Oregon’s Brooks Wines

The Brooks Winery of Amity, Oregon in the Willamette Valley was founded in 1998 by Jimi Brooks, a native of Portland and son of a pediatrician.  The winery’s production is focused on Pinot Noir and Riesling, and includes about 20 selections of each in any given year.  Brooks also dabbles in Tempranillo, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne (aka Muscadet),  Gewurztraminer, and Viognier, all sourced from nearby vineyards.

All of the Pinot Noirs are destemmed and cold soaked; all of the whites go straight to press. In the winery, small lot fermenters are used and the components are kept separate until right before blending. For all Pinot Noirs, all estate fruit, and most whites, fermentation is driven by only the yeasts naturally occurring on the grapes, and the coolest fermentation temperatures possible are adhered to. Finally, the reds are finished in French oak, while the whites are all made in stainless steel.

The free-spirited Jimi Brooks began his career by spending eight years throughout Europe, particularly Beaujolais, learning his craft in the vineyards and wineries there. After that sojourn, he returned to Oregon committed to a life in wine, based on his own intuition as well as holistic and biodynamic farming practices, still a relative novelty just over twenty years ago. He continued to hone his skills with winemaking stints at Maysara and WillaKenzie Estate wineries before establishing Brooks Wines.

In 2008 the winery purchased the estate vineyard it had been working since 2002.  Plantings include Pinot Noir and Riesling vines that are now over 35 years old, and contribute about 30% of Brooks’ fruit. Official biodynamic certification from Demeter was obtained in 2012.  This was followed by the opening of an entirely new winemaking facility and tasting room in 2014, which overlooks the Cascade Range and Willamette Valley.

Brooks Wines’ motto is Peace/Bread/Land/Wine.

Peace

It may seem rose-colored, but Brooks genuinely believes in kindness, inclusivity, caring, community, and social responsibility as guiding principles.

Bread

Brooks features a number of culinary experiences from cooking classes to wine and food pairing classes.. Their organic garden supplies herbs, vegetables, and cut flowers. Their eggs come from chickens on the property which are fed organically. Anything that doesn’t come directly from the grounds is sourced locally.

Land

Careful stewardship of the estate vineyard is achieved by
• Utilizing a rock garden to diffuse rain water.
• Encouraging botanical species diversity
• Protecting predator habitats
• Applying balanced crop nutrition
• Rotating cover crops
• Not using synthetic chemicals to control pests or diseases
• Utilizing mechanical weed control

Wine

Riesling is the bedrock at Brooks, and they claim to produce more of it than any other winery in America.

A bittersweet success

Behind all of this accomplishment lurks sadness and tragedy. Founder Jimi Brooks suddenly died in 2004 just before harvest at the age of 38 from the rupture of an aortic aneurysm (an abnormal bulge that occurs in the wall of the major blood vessel  that carries blood from the heart to the body). Winemakers from all over the Willamette Valley, many of them competitors, volunteered to help the Brooks family cope with his untimely death and keep the winery open. The following year the winery was bequeathed to Jimi’s son, Pascal, who was eight when his father died and became the youngest winery owner in the world.

Once the future of the operation was assured, two key figures emerged. Brooks’ friend and assistant winemaker Chris Williams ascended to full-time winemaker. Brooks’ sister, Janie Brooks Heuck, reluctantly became head of winery operations.  It’s quite the commitment; she lives in California with her husband and two children and is constantly commuting between the two states.  It is a commitment that has paid off, though.  Under her supervision the business has grown by 400%.

L to R: Pascal Brooks, Janie Brooks Heuck, and Chris Williams

Heuck had always had been close to her brother. “We were a year and a half a part. As adults and parents, our conversation centered around our children and his business,” Heuck said. “It’s not so much that the winery brings back memories for me, but I [continue to] learn about new stories and memories that would have been Jimi’s.”

She believes the wines are a vehicle for conveying an important message about life, about living in the moment and to the fullest, about keeping the big picture in mind. “I feel like through the wines and the experiences that people are having,” she said, “the connections and the conversations and the sharing of the Brooks story, and having it remind people of how important every day is and every moment is. I just don’t ever want that to stop. The more lives we can touch and the more times the story is told and the more it brings perspective to people, that’s the gift from this whole situation.”

If you have access to Amazon Video, the film American Wine Story profiles Jimi Brooks and a number of other winery owners drawn to the business based on sheer passion.

