Donkey & Goat Tasting (Wine, Not Game)

Donkey & Goat Winery’s 4th annual Summer Fete.

Donkey & Goat is an urban winery located in Berkeley near Gilman Street on Fifth. Jared and Tracy Brandt are the husband and wife team that takes Rhone varietals and produces food driven wines by following natural wine making processes, not because it is fashionable but they believe it produces a better product in the glass.

It was a sunny day as I parked in the light industrial area of Berkeley. I approached a repurposed concrete front building that had a soft earth tone color with the name of the winery and their logo of a donkey and a goat above the door. Entering I was greeted by an outstretched hand and a glass with yellow wine in it. The “Stone Crusher” was a Roussanne grape that was allowed to sit on the skins and extract some flavor and tannins in the style of yellow wine from the Jura region in France.

Walking into the winery with barrels stacked up both sides of the walls, there were tables for pouring with guests two and three deep, a narrow channel in between was a slow passage from the front to the back lot where a band and a food truck waited. I become uncomfortable in crowds and stood with my back to a wall and enjoyed my wine. As I was raising my glass, an eight-year-old girl walked past raising an ice cream cone. I thought it unusual for a child to be there until I went to the back lot where families were sitting in the sun at picnic tables, with children playing bocce ball, a band in the background, a food truck, and, of course, an ice cream stand. The philosophy of the winemakers was evident there: They were not making cocktail wines for adult parties, but rather, wine to enjoy with food and family, all together in a fun environment.

The Stone Crusher was very savory with some herbal fragrance and a prominent mineral backbone. I asked a young woman what she thought of it, and her eyes widened as she said that she didn’t know if she liked it or not, but found it to be “very interesting.” We agreed it was more like a martini than a wine, given that the herbs reflected gin’s character, and thought that dropping an olive in it would complete the comparison.

The Stone Crusher was a clever introduction to the style of wines that Jared and Tracy are producing. They are food wines, and they tend to pick their grapes earlier to maintain a higher acidity and the vineyard soils provide more mineral structure in the glass.

One of my favorite varietals is syrah, and they poured a vertical of “The Recluse” syrah from Anderson Valley. The vintages were distinctively different, and this is where the minimal interference with the wine comes through. Each year reflected the climate and challenges that were presented to the winemaker.

We started with the 2009 syrah. It was a warm year and the wine was more fruit forward since they had riper grapes to work with. The 2010 was a cool year and produced a more savory style with a pepper finish. The 2011 was a challenging, inconsistent year and they had to deal with grape rot; it warmed up later in the year and produced ripe stems. The ripe stems allowed them to use whole cluster fruit and the stems provide some tannin and other flavors. The profile for that vintage was green bell pepper, good acidity and salinity. This was a wine that would play well with many foods.

My favorite of the syrahs we tasted was the 2011 Fenaughty Vineyard from El Dorado County. This wine was deep, layered and balanced. The dark fruit had savory elements and a Nicoise olive finish. I brought this wine to dinner that night and enjoyed it with cheese and charcuterie.

Donkey & Goat was also pouring a chardonnay that was a Wente Rootstock; no grafting, just all original right down to the roots, great acid and mineral, not a buttery chardonnay. In addition, there was a grenache blanc that was refreshing but picked up some richness from the large oval used oak barrel; and a grenache noir with a dark cherry color, subtle dark fruit, and a savory style that called out for grilled, charred meat or vegetables.

But that’s not all. There was also a “Still Kraisey” white merlot. It had the pink color of a peeled grape and a dry finish with a hint of merlot’s soft tannins; and a blend of roussanne, picpoul, rolle (vermentino), and grenache blanc that was unfiltered and very cloudy. Part of Donkey & Goat’s house philosophy is not filtering unless they have to, because it leaves more of the flavor in the glass. This example was fruit forward, medium bodied and interesting, giving you reason to pause. Watching guests holding a glass of cloudy white wine while they stood in the sunshine watching the developing scene gave a context for Donkey and Goat winery, it is a casual, community of curious and open minded individuals who come to explore and mingle over some very singular wines.

Donkey & Goat Winery, 1340 5th Street, Berkeley, CA
(510) 868-9174 www.donkeyandgoat.com
Tastings Friday through Sunday 2-6 p.m.

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