Monday, March 26, 2012

Introducing Donkey & Goat Winery and Elizabeth Spencer Wines, Part I

We are absolutely thrilled to announce the addition of two exciting producers from California to our portfolio. Donkey & Goat Winery is based in Berkeley while Elizabeth Spencer Wines hails from Rutherford. Sharing the belief that the character of their wines should be determined by the grapes' place of origin, each also happens to be run by husband-and-wife teams -- something we know about very well here at Wine Wizards. We encourage you to check the wines out through your Wizards representative or, for members of the trade, at our upcoming portfolio tasting.

We begin, alphabetically, with Donkey & Goat Winery.

Tracey and Jared Brandt embarked upon their wine making careers in 2001 by moving to the Rhone to apprentice with Eric Texier who, in the Brandts' words, "taught us the art and craft of making wines that speak to the soul about the earth from which they originate." Over a decade later, the Donkey & Goat label is well regarded for naturally made wines that possess the distinct characteristics of their California vineyard sources.

With a focus on Rhone varietals and Chardonnay, Donkey & Goat sources its grapes from vineyards located within the Sierra Foothills, Monterey, and Mendocino County. As stated in their wine making philosophy, "Because we firmly believe that wines are made in the vineyard, our first objective is to start with the best possible fruit we can find. Then, our job in the cellar is easy. In fact, the most difficult decision we often make is to do nothing."

Image by Donkey & Goat Winery
All of Donkey & Goat's wines are made in their Berkeley winery. The Brandts do not use any plastics, machines for crushing, or new oak. Wild yeasts are relied upon and there is very little, if any, sulphur used at fermentation. Stabilization, fining, or filtration are not a part of their pre-bottling process. Vintages vary from year to year as the vineyards experience different temperatures and weather events year to year.

We are currently featuring three Donkey & Goat wines in our portfolio:

Sluice Box White '10
A blend of white Rhone varietals grown in the El Dorado hills. The name is inspired by that region's rich (har, har) gold mining history.

Five Thirteen Red Blend '10
449 cases produced
A classic blend of Rhone varietals also grown in the El Dorado hills.

Syrah "Fenaughty" '09
120 cases produced
Syrah with blend of less than 4% Viognier.

Jon Bonne named Tracey and Jared as Winemakers to Watch in 2011 while Food and Wine Magazine's Katherine Wheelock featured Tracey in her 40 Big Food Thinkers 40 and Under. Donkey & Goat's website can be found here.

Oh, and the unusual but unforgettable name? It's inspired by the donkeys used in French vineyards for organic weed control and their companions, the goats, who provide balance for the hardworking donkeys. Naturally.

A donkey and a goat. Source:

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ravines Wine Cellars

Over a wintery weekend in January, Wine Wizards Bob and Howard drove, and drove, and drove to New York's Finger Lakes to visit Ravines Wine Cellars. Situated on the east side of Keuka Lake, Ravines produces several varietals of wines expressing the Finger Lakes' unique terroir. We are delighted to have recently incorporated their wines into our portfolio.

Ravines is owned and operated by Morten and Lisa Hallgren. Wine maker Morten learned his craft in the South of France, where his family has owned an estate for centuries. Following a time of additional training in Bordeaux and the United States, Morten landed in the Finger Lakes and began making wines that soon became the subject of great acclaim. He and wife Lisa, a chef, acquired their Keuka Lake site in 2000. As their website explains, "This land is located at the widest part of the lake which allows grapevines to receive maximum benefit from its temperature-moderating effects, it has a good slope which keeps the mineral rich soils well-drained, and is situated between two deep ravines, which drain cold air from the land during the winter." Those ravines are the namesake of the winery.

On the shore of Keuka Lake, below Ravines' winery. Photo by Howard.

Multi-tasking Bob in the Ravines tasting room.
The Hallgrens opened the Ravines tasting room in 2003.
Photo by Howard.
With a mission to strive for elegance, finesse, and balance, Ravines focuses on making "fine, classically styled wines that allow for the cool climate characteristics to be shown without compromise." Terroir plays an important role in the production of approximately ten varietals at Ravines, including the Dry Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc represented in the Wizards portfolio.

2010 Dry Riesling
Delicate bouquet of white flowers mingled with pear, apple, and citrus notes followed by a lingering mineral finish and a vibrant acidity.

Named one of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the World for 2011, Ravines Dry Riesling has been featured in The New York Times by Eric Asimov, who wrote that the wine is, “juicy, tangy and lip smacking; floral and mineral aromas and flavors."

2009 Chardonnay
Rich and supple with citrus, melon, fig, and hazelnut favors. Ravines' own adaptation of the Passito method used to balance fruit and oak. Butter & toast aromas developed during aging in lightly toasted French Oak balanced with a fresh acidity lent by the coolness of the 2009 vintage.

2009 Cabernet Franc
A classic fruit-forward style with ripe red fruit and notes of earth and spice, with soft tannins and perfect balance. Ravines states, "Cabernet Franc is poised to become the flagship red variety of the Finger Lakes. It is particularly well suited to the growing conditions of the Finger Lakes. The vibrant fruit, lively acidity and earthy and spicy notes are remarkably reminiscent to what can be found in the Loire Valley."

The line-up. Photo courtesy Ravines Wine Cellars.

Great thanks to Bob and Howard for making the eight+ hour drive back and forth to the Finger Lakes. Our van is not the swankiest of vehicles so we really appreciate their willingness to make the drive, especially in icy January.

We are also grateful to Morten and Lisa for hosting Wine Wizards' visit.

For additional information, please contact your Wizards rep or refer to the following:
The New York Times, "Wines for Thanksgiving Dinner"
The Chronicle-Express, "Keuka Wine is Among Top 100"