Brooks Wines’ distinctive logo is an ouroboros (or uroboros).  It is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail to assure its future existence. Originating in ancient Egyptian iconography, the ouroboros entered western tradition via Greek magic and mysticism. Heuck shared, “We like to talk about it symbolizing the circle of life, continuation. My brother got it as a tattoo on his left shoulder in the early ’90s. It meant so much to him that he decided to make it his wine label.”

Although Pascal remains emotionally invested in the winery and his father’s legacy, he is at the beginning of his life journey and feels the need to find his own way. Now 24 years old, Pascal is living in Paris after graduating from UC Santa Cruz in 2018 with a double major in creative writing and sustainable agriculture, an interesting pairing for sure. He has been working as a wine steward there and also doing urban rooftop farming. Following in his father’s footsteps, in 2019 he worked harvest at Domaine Dechamps, and currently is involved at Domaine Ostertag in Alsace. (Read more about a pivotal part of Jimi Brooks’ time in France here.)

Brooks Ara Riesling 2018

Brooks has staked their reputation on Riesling, so they better know what to do with it.  Happily, this expression doesn’t disappoint.  Indeed, it’s one of the most interesting Rieslings I’ve ever had.  Ara (the Altar), is a constellation. In ancient Greek mythology, Ara was the altar where the gods first made offerings and formed an alliance before defeating the Titans. This was one of the very first Rieslings Jimi Brooks made after starting his winery, and the name reflects his passion and interests in mythology and astrology.

The wine is 100% Riesling, half from the Brooks estate vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA and half from the Yamhill vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. It is a bright lemon yellow in the glass, with aromas of lemon curd and orange blossom.  The lemon theme continues on the palate, with the addition of nectarines, Sweetarts, and apples, but the wine is definitely dry.  The flavors are well-supported by tingly acidity.   ABV is 14% and just 325 cases were produced.

Brooks Janus Pinot Noir 2016

Brooks considers this their flagship Pinot Noir, and was Jimi Brooks’ first Pinot release.  Janus was the two-faced Roman god who looked both to the past and future, a reference now to the winery’s timeline being divided by Jimi Brooks’ premature death.

This 100% Pinot Noir was sourced from 60% Brooks Estate and the remainder from seven other sites around Willamette Valley. After fermentation, it saw 18 months in French oak barrels. It is a medium purple in the glass, with a nose of rich plum, vanilla, and rose.  The palate features tart cherry, ligonberry, and black tea on the medium finish, all supported by lively acidity and balanced tannins. The ABV is 13.8% and 1000 cases were made.

http://www.brookswine.com/

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Ser Winery

Ser Winery

 

In the tradition-bound world of wine, winemaking has, predictably, been dominated by men. For example, there are about 4,800 wineries in California, but only 10 percent have female lead winemakers. (When it comes to winery ownership, the number does jump up to about 19 percent, according to Woman Owned Wineries, a nationwide directory of female wine entrepreneurs.)

Encouragingly, however, greater educational opportunities (as opposed to the historically more usual inheriting a wine operation) have been opening the possibility of becoming a winemaker to more and more women. One of these is Nicole Walsh of Ser Winery in Aptos, California, due east of Santa Cruz.

The winemaker

Over the course of her 19-year career (so far), Walsh has held just about every position in the wine industry, including associate winemaker, winemaker, vineyard manager, grower-relations manager, and owner. She was born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1975. An early interest in wine drew her to Michigan State University, graduating with honors in 1998. At the time, the undergraduate department of Viticulture and Enology there was, remarkably, comprised of just two students. This provided a highly unusual opportunity to be immersively mentored by Horticulture professors in grape growing and winemaking. As part of her last semester at MSU, she attended a sustainable agriculture university, EARTH, in Costa Rica. While there, Walsh became proficient in Spanish, and she solidified her commitment to sustainable agriculture.

Nicole Walsh

Nicole Walsh    Photo: www.wildu.co

After graduation, she worked for four years on the Leelanau peninsula in northern Michigan. This small AVA (one of five in Michigan) is home to 27 wineries, and has diverse microclimates uniquely suited to cool-climate wine grapes, particularly Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. During her time there, she managed vineyards and honed her winemakeing skills.

In early 2001, she married Kevin Walsh, and together they moved to Santa Cruz, California. Shortly thereafter, in February, she started working with Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon Vineyard.

