Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Chris Williams, the winemaker at Brooks Winery in Amity, Oregon.
Brooks was created in 1998 by Jimi Brooks.
A Portland native, Jimi fell in love with wine – and learned how to make it – while working for the Deschamps family in Beaujolais in the early 1990s. When he returned to Oregon in 1996, he landed a job with WillaKenzie Estate, where he worked under Laurent Montalieu. Two years later, he launched his own brand while still working at WillaKenzie.
In 2004, at the age of 38, Jimi died of a heart attack.
He left the winery to his then 8-year-old son, Pascal, and his friend Chris took over the winemaking duties. Chris had learned to make wine from Jimi, so it made sense for him to stay on.
Today, Brooks has a reputation for making delightful Pinot Noir and Riesling – and they’re definitely worth finding. Check out our interview with Chris below the fold.
What is your general winemaking philosophy?
My winemaking philosophy sounds so cliché, but it’s really to just let the grapes speak for themselves. Then, when they are all done talking, I pick the right ones to put together to make some sense. I do tend to keep the grapes separate throughout vinification in order to really highlight the differences between the vineyards. In many cases, I still keep the wines separate for bottling so I can show a range of sweetness levels and many different terroirs.
What’s open in your kitchen right now?
Open at my house right now are the 2005 Albert Boxer Grand Cru Sommerberg Riesling and 2005 Dirler-Cade Grand Cru Kessler Riesling. I also think there are some cool wines coming out of Provence like the 2012 Tibouren Clos Cibonne, which I recently drank.
Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?
I really admire Ernie Loosen. He has done more for Riesling than any one I can think of. He came from the tiny Mosel Valley as an unknown producer and is now the driving force behind Riesling sales throughout the world. Ernie has created a new generation of passionate Riesling drinkers and his wines are really good. The Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten is consistently one of my favorites.
What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?
One of my favorite newer winemakers is Patrick Reuter of Dominio IV. He is using a lot of fruit from the Columbia Gorge and I really enjoy how he is revealing the area. Patrick is farming biodynamically and making Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Viognier. His style is very Old World.
How do you spend your days off?
I’m a big fan of foraging and have been adding more and more fungi to my list of things to pick. I’ve found lots of Chanterelles, Candy Caps, and a handful of Oregon truffles and I’m always on the hunt for the elusive Oregon Morel mushrooms.
I like experimenting with cooking what I find. I make purees with the chanterelles and add it to the base of sauces for an earthy flavor, adding complexity and richness to any dish. I tend to use Asian ingredients and spices when I cook, which happen to pair wonderfully with the Riesling and aromatic whites I drink. I’m also a big fan of mushroom ragus and ½ beef and ½ mushroom burgers.
When the fungi aren’t in season, I still spend a lot of time outdoors looking for interesting stones and fossils. I recently found some Oregon sunstones and agate while hiking though the eastern part of the state. I try to pay attention to the subtle details of nature as much as possible and think this also helps to explain my style of winemaking.
What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
Not sure it would be just one, but the best flight was the first year of the “Riesling Rendezvous” in Washington, when we did a 16-wine flight of all TBA of various vintages. It was the best!
What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
The oldest bottle in my cellar is a 1976 Hugel Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives given to me by a friend who shares my passion for aromatic whites. I plan to drink it with her soon. I don’t have too many old bottles in my cellar because I can always find reasons to drink them.
If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?
I think the 2005 Dirler-Cade Grand Cru Kessler Riesling I mentioned earlier would be the white. I could drink that for a year with dinner and be happy with it. Its complex fruit, racy acidity, and hint of richness gives this wine astonishing balance with an amazingly long finish. I would want to drink a red with similar qualities, maybe a Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. The Dominio IV Sterner Vineyard Rain on Leaves Pinot Noir has a lot of the characteristics I’m always looking for in a red wine.
What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
My biggest challenge is working in a very tight space. Our current winery is 35’X50’ and I make 10,000 to 13,000 cases, depending on the vintage. I have to stay very organized in order to make the winery Tetris game work. Luckily, we will be breaking ground on a new winery this spring.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world — other than your own?
I would have to say Alsace. I really appreciate the Alsatian history of a focus on aromatic white wines and pinot noir, cultivated in a patchwork of soils and interesting terroirs.
Is beer ever better than wine?
There are some Sours and Farmhouse Ales that could take on certain whites in acidity and complexity. But in general, I stick with wine.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I like to sew. Sometimes I bring my sewing machine out to the winery to work on projects like covers for the fermenters and the occasional window coverings. I like the process of sewing. It’s very methodical and requires accuracy and patience.
If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
That’s a damn good question. Probably working as a motorcycle mechanic. I’ve got 7 motorcycles currently and I work on them when I have time.
How do you define success?
Success is waking up in the morning and going to a job I love and then getting off work to go home to a family I love. Life is a win-win.