Wine & Spirits


Going Natural

Berkeley Winery Tries Eco-Friendly Approach

    For Jared and Tracey Brandt, owners and winemakers of A Donkey and Goat winery in Berkeley, green practices begin in the vineyard.
    The couple got much of their winemaking training by working for Eric Texier, a vintner in France’s Rhône Valley who works with grape growers committed to low yields and natural farming methods. So when the Brandts got started—their first commercial harvest was 2004—they followed Texier’s example.
“We looked for vineyards that were really conscientious about how they used chemicals,” Jared says. Tracey Brandt adds that finding like-minded growers “is a very, very long courting process. It’s like getting married.”
    A Donkey and Goat is one of a growing number of California wineries, large and small, turning to environmentally responsible practices, ranging from the use of sustainable or organic farming methods to the installation of solar power systems and conversion of equipment to biodiesel.
    In the Brandts’ case, the growers they work with aren’t necessarily certified as organic, but they make minimal use of chemicals like Roundup (commonly used for weed control), and they use minimal irrigation. And Tracey Brandt notes that some are looking at the possibility of converting to full organic farming or even to biodynamic farming, a more intensive system that incorporates a belief in the influence of cosmic forces related to the moon and the planets and includes the use of various “preparations,” such as horn silica, nettle and valerian, in the vineyard.
    The vineyards the Brandts work with are spread out—from Mendocino County in the north to Monterey County in the south, and east to the Sierra Foothills—and they like to visit frequently, especially as harvest approaches, but they log those miles in their hybrid Toyota Prius. The winery’s Web site notes that they put 10,000 miles on the car from August to November 2005.
    In the winery, too, the Brandts incorporate many green practices. They started by finding the right location.
    Jared Brandt says they took some advice from Steve Edmunds, proprietor of another Berkeley winery, Edmunds St. John. Edmunds told them to find a facility with high ceilings in an area with fog, because it would alleviate the need for a big cooling system in the winery. Jared Brandt says that even during the crushing heat wave of 2006, “We didn’t have heat issues.” (Cases of wine are stored off-site in a temperature-controlled warehouse.)
    The small winery on Fourth Street feels airy and spacious because of the high ceiling, and skylights bring in a lot of natural light. The Brandts also installed a newer type of fluorescent lighting that’s more energy-efficient than older-generation fluorescent lights. Now they’re considering a solar energy system to provide their power.
    When wineries use hot water to clean equipment and barrels, they need a lot of it, and the Brandts had been told that their operation would require a 400-gallon water heater. Trouble is, they would have to heat all that water even when it is not needed. Instead, they installed a tankless heater that provides hot water on demand.
    They don’t like to use new oak barrels, and that allows them to engage in a recycling program of sorts: They buy used barrels that might otherwise be discarded.
    As they do in the vineyard, the Brandts avoid chemicals in the winery, too. Tracey Brandt says they try to make wines “as naturally as possible.” That includes using the lowest possible levels of sulfur to preserve the wine.
    Of course, all these green practices wouldn’t amount to much in the marketplace if the wines were inferior. Fortunately, A Donkey and Goat is producing distinctive wines that are also delicious.
    I tasted three wines from the spring 2007 release. The 2005 Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay ($40), from the Chalone appellation in Monterey, is taut and racy, with lemon and mineral flavors. It’s still quite tight and will benefit from some more time in the bottle. The 2005 Three Thirteen ($37), a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah, takes its name from the fact that the Brandts are using three of the 13 grape varieties permitted in the Rhône region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The wine is dark, dense and a little meaty, with juicy black fruit, a hint of white pepper and a firm core of acidity and tannin. And the 2005 Broken Leg Vineyard Syrah ($42), from an Anderson Valley vineyard that’s so cold that the Syrah doesn’t ripen every year, is dark and peppery, with black fruit and a slight floral note.
     A Donkey and Goat is small—fewer than 700 cases were produced in the 2005 vintage—so the wines are in limited supply. The Web site,, has a list of restaurants and retailers and information on the winery’s mailing list. And there’s also an explanation of the winery’s curious name (click on “who is the donkey”).

—By Laurie Daniel

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