Atria welcomed vinters Jared and Tracey Brandt to Edgartown last Wednesday for an evening of open-air dining featuring half a dozen wines from their California winery, Donkey and Goat. Executive Chef Christian Thornton ceded the kitchen to Chef Noah Kincaide, his former co-worker, and Chef Georgia Macon of Behind the Bookstore, for collaboration on a menu of eight dishes and desserts.
Wine director Sam Decker told diners at the start of the evening Donkey and Goat wines were extraordinary. Decker said the Brandt’s wines are not only likable in general but appreciable at the connoisseur level. Moreover, they impart something of where they come from, and do so with a measure of uniqueness — overall an impressive combination to pull off, he said. He added that it was all the more impressive given the Brandt’s winemaking process was “natural,” without additives, filtration, or edited ingredients — ”almost naked.”
“They seem effortless in they’re deliciousness,” Decker later said. “But it’s actually really, really hard to make wine like that.”
The Times sat with Grey Barn farmstand manager Chelsea Bruzga and Macon’s pastry apprentice, Janey Sobel, at a table ebullient with Grey Barn and Behind the Bookstore staffers.
While the food and wine served was across the board superlative, this correspondent and Times photo editor Gabrielle Maninno found certain offerings particular knockouts.
I was speechless with delight after each spoonful of the Arpege Egg with Whipped Maple and Caviar. Paired with 2017 Barsotti Vineyard Clairette 2017, it presented the kind of creamy bliss you’d experience the first time you taste ice cream or custard.
The Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio Mosaic was almost diaphanous on the tongue. Paired with Grenache Noir 2015 — a duet au naturale.
“You can taste the sunlight in it, like all great grenaches,” Decker said.
Gabrielle gave high marks to the Oxtail and Beef with Celery Root Potato Gratin.
Both Times diners greatly enjoyed the magic of the Stone Crusher Skin Fermented Roussanne 2016.
Tearing into the Peruvian blue corn sourdough bread was endlessly satisfying. If left with a whole loaf, embarrassingly enough, I would have eaten the entire thing.
Decker told The Times that Atria’s wine dinners are developing into a Vineyard tradition.
“We really do want to be the wine destination on the Island. We love hospitality,” he said.
On a personal note, Decker said selecting and sharing wine is a meaningful experience for him.
“I get such huge personal and professional satisfaction from it,” he said.
Q & A with Donkey and Goat Winery founders Jared and Tracey Brandt
The Brandts came to the Vineyard last week to showcase their wines at Atria’s second wine dinner of the summer. The Times took the opportunity to pose the California vinters a question or two.
Times: Does your style of winemaking produce wine closer to what the Gauls, Romans, and ancient people of the Caucuses drank? If so, in a nutshell, why?
Jared: That is an interesting question. I think I would argue yes. Starting in the vineyard, organic viticulture was the only choice until the 20th century. Only then did we (humans) begin using often toxic inputs to our soil regardless or perhaps without consideration of the impact to the resulting food.
When it comes to the vines, many of the vineyards we farm are head pruned (kind of like little trees as opposed to a trellis to train the shoots). Head pruning is an ancient method and has been traditional for centuries in the Rhone.
When it comes to the cellar we do depart quite dramatically with running water and electricity! But our use of chemicals is limited to sulfur which we use sparingly and not always.
Pliny the Elder argued that only flawed wine needs to have sulfur added. Gigi and and Lily’s both are SO2 free so we hope Pliny would have enjoyed them.
Times: Without knowing what kind of food would be served, can you recommend one of your wines as a good all around selection for Vineyarders headed to boats and beaches this summer?
Jared: For Island Time, sunset on the beach (especially Lobster in Menemsha!) or even a long and lazy brunch, it would be bubbles, our Lily’s Pet Nat, Sparkling Chardonnay. Petillant Naturel (Pet Nat for short) are an ancient way to make sparkling wine. We simply bottle this wine before the fermentation is complete. It continues in bottle creating those delicious bubbles. Here our ingredient list is only the organically farmed Anderson Valley Chardonnay grapes.
If red is preferred, hands down Twinkle Mourvedre, our chillable red wine that pairs beautifully with anything coming off the grill, pizza, and even a lovely brunch scramble (we had it with Beetlebung Farm breakfast sausage + Grey Barn eggs and veggies from Morning Glory)!
Times: For those not particularly versed in wine at all but who may wish to try some of your labels, what would you suggest and with what common foods?
Jared: Twinkle Mourvedre served chilled + fish tacos (we grilled a local sole from Larsen’s after a brief time in an ancho chili and orange zest marinade. Then topped with a spicy aioli and cucumber apple salsa and shredded cabbage).
Lily’s Pet Nat, Sparkling Chardonnay — lobster (preferably while watching the sunset in Menemsha), eggs in many styles, popcorn (maybe while watching Jaws from the water.)
Stonecrusher Skin Ferment Roussanne — Our chameleon that goes from diver scallops to pork tenderloin to spicy Thai food.
Perli Chardonnay — Steamers, pasta + clams, local sole pan fried in butter.
Gigi Sans Soufre Syrah and/or The Bear — steak or a deluxe burger.
Times: Can you see yourselves here on the Vineyard? Is there something about this Island that dovetails with your core winemaking, lifestyle, and environmental beliefs?
Tracey: I was definitely smitten with the Vineyard! I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to discover the ecological mindset and preservation focus prevalent in Vineyard life. On multiple properties I was told that never, in the known history of the land, had pesticides or herbicides been used. I was blown away when I discovered the number of small farms on this small Island and I did my best to visit as many as possible in my short stay.
Natural wine is a no brainer here and while I do not think there is much awareness (yet!) I can easily see how in a few years the residents who care so much about preserving their Island and our larger planet and about what they put in their body will embrace natural wine and appreciate the care growers and winemakers in this area take to ensure the soil is healthy and alive and that the resulting wines are too.
I’m not quite ready to move the winery to the Vineyard but I am eager to return and continue this dialog. In the meantime, if NYC is not too far perhaps some will consider a road trip to see us at RAW WINE in NYC this winter (Sunday, Nov. 4 and Monday, Nov. 5). This will be the third year RAW comes to NYC and it provides a fabulous opportunity for those not familiar with natural wine to discover wines from around the globe that all share this common focus and care for our planet and our health.
Times: Bar pitch: If you were a bartender here on the Island and you were pitching a Donkey and Goat wine to a patron over all the other labels on the menu, what would you say?
Jared and Tracey: The wine is natural, pure and authentic. It will both please the palate and the mind and allow you to explore what wine tastes like without added chemicals.
Donkey and Goat wines are available at Rosewater Wine and Spirits, Sweet Life Cafe, Cardboard Box, Behind the Bookstore and Atria. The winery also ships directly. Atria’s summer wine pairing series continues Aug. 1, 7, 8 and 22. Call 508-627-5850 for more information.