK, I did need help getting the free run juice out of the barrels, sometimes — we don’t have pumps at the Lucy Margaux winery, instead using gravity and our lungs to transfer wine via hoses, which is super super hard, the most difficult part of winemaking for me. Gravity is something you have to learn to trust and befriend, I think. It’s the same way in yoga, which I’ve practiced for thirteen years — if you feel fear, you’re not working with gravity, you’re fighting against it. My goal is to become at one with gravity — that’s when I’ll feel like a real winemaker. And a yogi, I guess . . .

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I loved the basket press because it was, by nature, a slow process. With each press, I loaded the grapes in bucket by bucket or shovel by shovel, after siphoning the free run into a barrel. This gave me time to think. With the Cabernet Franc and the Sangiovese, it occurred to me that the juice already tasted quite stemmy, from the whole-cluster fermentation. So, I took a pause to hand-destem about 50 percent of the fruit, standing there, beside the press. Why not? There was no rush — the point was to make something delicious that honored the beautiful, organic fruit the local growers had spent much time caring for.

I found the basket press empowering because, now, when I say that I made these wines, it really means that I made them. Nothing was added or taken away, and nothing will be. There’s no need; nothing has the scent of volatile acidity, and the barrels were cleaned well with hot water before being filled.

I don’t claim to be one of the greats just because I’ve made wine one time, thanks to the space provided me by someone very generous. But it was a beautiful experience doing it truly on my own terms, and I’m excited to see how the barrels look in a few months, how they’ll become in bottle, and how they’ll taste when they hopefully make their way around Australia and perhaps the world — who knows! I made the wine to share and be drunk. My hope is they will bring pleasure and transmit the energy of this amazing vintage in Australia — a hot, fast, intense, but also, really peaceful one overall, and a season of abundance, of more grapes than anybody expected, tons of people around from all over the world, and plenty of good wine and food on our communal table.

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Also, editing Terre Issue 2 while doing all of this has been both impossible and amazing. There were days when I’d be up at 5am to go pick, and then find myself editing three articles in the afternoon before going into the winery to help process grapes or clean up. Obviously, I would have preferred to be getting more sleep! But at the same time, there were moments when I’d be reading someone’s work and it struck me as really powerful, more than any other time I’d read or written about wine, because I was literally elbow-deep in the stuff right then. 

For example, in California vigneronne Martha Stoumen‘s interview in Issue 2, she talks about joy and patience in winemaking. She tells Miguel de Leon, “I am a firm believer that you can experience more joy in what you’re consuming when the person making it was joyful in the act of making it. The first time I made wine, I was like a little kid; I got to feel things and feel textures. When I work outside, I’m noticing how the sun hits things, how the smells hit me.”

This quote. How much it speaks to me. I am so happy to have her interview in the coming issue (out next month!). I’ve only met Martha once and tasted a few of her wines and I can say that she is definitely singular and has a message worth hearing.

And then there’s the memoir about harvest at Arianna Occhipinti‘s, by Ashley Ragovin. After ten years of admiring Arianna’s wines, having first been transfixed by them while working as a somm in a fancy Italian restaurant, Ashley finally went to Sicily for harvest in Vittoria. The experience was far beyond what she’d anticipated, and confirmed that wine heroes, or just heroes in general, are a real thing worth having. The connections we imagine between winemakers and ourselves aren’t false.

So much more is in Issue 2. I hope you’ll pre-order a copy soon (or grab one at a nearby stockist, or subscribe). And one day, in the not-too-distant future, you may even be reading Issue 3 while sipping on a glass of wine made by yours truly.

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Terre Issue 2 Pre-Sales Are On!

Only a year ago, Terre Magazine was just a glimmer of an idea.

And now, we’re nearly finished editing Issue 2, and moving onto the design phase! Please consider pre-ordering your copy; even if there’s a stockist near you, pre-ordering helps us finance production and pay our writers, artists, and photographers around the world, and every dollar counts. Also, you will get your magazine directly from the printer (I know some of you had to wait a few weeks last time — won’t happen again) if you pre-order.

We’ve been dropping some hints about Issue 2 in our newsletter, and on Instagram. Of course, we want to keep some of it a surprise. We’re really happy that the issue will not only feature several rising star winemakers and a few who are already quite well known, but also interviews with wine bar owners around the world, a visual essay from an Italian design collective, features on coffee/tea/spirits, and even a guide to buying cannabis. It’s a magazine for people who love natural, artisanal wine, but so much more.

Check out the options at this link. You may want to subscribe for the whole year, so as to also receive Issue 3, which comes out in November. 

We’re blown away by the incredible talent that’s come to us for Terre Issue 2. It’s really an honor to be publishing such great work. The magazine comes out in May and we’ll be hosting some events in Europe and New York. Stay tuned!Thank you — sorry to be brief, but it’s harvest here in Australia and I’ve got to get back to hand-plunging the Merlot . . .

