Passionate Oregon Winemaker,
Dies at age 38”
September 12, 2004
By Christina Kelly
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 look 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.
Jimi Brooks died of an apparent heart attack at his home in McMinnville, Oregon on Saturday. A memorial service will be held at 1 pm, Sunday, Sept. 12 at the Hidden Springs Winery, 10100 S.E. Eola Hills Road, Amity, OR.
Shock waves reverberated throughout the Northwest wine industry as the news of Brooks’ death hit people returning from the Labor Day weekend. Harry Peterson-Nedry, owner/winemaker for Chehalem, said he was saddened when he learned the news.
“We are all vulnerable and smaller when a strength, kindness and intelligence like Jimi exits,” he said. “It’s a big hole.”
Montelieu gave Brooks his first assistant winemaking job at Willikenzie 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, 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. The wine industry, myself and my wife Cheryl will not be able to replace him. It is an awful loss.”
Tannahill said he and Brooks would pick mushrooms in the fall, make a great dinner and talk about winery plans. "Those days will be missed."
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.
Besides his son Pascal, a sister, Jane Heuck of Pebble Beach, CA, his grandmother Betty Brooks of Roseburg, OR, and ex-wife Bozena Kutyba of Portland, OR survive Brooks. Family and friends have organized a trust fund for 8-year-old Pascal Brooks and are requesting that memorials be sent to the Pascal Brooks Memorial Fund, Washington Mutual Bank, 3425 S.W. Cedar Hills Blvd, Beaverton, OR 97005.
Janie, Jimi's sister, is preparing a memory trunk for Pascal. If you'd like to send photos, cards, memories to add to it, her address is Jamie Heuck, 1015 Vaquero Road, Pebble Beach CA 93953.
Thoughts from Friends
Here are messages and images from friends of Jimi in the Oregon wine industry. Please send your messages to email@example.com to be included.
Photos of our strong and gentle friend, Jimi. We are all vulnerable and smaller when a strength, kindness and intelligence like Jimi exits. A hole. A big hole.
(Photos are below and at right, of Jimi at a Riesling tasting group of industry members, and at a bakery.)
Jimi ar Riesling Tasting Group (at left)
said Laurent Montelieu, owner and winemaker for Solena Cellars in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
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”?
I have been in a state of shock over Jimi's premature passing. He was such a talented, strong but gentle friend who cared deeply about people. At Willakenzie Estate he was an important part of a small and closely knit start-up team where we all were learning together about grapegrowing and winemaking at a site where no one had ever done that before. So we got to know each other really well.
We used to call Jimi our KGB agent because he was such a big, burly guy who spoke a Slavic language. And he cooked us spicy Georgian food (from the ex-Soviet republic) which was irresistibly delicious. His cooking was legendary, and since we cooked together in the winery kitchen and made each other lunch, we enjoyed Jimi's cooking quite often.
By the way, the story about the runaway barrel is quite familiar to us at Willakenzie Estate since it happened right here behind the winery on a fairly steep hillside. The barrel ended up down by the creek below out past the bottling room doors and was not easy to retrieve. We always teased him about that. The memory of Jimi will always be with us.
My love and prayers go to Pascal and to the rest of Jimi's family.
The first time I met Jimi was at IPNC - in 1996 ... I was just breaking into the wine business. I overheard Jimi sharing his bio with a guest about how he went to Linfield College and studied Mass Communications. I was in the same department at the time and couldn¹t help but introduce myself! We instantly hit it off from there and always had a special connection - with our time at Linfield. Unfortunately we didn't get to experience it together since he was ten years ahead of me. Instead he was a role model: his passion and excitement about wine had a great influence on my career and I continued to grow with the Oregon wine industry.
Jimi was so much fun. He had the most charming smile and warmest heart imaginable. His love for producing wine was so vivid - I'm not sure if I've ever met anyone so excited about being a winemaker. He was an outstanding leader in the industry and respected by everyone. Jimi set strong goals and standards (which he achieved) and chased after everything he believed in. Something everyone should follow.
I'm so delighted Jimi was a part of the "DDO Pinot Swap" panel for IPNC this year. I'll never forget when wine critic Anthony Dias Blue applauded him for doing a great job with the wine experiment. For anyone who had the opportunity to see the HUGE, (yet bashful) smile on his face and watching his eyes light up was a reaction I'll never forget. It was definitely a proud moment for Jimi and for those who knew him.
