Tasting at Brooks
In any wine trip there are stand outs. Having spent almost a month in Willamette Valley I’ve tasted a wealth of area wines from multiple vintages, through various grape varieties, along clonal and soil differences. There are a number of wines here that I love. Brooks Wines is the stand out.
As members of both the Oregon Riesling Alliance (ORA), and the International Riesling Foundation (IRF), Brooks Wines helps to cultivate the variety in Willamette Valley’s cool climate. With just under 40 members of the ORA, the group works to develop the overall quality of Riesling in Oregon. As Harry Peterson-Nedry put it, “higher water floats all boats. We know that if anyone of us improves, we all benefit.” With that in mind, the ORA meet to hold private blind tastings to critique the quality of the individual wines, media tastings at different points in the year, and work together to build the overall quality, and public awareness of Oregon Riesling.
Janie Brooks Heuck serves as a member of the IRF board, whose goal is to develop long term public education, quality, and information about quality Riesling from around the world. The well-known Summer of Riesling campaign, with its participating wineries, shops, and wine serving venues from bars to restaurants, arises from the work of the IRF, celebrating Riesling through focus on various global regions. The program has done an incredible job at increasing interest and distribution too of Riesling in the United States, and other regions of the world. One of Brooks Heuck’s goals is for the program to grow to include a focus on domestic Rieslings as the quality of domestic Riesling also increases. Currently Summer of Riesling has celebrated attention on Riesling in general, with a focus on well-known regions such as Germany or Austria during their regional highlights. Domestic production of Riesling is far lower than these other regions, but there are already examples of quality Riesling being made in the United States, Brooks being one of them.
The 2009 Brooks Willamette Valley Riesling is an excellent value. The bottle retails at $18 (or less) and offers a fresh, clean, energizing nose with citrus florals and light prosciutto notes. The palate is genuinely dry, offering distinct stone minerality, with dry toast touches, and a rush of citrus and floral qualities. The movement on this wine is fantastic. I’ve been craving it since our visit.
Brooks Wines was started with a commitment to keeping prices down to allow their wines to be accessible to more people. Janie Brooks Heuck has been able to keep that commitment to affordability by working with wine maker Chris Williams to increase the production levels, while still holding onto a hands on approach to maintain quality.
Riesling came in as one of the early varieties to grow in the Willamette Valley. Initially, the wine style being produced with the grape was what many locally still refer to as ‘soda pop’ with alcohol. Because of the initial difficulty in producing quality wines with the variety many began ripping out their Riesling in favor of other varieties. Jimi Brooks, the founder of Brooks Wines, worked to convince vineyard owners and managers to hold onto the older vine Riesling so that a return to quality dry style wine with older vines could continue in the region.
The 2009 Ara depends upon 50% Brooks estate fruit, and 50% fruit from Yamhill Vineyard, with vines planted in 1984. Yamhill Vineyard is one of the sites Jimi Brooks approached to maintain older plantings.
The 2009 Ara offers a fully dry, slightly rounder presentation, with a still up but softer acidity than the Willamette Valley Riesling. There is a nose of peach blossom here, with a palate of white peach, and peach blossom. The shift from citrus to stone fruit focus changes the experience of this wine so that where the acidity of the Willamette Valley Riesling shows as bright and racing in the mouth, the Ara offers a smoother focus.
As Brooks Heuck explains, in their view the reason for choosing to make single vineyard wines is to bring attention, and regard to the farmer of the site, and the work they are doing, as well as to learn about and celebrate the site itself. With this in mind, Brooks has chosen to create a Bois Joli Vineyard specific Riesling in the medium dry category.
2011 offered extended hang time due to the cool temperatures throughout the vintage. A number of Riesling producers in Willamette Valley have remarked that for that reason they believe it’s a beautiful vintage for an off-dry style. The very light note of residual sugar changes the experience of the intense acidity of such a vintage, creating a more complete presentation of the wine.
The Bois Joli Vineyard 2011 Riesling comes in with 2% residual sugar. This has a peach blossom plus meyer lemon nose that is vibrant and lightly touched with green bean. There are loads of peach and citrus plus light smoke and cut stone minerality on the palate. This has a mouth squeezing (yum) acidity, and a long finish. Ultra juicy.
The Sweet P 2011 Riesling arises entirely from Brooks Estate Vineyard fruit. The choice has been to model biodynamic winemaking practices with the fruit from this location. To celebrate the unique qualities of the location, Brooks has chosen to also sell some estate Riesling fruit to other wine makers in the area. Big Table Farm produces a Brooks Estate Vineyard Riesling, which I was lucky enough to taste recently as well. (Notes on that to follow in a future post.)
The 2011 Sweet P, named for winery owner, Pascal–son of Brooks founder Jimi Brooks, beautifully integrates the 5% residual sugar with the vibrant acidity. This wine undergoes natural ferments, which bring an open complexity to the presentation. There are refreshing vegetal qualities coming through along side pie crust, and late season citrus blossom. This wine offers an impressively vibrant expression–again energizing and clear, without having to demand your attention, all carried with both feet on the ground. I very much enjoy this wine.
Born and raised in Oregon, Chris Williams had worked with Jimi Brooks making wine at Willakenzie, and Momtazi, before then becoming the wine maker for Brooks itself. After Jimi Brooks passing, Janie Brooks Heuck stepped in to keep the winery going for the same of Pascal Brooks, Jimi’s son. As she explains, it became clear that Williams was the right person to make Brooks’ wine. “He wanted to keep it going for the same reasons I did. Now we’ve had one more harvest than Jimi did.”
The Tethys Riesling is a late harvest wine, with the 2011 made in a year where all fruit hung late. Again, this wine carries a rolling acidity that brings the sweetness over and off the palate. There are light vegetal notes here along with peach blossom, white peach, and hints of date. The wine carries cut stone and light petrol minerality, alongside light white herbs.
Brooks Rieslings are some of the finest offered in Willamette Valley.
(The white blend that shows in this photo will be discussed in the “Visiting Brooks Wine, part 2” post to follow.)
After IPNC 2012 some of us were able to attend a media tasting of approximately 15 Riesling producers in the Willamette Valley. Alder Yarrow posted thorough tasting notes on his experience with the media tasting. To read more about recent releases of other Rieslings in Willamette, as well as more information on the variety in the region, find Yarrow’s post here: http://www.vinography.com/archives/2012/08/treasure_in_the_hills_tasting.html
More on other Willamette Rieslings, and on Brooks other wines to follow.
Thank you to Janie Brooks Heuck and to Chris Williams for taking time to meet with me. I’ve very much enjoyed having time with both of you.
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