In Toní Carbó’s Barrio: A Visit to Cellar La Salada in Penedès, Spain

Visit October 24, 2017

 When I first met Toní Carbó, a winemaker who went from virtually unknown to an instant cult classic—his wines are found at Bar Brutal in Barcelona; Maurice in Portland, Oregon; Bar Ordinaire in Oakland, California—at H20 Vegetal, during the heat of late summer in Spain, I was captivated by the energy of his wines, their attractive labels, and his humble attitude. A few months later, I was in Barcelona visiting some friends, and took a short train ride out to the Penedès, the heart of the Cava region, where Toní is the latest in his family lineage to grow grapes.

Toní greets me in a 4×4 wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. Since H20, he has cut his hair, which then was a bit shaggy, grown past his ears. He takes me directly to a vineyard in an area called “La Salada,” where we stand before gnarled bush vines (untrellised) in beige-brown clay soil, on a flat piece of land with mountains in the distance.

“My grandfather was a shareholder, from a familia muy humilda—a very humble family, says Toní in perfectly clear Castellano Spanish, even though Catalan is his first language. I appreciate the effort particularly in the current political climate—later, I will return to Barcelona to catch the tail end of the latest protest against Madrid’s crackdown on the independence movement, getting lost in crowd of flag-waving marchers after an afternoon of showing their regional pride.

In a bold move, Toní’s grandfather broke away from the señores feudeles (the feudal lords), and formed a bodega (winery) with other growers—a sort of cooperative. They purchased a few hectares of vines, specifically taking plots that were on poor soil, very difficult to cultivate, and made bulk wine, probably sold in barrels.

The past two years in Northern Spain have been very, very dry, and some vines didn’t produce even a single cluster of grapes—something he has never seen before, Toní tells me as we examine the 68-year-old vines. “You see how they respond to the heat and dryness—they are in survival mode,” he says. In this plot, Toní has Xarello and Macabeo—two of the grapes commonly found in Cava, that ubiquitous bubbly drink, Spain’s version of Prosecco, differing in that it’s made in the traditional method rather than Charmat.

The 1970s and 80s saw something of a “lost generation” in Penedès, because large houses paid tempting prices for grapes, so people didn’t bother to bottle their own wine—but this changed in the 90s with the formation of the Cava D.O. and, concomitantly. As small growers lost their best customers, many of them stopped operations, sold off their land, and moved away to urban areas to work in factories. Toní’s family also closed their bodega, called Cellar La Salada, for a time. “Every year, my father thought they would have to tear out these vines,” he tells me.

In the early Aughts, Toní decided to restart production in the bodega. He began, he tells me, by making “vinos muy Parker”—wines in the Robert Parker style, with high alcohol and corpulent palates, something that should be easy to do in this dry heat. He and his friend and neighbor, Ramón Jané, hired an oenologist to help them restart production at their bodegas—but when he recommended levels of various additives that seemed high to Toní and Ramón, they simply added half of those amounts. Then came a turning point: Toní found his way to La Dive Bouteille, a large natural wine salon in France’s Loire Valley held every winter for the past decade and a half.

“And there a world opened to us,” he recalls as we drive to another vineyard—Toní holds over 20 hectares. In 2005, Toní began reducing the use of pesticides in the vineyard, and in 2012, he converted his vines to organic and made his first natural wine for the market, without any sulfites or oenological products added.

We are now standing in the “Les Perellades” vineyard, looking at Malvasia, Sumoll, Montanaga, and Xarello. “This is my barrio,” says Toní, gazing toward the nearby forest. “I’m born here, grown up here.”

We make our way to the small winery, built in 1911, where Toní’s Cellar La Salada wines are made without any sulfites at all. Because the wines have such playful labels, I had prejudged them as simple blends, but I learn quickly that expression of terroir is definitely a goal here. The wine called “Bufarella,” for example, is a Xarello with skin contact, made from one hectare of vines planted in 1982 on a north-facing slope that matures slowly and therefore maintains freshness. There’s another single-vineyard wine called “Hermot,” made from old-vines Macabeo.

Toní’s winemaking maintains many of the area’s traditional techniques. “My family, historically, did wine with skin contact—we called it vino brisat,” he explains to me. They foot stomped the grapes, and did everything by hand, without additives—and that’s what the family drank at home, Toní says. The winery has recently been remodeled a bit, but Toní has kept and still uses the underground tanks where wine was fermented, and he has also held onto one barrel that dates back to 1955. “I want reminders of what was here,” he says.In this cellar, one of Toní’s most popular wines is made: Roig Boig (“crazy red”), a pink-hued pét-nat full of freshness and savory notes, made from numerous red and white heritage grapes of Catalunya, including Sumoll, Roigenc, Mandó, Cannonau, Monica, Torbat, Parellada, and Xarello. The label, drawn by Toní’s partner Ana’s cousin, depicts a slightly wonky-looking guy with sparse hair, panting with thirst. “Drink me everyday,” is the message behind that label. Which one could certainly do—yet, later, we’ll have the Roig Boig with a rich turkey dish at lunch, and the acidity and bubbles cut right through the fat—this isn’t just an aperitif wine.

