Grape harvest comes to Berkeley at Donkey & Goat

Jared Brandt holds a container with Syrah grapes from El Dorado County. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Jared Brandt, the co-owner and winemaker of Donkey & Goat on Fifth Street in Berkeley, isn’t getting much sleep these days. It is harvest time all around California, and Brandt and his co-workers have spent hours driving to El Dorado and Mendocino Counties to help harvest Syrah and Pinot Noir grapes. Once the grapes are trucked back to the winery, they are sorted, some stems are removed, and then the whole clusters are put into barrels to ferment, just a few steps on the long path to becoming some of the winery’s award-winning wine.

“The next two weeks are going to be hard,” said Brandt, who owns the winery with his wife, Tracey. On Friday, Sept. 27, the winery processed four tons of grapes.

Many experts believe that the 2012 harvest will be the best in many years. The weather in northern California has been perfect, with hot days, cool nights, and a relatively dry spring.

After leaves and other matter are taken out, the grapes are put into a machine that takes out the stems. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Zach Gomber, Brandt, and Ray Peña sort through grape clusters to remove overripe grapes, leaves, ladybugs, earwigs and “matters other than grapes.” Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Zach Gomber makes room for more grape stems to come out of the machine. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The destemmed clusters are put into a barrel to start their fermentation. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

These pinot noir grapes went into barrel on Sept. 21 and will remain there until around Oct. 5. Then Brandt will crush them to remove the skins and put the wine into another barrel to age. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Ray Peña punches down grapes to better distribute them through the huge barrel. He does this three times a day. New barrels this size cost $40,000, says Brandt. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Crush time at Berkeley’s Donkey and Goat [10.3.11]
A natural approach: Berkeley’s Donkey and Goat Winery [06.11.12]
Berkeley’s Donkey and Goat bash draws hundreds [03.07.12]

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  • AlanTobey

    From what I hear from my own grape sources (I’m expecting a troika of reds to make at home), this is indeed the first year where the oft-heard “vintage of the century” hype may be correct all the way north to Washington state.  And if we’re lucky, the abundant harvest will help prevent the wines from bearing “prices of the century” when they’re released.

    Wineries may have trouble unloading the dodgy 2011s in the meanwhile, currently worthy only of being called the best available vintage since 2010.  

    Nice to see D&G and their peers adding to the local food scene.

  • deirdre

    I enjoyed these photographs.

  • Alan, 

    2011 is much better, IMHO, than most give it credit for being.  In El Dorado, the cool weather allowed fruit to hang much longer than normal with lower sugar, creating truly great wines.    (Anderson Valler was  plagued by rot…)

    2012 is a work in progress – much easier until the heat spell then 2011.

  • Patrick_Sheahan

    As a West Berkeley resident, I enjoy discovering artisan producers (Urbano Cellars is another local winemaker) contributing to an emerging food scene. Now Measure T is on the ballot, threatening the ability of such businesses to establish and remain in West Berkeley.

  • The Sharkey

    Do you have any proof of your allegation?
    There’s no shortage of space in West Berkeley right now. Developing a few key lots to increase job density in Berkeley won’t mean the elimination of all reasonably priced warehouse/production space in the area.

  • Patrick_Sheahan

    To the pseudonymous Sharkey, a consistent apologist for big development; the phase “a few key lots” misleads readers by attempting to minimize the potential impact of the Measure T Rezoning. In fact, under Measure T two-thirds of West Berkeley are potential eligible sites for 75′ high office parks and condos. This type of radical gentrification has been shown to adversely affect small business. If you show your name, i can show you the evidence.

  • Billy Goat

    Ray Pena is cute