By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

The legacy of Jimi Brooks

Jimi Brooks, who died unexpectedly at age 38, left a lasting impression on the Oregon wine industry.
Jimi Brooks, who died unexpectedly at age 38, left a lasting impression on the Oregon wine industry.
Jimi Brooks’ sister, Janie Brooks Heuck, said Jimi always thought of his winery as a legacy he could pass down to his son, Pascal.
Jimi Brooks’ sister, Janie Brooks Heuck, said Jimi always thought of his winery as a legacy he could pass down to his son, Pascal.
Pascal Brooks.
Pascal Brooks.

Now there is a new documentary out that promises to spread his story to others. It was written and directed by David Baker of Three Crows Media, a Corvallis film collective.

The filmmaker set out to make a documentary on the state’s blossoming industry. He started casting about for a theme — a human interest element that could be used to make the story more compelling — and found people kept mentioning Jimi Brooks.

Baker started asking around about Brooks. And in the process, the film turned into a very personal one about love, passion and human values, with wine serving as the catalyst.

In the few years Brooks was given to make wine, he did it very well. He also advocated endlessly for its attributes and, in the process, endeared himself to the Oregon industry.

But as much as Brooks loved wine, he loved his only child, son Pascal, even more. Pascal was just 8 in September 2004, when Brooks died, suddenly and unexpectedly, of a heart attack at the age of 38.

“Pascal didn’t live with Jimi,” said Brooks’ sister, Janie Brooks Heuck. “But they spoke almost every day on the phone, and whenever Jimi could arrange for Pascal to visit, he made sure it happened.”

From the time her brother founded Brooks Wines in 1998, he viewed it as a legacy, something meaningful he could pass on to Pascal, Heuck said.

In the European tradition, when he and his son ate together, Brooks would give him a little wine mixed with water to acquaint him with what his dad seemed so interested in.

Until her brother discovered wine, nothing seemed to hold his interest for long, Heuck said.

“He couldn’t settle down,” she said. “He traveled a lot. Then his travels took him to France, where he worked a harvest in Burgundy. That changed everything.”

When he returned to Oregon in 1996, Brooks was hired by noted industry figure, Laurent Montalieu, then head winemaker at WillaKenzie Vineyards in Yamhill.

Four years later, he landed a job as head winemaker at Maysara Winery. With the blessing of owner Moe Momtazi, he launched his own label in 1998.

He remained full time in his Maysara position while building the Brooks brand. It had grown to 3,500 cases by 2004, the year he died.

Since his death came just prior to the 2004 harvest, a host of winemaking friends made time in the midst of their own hectic schedules to bring in the Brooks grapes and make the Brooks wines that year.

The group included Montalieu, as well as Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem Wines and Sam Tannahill of A to Z and Francis Tannanill Wines, whose recollections play a part in the film.

Merging Brooks’ passions for wine and his son into an interconnected theme, Three Crows had a foundation for its film. He expanded the story on that base.

Baker spoke at length with Heuck, who came up from California to take the helm at the winery on behalf of Pascal.

Over the past decade, she has more than tripled annual production of the Brooks brand, taking over the historic Hidden Springs Winery facility in the Eola Hills to provide enough capacity.

Pivotal to the story are the personal feelings and perspectives of Pascal himself, now 18, and about to enter the University of California at Santa Cruz. He admits to being torn between a commitment to Brooks Wines and doubt as to whether this is really the direction he wants to take in his life.

Other Oregon wine industry personalities are interviewed as well — pioneer Dick Erath of Erath Vineyards, Scott Wright of Scott Paul Wines, Stewart and Athena Boedecker in Portland and Oregon wine writer Katherine Cole.

Baker then extended his queries across the country, seeking out people from a wide variety of backgrounds, whose passion to make wine had compelled them to completely alter the course of their lives.

Adding color to the montage, they include former NFL great Drew Bledsoe, who makes his Doubleback brand in Washington’s Walla Walla Valley, and the electic couple — he from Minnesota, she from France — who own Cartograph Wines of Healdsburg, Calif.

They also include Cindy and Al Schornberg of Keswick Vineyards in Charlottesville, Virginia, Michael Amigoni of Kansas City’s Amigoni Wines and Todd and Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas WineWorks in Sonoita, Arizona.

The 80-minute documentary is titled “American Wine Story.” It premiered at the 16th annual Newport Beach Film Festival, which ran from April 24 to May 1.

“Our film was among only 200 out of more than 2,000 submissions that were accepted for this year’s festival,” Baker said. “We were very pleased by the reception.”

A special preview will also take place at the Mendocino Film Festival between May 29 and June 1.

Timed to coincide with the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, a dinner and special showing of “American Wine Story” will take place on Thursday evening, July 24, at the Evergreen Space Museum. Wineries featured in the film will be pouring at the event.

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Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 503-687-1227.

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