Walsh took a sabbatical from Bonny Doon in 2008, when she moved with her husband and young son to Marlborough, New Zealand. After a year, she returned to Santa Cruz to develop Bonny Doon’s newest property in San Juan Bautista. She continues to manage that property as well as make wine at Bonny Doon’s Santa Cruz winery.

In 2012, reflecting on her New Zealand experience, especially with Pinot Noir, Walsh decided to start her own wine brand as well, which she christened Ser, which is Spanish for “expressing identity or origin; having the intrinsic quality of.”

“I was inspired for the name after reading an article by Andrew Jefford, ‘Wine and Astonishment’. It was in that writing that the notion of the ‘being’ of wine truly resonated with me. Being is different than existing. It is true, wine exists; you can touch it, smell it, drink it. To quote Jefford, ‘Being, by contrast, is the ‘isness’ inside.’ In other words, the natural essence of the grapes unique to each specific growing area. I am dedicated to preserving the ‘isness’ of wine, to allow its true varietal expression and the place and time of its origins,” shared Walsh. Clearly, this thinking closely aligns with the traditional concept of terroir.

She continued, “Jefford also talks of that first moment of insight, that moment when some people decide to devote their professional life to wine. He says,’It gives the lucky few who choose to ‘grow wine’ the chance to use craft to embody, reflect, and echo nature itself.’ I am privileged to be one of those ‘lucky few.'”

Ser Winery Tasting Room

Ser Winery Tasting Room in Aptos, California

Once the winery was underway, she began working with local Santa Cruz Mountain growers to purchase fruit from a number of interesting vineyards with distinct microclimates in the appellation. In symbiotic partnership with those farmers, she started experimenting with several varieties, such as Riesling and Chardonnay (both of which she had worked with on Leelanau), Syrah, Mourvedre, and a much less-known variety, Cabernet Pfeffer. She is committed to preserving and enhancing the unique character of the varietals used in her wine.

Ser’s label, designed by local artist and teacher Jenny Angelacos, was inspired by an ocean wave and Walsh’s love of surfing. It is intended to convey the unifying thread that connects the diverse places from which she sources her grapes.

The wines

Nicole Walsh hard at work; winemaking doesn’t get more hands-on than this.
Photo: www.wildu.co

Ser Dry Riesling Wirz Vineyard 2017

OK, I’m going to be honest about this up-front: although Riesling is, by all accounts, one of the world’s greatest white-wine grapes, and makes classic food-friendly wines in a range of styles from quite dry to very sweet, I’ve never been much of a fan.  But I enjoyed this expression, so kudos to Ms Walsh.

The fruit came from the Wirz Vineyard, located in San Benito County’s Cienega Valley, in the foothills of the Gabilan Mountain Range at about 1100 feet above sea level and 25 miles or so from the Pacific Ocean. It is composed of granite and limestone soil. Owner Pat Wirz employs head training, dry farming and organic techniques on the over 90-year-old Cabernet Pfeffer and 60-year-old Riesling vines.

In “head training,” vines are tied to a wooden stake positioned at each one. The stake generally stands three to four feet above the soil surface. When used conservatively, this system is ideally suited to production of low to moderate quantities of high-quality grapes.

To make this wine, Walsh pressed whole grape clusters in stainless steel, which was also used for fermentation. She used an indigenous yeast, and the wine was bottled prior to malolactic fermentation to lend softness without stripping the acidity.  It is medium yellow in the glass, with a nose of olive oil and delicate floral notes.  These are followed by mostly tart citrus on the palate, particularly lime, with subtle hints of pear and apple. It’s balanced out by that good acidity, and wraps up with a medium finish. The ABV is 13% and 160 cases were made.

Ser Pinot Noir Tondre Grapefield 2016

This is the first time I have encountered a vineyard referred to as a “grapefield.”  It was planted in 1997 on six and half acres in the heart of the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation. It now has seven blocks in 104 acres, 81 of which are planted with  Pinot Noir. Tondre Grapefield is SIP Certified.

Composition is 100% Pinot Noir, all from the Tondre Grapefield, and harvested from 10-year-old Pommard clone vines. (The Pommard clone was originally sourced from the Château de Pommard in Burgundy by Dr. Harold Olmo of the UC Davis’ Department of Viticulture and Enology in the early 1970s.)

