It’s hard to explain the role that Donkey & Goat wines play in our lives.
We serve them by the glass and by the bottle at Sotto in Los Angeles, where I curate the wine list.
Tracie P and I drink them regularly at home (the last vintage of Sluicebox is currently our house white).
And Rev. B, my father-in-law, just can’t get enough of the Berkeley winery’s red wines, which, like most of Jared’s wines are sourced from a new frontier of grape growing in contemporary California winemaking, El Dorado, where wine grapes have been grown since the time of the Gold Rush.
“It’s really interesting to see where they planted their vines” during the Gold Rush, said Jared, who doesn’t own any land there but works closely with growers.
“You’ve got to consider that they had no means to acidify their wines and so they needed to plant on sites where they had diurnal temperature variations.”
The thought of gold miners growing wine grapes in an era before Pasteur’s discoveries had taken root would have been enough to occupy the conversation for the entire evening.
But there were so many questions I had for Jared, a polymath who came to wine and winemaker later in life after a career in high tech but who has now emerged as one of our country’s leading Natural winemakers — however reluctantly.
“I don’t like labels and I don’t consider myself a Natural winemaker” per se, he said. “I think of it more as ‘unmanipulative’ winemaking. But that’s not as fun to say.”
“Basically,” he explained, “I don’t put anything in my wine that could hurt my daughter if she ate it,” referring to the many chemical treatments that even Natural and biodynamic producers use regularly. Of course, his rule of thumb resonated with me, father of a six-month-old baby girl (Tracie P has been posting about Georgia P’s Baby Led Weaning on her Sugar Pie blog, btw).
I don’t have time to recount our entire confabulatio this morning but I was impressed by his take on Native yeast.
“It seems that the one thing that everyone [of the Natural winemakers] agrees on is native yeast,” he said. “I’ve experimented with commercial yeast but every time, I’ve ended up with a stuck fermentation. You’d be surprised by how many famous Californian winemakers use native yeast.”
His approach to winemaking has been enjoying popularity among young U.C. Davis enology students, he told me. “Davis is changing: there is a generation of professors there and we have a quite a following of students who come to visit us at the winery.”
The spark that ignited his career in winemaking?
“I was collecting the wines of [Rhône producer] Eric Textier and had tasted a white wine he made and loved it. I then read in the Wine Advocate that Robert Parker found the wine undrinkable. That’s when I decided I wanted to travel to France to make wine with him.”
An ice cream machine, said Jared, is one of the techniques employed by the famed zero-sulfur producer as a means to stabilize his wines and eliminate the need for sulfur. But that will be have to be another story for another day…
Taste Jared’s wine with me tonight at Sotto if you’re in LA…