Beautiful Beaux Barrels:
It is almost a month before the 2002 harvest will begin, the weather in Yamhill County is sunny and still, and Michael Etzel, winemaker and partner in the prestigious Beaux Frères winery is sitting out in the late summer warmth peacefully sipping a glass of his 1995 Beaux Frères Pinot noir.
For the moment Michael's mind is not on his vineyard grapes rapidly turning their beautiful red-black Pinot noir color on their way to completing the 2002 vintage. Instead, he is thinking about his last vintage, the one quietly sleeping in his barrels below in the cellar, awaiting future bottling. We have just finished tasting through these 2001 Pinot noirs, block by block, to get a sense of what the vintage is like for Beaux Frères.
My verdict: these are "Beautiful Beauxs!"
An Elegant Vintage
Acting on his conviction, Michael opens a bottle of the 1995 Beaux Frères so we can get a sense of where the 2001 vintage may be going. "When we bottled the 1995 it was a lightly colored wine too," he says as he pours, "lighter than it is now-it got darker and weightier in the bottle."
If, indeed, the 2001 vintage turns out to taste like the 1995 vintage, consumers will be amply rewarded for saving some of their 2001 Beaux Frères. In my glass I tasted rich black cherry and licorice with a little basil-like spice. The wine had a richly soft texture, plenty of structure, and a Pinot noir sweetness that was wonderful. And though it may have once been lighter colored, no one could mistake the wine in this glass for anything but a full-flavored Pinot.
"I think perhaps the 2001s will be like this," Michael proposes as he looks into his glass of 1995 wine, "because the wines in barrel have a certain lushness right now, even though the colors are lighter. They have big red fruit and they are maturing faster. Kind of like this wine was."
Mary Davis, marketing director for Beaux Frères is a bit more effusive. "I think this is a lush, forward vintage," she says, "that is fast evolving. I think the wines will be ready to drink earlier than in the past few vintages."
Stephen Goff, assistant winemaker, concurs. "This is a good vintage for Beaux Frères. The wines have lots of charm, lots of red fruit . . . not as big as 1999, but I think they'll put on weight. I think they're similar to the 1993 vintage."
"Our goal has always been to make the best wine we can," explains Michael, "and this vintage is very much a blender's vintage. On their own we just didn't think the wines were distinctive enough and compelling enough to warrant a single vineyard designation. In 2001 I felt we could make a better wine by blending."
This is a change from the 2000 vintage when Beaux Frères released a Temperance Hill Belles Soeurs in addition to their usual Shea Vineyard Belles Soeurs. Also that year, a new third Belles Souers-a Willamette Valley blend called "The Wild Thing," was released along with the flagship Beaux Frères Vineyard wine.
"The key thing is to always focus on quality," reiterates Mary. "For 2001, by blending we can get more complex and robust Beaux Frères wines. I think this is a great year for the consumer. They are sexy wines, forward, and should make a splash!"
For instance, I tasted three different Shea Vineyard barrels that each offered a different flavor slant. The Shea Vineyard Pinot noir from Block 29 possessed big aromas and flavors of black fruit and pepper. The same wine ageing in a new oak barrel with medium-plus toast delivered a softer set of aromas with stronger black raspberry and earth notes along with a whiff of dusty vanilla. And then, the wine from Shea Block 26 showed bright, sharper red fruit characteristics. Overall, the Shea wines had an appealing brightness and seemed to offer prospects of early maturity.
Similarly, each different Beaux Frères block contained an individual personality. The Old Block (from Wädenswil fruit) showed light color and a juicy red fruit style, while the Jackie Block (named for Michael's wife) had heavier black fruit with a flowery and herby character. The North End, Old Block (Pommard fruit) had gorgeous bright color and a crisp complexity, while the No Name Block (Dijon 115 fruit) seemed rounder and thicker than the others.
My personal favorites, the Tenderloin Block and the Swale Block, each had bright forward fruit, with the Tenderloin showing a wonderfully smooth texture while the Swale had a fresh and tart cherry fruit foundation.
How these blocks eventually get blended is at this point anyone's guess. Later in the fall Michael and his brother-in-law Robert M. Parker, Jr. will together formulate the final blends. As always, the 2001 Beaux Frères wine will contain the best blocks from the estate vineyard. For the 2001 vintage the Belles Soeurs release will be a blend of blocks from Shea Vineyard and Beaux Frères Vineyard.
