Visit with Winemaker Chris Willams at Brooks Wine

Very Likely blinded by what I didn't know...somehow...I thought...this was going to be a super fun...and here's the silly part...yes...I invite you to laugh..."with me" ...I actually thought writing these blog posts...was going to be easy.

You see...I write a lot...and yet...diving deep...very quickly into the world of biodynamic wine...in Willamette...which is new to me...has at times...been quite overwhelming.

Jean and I love immersing ourselves into new cultures.

And this project has created a unique and rare opportunity to be able to sit down and interview legends in the wine world.

And these unique individuals...indeed are legends.

Not just in Willamette or in Oregon...and certainly not only within the biodynamic world...but internationally recognized and celebrated visionaries and leaders in the world of fine wine.

When I look back at my life...especially my professional life...a lot of my success was born out of what I did NOT know.

I have the grace of having lived enough years that now I can retrospectively...clearly see...if I had known more...I seriously doubt whether I would have pursued most of the projects that have been the most fun...and rewarding in every way possible.

Today...I recognized this same pattern is showing up...in this kooky...yet completely Epic...Willamette Valley Biodynamic Wine Adventure Jean and I are upon.

 

 

And my naivete about the writing these blog posts...is SO pale by comparison...to our lack of awareness and understanding of the magnitude of these extraordinary folks...with whom we're meeting.

Now...if you do...even a small amount of research into biodynamics...or just wine in Willamette...the name Jimi Brooks...will be among the most commonly cited names.

 

 

Jimi certainly was part of a new generation in what was rapidly unfolding in Willamette...and yet he stood out...having a unique, bold vision...and what sounds like a larger than life personality.

His story is beyond inspiring...and tragic too...in that he unexpectedly passed away...at a young age...leaving a young son...and a young vineyard.

 

 

Jimi founded Brooks Wines in 1998...in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA..and in his short life...he had an impact that will be experienced for generations to come.

If you read Katherine Cole's book Voodoo Vintners - Oregon's Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers...she introduces us to Jimi on the first page of the PREFACE!

And he appears throughout this beautifully written, thought-provoking book...that explores biodynamic wine and those who make them in Oregon.

If you're the least bit interested in what we're writing about in this blog...Voodoo Vintners is a must-read.

 

 

Jimi's story and his legacy...are also the central theme of the 2014 documentary film American Wine Story

This sweet film is a must view...and is available to stream- online...on a few different platforms.

 

 

We were super excited to learn about American Wine Story...and stayed up...late one night to watch it...sharing an exquisite bottle of Brooks Cahiers 2015 Pinot Noir....on the back of which there's a poignant story...written by Pascal Brooks.

 

 

Now...in my humble opinion...that's quite a pairing!

While the entire film is interesting...the part that deeply touched me was...the news of Jimi's death spread quickly through the community.

His friends quickly began gathering at his home.

Jimi's sister Janie Brooks Heuck lives in California...and it was late by the time she arrived at Jimi's house.

There was a group of his friends waiting for Janie...among them Chris Williams...who gathered together to figure out how to save the rapidly ripening fruit on Jimi's vines.

It was harvest time...and they wanted to pool their resources...donate their time and talent...to not only save the crop...but to help to create...both a legacy for Jimi...as well as a future for his young son Pascal.

Keep in mind...they each had their hands full with the ripe fruit hanging in the vineyards they each tended.

 

 

And yet...this is the kind of friendships Jimi forged...and speaks highly of the collaborative community he helped to bring together in the Willamette Valley.

The story...and Jimi's legacy could easily have ended there.

And yet...this is where it really starts to go in directions...I doubt anyone could have envisioned on that tragic day.

Jimi's friends knew Janie had a business background...and were able to talk her into stepping in...and saving Jimi's vineyard and business.

Chris Williams became the head winemaker at Brooks in 2005...and there's even more back story here...that I think you'll find super fascinating.

 

 

Chris and Jimi met...not in the wine world...but in a seemingly random encounter.

It sounds like Chris and Jimi quickly became close friends...and if you follow the story...I think you'll agree...there was NOTHING random about their meeting and their ensuing friendship...and everything that unfolded for each of them.

Chris shared with us...before meeting Jimi...he had no interest in wine...he really didn't like it much...and it was Jimi who shared and opened him to the world of wine...and tasted him through wines Jimi was passionate about.

Chris transparently told us...some he loved...and others he quickly spit out...followed by some interesting and blunt tasting notes.

It was all part of building their friendship and an informal, immersive experience...for Chris...into the unique perspective Jimi held on growing, making and enjoying wine.

