AWG Correspondent

Martin D. Redmond

Donkey & Goat Photos

Donkey & Goat Review

Region: California

Reviewed: April 1, 2016 by Martin D. Redmond
Published: May 19, 2016

Donkey & Goat is an urban winery located in Berkeley, California. It’s owned and operated by Jared & Tracey Brandt. Theirs is a story we’ve heard before, but with a “natural” twist. They both left tech careers to pursue their dreams of making wine. They got started making wines in the Rhône Valley and returned to California to apply what they learned in France.

The “natural” twist is their focus - no, make that their obsession, on making wines as naturally as possible. While “natural” winemaking has become increasingly in vogue these days, the Brandts have been doing it since day one. Their natural winemaking aesthetic, which applies to both the vineyard and the cellar, includes using native yeasts, fermenting their wines in used oak barrels or concrete (most small wineries use plastic bins), in small batches, using no machines for crushing the grapes, minimal SO2, and not filtering, fining, or heat or cold stabilizing their wines.

The Brandts also make it a point to note that their wines are made “for the table, not the cocktail glass”. They pick their fruit sooner than most, with the decision on when to pick driven by flavor and structure rather than brix. As a result, their wines tend to be lower in alcohol (also trending these days it seems – but my sense is that’s another thing the Brandts were doing long before the pendulum started to swing toward lower alcohol wines). Theirs is a holistic approach where…”natural farming philosophies drive sustainable, organic & biodynamic farming into the cellar”. Grapes are sourced from sustainably farmed vineyards in Napa and Mendocino County, along with the unappreciated El Dorado appellation in the Sierra Foothills.

As an environmentally aware consumer, I appreciate their approach to minimal intervention winemaking, but what ultimately keeps me coming back is that Jared and Tracey are crafting interesting, complex and ultimately very palatable wines. They have a very diverse lineup of wines that include not only white, pink and red wines, but also an “orange” wine, a Ramato style Pinot Gris, and a pétillant naturel (aka “pét-nat”); a naturally sparkling wine made using the méthode ancestrale.

The Tasting Experience: Donkey & Goat is located in an industrial area close to Interstate 80 in a warehouse-type building that has been converted to a tasting room and winemaking facility. When you walk through the front door you’ll find the tasting room - which is separated from the rest of the wine-making facility - barrel room, and out the back door of the warehouse a gathering space that includes a picnic table, chairs, and a petanque court. A half-wall outfitted in corrugated steel, framed by wood and decorated with pictures, creates a warm, cozy well-lit environment courtesy of the warehouse-style windows. Guest have the option of tasting at a small table with wooden stools, a couple of comfy, overstuffed leather chairs with a small table between them, or the wine tasting bar. Behind the wine tasting bar is the wine tasting menu written on a mirror.

The tasting room staff is fun, friendly, knowledgeable, and intent on delivering a high-level of service. They are adept at sensing the level of experience one has with wine and guiding one through the tasting accordingly. The tasting menu the day we visited included the five wines; a white wine, an “orange” wine, and three red wines.

· 2014 Sluice Box, White Blend - a delightful, harmonious blend of Vermentino, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc (fermented on skins), Roussanne and Picpoul. Since the wine is unfiltered, it pours a hazy gold yellow color. Don’t let that distract you from enjoying this delicious white wine with a red’s structure and lovely texture. It shows layers of peach, apple, lemon curd flavors with an appealing savory minerality.

· 2014 Stone Crusher (skin-fermented) Roussanne – This is an “orange” wine, that ironically was lighter in color than the Sluice Box with charming, exotic , honeysuckle, baked apricot, spiced orange rind, and jasmine aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, dry and fresh with dusty tannins and baked apricot, nectarine, heirloom apple, mineral and spice flavors, and a lingering finish. It’s one of my favorite Thanksgiving wines.

· 2014 Five Thirteen, Red Wine Blend – A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise, and Cinsault. It’s aptly named because it includes five of the thirteen permitted red Rhone grape varieties. It’s a light-bodied, but intense wine with pretty red fruit, floral, spice and faint leather aromas packed with cherry, strawberry, black raspberry and brambly spice flavors and an appealing minerality.

· 2013 Merlot Blakeman Vineyard - This is definitely not your typical Merlot. It comes from a cool-climate vineyard in Anderson Valley. It pours ruby red with black cherry, red currant, and damp earth aromas. On the palate it’s light-bodied, (brings to mind Pinot Noir more than the typical Merlot) and fresh with tart cherry, black raspberry, and currant flavors and a very giving finish. It’s a definitely a Merlot for food in my book.

· 2013 Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah – A fantastic Syrah with lifted red fruit, violets, white pepper, and meaty aromas. On the palate, it’s skew toward medium-bodied with mouth-watering acidity and raspberry, black cherry, blackberry, plum and spice flavors. It’s well-structured, savory and delicious.

I couldn’t possibly pick one favorite wine from the tasting, but the most memorable wines for me were the Sluice Box, Five Thirteen, and the Fenaughty Syrah.

Insiders Tips: There are a couple of other wineries within easy walking distance – Broc Cellars and the co-located Eno Wines and Lusu Cellars. If you’re thirsty for more, and want to try something different, head over to The Mead Kitchen, (an easy 10-minute drive away) where mead is being crafted in small batches from locally sourced honey. Mead, which is essentially fermented honey, and water sometimes mixed with various fruit, spice, grains or hop is believed to be the world’s first alcoholic libation. It reminds me of cider, and I’ve enjoyed it on several occasions!

Oh, and Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants is less than a mile away!

Address & Contact Information: 1340 5th Street Berkeley, California 94710. Telephone: 510-868-9174, email:, website: Tasting Hours: Fri-Sun 2:00-6:00.

Overall Rating:  

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