And as for the 2001 vintage as a whole, Mary Davis for one is excited. "I think this is a great year for the consumer. These are sexy and forward wines, and should make a splash!"
Brings Beaux Frères to the Forefront
by Cole Danehower
Oregon Wine Report ©2001 OWR Inc
The 2001 harvest has just finished, it is pouring down rain, and bin upon bin of freshly picked Pinot noir fruit await processing. Michael Etzel, vineyard manager, winemaker, partner, and general manager of Beaux Frères is clearly in his element.
He moves quickly around the winery, checking the sorting line, inspecting the cleanliness of unfilled fermenters, stopping by the lab to look up some numbers, and then off to the storage building where he climbs aboard a forklift and starts moving bins of grapes toward the sorting line.
He pauses just long enough to give a moments reflection on the 2001 harvest: Low tannins, soft tannins, sweet tannins, high alcohol, very ripe fruit26 brix in some cases. Very healthy fruit, minimal rot, high pH, low acid. Its a very, very good vintage. I hate using the word great because weve had so many great ones lately. I think it could be better than last year.
2001 is Michaels 11th vintage at Beaux Frèresa more than respectable career for a man who wasnt sure at first he was cut out to be a winemaker. I wanted to grow grapes, he says, recalling how he began Beaux Frères, A winery was never in the picture.
Michael and his wife Jackie had decidedmore or less on a larkto take a side trip to look at a piece of property they saw advertised in The Oregonian. They were here from their home in Colorado Springs visiting relatives in Portlandit was 1986.
The barn was full of pigs; it was falling over; the house was falling down; there was bad water; there were no fences, he recalls. Butthe site had 30 acres with great vineyard potential.
I wasnt sure if I wanted to do this or not, he says, but I decided that the only way Id buy was if I could get my sister and brother-in-law involved. (for those who dont know, Michaels brother-in-law is famed wine writer and critic Robert M. Parker, Jr.)
In the event, he purchased the property. His family moved to the incipient vineyard in 1987, and Michael began planting his first five vineyard acres in 1988.
Everyone was telling us we had to plant all these different varieties in order to make money, he recalls, but we focused only on Pinot noir from the start.
Michael densely plantedmore densely than anyone else in Oregon at the timeown-rooted Pommard and Wädenswil clones, adding Dijon clones later. He also focused on severely limiting crop sizenot then a common practice in Oregonand on careful vine management.
Most people werent doing the things we were doing, says Michael. They didnt leaf pluck, they didnt shoot thin, they didnt drop fruit. The reason we were doing these things was that we knew we had to have great fruit to survive.
His first marketable crop came in 1990 and was sold to Ponzi and Ken Wright (then at Panther Creek). We saw the success they had with the fruit and realized we were getting what we wanted in the vineyard.
But, success with the fruit came at a price. It was 5 or 6 years into the project and we were struggling, he says. Jackie was tired and we were still butchering chickens and cutting firewood. I was a timber salesman and welder in the winter to make ends meet. So we finally decided to sell a third interest in the operation and use the money to renovate the barn into a winery.
Robert Roy, a wine enthusiast from Quebec, Canada, joined Etzel and Parker as a one-third partner, and the making of wine began at Beaux Frères.
It was funny, because I was worried I couldnt do it, remembers Michael, I didnt have any formal winemaker training.
But he had worked at Ponzi Vineyards for five years, had planted and managed his own vineyard for as long, had traveled to Burgundy and talked with growers and winemakers. In short, he had as good a practical eduction in the craft as just about anyone else in the area.
The first year of winemaking at Beaux Frères was managed by Dick Ponzi with Michael working, as he puts it, as grunt. 1993 was the first wine he could call truly his own.
The Beaux Frères philosophy guides Michaels winemaking decisions. The partners are dedicated to producing wines that preserve and reflect the nature of the vineyard, the personality of the grape, and the character of the vintage.
So, for instance, new wood barrels are bought and then aged an additional yearto reduce the green tannins that can inhibit the intrinsic flavors. Drip irrigation is never usedbecause it homogenizes each vintage, says Michael, making them too much alike. And, a recent change has been the use of native yeast in the fermentationbecause it better reflects the vintage and the site.
