The Beaux Frères winery now includes three generations, and the pace of things multiplies with each new set of feet on the farm. Our annual vintage report message lets us pause for reflection as the winter quietly sets in (aside from the bottling line clanking away with those wines that are the subject of this letter).
The short story: Even if we restrict our commentary to the subject of agriculture, few things have been familiar or easy in recent years. As a result, the 2021 vintage brought intense relief.
Sometimes a ‘saving grace’ only reveals itself upon later reflection, as was the case with an uncommon June rain event that brought almost an inch and a half in one week. Looking back, the soil’s moisture reserve seemed to save our vines from distress during three bouts of extreme heat that punctuated the growing season through August. We landed softly with moderate yields and the kind of quality that leads to irresistible wine.
One substantial impact on our decisions with respect to viticulture is climate change. Our focus on estate-grown fruit is increasing, since the most sustainable farming methods are practiced here in our backyard. We are committed to maintaining a balanced ecosystem through careful stewardship of our 150 acre terrain in the Ribbon Ridge, of which nearly two-thirds is forest. Among many adjustments that will reduce our environmental impact, we’re using lighter bottles, reusing boxes, and investing in more energy efficient farming equipment.
We’ll continue making the most special wines possible, without concern for growing overall production. Until we officially launch our third vineyard—a 20 acre property nestled between Beaux Frères and Upper Terrace—we’ll be scaling down in terms of the variety and quantity of wines available. There will be fewer sourced vineyard designate wines, mostly smaller ones from sites to which we’re closely connected. We’re listening to voices both in the world and inside our heads saying, “do what you do best…” and that is, craft wines from vine to bottle that showcase the magic of our own unique hillsides. No bells and whistles, just great wine from a beautiful time and place.
Thank you for being part of this remarkable adventure with us.
The story of the 2020 vintage could fill a volume of books, even setting the pandemic aside.
In the vineyards, bud break and bloom phases went off like clockwork that spring. In an interesting twist, June rains affected enough of the primordial clusters being formed that final crop levels would be among the lowest since 2004, given that early rain events wash away some flowers that would otherwise have later become grapes.
Despite the lower yields that would follow, we knew we had something special and worthy thanks to this exact scenario: low disease pressure due to the resulting loosely spaced clusters, highly pigmented wines with increased concentration (thanks to lower overall crop load) and small berries with more surface area of skin, often without seeds. This type of quality, always over quantity, is preferred.
The summer pressed on with breezy, warm days and cool nights through August.
Until a psychedelic haze began on September 13th, we were very pleased with the power and structure of the nearly 29 tons of fruit that we had already processed. The tiny but mighty lots harvested before wildfire smoke settled in are the subject of much excitement. They represent a perfectly captivating vintage.
There were about 80 barrels (not the usual 400+); however, the resulting wines are remarkable in texture, tone, and energy.
And with that, we will be releasing a truly special set of very limited production wines from 2020 in the coming year, beginning with this pre-release offer that includes: 2020 Beaux Frères Early Bird Pinot Noir*, 2020 Beaux Frères Light from Dark White Pinot Noir, and a very small number of 2020 Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir magnums.
When Old World producers told me the great advantages that they have over New World producers, with their multigenerational ownership and management of their vineyards and wineries, I did not fully understand the importance at first. Now, with 34 years of farming the same landscape, and the second generation in full force, I see the many benefits they were talking about.
I believe that Beaux Frères is truly beginning to understand the strengths that exist within our organization. From the vineyards to the long-standing employees, we are able to create wines that reflect each unique growing season, from the vantage of our special place.What does Vintage 2019 offer that makes it so special?
It’s Mikey’s fourth vintage as head winemaker with Dad only looking over his shoulder, and Aaron’s continued experience with making wines in the Ribbon Ridge area. It’s Rogelio and Omar’s decades of farming our sites and maintaining our equipment, our intimate knowledge of every slope and swale, knowing which clones and areas of the vineyards ripen first. These are elements of strength gained over time.
There is nothing more satisfying than bottling a vintage like 2019 for us; a set of wines that prove the unflinching spirit of a team that whistles while they work.We are immensely proud of this triumphant offering. It represents the accumulation of everything we have learned about making cool climate Pinot Noir from our unique terrain throughout the last 30+ years.
Our vineyard and production team do everything the hard way, the long way, by hand.
These are standout wines that echo from the stories within. Even the earliest results are impressive. You can feel the 16-hour days followed by belly laughs, cold beer, and bonfires. You can hear the speakers blasting classics, Mariachi, jazz, hip hop, folk music — anything to fit the mood.
