Burgundian Elegance in Oregon

Today’s Story: Beaux Frères

The groundwork for Beaux Frères occurred in the late 1980s when Michael Etzel discovered an 88 acre pig farm for sale on Ribbon Ridge in the Northern Willamette Valley, Oregon. Though he and his family lived in Colorado at the time, Michael decided to purchase the farm with brother-in-law Robert Parker (yes the wine critic) and set about transitioning some of the farm to vineyards. In 1988, Michael planted his first five acres of vineyards with Pinot Noir and harvested his first fruit in 1990. While Michael waited for his vines to bear fruit, he worked four harvests at Ponzi Winery and with his first harvest in 1990 sold fruit to Ken Wright and Dick Ponzi while only saving enough for one barrel of wine for himself. In 1991, Michael renovated one of the barns on the property to create his own winery and his efforts jump-started the transition to estate bottled wines.

Today, the Beaux Frères property consists of 50 acres of forest (Douglas fir trees), 8 acres of buildings including a home, barns, and winery, and 24 of the remaining 30 acres are planted to vine. The Beaux Frères Vineyard sits at an elevation of 400 feet and is planted with both own-rooted Pommard and Wädenswil clones, as well as younger Dijon clones on phylloxera-resistant rootstocks. Beaux Frères also farms the Upper Terrace Vineyard which sits slightly north of the Beaux Frères Vineyard and was first planted in 2000 with Dijon clones of Pinot Noir on 9 of the 40 total acres. Michael and his team practice many biodynamic farming methods in caring for their vineyards, a practice they picked up several years ago. The team avoids commercial sprays, composts on-site, grafts their own cuttings, and monitors the vines regularly.

Throughout the winemaking process, Michael and his son Mike (head winemaker) believe in minimal intervention and handling. To this end, they allow their wines to ferment spontaneously using only indigenous yeasts and utilize traditional punch downs and pump overs by hand. After pressing, they move the contents into French oak barrels ranging in 30-50% new (depending on vintage) and secondary fermentation occurs naturally at a slower rate in the barrel cellar. The only racking these wines see occurs after 10-12 months of barrel aging (to limit exposure to oxygen) which also helps limit the SO2 required to preserve the wine (if any is added at all) thanks to a natural buildup of CO2 during and after malolactic fermentation. The resulting wines are rather traditional in both production and expression, similar to classical red Burgundies.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.1% ABV

The 2016 Pinot Noir is medium ruby in color with rose variation near the edge of the glass and almost entirely opaque. The nose showcases aromas of ripe cherry, black raspberry, red licorice, purple florals, black tea, mineral, baking spice, and a hint of milk chocolate. Once in the mouth, this wine offers notes of blueberry, raspberry, black cherry, rose, a hint of damp earth, rocky minerality, clove, and oak. This is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $60. This is a high-quality, elegant, and luxuriously-textured Pinot Noir that I believe to be appropriately priced. It makes me think of an Oregon version of Kosta Browne or Williams Selyem. Pair this with salmon, chicken, pork, or duck.

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