The Broadleys- from San Francisco's Sophistication to Monroe Oregon's Banana Belt
by Christina Kelly, Avalon Staff Writer
Craig and Claudia Broadley find themselves at the end of the earth making Oregon Pinot Noir, outside the confines of areas known for the grape, such as the Dundee Hills, Newberg and Yamhill County.
The Broadleys live in Monroe, OR, not exactly the heart of wine-making ( or anything else, except perhaps Christmas tree farming). Broadley Vineyards is small, producing about 3,200 cases of Pinot Noir yearly, and family-operated by Craig, Claudia, their son Morgan and his wife Jessica. (Claudia is hoping her young granddaughter Olivia may follow in the family business some day.)
Monroe is rural, and located south of Corvallis, in farming country. The winery is located in the shadow of Green Peak Mountain and surrounded by hills and grass fields as far as the eye can see. In the spring and summer, late afternoon winds tumble down the hills into the valley, offering gentle breezes or blustery bursts, along with fragrant wisps of spring flowers.
It is a far cry from San Francisco, where the Broadleys lived in the early 1970s, working for a book-publishing firm. It was a time of great excitement in the Bay Area, with explosions in cultural activities, food, wine and music.
Monroe may not be considered the hub of Willamette Valley Pinot noir country, but the Broadleys have demonstrated that this warm area can produce distinctive and superb wines. Their flagship Pinot, Claudia's Choice, is consistently excellent, and their Reserve bottling is among the best values in Oregon Pinot noir. And, the fact that the winery is entirely a family run, hand-operated endeavor increases the charm and appeal of their wines. Helping out with crush at the Broadley's is about as close to a Burgundy-style harvest that you can get in this country!
Harvest here is a few days before most of the northern Willamette Valley-it is warmer weather and the grapes ripen a tad earlier. We began on Wednesday with the temperature at 83 and the skies sparkling blue. Early in the morning, while there is still a touch of chill in the air, yellow bins are spread out at the ends of the rows to be picked, and rapidly filled with cut clusters.
Warmed by the advancing sun, biting into the clusters reveals sweet and tasty juice. Spreading the pips across the back of your hand, you can see the brown tinge of lignification, one of the indications of fully ripe fruit---along with Craig and Morgan's approval of the berries' taste. Crush a few more grapes onto a handheld hydrometer to get the brix reading, then taste a few more clusters from a different row . . . Good!. The grapes are ready.
Once filled, the bins are loaded into one of the two Broadley trucks and driven the short distance to the winery in "downtown" Monroe (there is not that much town to Monroe, so most everything there is downtown). If everything is ready, processing begins as soon as the grapes arrive. But if processing of previous loads is in progress, the newly arrived pickings go into a cold room where they are chilled while they wait to help prevent rot and premature fermentation.
At Broadley, they earn their wine: the important stuff is done by hand... and foot.
We lift each bin off the truck, move it to a pallet, and bin-by-bin, bucket brigade style, move the grapes up and into the destemmer. The destemmed fruit is shoveled into wooden or steel fermenters where it is left to begin fermenting using indigenous yeast. At least twice a day, the cap (all the seeds and skins that rise to the top of the fermenter) needs to be punched down in order to get an even fermentation. This is accomplished by climbing to the top of the tank and literally stomping down on the cap to break it and turn it back down into the juice.
This is not as fun as it sounds! In the 3-ton wooden fermenters, you have to balance on the thin tank edge (I had to use the aid of a "sissy bar" of wood across the open top) and stomp down hard on the remarkably firm cap-all while holding on tight to ensure you don't sink down below the surface of the purple goo! The edges of the tank are cool at first, with the harder to reach center having a foot-pleasing warmth of early fermentation. When you are done punching down the cap, though, the temperature at the top is more even, and lots of juice from below has risen to cover the pips and skins.
The first week of Broadley's harvest was exceptionally smooth. The grapes looked great, the weather was warm, and though there was a hint of light showers in the coming week, the picking pace was steady and productive. Fellow volunteer Jay McDonald, of The Tasting Room in Carlton, and I were treated to Claudia's home cooking, and-naturally-lunches featuring last year's Broadley wines.
In the coming weeks, Broadley will press and move to barrel their 2001 vintage. How good will it be? Too early to tell. But I remember seeing Craig Broadley, when he didn't know I was behind him, turn on the spigot to one of the 3-ton wooden fermenters, and take a taste of the brand new juice. I heard him say, just under his breath, "good . . . really good!"
On weekends, Craig and Claudia would wander through Napa Valley vineyards, tasting and learning about wine. The couple liked burgundy-styled wines, and wines with power and character.
Gradually, the Broadleys began nurturing an idea of opening their own winery and creating wines they liked, especially after tasting a few Oregon Pinot Noirs. They moved to Eugene in 1977, after convincing their publishing bosses to allow them to telecommute from Oregon.
"We looked around Oregon for a place to start, in the obvious places where other wineries were located," recalled Craig. "Then we discovered 20 acres in Monroe. For us, it seemed liked the end of the road, coming from San Francisco. But, we bought it and planted Chardonnay in 1982 and Pinot Noir in 1983."
Claudia recalled that isolation in the rural country was harder than she expected at first, and the work was extremely labor intensive. But gradually, the couple settled in to their new digs, and son Morgan began his wine career at the age of 9, learning how to drive a tractor and help with harvest and crush.
"He's done it all," said Claudia of her 31-year-old son. "We've all performed just about every task at the winery.
"This is exactly what I wanted to do. It was a long process, but I wouldn't change it for anything."
In 1986, the couple bought an old Pontiac dealership building in the small town of Monroe and converted it the winery operations. Because the small winery is family operated, the winery isn't open to the public except for several open houses each year. The next open house is scheduled near the end of March and will be announced soon.
Craig believes that his wines reflect Monroe fruit with subtle taste differences than grapes grown in the nearby, and popular Dundee Hills.
"We produce an old fashion type of wine and emphasize the characteristics of the fruit," Craig said. "We're very aggressive with the wine and use a lot of wood-all French oak.
"What we produce may not be to everybody's liking, but we have our following. It is a niche wine. It is a big wine."
With so many wineries in Oregon producing Pinot Noir, Broadley says there is room in the spectrum for light to heavier varieties of the grape. At first, Craig and Claudia wondered whether anyone would notice their wines, since they are not on the main road through wine country. But eventually, word spread, and Wine Spectator rated Broadley's 1994 Claudia's Choice Pinot Noir one of the best wines in the world.
Now the couple is selling futures on its 2000 reserve Pinot Noirs until April, or until they sell out. The futures are a bargain compared to the price a bottle will fetch once it is on the market. Futures can be purchased at northwest-wine.com and through the winery.
The future for Broadley Vineyards isn't expected to change too much. Both Craig and Claudia want to keep the operation small and family operated.
"Pinot Noir is so delicate that I don't see an advantage for mass production," said Craig. "I also think once you get to a certain size, producing more and more, the quality changes. We don't want to change or grow that much. We like being a mom and pop operation. However, we do want to continue improving what we produce."
Broadley's wines are known for great depth and length, with plenty of spice and pepper and heavy red fruit. If you like Archery Summit, Beaux Freres and Ken Wright wines, chances are you will be a fan of Broadley Vineyards. Broadley varieties include Claudia's Choice and Marcile Lorraine, using estate grown grapes, and a reserve, made with grapes grown a stone's throw away at Alpine Vineyards.
"I think we're a little different from everyone else because of where we are located," Craig said. "If you are outside the main activity of where most Oregon wines are made, you've got to be a little unique."