At harvest time, there were mostly familiar faces in 2019, except for Marcus, a fine young man from Germany who poured himself into the effort and broke more frequent smiles as the work got harder and the days got longer.
Chef Charlie Moon brought the flair of fine dining to our team harvest meals, an essential contribution fueling positive winery vibes.
Most importantly, as always, Mother Nature.
She weighed in with the opinion that we could use a break from such hot summers of late and instead delivered a beautiful, even-ripening and decidedly nostalgic Oregon growing season with sunny stretches punctuated by quenching rains, and more than a few jaw dropping golden afternoons followed by cool nights.
With the 2019s release just around the corner, we think you’re in for a treat. Thank you for including our wines in your collection year after year.
“A human being has a natural desire to have more of a good thing than he needs.” – Mark Twain
The 2018 vintage emerges 30 years after planting our first vines in a dairy pasture up the hill from the barn that is now Beaux Frères winery. Our office in the old hayloft provides a bird’s eye view of the gravel road to the vineyard. It’s a nice place to see everyone come and go throughout the day. There are still only about ten folks who work here year round, and even at the height of harvest we top out around 15 humans. (We’re almost always outnumbered by animals: 3 dogs, 6 pigs, 5 goats, 3 ducks, and 4 chickens. But, who’s counting?)
Since the margin of time between when we pick and when we release the wine is almost 18 months, it can be difficult to recall the details that seemed so pressing at the time. Some seasons are punctuated so heavily with significance that they are best described according to what else happened to us that year. In 2018, our Winemaker, (Michael’s middle son) Mikey, became a father, as did Aaron Kendall, our Assistant Winemaker. Both were blessed with healthy baby boys, and Mother Nature also provided an incredible growing season. (For more on that, see page 2.) Harvest always requires a huge amount of energy with grueling hours, little sleep, and constant physical activity. We remain on edge until “the hay is in the barn” so to speak. Writing this newsletter is perhaps the first chance for relaxed reflection when considering a vintage.
Our production team was comprised of several perennial harvest friends (one of whom was even so kind as to enlist his able-bodied brother), plus an innocent lad called Antoine, from Normandy, who came to us from our partners in France for a bit of the American experience. It’s a small but mighty team known to work 16+ hours and then stick around for hand rolled cigarettes and canned beers together before retiring to makeshift quarters in tucked-away corners of the winery, the vineyard cabin, Mikey’s home on the property, or Michael’s just down the road.
As Mark Twain suggested at the outset of this message, it’s possible we gave in to our natural desire for more of a good thing than we need… In addition to our Estate wines, this harvest brought serious potential to highlight a handful of unique terroirs that have been planted in other areas of the Willamette Valley in the last 30 years. To think, our first vintage of Beaux Frères totaled one wine from one vineyard. But from 2018, the cellar contained an amazing array of Pinot Noir expressions too difficult to ignore.
For now, we’re pleased to announce our four signature wines for 2018: Beaux Frères Vineyard, Upper Terrace, Belles Sœurs, and one exciting barrel reserve selection representing the best of our hallmark Estate fruit. (Stay tuned as the remaining wines are released later in the year, including a small treasure from terra cotta clay, and a generous handful of playful vineyard designates from under-the-radar sites.) Once again, thank you for being with us on this journey.
With great excitement, after a 12-year hiatus, we eagerly reveal a new life for an old label, the Belles Soeurs Cuvée. But first, some context for the decision to awaken this beauty:
Much like the few summers before, 2017 will be characterized by warmth and opulence. Even so, the laissez-faire ease of Harvest 2016 was subverted a year later when a classic Oregon rain shower in mid-September tested our collective mettle. Adding to the challenge, we faced far more abundant fruit of excellent quality. We quickly found our footing, with my eyes on the timing of each pick and second-generation Winemaker, Mike D. Etzel, captaining efforts in the winery. Our favorite kind of wines emerged, ones marked by toil and determination after a nonetheless charitably sunny growing season. An abundance of pristine fruit warranted something we’ve not done before: a supreme, Reserve-level blend from our three family vineyards (The Beaux Frères Vineyard, Upper Terrace, and Sequitur). We saw a chance to maintain strength and intensity while highlighting nuance and finesse in this unparalleled cuvée; the perfect time to re-invoke our treasured Belles Soeurs, the Queen of Pinot Noir.
Named for the French translation of “sisters-in-law,” the Belles Soeurs (say “bell sur”) is beloved among our stalwart collectors, and a source of much inquiry since its last release in 2005.
The 2017 Belles Soeurs Cuvée is full of verve, harnessing the lively energy of our sites’ most high-spirited lots. It is a captivating wine unhindered by gravity; expressive, a natural homage to The Queen of Soul. Like all the wines offered herein, it is defined by time and place—a testament to our connection with the landscape. Through observation and intuition, we have engaged Mother Nature in a way that showcases intricacy, complexity, and balance.
