Tracey and Jared Brandt, wife and husband winemakers, have created their Donkey & Goat wines the way most of us would want the world to be: no plastics, all natural ingredients, structure and flavor encouraged from the vineyard’s terroir and soil, not manipulated. These are “encouraged” wines, not produced.
I’ve tasted six Donkey & Goat wines now, and can only describe them as uniquely dynamic; each has almost a rascally quality of surprise. The velvety, unfiltered body and that bold balance of acid and structure just plain startles. Their inexplicable freshness conjures a French farmer in indigo work clothes crossing a stone courtyard for this bottle of his house stuff.
The Brandts are minimalists: Donkey & Goat wines ferment using only wild yeast and bacteria in the air and from the aged oak casks. No additives are used except the tiniest bit of sulphur, far less than other wines. No fining, cloudiness is embraced. Like parents uninterested in test scores, the Brandts ignore their grapes’ sugar content, or brix, considered by most a cornerstone in the winemaking process. The Brandts harvest grapes rather for flavor and variety.
My affair with these wines started first with Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat, a bottle-fermented style of sparkling wine considered “Champagne’s hip younger sister” http://www.grubstreet.com/2013/07/peak-season-for-petillant-naturel.html.
Pet Nats, short for Pettilant Naturelle, are produced with only the grapes’ natural sugars and no added yeasts, ideal methodoise for the Donkey & Goat minimal intervention style. We were not just startled but wowed by the deliciousness therein: ginger and pear inside minerally-bubbles. (Pet-Nats are considered rougher and thus less expensive than other sparkling wines. Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat was on the high side for these wines at $45; Pet-Nats generally run from $18 – $28, but the Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat is truly a celebration-worthy bottle.)
“The Stone-Crusher” Roussanne is a beautiful example of an “orange wine,” meaning it has spent fermenting time with the grape’s skins, giving the wine a gauzy orange color and sometimes a cloudy cast, a wholesome “ding” that in a charming way signals the wine’s process. Stone Crusher’s flinty feel and surprising body recall a bright cider but with the beautiful wine flavors of spice and dried apricots. I am in love with this wine. .
The Carignane was bright with a toothsome body, light fruit, and a little pepper. After tonight I would nick-name it the “Shitake-Firer,” as it sent up flares of flavor around the shitake mushrooms in our dinner.
“We make our wines for the table, not the cocktail glass,” Tracy Brandt writes on her blog. I am not a wine writer, so I will leave more descriptions to the Donkey & Goat site, or to Robert Parker, but I can say each of the Donkey & Goat wines I tasted – including the above, “Eliza,” “The Bear,” and “Carginane” were consistently lively, dynamic, and vibrant; they are wines that drive conversation. One sip, and suddenly everyone is trying to figure out what is going on here.
Ranging in price from $30 – $50, Donkey & Goat wines are available on Boston’s North Shore in the Salem Cheese Shop and Savour Wines in Gloucester.