Brooks and Mortar
Eola-Amity Hills winery built by family, surrounded by friends
The compelling story of Jimi Brooks, who died much too young but left behind an amazing legacy, has been a decade in the making. Though written about many times over the course of 10 years, it merits recounting and updating.
Earlier this month, Brooks Winery unveiled its handsome, new 12,000-square-foot winery, commanding a sweeping view from atop the Eola Hills. Designed by Portland architect Richard Brown, the completion of this state-of-the-art facility is the crowning achievement to date in a triumph over adversity that has impressed everyone who learns of it.
When Jimi died unexpectedly at the age of 38 in September 2004, just as harvest was about to get underway, the immediate upsurge of support was awe-inspiring. It reflected the closeness of Oregon wine people and the high regard they had for this talented young man.
Jimi’s sister, Janie Brooks Heuck, proved to be driving force during that first difficult year, when she left her home in Pebble Beach, Calif., to do what she could to keep things together. Her more-than-able associates in that endeavor reads like a list of Oregon wine luminaries, including Harry Peterson-Nedry, Laurent Montalieu, Josh Bergström, Sam Tannahill and Cheryl Francis, David Autrey and Amy Wesselman, Luisa Ponzi, Steve Doerner, Jim Prosser, Patty Green, Jay Sommers, Tad Seestedt and Chris Williams. All volunteered their time to help see to the vinfication of fruit from 11 different vineyards, ensuring the continuation of the Brooks brand.
Jimi’s son, Pascal, just eight years old when he lost his father, was the only heir. It would be several more years before he would fully appreciate the meaning of having become the youngest winery owner in America. The implications and opportunities of that inheritance were recently recounted in “An American Wine Story,” a documentary film featuring the Jimi and Pascal story as the centerpiece of a story focusing on what compelled people around the country to become winery owners.
After being invited to attend a preview showing, Janie said, “‘American Wine Story’ is the most amazing tribute to my brother and his legacy that we will probably ever know. It is honest, it is direct, and it is beautifully done.”
The Fox Business Network is currently in production on Pascal’s story as an episode for a new TV series titled “Strange Inheritance.” The crew was on location at the winery during its grand opening media preview on Sept. 9, 2014.
Pascal is still in school, but listing “winemaker” on his online bio as his future career gives an indication of where he seems to be headed. Right now, however, it is the admirable efforts of his aunt that continue to carry Brooks Winery forward.
A decade ago, Janie never dreamed she would be running a winery, much less be spending a considerable amount of her time some 700 miles from her home. Living in a place many people would call one of the most beautiful on earth, Janie has led an active and pleasurable life. Her husband, David, is a senior executive at Pebble Beach Company, owners and operators of three exclusive resort hotels on the Monterey Peninsula.
However, as Janie became more involved in the winery project, the Heucks decided to make a serious commitment aimed at ensuring its long-term success by building a showcase winery to elevate the public profile of Brooks to the level of its most prestigious peers. Already known for the consistent high quality of both its Rieslings and Pinot Noirs, Brooks now has an impressive physical presence.
Adjacent to the new winery are 40-year-old vines, a legacy in their own right to the estate portfolio. They were planted by wine pioneer Don Byard, whose former winery had served as Brooks’ home since 2008.
Of course, the infrastructure of any business is no better than the people who bring it to life. Steadily since 2004, Janie has undertaken a carefully considered plan to enhance and expand the winery. Two years after taking the reins, she hired Chris Williams as head winemaker. He had become friends with Jimi when both worked at WillaKenzie Estate, then went on to hone his skills at Maysara before accepting the position at Brooks.
Contracted vineyard relationships were reconfirmed and the little business moved forward, making some outstanding wines in the process.
The move into the former Byard winery in 2008, allowed them to substantially increase and more directly control production. By last year, it had grown to 12,000 cases. Heather Byard Kirk, the daughter of early winegrower/winemaker Don Byard, literally grew up around these vines. She serves as the winery’s marketing and direct sales coordinator.
Janie noted that the 2013 quantity could be exceeded with what looks to be a prolific 2014 harvest. “Between breaking ground in April and now, everything is in place for processing at our new facility. We could do as much as 14,000 cases.”
To accommodate an anticipated increase in visitors, as well as expand marketing and promotional efforts, Janie recently hired Jess Pierce as the winery’s director of wine education and communication. She recently spent a year in Germany’s Mosel region, acquainting herself with the nuances of the world’s greatest Rieslings. She is now imparting that knowledge — as well as her experience in hospitality at Domaine Serene and as sommelier at Ned Ludd Restaurant in Portland — to winery visitors. She is also studying how the winery’s Rieslings evolve during vinification.
Adding another dimension to the Brooks brand, a thematic imagery is being emphasized that people who knew Jimi said would delight him.
Jimi had developed a fascination for ancient Greek mythology. He had a tattoo of an Ouroboros, a dragon encircling itself to bite its own tail. It symbolizes cyclicality or something continuously re-creating itself.
The graphic of his striking Ouroboros tattoo is the identifying logo for the Brooks winery and its wine labels.
It’s all part of carrying on the legacy which falls to family, with sister and aunt, Janie, to be followed by son and nephew, Pascal.