1340 5th Street, Berkeley, CA 94710 | 510-868-9174 | website
Donkey & Goat is a husband/wife run winery located in an industrial stretch in Berkeley, just a few blocks down from the 4th Street shopping esplanade, and a stop at their tasting room is a nice way to unwind after visiting the 4th Street frenzy. Tracey & Jared Brandt craft their natural wines from Rhône varietals, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in the Anderson Valley, Mendocino Ridge and the undiscovered El Dorado appellation in the Sierra Foothills. They are noted for their minimalistic style and manifesto, which embraces an uncompromising and rigorous approach to natural winemaking. You can read an informative and detailed article about them in Saveur magazine here and one from the local SF Chronicle (same author) here and Eric Asimov’s NY Times article here. We entered the Tasting room and were greeted with happy faces, given very nice souvenir glasses and pours of their sold-out Grenache Rose Isabel’s Cuvee 2011.
They came up with the name for their winery in France. Donkeys have long been used for weed control in Europe, but while they are hardworking, they can be stubborn and uncooperative. Farmers discovered that putting a goat nearby calmed the donkeys down. It’s a yin and yang thing and makes for a good story. They are part of a new breed of vintners that are interested in letting the wine speak for itself with as little intervention as possible. They ferment all of their wines in wood
I’ve been on their mailing list for years, but something about this particular invite caught my eye. They mentioned that the harvest chef was Ryan Langsdorf who currently works at Chez Panisse and was previously at Pok Pok in Portland Oregon. I just got the Pok Pok cookbook (Pok Pok is a wildly popular spot serving foods found at pubs, restaurants, homes and the streets of Southeast Asia) and was keen to check it out. We walked through to the sunny courtyard and made beelines to the red tents on both sides where you could try a lovely variety of their wines.
Dishes were served from a counter with many baskets filled with rice, a necessary accompaniment to all of the spicy dishes!
The first salad was spicy spicy mushroom salad bursting with exuberant flavors and did I mention it was spicy? Whoo howdy spicy! It made my tastebuds explode and my ultra-sensitive scovillian response unit jangled the fire alarms by diverting all liquids to the rescue and so my eyes and nose began to water and I think I was drooling a little too and a sheen of perspiration began to attempt to put out the flames. Fine strands of pungent red onion, aromatic mint, fish sauce infused the flesh of the mushrooms and I continued to eat because it tasted so good…
Slices of tender flank steak with fresh mint and toasted rice powder which added a delightful nutty flavor and delicately dense crunch. There were lots of flecks of red chilis on this dish as well, but it wasn’t nearly as incendiary.
Thin strips of root vegetables (fennel, carrot and jicama) in an intoxicating dressing made of coconut milk laced with sugar and fish sauce, tossed with buttery cashews and fragrant strands of keffir lime leaf and basil. Not too spicy, a welcome turn in the menu at least for me…
I inhaled the tender local Calamari filled with garlicky ground pork, it was so good with the jasmine rice, served with an aromatic leaf.
Between dishes, we sampled different wines, I asked for a recommendation to go with the rich tender slow cooked pork with a piquant salad of pickled cucumbers, a thin slab of cabbage and a dark green aromatic leaf and was given a generous sample of the Helluva Pinot, which was perfect.
Succulent slices of Llano Seco pork loin with creamy eggplant and thin slices of pickled zucchini. Another plate of contrasting textures and flavors, served with pungent and aromatic herbs that we were told to eat for flavor.
This is the kitchen crew, I embarassed them by stalking them with the camera, the chef is in the middle, looking abashed… They did a great job keeping everyone fed with an incredible variety of dishes.
This is Jared, one of the owner/winemakers, who poured a variety of Syrah during the event and loved to talk wine.
Other tastes I enjoyed:
2012 StoneCrusher Roussane, El Dorado, orange wine that wows white & red fans for its perfumed nose and fleshy mouth feel.
2012 Carignane (old vine), Mendocino, if ever there was a perfect red wine for the fall table!
2011 Pinot Noir, Helluva, Anderson Valley, our nervy Pinot that is everything a Pinot should be.
We signed up as wine club members, which will entitle us free entry to this highly desirable event of incredible food, company and some very kickass wines next time! I paid $45 pp/for this event, so it really is a no-brainer to join – hello free tastings!