Summer 2021

Piquette? You Bet!

A collection of Oregon piquettes shows diversity in both color and style.
A collection of Oregon piquettes shows diversity in both color and style. Submitted

In winemaking, there seem to be a million ways to turn grapes into a bottled beverage. Some hardly use any grapes at all.

Piquette is among those. It takes a detour on its way to becoming grappa, the distilled Italian high-alcohol drink made from the pomace left over after grapes are crushed. Like grappa, piquette is made by adding water to the leftover grape skins, stems and seeds and is fermented, using up any remaining sugars.

Unlike grappa, the resulting product is a highly quaffable, low-alcohol drink that’s a midway between wine and hard seltzer, clocking in at roughly 6 percent alcohol. Beer enthusiasts might refer to it as a session wine.

Some argue that technically, piquette is not wine at all. And according to Craig Camp, general manager of Troon Vineyard, “Piquette is many things, but basically it’s frugal farmer fizz, a type of natural wine that has been made for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Those frugal farmers wasted nothing, and used the juice and skins left after pressing the wines they would sell to make wine for themselves and their workers.

“All the different names I’ve heard it called signify the many differing opinions. Some call it wine or petit vin, others call it wine-drink, wine-light, or wine-adjacent. I’ve even heard some consumers refer to it as ‘wine’s sloppy seconds’ and ‘the White Claw of wine.”

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Perhaps the subject is more polarizing than politics. And yet in Oregon, producers are hedging their bets, selling out their small lots in record time and increasing their production.

Piquette can be made in many styles. Some are effervescent, some red, some white and some rosé in color.

MAIN WPNW Belgard Troon Bottling
Troon Vineyards bottles their first piquette. 

“There are even producers that add non-grape fruits as an added sugar source to boost flavor and alcohol,” says Chad Stock, winemaker and co-owner of Limited Addition. “I recently came across a producer that is steeping fresh herbs in theirs. I have yet to come across a more loose category of wine and the potential really excites me, but it makes me concerned about the quality of experience for the consumers as well.

“Education is going to be critical and the quality of the product must start with a very high bar the same way that all wine is treated in the Willamette Valley,” he added.

While the category — and whether the market is embracing it yet — may not be crystal clear, what is true is that for winemakers and consumers who value sustainability and environmental responsibility, this age-old method of using everything a harvest delivers makes perfect sense.

Is there anything more sustainable than “upcycling” — creating another product from raw materials that would have gone to waste? The pomace would normally just be composted, but finding another use for the leftovers produces something fun, tasty and profitable.

“We are finding the market’s perception to be inquisitive, adventurous and properly timed for the healthy lifestyle culture that seems to be expanding quickly in America.” Stock says. “This is a concept that people want, and if we can deliver on the quality of the product, people will, and already are, going to receive it really, really well. Our first batch sold out in a matter of days through distribution in several states, opening our eyes to a truly national demand for piquette.”

Camp, who saw an article about piquette but had never heard of it, forwarded the article to Troons winemaker Nate Wall and said it looked like fun. A few months later, they made their first piquette.

TRI WPNW Belgard FF Pomace
Fossil & Fawn’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir pomace (including stems) is in a small fermenter during its first stage of piquette production after being re-hydrated with water.

“It was interesting as we made this wine the first time without ever having tasted a piquette. That gave us the artistic freedom to create our own version, which we make with quite a bit of actual juice. That’s part of the fun of something like piquette — it is what you want it to be.” 

From a business sustainability standpoint, piquette is the ultimate gift-horse. Jenny Mosbacher, co-owner of Fossil & Fawn explains, “Producers are taking a ‘waste’ product and turning it into something they can sell. Grapes are, by a wide margin, the most expensive component in a winery’s per-bottle cost. So, in a sense, the pomace is free, because they’ve already worked the grape costs into their actual wine production.”

Resourceful producers relish in the opportunity to use good grapes in every way they can that’s approachable in style and price point. That said, there are definitely still budgetary aspects to consider. Sparkling wine bottles are expensive, so some wineries put their piquette into cans to mitigate the bottle cost, and since the federal government considers it “sparkling wine,” wineries pay higher excise taxes.