Walsh created this Pinot Noir by starting with five days of cold soak. Indigenous yeast was used for the eight days of primary fermentation. This was followed by four days of maceration before being pressed into neutral French puncheons (large oak barrels that usually hold 80 to 133 gallons) for 14 months of malolactic ageing.

This shows Pinot Noir’s classic clear, bright red in the glass. The nose offers aromas of cherry, blackberry, and roast plum.  The palate is dominated by tart cherry.  The wine has excellent balance, and it all wraps up with a long finish.  ABV is 13.5%. Just 80 cases were produced.

Ser Cabernet Pfeffer Central Coast 2016

Cabernet Pfeffer is an extremely rare variety with less than 12 acres grown in California, most of them located in San Benito, a wine region at the southern end of the Santa Cruz mountains. It was once thought to be a crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and another, unknown variety, and to have been bred in Los Altos Hills, California, in the late 19th century by farmer and winemaker William Pfeffer. However, a recent ampelography ( the field of botany concerned with the identification and classification of grapevines) study by UC Davis on the Wirz vines discovered they are are in fact Mourtaou, a  French variety from the Bordeaux region. Whether the variety was named after the farmer or for its spicy characteristics (Pfeffer is German for pepper) is a mystery.

Ser’s Cabernet Pffefer began with five days of cold soak with a small addition of sulphur . Indigenous yeast was used for the ten days of fermentation. This was followed by ten days of maceration before being pressed into barrels, of which 50% were neutral and 50% were new French oak. After three months, the wine was transferred  to neutral oak for 14 months of barrel ageing. The blend is 76% Cabernet Pfeffer and 24% Cabernet Franc.

The wine starts with a bright, clear red cherry color in the glass, much like the Pinot Noir.  But then we move on.  The nose shows plenty of juicy fruit, like cherry Starburst candy (seriously) and hints of violets.  Then come flavors of those same juicy cherries.  Also, since  Cab Pffefer is known for its spice and pepper, I was surprised on first trying it that those were subtle, at best.  But after about two hours of air, it’s “Hello pepper!” settling on the back of the tongue.  It is supported by good acidity, fine tannins that resemble those of Cabernet Sauvignon, and a medium, slightly bitter finish. The alcohol is 13.3%, and  220 cases were produced.

Pair this with any food you would have with Zinfandel, particularly lamb.  I made a pan-seared lamb chops with a lemon and rosemary marinade.

Ser Rosé of Grenache Loma Del Rio Vineyard 2020

The Loma del Rio vineyard is located on the west side of the Salinas Valley at the foot of the Santa Lucia Highlands just south of King City. Walsh declares it, “one of my favorite sites for Grenache.”

This wine was whole-cluster pressed to stainless steel. The juice was clarified with a centrifuge to help mitigate smoke taint due to the wildfires in the region at time of harvest.  Happily, none is evident. It was bottled without malolactic fermentation after four months on the lees.

This wine is a delicate pink salmon, with an unassuming aroma to match, one that is primarily rose petal.  The palate offers strawberry and guava. There is plenty of juicy grapefruit-laced acidity, and a medium finish.  This is a wine that benefits from not being numbed.  After being on the counter for a while, and it came up from the refrigerator temperature of 36° F to about 50° F, the nose didn’t change much, but the flavors became much more apparent.  Walsh made 100 cases, and the ABV is 13%.

Graciano Bokisch Vineyard 2018

This wine is all Graciano (aka Morrestel in France), a red-wine grape traditionally hailing from the Rioja and Navarra regions of Spain.  The fruit was sourced from the Terra Alta vineyard farmed by Bokisch Vineyards, a winery and grape grower located in the Clement Hills subdistrict of the Lodi AVA.  Grown on Redding gravelly clay loam, the vines are roughly 19 years old.  Markus Bokisch named this property “Terra Alta” because it reminded him of  the wine region near his home town in the Catalunya region of Spain.  The vineyard is Certified Organic by CCOF and  Certified Green by the Lodi Rules Program

After fermentation  in one-ton bins, the wine was pressed to neutral French oak puncheons and aged for 16 months.  It pours a transparent purple, with mouth-watering aromas of red and black fruit.  On the palate, this is predominately cherries and red berries, with a bit of white pepper spice.  It has a medium body, not unlike a Pinot Noir.  It is supported by good tannins that offer up just a hint of bitterness.  Walsh made 70 cases, and the ABV is 13.4%.

