Jimi's Dream Thrives with Top Wines
Jimi Brooks would have loved it - the Brooks Winery Ara Riesling 06 was poured at the White House for President Obama's first state dinner, on November 24th, 2009. His son, sister, and friends (including help from some of Oregon's best winemakers) have grown his winery to popularity and success in Oregon and across the US.
When Jimi Brooks died at the age of 38, the future of his young winery was uncertain. Summer was coming, and harvest and winemaking would have to start soon. But Brooks Winery had a 2005 vintage. Jimi's winemaker friends pulled together and made his wine.
Jimi's son, Pascal, inherited the winery and became Oregon's youngest winery owner (at eight). his Aunt Janie stepped in to manage it and in 2006, Chris Williams was hired as winemaker. Chris had worked with Jimi at Willakenzie.
By 2006, production increased from 3500 cases to 6500. The winery gained attention with good reviews.
"The Rieslings of the late Jimi Brooks were the clear standouts here." -- Jancis Robinson at the International Pinot noir Celebration in 2009
Today, twelve years after Jimi founded the winery, the Ara Riesling is leading Brooks to new levels of national recognition. Jimi's vision of wine, especially his dedication to green practices, is fulfilled today with Brooks Winery's range of wines, all made from biodynamically farmed grapes. With the completion of their own facility in the Eola Hills, Brooks has fulfilled Jimi's dream to create a first-class winery.
About Jimi Brooks
Jimi Brooks created opinions.
Lots of people just didn’t know what to think about the Oregon winemaker with a passion for biodynamic farming and Eastern European literature. Some didn’t get his wicked sense of humor or fully recognize when he was pulling someone’s leg.
But everyone who knew James “Jimi” Brooks understood that he had a fire in his belly for winemaking and enormous devotion to his 8-year-old son Pascal.
“Jimi might have looked like this huge man, but inside, he was a very soft man with a big heart—very emotional,” said Laurent Montelieu, owner and winemaker for Solena Cellars in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Montelieu gave Brooks his first assistant winemaking job at Willakenzie in 1996. The two became friends and remained so after Brooks left Willikenzie to become the top winemaker at Maysara Estate Winery. Brooks eventually started his own winery in 1998, aptly named Brooks Winery, and used a real-life incident to name a particular red wine blend.
Both Brooks and Montelieu were loading barrels with a forklift at Brooks’ winery until well after midnight. Montelieu says he finally left exhausted, while Brooks was still loading barrels.
“Apparently he was driving the forklift a little too fast, and he was probably tired,” Montelieu recalled. “He ended up in a deep ditch, and watched as the barrels rolled down the hill and into the ditch. Here was everything he had saved up for years, now in a ditch.
“When I arrived about 6 am the next day, we had to pull the barrels out and assess the damage. There was none. ”
It was then that Brooks decided to call the wine “Runaway Red.” It became one of his most popular wines.
Sam Tannahill, winemaker for Francis Tannahill Winery, said Brooks was a great winemaker, a great friend, and a great guy to do the cooking.
“ Food and enjoyment of life was central to who he was,” Tannahill said. “He cooked for our wedding.” Tannahill said he and Brooks would pick mushrooms in the fall, make a great dinner and talk about winery plans.
Brooks was an avid cook who could create instant hunger with his recipe descriptions and make one weak in the knees from the aromas of his cooking. He crafted his wines with food in mind. In 2003 interview, Brooks said he loved the art of blending wines to find the perfect balance in the glass, and to compliment food.
“When you find the right balance, there is nothing better,” he said.
Ken Wright Remembers Jimi Brooks
I can’t remember the year, it was ’95 or ’96? Jimi Brooks walked into my office unannounced clad in a thick black leather coat from his neck to his shoetips. For a second I thought “my god, this is a hit man, what have I done”?
He walked up to me quickly and essentially threw a few pieces of paper into my hand which he claimed to be his resume. I looked at him, then looked at his resume. I looked at him again and said “you don’t look like many winemakers I’ve met before. You look more like the guy who visits someone when a deal has gone the wrong direction”.
His all-business attitude melted when I said this and he laughed. From there we talked of his experience and somehow got onto his sports life. He, like myself, had a wrestling career that was limited by shoulder injuries.
We talked further about his experiences in Europe. Jimi had a zeal for being in the most difficult situations without a net. Situations that I would never have had interest in. He felt that being on your own in countries which were war torn and destitute provided great lessons. I respect his ability to be alone in this world and take something from it.
He had a lot to say. Eye to eye he was both fun and learned.
I didn’t have an opening at the time and mentioned to him that he might contact Laurent though I’m not sure why now.
Jimi had special energy. An energy that draws people to you because you are kind and motivated at the same time.
Fare thee well Jimi, We are all the better for knowing you
Ken Wright, Ken Wright Cellars