But piquette wasn’t created as a beverage to utilize winemaking waste. Nor was it made to appeal to a new generation of drinkers seeking a new great thing. Piquette was created for the viticultural community who couldn’t actually afford the wine they were making.

According to the Wine Enthusiast, “Derived from the French word for ‘prick’ or ‘prickle,’ which describes the drink’s slight fizz, piquette dates to ancient Greek and Roman times, when it was known as lora. Considered a meager, cheap-to-produce drink made from the scraps of winemaking, it was given to slaves and field workers.”

As wine prices have continued to climb over the years, making wine something of a luxury good and collector’s item that can signify status and exclusivity, piquette became and could again be a drink that breaks through such barriers, a “people’s wine.”

Andrew Young, winemaker of St. Reginal Parish observes, “When wine is too much, and water is too little, there is piquette. This wine-like beverage has been around since the dawn of time but is experiencing a revival in the states, in large part due to the efforts of our friends Wild Arc Farm in New York.”

So, while it’s a production style that has been around for ages, perhaps its renaissance can be attributed to a consumer who’s more educated and demands more and different products, especially millennials and “natural wine” drinkers. There is also a great interest right now in lower-alcohol beverages, so piquette offers a mid-point between wine and hard seltzer. And for those eager for a product that reduces environmental impact, piquette is perfection.

Approach it like pétillant naturel; it’s likely to be quirky, whimsical, perhaps even a bit funky and appreciate that it’s a product winemakers can be more playful with. It’s like the dive bar of wines; no hoity toity, high-brow pretense, no pomp and circumstance. If you’re a wine purist, expecting to drink something that tastes and ages like fine wine, it’s sure to let you down. If it’s a hot summer day and you’re looking for a ridiculously affordable, low-alcohol porch pounder that supports your core of sustainable ethics, pour yourself a glass or two of piquette. Just don’t think of it as wine.

TAMARA BELGARD is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore. She is a regular contributor to SatiatePDX.com and several Northwest publications.

Here are some recent examples of piquette

CHO WINES 2020 Pique Me Piquette, $20: Made from their 2020 Blanc de Noirs sparkling press pomace, this smoky beverage pairs well with campfires, backyard BBQs and wood-fired pizza.

Fossil & Fawn 2020 “Forgiveness is Divine but Never Pay Full Price for Late Pizza”, $15: Tastes of red Otter Pop (which, is technically strawberry in some alternate universe of fake flavorings), cranberry sauce from a can, with some green peppercorn and leather from the stem inclusion. The texture is light, bright (surprisingly!) with a frothy fizz.

Golden Cluster 2020 Dionystic, $20: 100% Syrah, this still version is a piquette for wine drinkers. There’s an aromatic explosion of dried herbs, fall leaves, dried cherries and a whiff of old-growth forest. Pair with an array of Spanish-inspired tapas and friends.

Limited Addition 2020 Public Service Piquette, $18: 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Grenache from the Willamette Valley, this still version of piquette is more wine-like in style, just lighter on its feet. It’s fruity and floral with flavor intensity, tannic texture, and enhanced body. 

Redolent 2020 Tiquette’s Piquette, $18: Made from the pomace of a co-ferment of Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, it’s a bubbly, savory and herbaceous party in your mouth.

Roots 2019 Lora Sauvignon Blanc Piquette, $16: Available in small cans, it’s easy-drinking and effervescent with pleasant aromas of patchouli and Muscat.

St. Reginald Parish 2020, $16: The Marigny Piquette “Wine Like Beverage” is like your favorite fizzy water embedded with the memories of your favorite Marigny wine. Tart raspberry and black cherry mingle with recollections of floating the river and reading in the sun.

Troon Vineyards 2020 Piquette, $25: Made from Biodynamic grapes spontaneously fermented with indigenous yeasts and no additives of any kind, it’s fresh and fizzy with bright fruit and flavors of kombucha. Perfect for picnics and summer sipping - or better yet, gulping.

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