Even during his career as a vineyard nurseryman—the person who cares for grape vines—Field Recordings owner and winemaker Andrew Jones couldn’t escape cider or beer. When he began his own wine label as a side project in 2007 in Paso Robles, California, Jones was as interested in the ingredients and process of other beverages as he was in winemaking.
Hopped ciders—as well as the Funky Gold series from Perennial Artisan Ales in St. Louis—had convinced him that hops and acidity were a winning combination and one he wanted to apply to wine. All that curiosity and exploration culminates in his Dry Hop Pét Nat, a naturally carbonated, sparkling white wine fermented on hops. Its label proclaims it to be the “best experiment ever.”
“The beer world can be so traditional for every style,” Jones says. “It’s only supposed to be made a certain way in this or that category. Wine is like that, too, that it has to be done in a set way. But there’s a lot we can do that hasn’t been done yet.”
Jones has been making wine in the pét nat style for roughly eight years. These wines, named for an abbreviation of the French phrase pétillant naturel (“naturally sparkling”), are bottled before fermentation is complete, allowing yeast to continue chomping on residual sugar in the juice—not so different from a bottle-conditioned Belgian ale. However, no sugar is added, as it is with champagne. Instead, the yeast produce carbon dioxide, and the wine absorbs that gas, creating natural bubbles.
Today, Field Recordings’ dry-hopped pét nats begin with a base of chardonnay grapes, most recently from Coquina Wines in Arroyo Grande. Jones likes chardonnay for its neutrality, but past iterations of dry-hopped pét nat saw him pair a rosé with Citra hops, then a sparkling gamay combining grapes from Martian Ranch & Vineyard with Galaxy hops. (Clearly, Martian Galaxy was too good a wine name to pass up!)
Because Field Recordings doesn’t use a lot of hops, relatively speaking, Jones is at the mercy of what he can buy on the spot market via Lupulin Exchange or from his lone “hop guy” in Michigan. That means the hop bill has changed a bit from year to year—but he’s always been happy with the results.
“To my knowledge, we were the first to get the TTB [U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] to approve a grape product with hops,” Jones says. However, because the resulting liquid isn’t “100 percent grapes,” the TTB doesn’t allow him to say “chardonnay” on the label—so he instead calls it a sparkling white wine with hops. “I had to go back and forth with them a bunch and justify the use of hops as a fining agent and stabilizer,” he says.
Despite regulatory headaches, Jones wasn’t giving up on dry-hopped pét nat.
“It has all the great aromatic complexity of the finest hopped beers,” he says. “It’s got good apple, pear, and stone-fruit notes from the wine, but it’s elevated with the piney, more dank hops. I think of it as a whole new sparkling-wine experience, not a beer alternative.”
Despite having a reputation for being somewhat finicky to produce, Jones says Dry Hop Pét Nat is one of the easiest wines he makes. They harvest the grapes on a cool California evening, when they reach the precise balance of sugar and acidity that Jones knows will yield a delicious wine. They then press the grapes in tanks that already contain hop pellets, so the native yeast on the grapes and in the winery can ferment the juice directly on the hops. The low temperatures at which this occurs don’t allow for the isomerization of alpha acids—so, Jones prefers aroma-heavy, beta acid–rich hop varietals. (He declines to say how many pounds of hops he uses in a batch, calling it a proprietary detail.)
When the wine reaches near-dryness on the Brix scale after about three weeks, Jones uses temperature to stall fermentation, and he racks the wine off the hops and lees. He reserves a small portion of the fermenting juice in a temperature-controlled tank. After the hop particulates settle, the wine and the reserved juice are bottled together to allow for small amounts of ongoing fermentation.
These are relatively small-batch releases, yielding just 3,000 bottles that are prized equally by wine and beer drinkers—just as Jones intended.
“A lot of people in the wine world get inspired by one particular wine, and when they start their own thing, they want to make copies of that wine,” he says. “For me, I’m always trying to go for something different.”