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]

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...