COMMENTARY

“American Wine Story”

Pascal Brooks, son of late winemaker Jimi Brooks, is one of the main characters in the new documentary, “American Wine Story,” written and directed by David Baker.
Other Oregon wine personalities star in the new movie, including Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem Wines.

Jimi Brooks the foundation of new wine documentary

By Karl Klooster

People in and around Oregon wine know well the story of Jimi Brooks. He was a bright man with a big heart and an even bigger passion for wine.

Writer and director David Baker of Corvallis film production collective Three Crows Media knew nothing about Brooks until he set out to do a documentary on the state's blossoming wine industry.

He started casting about for a theme, a human interest element that could be used to make the story more compelling. And people kept on mentioning this fellow, Jimi Brooks.

So Baker started asking more specific questions about Brooks, and before he knew it, the film turned into a personal one about love, passion and human values with wine as the catalyst.

In the few years Brooks was given to make wine, he did it very well. He also advocated endlessly for its attributes and, in the process, endeared himself to the Oregon industry. But as much as Brooks loved wine, he loved his young son, Pascal, even more. His only child was just eight years old when he died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 38 in September 2004.

"Pascal didn't live with Jimi," his sister Janie Brooks Heuck said. "But they spoke almost every day on the phone and whenever Jimi could arrange for Pascal to visit, he made sure it happened."

Heuck went on to say that from the time her brother founded Brooks Wines in 1998, he viewed it as a legacy, something meaningful he could pass on to Pascal.

In the European tradition, when he and his son ate together, Brooks would give him a little wine mixed with water to acquaint him with what his dad seemed so interested in. She also said that until her brother discovered wine nothing seemed to hold his interest for long.

"He couldn't settle down. He traveled a lot," she said. "Then his travels took him to France where he worked a harvest in Burgundy. That changed everything."

When he returned to Oregon in 1996, Brooks was hired by Laurent Montalieu, then head winemaker at WillaKenzie Estate in Yamhill. Four years later he landed the job of head winemaker at Maysara Winery. With the blessings of owner Moe Momtazi, he launched his own label in 1998. He remained full time in his position while building the Brooks brand. It had grown to 3,500 cases by 2004, the year he died.

Coming as his death did just prior to the 2004 harvest, a host of winemaking friends made time in the midst of their own hectic schedules to bring in and make Brooks wines that year. They included Montalieu, as well as Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem Wines and Sam Tannahill of A to Z and Francis Tannanill Wines, whose recollections are part of the film.

Merging Brooks passion for wine and love of his son into an interconnecting theme, Three Crows fashioned it into the film's foundation, then built an expanded story on that base.

Baker spoke at length with Heuck, who came up from California to continue running the winery on behalf of her nephew, Pascal. Over the past decade, she has more than tripled annual production of the Brooks brand and taken over the historic Hidden Springs Winery facility in the Eola Hills for its production.

Pivotal to the story are the personal feelings and perspectives of Pascal, himself, now 18 and about to enter the University of California at Santa Cruz. He admits to being torn between total commitment to Brooks Wines and a sense of uncertainty, self-doubt as to whether or not this is really the direction he wants for his life.

Other Oregon wine industry personalities are interviewed as well, including pioneer Dick Erath of Erath Vineyards, Scott Wright of Scott Paul Wines, Stewart Boedecker and Athena Pappas of Boedecker Cellars in Portland and Oregon wine writer Katherine Cole.

Baker then extended his queries across the country, seeking out people from a wide variety of backgrounds whose passion to make wine had compelled them to completely alter the course of their lives.

Former NFL great Drew Bledsoe makes his Doubleback brand in Washington's Walla Walla Valley. Cartograph wines of Healdsburg, Calif., is co-owned by an eclectic couple. He is from Minnesota; she is from France.

The disparate stories of Cindy and Al Schornberg of Keswick Vineyards in Charalottesville, Va., Michael Amigoni's Amigoni Wines of Kansas City, Mo., and Todd and Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas WineWorks in Sonita, Ariz., add color to the montage.

The 80-minute documentary is titled "American Wine Story." It premiered at the 16th annual Newport Beach Film Festival, which ran this year from April 24 through May 1.

"Our film was among only 200 out of more than 2,000 submissions that were accepted for this year's festival," Baker said. "We were very pleased by the reception.

For more information, go to www.thewinemovie.com.

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