On February 4, 2001, Michael Etzel, co- owner, wine maker and vineyard manager of Oregon’s Beaux Freres was in Tokyo giving at tasting at the Diamond Club for Nakagawa Wine Company.
Michael Etzel has a down home, folksy way about him, looking more like a country western singer than a city-slicker wine maker for one of the world’s top wineries. Spinning his wine tale, he describes how a young and married country boy from Colorado Springs, Colorado while vacationing in Oregon had a life changing experience which led him to buy an 88 acre pig farm in Oregon and begin growing wine grapes.
Etzel says pretty soon he began a partnership with his sister’s husband. And who is his sister’s husband, but none other than the world’s most renowned and influential wine critic , Robert Parker, J.! They called their winery Beaux Freres, the brothers-in-laws.
In 1991 a third partner, Robert Roy, became one of the Beaux Freres.
Etzel says he is the wine maker and does all the work in the vineyard. A look at his tanned face and tough workmen’s hands, it is very believable. “When the grapes come in we just let it ferment. We don’t add sugar, or tartaric acid or any acid.”
He added, “We do a traditional Burgundy fermentation style with open top vats, 2 tonnes, jacketed like this cup.” (holding up a tall paper beer cup). “It lets the heat and oxygen blow off,” Etzel say, “ Also we can pigeage with feet or with a big ladle.”
The grapes are picked at a 24 Brix, and are cold soaked, then heated with a glycol jacket, and the natural fermentation begins. Etzel doesn’t add supplements or nutrients. The fermentation temperature begins to climb as sugars eat the yeast so the temperatures climbs to 25c.“ As the wine ferments the Brix drops down to 10 Brix, fermentation dried out to negative Brix.
He says that next, a high percentage goes into new French oak without settling. “All the gross lees and much go in the barrel,” says Etzel. “However, not the skins as they are removed during pressing.”
He notes that most winemakers let wine settle 24 hours and only fresh wine goes in, but at Beaux Freres they don’t rack or move the wine until bottling.
“Our So2 is the lowest of any commercial winery. Because we don’t move the wine around or filter it is has higher Co2.”
Because of this Etzel recommends decanting the wine, “The wine has 300 parts per million of Co2. Winemaking universities recommend 250.” Etzel chuckled “I was never a good student.”
Beaux Freres is biodynamic with very low yields, and one bunch of grapes on one cane on vertical trellises, the same as a Grand Cru in Burgundy.
“At harvest time we taste and look at the seed, not really the sugar. But at 23 Brix the seed cannot be florescent green. A ripe seed looks like a ripe banana, with the dark spots.”
The vineyard is marine sediment soil, unlike Burgundy ,which has high limestone content. Etzel notes the slope is south and southeast with an elevation of 365 feet with 5,500 plants per hectare while Burgundy has 10,000.
The Importance of Trellising High
“In Burgundy the first fruiting wires are one foot off the ground, but my wires are two feet off the ground,” Etzel says standing up and demonstrating how the bunches at a higher level get more even sunshine all day.
“Have to be careful of the height of the trellis. If they are too close or too low there is too much shading on the grapes.”
The Costly Clones.
In the vineyard he uses Pommard/Vaud Swiss #2 clones, as Swiss clones have lots of red fruit character, “This clone is very challenging as it demands a specific sight.”
The Upper Terrace is Beaux Freres’ ‘pampered child vineyard’. Etzel says, “Not the favorite child, but the most spoiled with care.” The vineyard was purchased in 1999 as a 40 acre forest, which was then planted with 10 acre vineyard one year after the purchase.
The vineyard is planted 5 different Pinot Noir Dijon clones on two different rootstocks to be Phylloxera resistant. The difference between the regular Beaux Freres and Upper Terrace is the vines age and the clones.
The Upper Terrace is a very young vineyard, so the 2008 vintage was from vines that were only 8 years old.
“I believe a vineyard needs 15 years at least to express its terroir,” notes Etzel. “Recently, Oregon was allowed to create 5 new AVAs, and Beaux Freres is on Ribbon Ridge AVA.”
Oak Barrels-only the best with a medium toast.
