I first had Donkey & Goat‘s wine a handful of years ago (probably in 2010) at a new release open house tasting at their facility in what is becoming known as the West Berkeley Drinks District. I remember their unfiltered whites and was very curious about them since I had not seen these at any other urban winery. Their space was also one of the first small urban wine facilities I had encountered and I recall having to squish between rows of barrels to get out to the back area where the tasting was. I was fascinated at how much was happening in such a small space. (I’m also just fascinated with small spaces in general. Yesterday I went to a great class on Portuguese wines (with a focus on the Douro and Dao regions) wines led by Evan Goldstein MS and learned that Portugal has the most varietals planted per square inch than any other country in the world. That means their entire country is basically planted to grapes!) Okay, I digress.
When Dave and I both met Jared of Donkey & Goat for a sit-down interview for the Vine Graft wine portfolio, he poured us some of the new releases including the PetNat (of Chardonnay). Wine talk wove into “what does your winery need most?” talk, and Jared was delighted by all the “hard” questions I apparently kept asking him.
But this is actually one of the questions I have asked every producer we are fortunate enough to sit down with; and it is asked so that Vine Graft might help with this expressed “need” over time in the way that we foreground wine labels we love through the lens of unique wine activity. If a customer falls in love with the wine through the story behind it, they are more likely to remember the wine, seek it out or visit if there is a tasting room. This is another goal of Vine Graft, by the way. We truly want to aid in brand awareness so that perhaps, slowly over time, this could provide a little more traffic to these tasting rooms or increase online sales or even wine club memberships.
Natural or bio-dynamic winemaking has always raised eyebrows. But by remaining steadfast in their approach, Jared and Tracey have continued to produce truly unique expressions of “terroir” with each bottle. Their style may continue to incite those raised eyebrows, but it also develops a long-standing list of followers – folks curious about the next release of wines that will reflect their style while also going against it. Each bottle is a testament to this.
Jared and Tracey are very close to their grapes. They follow their lead, even if that means their practice as winemakers does not follow that of traditional winemaking. They know they need to go where the grapes go as they develop on the vine and in the winery.
Donkey & Goat has never made natural wine to be popular or to fit a certain market. They make wine that is as true to the varietal as possible and are adamant about not cutting corners to do this. They “keep their hands in the wine” each day to know where it’s at and to respect where it’s going.
Still, beyond any raised eyebrows, I feel that despite what the consumer market says, actual consumers’ genuine curiosity and openness to new styles will prevail and be piqued by new styles that offer an eclectic array of flavor and aroma while being fun and downright delicious as well. I personally would LOVE to offer Vine Graft customers the option of exploring a flight of natural white wines, including many from Donkey & Goat’s portfolio, focusing on local producers who are attempting to embrace more bio-dynamic techniques. It is a producer’s simple intent of doing what they can to coerce forth varietal characteristics that are reflective of a certain place and a certain soil that I find admirable and their wine worth seeking out. To me, that’s always worth raising some eyebrows.