For more notes on our 2017 Beaux Frères, Upper Terrace, and Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, along with the Belles Soeurs Cuvée, see the next page. We are very proud of this offering, although as always, it will be a while before the full story unfolds.
THIS NEWSLETTER IS THE 23rd WRITTEN, and many of you have followed every vintage — thank you. For those joining us more recently, let me point out a few landmarks since we set our first vines into soil at Beaux Frères in 1988. We planted the site now called Upper Terrace in 2000 and began farming biodynamically at both Estate properties, avoiding conventional sprays in favor of gentle tonics like dandelion and stinging nettle tea.
We’ve expanded the winery (our dear old pig barn) more times than I can recall, and have begun to replace own-rooted vineyard blocks with vines on protected rootstock. At the helm of winemaking these days is the second generation, my middle son, Mikey Etzel, who grew up alongside our original vines.
This year, with the retirement of my brother-in-law, Robert Parker, and our business partner, Robert Roy, Beaux Frères began a new partnership with 8th generation, French family-owned Maisons & Domaines Henriot. This means we are now even more connected to the Old World winemaking traditions that have always inspired our work.
“Beaux Frères is a perfect fit with the traditions and values of my family, built over many generations. In the warmth that we immediately felt with the Etzel family, I sensed a meeting of the minds and the flame of shared artistic passion and know-how.” Gilles de Larouzière, President of Maisons & Domaines Henriot
The 2016 growing season provided all the necessary elements to produce a promising wine. Only time will determine greatness. After a sunny summer, we harvested our warmest site on August 25th, fruit sourced from Guadalupe Vineyard. On September 30th the last fruit came in from Hyland Vineyard, our coolest source. Our Estate vineyards, Beaux Frères and Upper Terrace, came in block by block between those dates. Harvesting grapes throughout a 30-day period provides a flow of work that is not overly demanding. The weather, for the most part, cooperated, making for another enjoyable vintage. I think you will be pleased with the result.
As always, thank you for your years of trust in us — a collection of talented people who take pride in their work.
As we approach the release of our 2015 wines next spring, we’re eager to share a special 25th harvest edition of our newsletter. Please see the attachment to read a reflection by co-owners Robert M. Parker Jr., Michael G. Etzel, and Robert Roy.
This time of year, just after the freshly harvested grapes are fermented and placed into barrels, we take a few moments to breathe and reflect on last year’s work. Whether your experience with our wines is extensive, or you’ve just joined our world, we hope you’ll enjoy this brief retrospective on 2015…
The 2015 growing season began a bit early with just the right amount of sun/rain/heat for a successful bud break and no frost damage, enabling a perfect bloom one month later. After abundant sunshine through July, we began to fear things were a bit too dry. But, an ideally timed drizzle in mid-August brought relief to both plant and human.
All in all, Vintage 2015 was a pleasant reminder of the prior year’s growing season. When an early wave of fruit came in from the youngest blocks of Beaux Frères Vineyard on September 9th, we were off to a brisk pace. After a compressed picking period, the final blocks came in from our coolest sites, Hyland and Zena Crown, on September 23rd.
Again, much like in ’14, the sugars were balanced and consumed readily by indigenous yeasts from the field; always a good thing. Skins and seeds were ripe and ready to contribute nicely toward structure in the finished wines. Each vineyard block was considered individually as always, with judicious use of whole clusters in some lots, punch downs and pump overs by hand, and a gentle press once the grape sugars were consumed. We ushered the fresh young wines into the finest oak from the forests and coopers of France for their 10-month rest.
The wines emerged from barrel more refined than we ever can hope at such an early stage. In bottle, they show enough verve to excite us as they unfold throughout the next decade or more.
Legendary vintages are the ones that are spoken about in hushed tones as dusty bottles are carefully decanted and shared between old friends (and new) who appreciate fine wines. ey are few and far between, much more rare than many would have us believe with the constant litany of “best vintage ever!” year after year.
Several months ago, I heard many of my serious wine collecting friends speaking about the legendary Burgundy vintage of 1959. Never having had the opportunity to try a bottle, I did some reading to see what all of the fuss was about. As I was reading the vintage description (courtesy of Clive Coates – MW and Burgundy expert), I found myself reflecting on our most recent vintage. I was struck because his description of the ‘59 Burgundy vintage exactly mirrored our 2014 growing season in the Northern Willamette Valley. A quote: “Fine weather in early June, following a mild spring enabled the vines to flower swiftly and successfully ensuring not only a large and early harvest, but one of even maturity. July and August were hot and dry.
