Our Story

Our Story

Donkey & Goat Winery is owned and operated by Jared & Tracey Brandt in Berkeley, California. We make “natural wines” which is a term that covers both the vineyard and the cellar. That is what distinguishes natural wine– the extension of natural farming philosophies that drive the practices for sustainable, organic & biodynamic farming into the cellar.

Our wines are made from sustainably (or more) farmed vineyards in the Sierra Nevada, Mendocino and Napa. In the cellar nothing is removed and nothing is added save minimal effective sulphur. Sulphur is a contentious issue in the natural wine world. We have made wines with zero sulphur added but in general we do use minimum effective sulphur. Or we use as little as possible and our levels going into bottle fall within the predominant guideline for natural wines in Europe. Our wines are bottled without stabilization, fining or filtration. While not required, we include our ingredient list on our label which is remarkably short: grapes and minimal sulphur. We have made our wines in this manner since we created Donkey & Goat in 2004 and will continue to do so until we stop.

Read Our Manifesto

Wine Making

Making our wines requires an artful approach, a gentle hand, and nerves of steel that allow us to follow our gut, even when the science might suggest less risky approaches.

10,000 NEW MILES IN 8 WEEKS EACH VINTAGE

We only work with a handful of growers because it allows us to better focus. We go to great lengths to find growers that will truly partner with us on our winemaking voyage. We are hugely interested in biodynamic farming and all of our growers follow sustainable agricultural practices. While we certainly monitor the typical metrics (sugars and acids) we believe the only way to call a pick date is by examining the plant and its fruit in the vineyard, tasting the berries, evaluating the skins and seeds and ultimately going with our gut instinct.

WOOD & CONCRETE FOR FERMENTATION

Many wineries ferment white wines in wood. For reasons that we speculate are first driven by operational concerns, many small lot producers ferment in square plastic bins. We are skeptical of this practice in general and know through experimentation that wood is a far superior material for our fermentations. We employee wood in many sizes and concrete for all but our sparkling wine which is made in stainless steel. We find our wood vats to be superior for insulation, dimensions for cap formation and permeability of oxygen. And we feel good about the fact this metabolic process, which interacts with the vat, is happening in a vessel with no potentially nasty chemicals leaching into the wines.

Natural Fermentations

We only allow wild or native yeast to make our wines. Or we do NOT add cultured yeasts for our primary fermentation or inoculate for malo-lactic fermentation. We believe that by letting the native yeasts do what they’ve been doing for thousands of years our fermentations go dry with little to no problems during fermentation and most important, the flavor profile is superior. We also generally like to follow the guideline that if we can not ingest it then we don’t put it in the wine which means we do not add enzymes to enhance color, tannins, or any other characteristic. Our wines include what Mother Nature gave them.

Double & Triple Sorting

Every grape that goes into our wine goes down the sorting table where we examine the grapes and remove MOG (material other than grapes) like leaves, twigs, frogs, lizards, spiders and occasionally buttons?!?! If we do have any issues on the sorting table (like rot, bird damage, diseased plants, etc) the whole cluster of questionable grapes is placed in a bin destined for the triage table. After the primary sort is completed we sort back through the triage bin at a much slower pace.

Foot Stomping for Crushing

We like skin contact on many of our white wines and we love the influence of varying amounts (depends on varietal and vintage) of whole cluster grapes in our red wines. When we do remove the stems that is it – we do not use the crusher part of our destemmer. If we need more juice in the vat we foot stomp (pigeage à pied). It has worked since the Romans and still works just fine today. We like the results better than that of the crusher and our helpers have a huge amount of fun each year channeling Lucy.

Minimal Uses of Sulfur

We are extreme in our limited uses of sulfur, often getting an earful from lab technicians about the risks we face with such low levels. They are correct but we think we can mitigate our risk with extreme care and cleanliness and to date have been rewarded with superior wines.

Bottle Without Fining, Filtering & Cold/Heat Stabilizing

We try to never say never because while we pontificate with the best of them the reality is we are trying to build a small business built on making the best wine possible and that invariably saying “never” may come back to haunt us. However I think we can safely say we never have and never will cold or heat stabilize our wine. Not that it is a terrible thing. We just think prioritizing clarity above flavor and aroma is the wrong thing to do. As a result our cloudy Chardonnay will always loose a clarity contest but boy does it taste good! We do not say “never’ when it comes to fining or filtering. We do operate on the assumption that we are not going to fine or filter but occasionally there are good reasons to do so in order to make the best wine possible. You can always tell what we’ve done because those wines that were not filtered advertise that fact on the front label.