But radical change is not the goal. Basically, our regime for cap management, 5-day cold soak, punching down, fermentation temperaturesthey all stay pretty much the same, he says. But every year well do something a little bit different, slowly tweaking things around to get the best expression we can.
Michael produces two wine labels. The Beaux Frères name is reserved exclusively for fruit from the estates 26 planted acres, with a production in 1999 of 3100 cases. The Belles Soeurs (sisters-in-law) label is used for fruit selectively purchased from other vineyards.
Stylistically, what we try to do with Beaux Frères is preserve the integrity of the fruit, says Michael. Our customers want authenticity, they want uniqueness, and they want reflection of site and vintage. So, we do everything in our power to get as ripe and as consistently healthyfrom plant to plantfruit as we can. Then we try to interfere as little as possible in each vintage.
The result, says Michael, will be different depending on the year. If it is a dry, hot year, were going to have wines with elevated tannins, slightly higher alcohols, and possibly a little longer life. If it is a cool year, were going to have fruitier wines and more delicate. We dont try to manipulate the wine.
The Belles Soeurs line started out being made from estate fruit, but from barrels that were stylistically less tannic, more red-fruited, and lower alcohol. The idea was simply to offer a different style wine. But starting in 1998 the label has been used for wines made from non-estate grapes.
Though the Belles Soeurs wines are made from purchased fruit, there is no diminution of attention or quality. We buy from old vineyards, says Michael, and sites that are carefully maintained, without irrigation, and from growers who really care about their fruit. Then we make the wine the same way as Beaux Frères, down to using the same cork and bottle.
The Belles Soeurs label gives Michael the chance to work with Pinot noir from different soils, exposures, and growing regions.
In 2000, the Belles Soeurs label includes vineyard-designated wines from Shea Vineyard (great fruit; hedonistic personality says the winerys tasting notes) and Temperance Hill (dynamic wine; seductive aromatics), along with a new Willamette Valley blend from Muirfield Vineyard (boisterous; Rhone-like).
As vineyard manager and winemaker, Michael is uncommonly in-tune with his fruit and what it will take to get the most out of it.
The level of viticulture and winemaking in Oregon is just amazing, he says. You cant rest on your laurels, you have to keep pushing to learn more.
Michael applies a winemaking regime that gives him both a time-tested approach, with flexibility to deal with vintage variation.
It starts with keeping the lots separate. Each vineyard block is a little different, he explains, depending on when it was planted, the exposure, and the clone. Keeping them segregated permits us to get to know the vineyard extremely well, and that helps in marrying the lots to the best barrels and in putting together the final blends.
We generally do a 21-day-or-so cycle from pick to press, he continues. We do a 5-day cold soak. We have three different sized fermenting vessels, all open top, each able to accommodate a separate block. We like to see fermentation temperatures at no more than 32º C, so well heat or cool the tanks to get there. We make sure the fermentations go cleanly. If they dont, we aerate, or we might add some nutrients to help the yeast consume the sugar. We also post-macerate to extract as much of the grape as possible.
There are things that Michael does not do.We dont filter or fine. We used to acidulate somewhat, but we dont do that anymorewe prefer to just let the fruit speak for itself in that department. We just do as little as possible, but if we have to intervene, we will.
When the time is right, Michaels brother-in-law visits to taste through the barrels. Robert M. Parker, Jr. is famous for his palate, and Michael understands why. When it comes to blending, we go through the barrels together, but I relinquish control to him because he has an amazing memory for tastes from year to year. I dont have that abilityhes a professional taster, Im not.
The final Beaux Frères blend is a reflection of the brothers-in-law conception of Pinot noir, with Robert Parker having the final stamp of approval on the released wine.
The bar has been rising every year, says Michael.In order to be on top you cant be complacent. Youve got to be constantly searching and looking for ways to improve.
For 11 vintages Michael has concentrated on vineyard practices and winemaking processes in order to realize the Beaux Frères philosophyand hes not about to stop now.
The Beaux Frčres Vineyard...
Planting began in 1988 with Pinot Noir vines planted tightly spaced at a density of about 2200 plants to the acre. Currently the vines range in age from 3 to 12 years and are a mixture of own-rooted Pommard and Wädenswil clones and various of the new Dijon clones on phylloxera-resistant rootstocks.
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