A largely under-the-radar beverage for most drinks enthusiasts, piquette is a wine-adjacent product made from the skins, seeds, stems, and pulp that are left over from wine production. Depending on where you are in the world, piquette is known as acquarello, acqua pazza, lora, vinello, or even water wine. It typically has a lower ABV—usually 4% to 9%—and is meant to be consumed young. With its slight sparkle, some have called it a natural wine cooler.
“I think pretty much everyone [in the U.S.]—save for about eight people—is completely in the dark about piquette,” says Jess Miller, a farmer and winemaker at Little Crow Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
That may be true, but perhaps not for long.
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An Upcycled Product
The production of piquette involves adding water to grape must or pomace and fermenting what’s left of the sugars. “I like to compare it to re-steeping tea,” says Miller, “like in a French press.”
Producing piquette is a way to use the remnants of winemaking that would otherwise probably be thrown away or composted. For wineries focused on sustainability, piquette could be a beneficial side project that brings in some added revenue. “The advantages of using a potential waste product to create a value-added good are obvious,” says Jack Tregenza, a winegrowing assistant at Johan Vineyards and the winemaker at Works In Progress, both in the Willamette Valley. “I think we will see many people jumping to make piquette [because of] this alone.”
The piquette mantle has been picked up in the U.S. by a small band of forward-thinking, natural-minded winemakers on both coasts, but it’s not new. In fact, the tradition is an old one that used to be common in Europe. “Its production was practiced until recently by farmers in almost every wine-growing region [to create] a light wine that was consumed by family members and field workers,” says Junichi Fujita, a winemaker and owner of a vineyard and forthcoming wine label in Oregon’s McMinnville AVA.
An Early Adopter in the U.S.
The three Oregon-based winemakers cited a single winemaker on the East Coast for inspiring their interest in piquette—Todd Cavallo, of Wild Arc Farm in New York’s Hudson Valley, possibly the person who introduced this traditional beverage to North America.
“We had already done some soaking and pressing of our must in 2016 with an eye toward distillation,” Cavallo says. “But a friend showed us some passages on piquette in Leo A. Loubère’s book, The Red and the White: The History of Wine in France and Italy in the Nineteenth Century, and said why not try it out, so we did.”
Cavallo started experimenting with second pressings in 2016 and made his first commercial piquettes in 2017. Those bottlings made their way to Oregon. “I tasted my first piquette last summer,” says Fujita, “when a bottle of 2017 Wild Arc Cabernet Franc piquette was shared by Jack Tregenza.” Fujita adds that he was intrigued by the uniqueness of the wine from the first sip: “It had a freshness on the aroma and a thirst-quenching quality that was hard to match in an ordinary wine on a hot summer day. Many that tasted the wine with me reacted with similar delight, and I knew then that it was something I would want to try making.”
Cavallo’s 2017 bottlings, which sell at retail for around $15, also inspired some winemakers closer to home. Lisa Hinton, who co-owns Old Westminster Winery in New Windsor, Maryland, with her siblings Ashli Johnson and Drew Baker, says she’s always searching for exciting new side projects. “We got our hands on a bottle from Todd shortly after he bottled the first modern piquette we’re aware of,” says Hinton. “We loved it. So much so that we were inspired to try our hand at piquette.”
On its face, piquette production is simple—just add water to pomace. But it’s also much more complex than that. Adding the water lowers the acidity level, which raises the pH and makes it much harder to fend off spoilage and contamination. Some producers add back in a percentage of wine to increase the product’s acidity, which improves its stability. They also may add honey or another sweetener, which referments in the bottle to yield a slight sparkle.
“Piquette is more like beer or milk,” says Miller. “So in order for it not to go volatile, you have to take serious quality measures and be hypervigilant. Things like oxygen exposure, temperature, and sulfur are drastically more important—in my experience.”
So far, piquette production is infinitesimal in North America, even among its few champions. Tregenza made only 15 cases in 2018. Fujita made 100 bottles for educational purposes (they won’t even be sold commercially). Hinton’s first release was 300 cases. Cavallo started with 125 cases in 2017 and is making around 400 cases this year.
Zack Klug, the winemaker at Liten Buffel on the Niagara Escarpment in western New York made 50 cases of piquette in 2017 and has more in progress from the 2018 vintage. “I wanted to start out small at first,” he says. “I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. But I had enough skins from a whole-cluster Cabernet Sauvignon ferment—and bottles—for around 50 cases. I’d like to grow closer to 500 [cases] and have it priced like beer. Cheap and accessible.”
Cavallo believes that a broad market potentially exists for piquette. “We have had incredible response from people on all sides of the wine consumption spectrum, from fine-wine drinkers to beer-only drinkers,” he says. “It’s also a way for us to further our experiments in organic viticulture here in New York without losing too much money—and to sell a low-intervention wine product at the magical $15 price point.”
Hinton, who released those 300 cases in November, says the response to Old Westminster’s piquette was overwhelming. “People love the juicy, refreshing, and spritzy nature of our piquette,” she says. “Not to mention, the low alcohol makes it easy and approachable. And our pricing is such that it can be glass-poured in restaurants and affordably sit on shelves. The market is thirsty for sustainable [beverages].”
Lenn Thompson is a writer, podcaster, and speaker on wine based on Long Island, New York. He has been writing about North American wine—with a focus on regions that aren’t in California, Oregon, or Washington—for 15 years for a variety of online and print publications, including Wine Enthusiast magazine, Beverage Media, Serious Eats, and various Edible Communities magazines. He writes on his own behalf at the Cork Report, after a decade during which he ran the New York Cork Report.