Jimi was particularly passionate about saving the Reisling vines and the fruit they produced...which at the time was rapidly being torn out in the Willamette Valley to make way for more popular varietals...like Pinot Noir.

Chris worked with Jimi on several estates in Oregon...including WillaKenzie

 

 

and Maysara...

 

 

and...starting in 1998 at Brooks.

While Chris and Jimi were close friends...it seems to me...that Chris is almost like...a next-generation winemaker...without a generation of years between them.

I'm beyond inspired by Jimi's story...and I want to completely honor and respect his life, his passion and vision...which few people...even partially grasped.

I get the feeling that Chris...not only grasped it...but literally took what he learned from his friend...and boldly stepped forward...joined with Janie...and since 2005...has been expressing it...in each bottle of wine that he has produced at Brooks.

And to me...this is where the story REALLY gains momentum and expands...into what I imagine Jimi felt in his gut...and imagined in his mind's eye...was possible.

The wines Chris Williams makes...have been celebrated in the Wine SpectatorWine & Spirits Magazine, the Wine Advocate, Josh Raynolds ratings on Vinous, Allen Meadows’ Burghound, and beyond.

SO..that's a LOT of backstories...and my goodness how amazing is all this?!

I honestly don't know how else we could possibly begin to put any of this into perspective...especially...the scope and magnitude of our visit with Chris.

 

 

I feel it's important to share with you...Jean and I had not received a confirmation...from Janie...for our visit to Brooks.

We didn't want to just show up...if they weren't expecting us...so we went to bed Thursday night...thinking we were not going to visit Brooks on this trip.

Honestly, we were both a bit sad about it...and yet we tried to understand.

I can only imagine how busy Janie is...and how many emails she receives every day.

Thursday was the 4th of July...I didn't want to email her on a holiday...so I emailed her early Friday morning...thanking her...and planted some seeds for a possible visit in the future.

We started enjoying a slow morning at our amazingly peaceful cottage...when only moments later...Jean saw an email from Janie...apologizing for not getting back to us sooner...and she hoped we were able to make it to Brooks!

The tone quickly changed into intense excitement and we shifted into high gear to be able to get out the door in time to make it.

It turns out..she arranged our visit with Chris...and forgot to follow up with us...so we were all set...at least logistically!

Which I now see as a VERY good thing.

This is one of those moments...where our ignorance...helped tremendously.

Otherwise...had we known more about what we were about to experience...

I'm highly confident...I would not have had the courage to actually show up.

 

 

Let alone spend the afternoon with Chris Willams..and I am SO glad we did!

 

 

Jean and I were greeted by Chris Williams who warmly offered each of us a huge hug.

This was a first for us...on all of our visits and...for me...his embrace...was SO welcome.

I've done a lot of "men's work"...where it's common for men to hug each other...when they meet...rather than the usual of a handshake...and smack on the arm.

I went from being a bit overwhelmed to feeling completely at home...and comfortable with Chris.

 

 

Chris is a tall, soft-spoken man...dressed in a well-worn hoody and jeans.

His long hair pulled back in a ponytail...and his casual...laid back nature...all were not expected.

I don't know what I expected...this is our first visit with a winemaker...and we've heard some interesting stories about winemakers and their quirky, temperamental personalities.

None of which was evident on our visit...which for me was filled with...one awakening moment and pleasant surprise after another.

Chris walked us from the tasting room into the rack room...which I'm still blown away by.

Take a look for yourself!

 

 

Chris...along with ONE helper...stacks each of these barrels...no racks...simply using blocks of wood to keep each barrel in place.

And you're not seeing all of them in this shot either! There are rows behind these!

Chris seems to be very hands-on...in every aspect of the winemaking process...

and eager to do the less glamorous...and seriously heavy lifting...and manual labor.

 

 

I love getting dirty and working hard...and yet...I'm deeply moved by his passion and commitment to the entire process. The art and science...the grunt work...and the interconnectedness of it all.

It's immediately obvious he's not one of the prima donna winemakers we'd heard about...

and if he's not...then who exactly is this man?

Finding out...is...in part what unfolded during the rest of our visit.

Chris slowly and graciously walked us around the facility...sharing each step along the way...outside and around the tasting room property...which is completely surrounded by vineyards. We walked and talked...through the biodynamic prep gardens...

 

 

vegetable gardens, around the chicken coops...

 

 

and did I forget to mention and otherworldly looking...wood fired pizza oven...sitting just outside the tasting room?