Beaux Freres orders oak barrels as staves and let sthem air dry for another year. This gives the wood a much softer on its impact on the wine. France has about 15 different forests for their wood used for barrels and Etzer says, “My particular favorites are Voges, Nevers and Allier.
He prefers a medium toast level. “Early years we used a heavier toast, but it was too smoky, too much of a barbeque flavor. As the market has become more sophisticated, the market is moving away from a heavy toast.”
The reason for starting to be Biodynamic
“In the original Beaux Freres vineyard we had Phylloxera, “ and Etzel was told it could co-exist if he farmed it biodynamically. Farming biodynamically slowed the growth of Phylloxera down. In 1988 Phylloxera was not an issue in Oregon, but 2-3 years later Phylloxera was discovered in Oregon and Etzel had already planted the first vineyards.
“In the old days we would buy rootstock for 35 cents each. Now they are $4.00 a piece, so to get 5,5000 plants to the hectare, plus trellising, wire posts is expensive.”
In the old days when rootstock was 35 cents each, you’d plant them directly into the ground. Now you buy cuttings from dormant plants, so I let a nursery grow them.
Etzel said he went to Burgundy to learn wine making, modeling Beaux Freres after that they were doing, using the same fermenters, the same trellising, “Yes, I copied them. Now after 20 years of tweeking , it is to make Beaux Freres into Beaux Freres.”
Vintages do matter when you are making wine naturally.
This was a challenging harvest the winery began picking at 23 Brix, and then it was down to 21 Brix when they finished. There was some delusion from rain so Etzel treated the wine like it was a white wine. “We didn’t want to extract bitterness from the seeds so we fermented at a lower white wine temperature. “
Etzel was gentle with pigeage (punching down) and put the wine into used oak barrels at a cool 23C fermentation. “Most fermentations are in the low 30s,” according to Etzel, “However, the danger of low temperatures is that you don’t get good color extraction.”
2008 was the vintage of the century. “It seems we have a vintage of the century every 10 years,” laughed Etzel. “We had little rain, but at the right time and not excessive hear. If it is 40 degrees Celsius it is hard on the vine and burns the skin.”
They did a barrel fermentation with no reduction and no sulfite products as 2008’s vintage’s must had all the nutrition. Etzel says there was no reductive stink from not enough nutrients and here was 1% more alcohol than the previous vintage for Beaux Freres.
Every year Beaux Freres divides the vineyards into about 13 fermenters divided by clone or by when it is fermented. “There are 25 or more Pinot Noir clones,” Etzel jokes that clones are a plot by nurseries to make vineyard owns buy more.
Etzel says they take their corks from Portugal seriously, using a super hand selecton so that only 1% of the corks have TCA.
The Tasting Flight
Beaux Freres Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, 2007-Y10,000.
A medium pale garnet with an orange rim. The nose is very full and rich with Burgundy style. Damson plums, forest floor, a hint of violets and mushrooms. The flavors are similar to the nose. Very elegant and gracefully balanced with a silky, plum finish with hint of Asian spice.
Beaux Freres Pinot Noir, The Beaux Freres Vineyard, Ribbon Ridge, 2007-Y12,000.
Medium to deep ruby with a pink rim. The nose is of new oak and spicy beetroot. On the palate the wine seems to have more alcohol, with fresh black fruit, truffles, beetroot, savory tannins and a very long smooth finish.
Beaux Freres Pinot Noir, The Beaux Freres Vineyard, 2008 (the vintage of the century), Ribbon Ridge-Y12,000.
Medium to deep ruby with a pink rim. The nose is very similar to the Beaux Freres Vineyard 2007, but with more fruit (raspberries, cherries, blackberries, Damson plums) and complexity on the nose and palate. Silky tannins, full bodied with a long complex finish.
Beaux Freres Pinot Noir Upper Terrace, 2008, Ribbon Ridge- Y17,000
A deeper, shimmering ruby with a pink rim. More forest floor and barnyard on the nose, like a classic Burgundy. Racy, mouth-watering acidity, gritty tannins and lots of classic Burgundian beetroot, truffles and forest berries. Very long finish of grained satin ribbon. Definitely a wine that is for keeping and savoring for a special occasion.
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