Early September brought just enough rain to keep that maturation process on an even keel. And the harvest took place in ideal conditions, beginning two weeks earlier than usual on September 14th.” I could not have said it better. at last detail made my eyes go wide when I read it – not only did his description mirror our growing season to a “T,” that was the precise day – September 14th, (55 years later) that we had chosen to pick our oldest, own-rooted blocks of the Beaux Frères Vineyard. After the wines were in the barrel, it was clear that this vintage was truly epic. While tasting, Grant and I were inspired to create a separate bottling from the Beaux Frères Vineyard for the first time ever – Cuvée ’59’ – please read more about it inside the newsletter.
I am as excited about our 2014 wines as I have ever been for any vintage that we have released – you will definitely want these wines to be in your cellar, some for tasting in a few years and some for holding onto so that you can share a bottle or two many years from now of what could become the legendary 2014 Oregon vintage – another “Legend of the Fall” (with our apologies to Jim Harrison).
Question: In what world does: 7+11=13?
Response: Makes perfect sense to an Oregon winegrower.
What this adds up to is an unapologetic representation of lessons learned from these recent Oregon vintages (2007, 2011, and now 2013). It seems that you, (our core wine buyer) truly appreciate our commitment to representing the uncompromised essence of the vineyard sites and the growing seasons. Our practices include: farming in an organic/biodynamic manner (though we remain uncertified), not irrigating, so as to reflect the actual growing season, as well as limited intervention in the cellar. And, while the winemaking and farming techniques are important – I have found that people are just as (perhaps more) important. In April 2007 I hired an articulate young fellow named Grant Coulter. The 2007 vintage was his baptism by fire. He persevered and has worked his way into the position of winemaker at Beaux Frères. He is now in charge of making the day to day decisions in the cellar, paying close attention to the smallest of details. is has left me with more time to focus on the vineyard fine tuning our farming practices. Now with 2007, 2011 and 2013 under his belt you can bear witness to how experience really does pay off.
Story of the 2013 season:
After a gloriously moderate growing season, one marked with gentle summer temperatures, perfect light/temperature ratios and just the right amount of rainfall on just the right crop-load, we were feeling that harvest 2013 would be a walk in the park. So when the weather forecast was calling for a period of rain just as the grapes were ready to pick, we discounted the news as we continued to float along on our “we got it made in the shade” cloud. Five days and 6 1/2 inches of rain later, that bubble had unceremoniously burst. We began the harvest with young vines first (they ripen earlier) and were able to get 15 tons of grapes in the winery before the rains. Because the older vines ripen slower we waited through the weather as our vines were hit with the full force of the rains. As soon as the remaining fruit finished ripening – we picked. We picked and processed with many hands, carefully sorting out any compromised grapes along the way. Thankfully, once in tank the ferments were trouble free, smelling fresh and clean. Now we are very proud to introduce to you our 2013 wines. After much editing and whittling we have some truly great wines that show the beauty of the vintage. If you have tried any of the vintages that I mentioned at the beginning of this note, or still have them in your cellar – you know how well these wines age, still vibrant and fresh, red fruited – full of life and depth, reflecting their growing season. I believe 2013 will demonstrate the culmination of what years of cool climate grape growing and winemaking experience can produce: Pinot noir at its very best!
There are (or soon will be) many winery newsletters from Oregon addressing the greatness of the 2012 vintage, detailing how the wines are ”spot-on”, “pitch-perfect” and “going to raise the bar”. We could do this too, explain in detail why this vintage is special. However, this year suffice it to say that 2012 was a near perfect year for Oregon Pinot noir. We are bringing to the table some very remarkable wines. Production was small so we suggest that you purchase the wines you want early as we may not be able to fulfill later requests.
Writing this letter it dawned on us that when we offer our wines as futures we are asking you to take a leap of faith, to purchase our wines based on nothing but our word and our reputation. Thinking about this – it struck us how this blind faith, buying wines before they are reviewed, before they are even bottled is the ultimate compliment. This trust year after year is in fact a successful long-term relationship (somewhat of a rarity these days). Talking with one of our loyal buyers about these newsletters, he said, “I never even read them until later, I just buy your wines every year because I trust you to make the best and not to bottle anything less.” That sort of sentiment from you is the ultimate compliment to our ears. Marketing terms like “brand loyalty” are bandied about trivially, but when we think of all of you who have been faithfully buying our wines year after year we are deeply moved and truly humbled.
With a vintage like 2012 we can get right to the point of saying that we could not do what we do – farm the grapes and make the wines if it were not for you and for your faith in us – Thank you. Enjoy these wines!