As we made our way back to the front entrance to the tasting room...Chris asked if we were interested in taking a ride around the vineyard...and pointed to an awesome ATV...which Jean and I excitedly jumped into and away we went!

The property is hilly...and a combination of old and newer vines.

Chris is looking and pointing out things that are SO not in my awareness.

Every turn and glance is filled with awe and natural beatuty.

 

 

The entire property is comparatively speaking...small...and yet everything seems so well thought out and cared for.

 

 

I have to tell you.

I'm horrible with linear time.

I've always been this way...and yet it feels like we've been there a long time already...and we want to be respectful of Chris' time.

When we circle back to the parking lot...I think...YOWIE!

That was AMAZING!

I am one happy man...feeling SO grateful for everything I just experienced...and my mind is racing with ideas, story-lines, inspirations...and complete sense of being one of the most fortunate men on this planet for having had this experience!

Not too many hours ago...we didn't think we were visiting Brooks on this trip...and now...I'm simply blown away.

I'm honestly thinking...we're SO done here...we have a ton of content to share with our readers...and feeling really good that this all worked out...

when Chris warmly invites us in...to taste his wines...which at first we hesitated...wanting to respect Chris' time...and yet...for me...I felt...this was the part of our visit that Chris was politely waiting...all this time...to share with us.

Honestly...tasting is NOT what our blog is about.

And yet...Jean and I looked at eachother...and then toward Chris...and into the lively tasting room we went.

Our next steps took our visit and experience to places I honestly did not know was possible.

 

 

A hostess led us to a lovely seating area that was reserved for the three of us...with lovely views overlooking Brooks vines and out into the valley.

 

 

Thinking back at that moment...I realize now...THIS is Chris' element.

He's the winemaker.

How could we visit and leave without experiencing his creations?

And what an amazing opportunity to sit with him...learn about each bottle he opened and shared with us.

If you've read any of our blogs...you know...we're on this adventure to learn about and share about biodynamic viticulture.

We don't have a lot of experience tasting wines at tasting rooms.

Neither of us would say...that we have sophisticated paletes.

We have no wine or food industry experience...and are honestly a bit intimidated tasting.

And yet...here we are walking into a tasting room that is very different than any other we've visited in Oregon or California for that matter.

Part of me is thinking...what ARE you thinking?!.and part of me knows...this is part of the EPIC part of this adventure.

I do indeed like the word epic.

And yet it's failing me now.

It falls SO short of coming anywhere close to describing what came next.

It all...still seems very surreal to me...with very present under-tones of bliss!

That's an attempt of tasting humor.

Honestly thinking back on the tasting part of our visit...

It's hard to grasp...let alone find adequate words...to share with you.

It felt like we were visiting with a close friend who has an exquisite wine cellar...

and he was graciously and excitedly sharing his passion...and the broad and deep expanse of wine he collected...

from around the world...over his entire lifetime.

And yet this was the current collection from the tasting room at Brooks.

Each wine we tasted...crafted and created by the man opening the bottles and pouring the wine.

Honestly...my experience was...one peak experience after another.

And thought we were done...about five times before we actually were.

Jean or I would say something...and Chris would jump up...walk behind the bar...and return with another bottle...and start to tell us about what he was opening...and then poured some for each of us to experience...and we'd talk about it.

 

 

I'm pretty much out of words...I can share with you.

You HAVE TO experience Brooks wines for yourself.

You do NOT want to miss out on experiencing these exquisite wines.

That said...I'd like to offer a bit of a clue as to what to try.

Jimi was passionate about Reisling.

Chris shares that passion and also LOVES Muscat.

One word of warning...Chris makes 60 different labels...and they're ALL outstanding.

If you're the least bit like Jean and I...we had SO much fun scrolling through the pages of wines on Brooks website...and making notes.

 

 

 

Taste these wines and you'll start to grasp why Chris Williams and the wines he makes at Brooks...

are celebrated...not only in Oregon...but around the world.

While we were outside...touring the gardens surrounding the tasting room...Jean was behind me and Chris...taking photos.

I asked Chris what this has been like for him...starting with his friend Jimi in 1998...and what sounded like humble beginnings...joining together with Janie and becoming the head winemaker in 2005...achieving obvious success over all the years.

He paused for a second...and eagerly shared...he was grateful and very proud of everything they have achieved over the years.

He said it's been great...and besides...this is my home...this is where I belong...I love it here!

This was...without question...another of those...we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into.

And oh my...did that ignorance turn into a blissful afternoon...that Jean and I will cherish forever.

This is definitely the first of many blog posts we will share with you from our visit with Chris Williams at Brooks.

The epic journey continues...

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