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Friday, June 17, 2005
Donkeys and Goats
Lest you think this is an odd title for a food and wine blog, I'm here to tell you a story and bring meaning to its significance.

Once upon a time (well, back in 2002), a guy named Jared and a girl named Tracey decided to quit their day jobs and travel to France to learn how to make wine. For a year the two worked between the Rhone Valley and Burgundy for renowned French winemaker Eric Texier. Each day brought a new adventure: learning about elevage, becoming familiar with winery operations, and living through a very rainy harvest.

Every day Tracey and Jared walked past a field where there lived a donkey and a goat. Thinking it rather odd, the pair began to notice similar couplings throughout the countryside. So they decided to ask a local. They found out that donkeys are used in France to eat the weeds in the vineyards, without disrupting the delicate vines. But they are moody and difficult. Goats, apparently a happy-go-lucky type, like to hang out with donkeys and keep them company. A vineyard pairing made in heaven.

So where am I going with this? In 2003, Jared and Tracey returned to San Francisco, determined to start their own winery. And what did they decide to call it? A Donkey and Goat.

Starting out in the basement of a friend's house in Potrero Hill (a friend who just so happens to now be the owner of Crushpad), the couple made two Syrahs and a Chardonnay. They also spent the year researching and meeting with growers throughout California. Shortly thereafter, they moved their operations to Crushpad, where Tracey also works as the Director of Sales and Marketing. You can read all the details on their website, but essentially Crushpad is an urban winery (actually, located right across from KQED!) where you can make custom wines, with as much or as little participation as you want. It's cool.

Currently, with their 2004 vintage, Jared and Tracey have 17 barrels from 4 vineyards: Carson Ridge, Brosseau, McDowell Valley, and Vidmar. These include Syrah, Chardonnay, and a rose. Which is where I come in.

A few months ago Jared and Tracey were kind enough to send over 2 bottles of their rose wine, a 2004 Grenache Gris (named Isabel's Cuvee, after their daughter), to our BAB Springfeast. (Um, we still haven't blogged about that, but it's hopefully coming soon.) Anyway, we chilled the wine and after wrestling with the thick wax seal (which looks really cool but isn't user friendly, a fact that Jared readily admits and explained later that it was a last-resort to seal the bottles and that they wouldn't be doing it again), we were all delightfully surprised by the dark color of the rose. The rose proved to be full-bodied, fruity, and yet still a bit tart and dry. The perfect compliment to most foods, from fish to poultry to pork.

We were so intrigued that we set up a barrel tasting at Crushpad so that we might try the other wines that the duo is producing. Jared was the perfect host (unfortunately Tracey couldn't make it): explaining their winemaking philosophy; their goals, preferences, and differences in making wine (such as picking into small bins so as not to damage the grapes, fermenting reds and whites in wood, and natural fermentation); using ver jus to balance their wines; his passion for the technical side of winemaking (ie being in the lab); and Crushpad's model.

First we tasted three different Syrahs from Carson Ridge, one that had Viognier added and two without. We all decided the Syrah with the Viognier was our favorite from that particular vineyard. Next, we moved on to their Vidmar Vineyard Syrahs. We tasted two barrels, one called 877 which Jared described as more feminine, and another, the Estrella River, which he described as more masculine. Wendy and I preferred the Estrella, which was richer, fuller, and spicier than the 877, Jared's preference. The last Syrah that we tasted was the McDowell Valley Old Vine. It was intense and seemed like it had a lot of potential.

Before I move on to the whites, if you have never been barrel tasting, I highly recommend it. This was my second opportunity (the first being at Peter Michael a few years back when a close friend worked there). You not only learn about the process of winemaking, but the nuances of aging wine and all that goes into its creation.

We finished with two Chardonnays. The first was still finishing fermentation, so it was very young and not terribly drinkable. The other was made with added verjus. It was crisp, minerally, and really delicious. I have to admit, I'm not a huge Chardonnay fan, at least not the overly oaky, buttery California Chards. I prefer the leaner French-style whites, and that is what Jared and Tracey also look for in a Chard. I'll definitely order a few bottles of these!

All in all, we learned a lot, drank a lot, and had a great time doing it. Keep your eyes out for this young winery; Tracey and Jared are not only knowledgeable and passionate about what they are doing, but they are already producing some fantastic wines.


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