 

Other Ser wines

Although I haven’t tried them, in addition to these selections Ser Winery also offers Rosé of Cinsaut (a red-wine grape from Languedoc-Roussillon, usually characterized by a light body, high acidity, and low tannins), Sparkling Riesling, a second Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains, and a second (!) Cabernet Pfeffer sourced from the Wirz vineyard.  There is a wine club with three shipment options, the easiest and most reliable way to obtain these limited-production wines.

http://www.serwinery.com/

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Grace Lane Wines

Grace Lane WinesGrace Notes

Grace Lane wines are sourced from a family-owned winery in Mattawa, Washington, population 4,467, nestled in a bend of the Columbia river and 152 miles southwest of Seattle. The family had been farming in the area since the mid-1950s, and believed that the region’s moderate temperatures, low rainfall, and sandy soils would be ideal for wine grapes, and planted their first grapevines in the area in 1997.

But winemaking in Washington has a much longer history, of course. It began in 1872, when a winery on Stretch Island crushed a native American grape called Island Belle. After a brief flourishing, the scourge of Prohibition and even some of the state’s own tariff laws crippled the industry until the mid-1960s. However, the state now boasts over 200 wineries, and is well on its way to regaining its place on the wine map. Indeed, it is second only to California in American wine production.

The Columbia Valley is the largest wine-growing region in the state. It is a designated AVA [American Viticultural Area], and includes 1,152,000 acres in south-central Washington, and part of northern Oregon as well. Only about 29,000 acres are under cultivation, but that is enough to include 99 percent of Washington’s vineyards. Within the very large Columbia Valley AVA, subdistricts of Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, Walla Walla, and Puget Sound are also recognized.

To the west, the Cascade Mountain range protects the area from the cool weather coming in from the Pacific Ocean, making the Columbia Valley the warmest growing area in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike the western half of Washington, it also has the drier climate that quality winemaking requires. Because of the varying temperatures throughout the region, different grape varieties do well in its various locations, although white wines dominate.

Grace Lane Riesling 2013

If you like your wine sweet and easy, this could be the one for you. It shows light straw yellow in the glass. Next come the aromas of green apple and white peach. The flavor profile (officially “medium sweet” on the International Riesling Foundation’s sweetness scale) is soft and delicate, with suggestions of those same tree fruits and hints of spice box. The acidity is relatively low.

Enjoy this wine with Balsamic Glazed Salmon, Crab Cakes with Honey-Yogurt Salsa, or Sole with Grapes and Champagne.

Grace Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

With a color of dark garnet, this Cab begins with aromas of fresh-baked brioche and ripe plum. The flavors of dark fruit, prune, and black tea are fairly assertive at first, but soon settle down into a nicely balanced whole. Perhaps predictably, this wine is definitely different (in a good way) if you are used to California Cabs.

Pair this up with Smoked Salmon and Wild Rice Cakes with Paprika and Green Onion Aioli, Pork with Apples and Cider Cream Sauce, or Potato and Morel Mushroom Manicotti.

Update February 2021: recent research indicates Grace Lane is no longer in business.

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Gainey Vineyard

Gainey VineyardsGoing to California

Fifty-seven years ago, in 1962, Dan Gainey purchased 1800 acres in the Santa Ynez valley of California’s central coast region, directly west of Santa Barbara. After twenty-two years of farming and ranching, Gainey became convinced of the area’s potential [and profitability] as a vineyard.

After the Gaineys (three Dans are currently involved) opened their Spanish-style winery in 1984, the winery quickly became one of the most popular wineries to visit in the area, and it was named as “one of the best wineries to visit on California’s Central Coast” by Wine Spectator magazine.

Gainey Vineyard owns properties in both the warm, eastern end of the valley, where they concentrate on Bordeaux varieties, and the cool, western end of the valley, where they have planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah.

Gainey Merlot 2004

This muscular but lush Merlot features blackberry and cassis on the palate, supported by hints of oak, tobacco, and leather. Velvety mouthfeel, supple tannins, and a long finish round out this attractive wine.

Pair this expressive, cool-climate Merlot with grilled or rotisserie chicken, pork tenderloin, or simply prepared-beef dishes.

Gainey Riesling 2007

Gainey specializes in Riesling, and this wine shows why. If you normally avoid Rieslings, try this one. It is pale gold, completely dry, and has medium acidity. The traditional apricot and pear flavors are present, but the flowery overtones are held well in the background.

https://gaineyvineyard.com/

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