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Next is a visit to Mas Candí, the winery run by Ramón Jané, Toní’s unofficial “associate.” Ramón, like Toní, also broke the cycle of selling his family’s grapes to the large Cava houses, and began bottling his own label in the mid-Aughts. Toní explains that he and Ramón have only a “handshake agreement,” rather than any formal contract—they work together because they like to help each other, like the “agricultores de antes,” the agriculturists of a previous time, Toní says. It’s about both of them succeeding.

In Toní’s cellar, all the wines are made completely without sulfites; in Ramón’s, they may occasionally have small amounts added—this allows the pair to diversify their portfolio, while keeping a completely sulfur-free winery for certain vinifications. It’s the first time I’ve heard of anyone doing this, and it seems really practical.

The other popular bubbly wine from Toní and Ramón is actually made here, at Mas Candí—the Tint Sec, which means,“I’m thirsty” in Catalan, and is a white wine made of Xarello and Parellada. We taste the 2017 from a tank; the nose is fruity, peachy, and the palate delivers a healthy burst of acidity. After tasting, we head to lunch, where we meet Toní’s partner Ana, who he says is fully involved in the winery.

Lunch at Cal Xim is amazing; we have traditional Catalan dishes like trinxat, a cabbage and potato “tortilla”; roasted red peppers with anchovies; rovellon mushroom caps roasted and dressed in rich olive oil; alongside, we drink the still version of Tint Sec, which Toní and Ramón plan to rename “Baldidi” to avoid confusion—it’s very aromatic, with fresh, soft fruit flavors, and some tropical notes—plus 2016 “Ovella Negra,” a saline, bright white wine made of Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia with two weeks on the skins; and 2015 “La Fusta,” a Xarello wine made from a vineyard Toní’s father planted in 1985, which is fermented in 1000-Liter chesnut barrels, and is mineral, with overtones of white flowers, and a lovely medium body.

To finish, we have the aforementioned pairing made in heaven: dark turkey meat with stewed prunes, with the savory Roig Boig pét-nat. It could not be more perfect. This is what Cellar La Salada and Mas Candí wines are about—relishing the products of agriculture and viticulture, in humble but artful settings. It’s a celebration of Catalunya, without employing the political system or waving any flags, but rather acknowledging the unique history of this region, and the role of small farmers in keeping that history alive.

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From Snowy Paris, Visions of Terre 2 And New Writing On Phylloxera

Greetings from freezing cold Paris! It has dumped snow here, which is very pretty, but I am chilled to the bone after a week of tasting in damp cellars in the Jura and the Auvergne, making my way toward La Dive and the other vin nature salons in the Loire. Expect an update from me soon on the highlights from those events!

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Tasting with François Saint-Lo at Les Anonymes in Angers

Meantime, I’m starting to edit Terre Issue 2, which will come out in May. It’s going to be really, really good; we’re building on our global support and bringing in new writers, artists, and photographers. Tomorrow, I head to Copenhagen to report on one of the world’s most exciting and experimental distilleries, for Issue 2. Announcements are coming soon about pre-ordering the issue and subscribing for the year, and don’t miss out, because we sold out last time and surely will again, even though we plan to double our production. (You can sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know about all this.)

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How to prevent the spreading of phylloxera

I also want to share a story I’ve really enjoyed working on, an updated explainer about the phylloxera pest, with recent reporting from Australia and elsewhere. Everyone who loves wine should understand the history of phylloxera, because it’s affected grapevines and wine production everywhere, and it’s also a really fascinating story of plant genetics that continues to impact winegrowing today. Link is here

Lastly: I’ve done something pretty unusual, and created a sort of “tip jar,” a link on Paypal where, at any point, you’re welcome to send me a bit of cash. When I left New York and started working on Terre, I had a tentative book deal and potential gig writing a magazine column. They both fell through, and then Terre became so time-consuming, that before I knew it I was living on credit cards and sleeping on friends’ couches to save money. Writing about wine isn’t lucrative but I do it because I love meeting growers and understanding the political-cultural histories of wine regions. I was inspired by this excellent piece on the New Worlder site to be more vocal and honest about how unglamorous this job can be. Here is the link to my “tip jar.” Even a five-dollar donation means a lot to me. Thank you!

Off to jump on a call with my Terre colleagues, to discuss artwork for the issue and launch events in May. Thanks for being with us on this journey!