I'm very saddened by the loss of Jimi and my heart and prayers go to Pascal. His son meant the world to him and it showed each time they were together. I happened to be in France during the service and was very upset to not be able to attend. I know how much Jimi loved Europe - and found it very appropriate to celebrate his life by enjoying incredible wines and food. I'm so happy to have known such a person with outstanding determination, integrity and excitement for life, food, wine and family.
Much love to you Jimi. You're already missed.
Tannahill, winemaker for Francis Tannahill Winery, said Brooks
was a great winemaker, a great friend, and a great guy to do
was the first person I met in Oregon and he was instrumental
in our move out here. He was
As several of you know by now, the wine world just lost a rapidly rising star. But Jimi was also one of the nicest people you would ever want to drink wine with. I was only lucky enough to hang out with Jimi on about half a dozen occasions but every time, even though Jimi was five years younger, I felt like I was getting to goof around with an older brother. I always felt an unusually close tie to Jimi. Maybe it was because he went to Beaverton High School, my HS's arch-rival, where my Uncle Nelson taught science. Maybe it was because we both shared the same views on and had similar experiences (mostly painful) with John Linn, the football and wrestling coach at Beaverton.
I will get to keep some great memories of Jimi:
-fearing for my life as we bombed up and down the steep slopes of Maysara Estate's vineyards in his decrepit old jeep without any doors
-discovering that Jimi had just about every recording ever made by Mark Lanegan
-shooting pool in a dingy bar in McMinnville against Michael Stevenson and some restaurant/bar owner from Washington DC whose gold chains kept getting in the way of his cue
-debating who made the better burger, Lumpy's or Alf's (although I'm not sure if I ever saw Jimi actually eat a burger)
-listening to Jimi go on and on about the contributions Poles had made to American history (Jimi, I promise I'll keep celebrating Pulaski Day)
-listening to Jimi dismiss overly dogmatic arguments about biodynamism and terroir by saying "I'm part of the terroir, baby"
-and finally, watching Jimi whip a mutual friend with a bunch of stinging nettles for having the audacity to drink a bottle of SGN he had been hiding in his sock drawer.
If you were lucky enough to have
met Jimi, you know the world is definitely not a better place
today. So while I sip some
2000 Brooks Janus Pinot Noir and listen to a scratchy copy
of Lanegan's "Whiskey for the Holy Ghost," I want
to close with this quote from the end of JM Scott's book, The
Man Who Made Wine. It's the scene where the retiring vigneron
Michel Rachelet is sitting at a table in the winery, thinking
back over his years of making wine. As the candle dies down
a young boy walks in the room.
is a photo before the ‘03 vintage for the IPNC DDO fruit
swap. Each of us took a ton of DDO Pinot and made the wine then
presented it (four times!) at the’04 IPNC. Jimi was incredible
on the panel.....funny, humble, confident and, obviously, talented
as a winemaker and speaker. It was a pleasure to work with him
and a privilege to know him...he will be sorely missed.
Photo just below this box:
Jimi with IPNC Winemaking Group, 2003
Obituary from the Funeral Home
James F. “Jimi” Brooks, age 38, of McMinnville, Ore., died Saturday, September 4, 2004, at his home in McMinnville, OR.
Son of James Albert and Margaret Mary Heitkemper Brooks, he was born in Portland, OR on March 7, 1966. He was raised and schooled in Portland, OR and graduated from Beaverton High School in 1984. He then attended Southern Oregon University for several years and graduated from Linfield College in 1989. He lived in Europe from 1989-1995. He married Bozena Kutyba on September 6, 1995 in Krakow, Poland. They later divorced. He worked in the wine industry since 1995 in McMinnville, OR. He also owned Brooks Wines. He loved to spend time with his son, cook, entertain and travel.
He is survived by: Son-Pascal Brooks of Portland, OR; Sister-Jane Heuck of Pebble Beach, CA; Ex-Wife Bozena Kutyba of Portland, OR; Companion - Dawn Berry of McMinnville, OR; Grandmother - Betty Brooks of Roseburg, OR.