Beaux Frères is one of those hidden gems in the wine world. You may have seen it in a bottle shop or on a restaurant wine list and then quickly moved along to something more affordable. Beaux Frères wines are very expensive, among the most expensive Pinot Noir and Chardonnays made not just in Oregon, but throughout the United States. As we recently confirmed while tasting through the line up with assistant winemaker Aaron Kendall, they are very much worth it.
Beaux Frères is the creation of Michael Etzel, Sr. a former wine salesman from Colorado who also happens to be the brother-in-law of the famous and now-retired American wine critic, Robert Parker.
Etzel was travelling through Oregon on his distribution route up to Vancouver when he happened upon an ad to purchase a foreclosed piece of property in the Willamette Valley. He took a drive there to discover 88 acres of steep, hilly land covered mostly in Douglas Fir, with a small homestead on it and a working pig farm. He decided he would buy it and some day plant a vineyard on it. He called his sister Pat (Parker’s wife) and asked if she and Parker would be interested in investing in the property together.
88 acres for only $129,000 seemed like a deal. Parker hesitated at first as he was fiercely independent in his reviews. Determining as long as he never offered reviews of his own wines his independence would be preserved, he agreed to become Etzel’s partner. French for “beautiful brothers”, Beaux Frères was born in 1988 with the planting of the first Pinot Noir vines at a density of 2200 plants per acre, nearly double the North American average.
We met Aaron at the property and were joined in the tasting room by Director of Marketing and Communications, Christopher Marshall. Chris greeted us in his very welcoming and affable way.
He told us a bit about the origins of the tasting room, a modest and open barn-like structure adjacent to the winery.
Aaron came up from the cellar and introduced himself. After some quick and easy-going banter, Aaron said the 8 most beautiful words a winemaker could possibly say to us: “would you like to drive through the vineyard?”. Talking with winemakers is always fascinating. But to get the true context to what they’re saying by being in the vineyard as they say it, well, that just takes the conversation to another level. Getting both Aaron and Christopher’s perspectives on the vineyard and the winery easily added an extra dimension.
The Beaux Frères Vineyard is beautiful, as so many vineyards are. Peaceful, quiet, and green, there really has never been a vineyard we did not enjoy being in. But Beaux Frères is special as it’s very steep and very secluded. It’s surrounded by a mature forest of tall fir and oak trees.
To avoid the typical monoculture of just grapevines, the vineyard is situated almost right on the edge of the forest. The site is planted to three distinct vineyards within the Ribbon Ridge AVA located at the northern end of the Willamette Valley.
The original Beaux Frères vineyard has 24 acres under vine, all planted to Pinot Noir in 1988. Much of this site is planted to Pommard and Wadenswil clones that are “own-rooted”, meaning planted on their own roots and not grafted on to a different root stock.
Own-rooted vines are a rarity as the vine destroying louse phylloxera will kill most roots and destroy the vineyard. Consequently, most vines are grafted on to special phylloxera-resistant roots. The more recently planted Dijon clone Pinot Noir at Beaux Frères is grafted on to such roots.
Further up the hill and just north of the Beaux Frères vineyard is the Upper Terrace Vineyard. This was first planted with 9 acres of Dijon clone Pinot Noir in 2000, leaving the balance of the 24 acres covered in forest. These are high elevation, very steep vineyards that due to the slope, are not easy to farm and harvest. But this site gives them the drainage and the aspect required to perfectly ripen Pinot Noir grapes in Oregon’s maritime climate.
Aaron then took us past the recently (2021) planted 15 acres that comprise the Ridge Vineyard, the strip of land lies between the Beaux Freres Vineyard and the Upper Terrance Vineyard. They expect to harvest the first crop from that vineyard this fall.
He then provided a bit more background about the vineyards and their vine’s origins. “As far as the valley plantings go, originally it was Wadenswil and Pommard (clones of Pinot Noir) and those were the original plantings. After that came the Dijon clones, sort of the 2nd wave of cloning material we got through David Adelsheim (a pioneer of Oregon viticulture) who was a big part of securing clones from Burgundy, having them virus tested and then brought to Oregon, then named and numbered. The newest wave we call California Heritage clones…clonal material selected from vineyards in California (Mt. Eden, Chalone, Clara, Rochioli, Swan, etc.) so that’s the newest wave of planting we’re seeing which are certainly doing better with the temperatures we’re seeing.”
It was also very illuminating to hear Aaron talk about the soil at Beaux Frères and in the Ribbon Ridge sub-AVA. “When we break it [the soil] up it’s like rock but once it’s sort of crushed into a fine powder, it becomes very fine dust.
It’s all ancient seafloor, so not quite sandstone but it’s of a similar consistency. And that’s all of Ribbon Ridge, the only AVA with sort of a homogenous soil type. Dundee Hills is predominantly volcanic but there’s some marine sediment there as well. Oregon was originally sort of formed by volcanoes, millions of years ago, lava flows from the cascades, so that’s the bedrock essentially for the base material and that sort of became a subduction of ancient seabed and then you get this marine sediment…it certainly makes delicious wine.”
“It’s great for Pinot but personally I think it makes some of the best chardonnay around.” Quite a statement coming from a house whose reputation was built on Pinot Noir. But Aaron’s passion for Chardonnay dates back to when he was a travelling harvest intern and worked 3 harvests in New Zealand, 2 of which were at Clearview Estate which specializes in the varietal.
As you will see when you read the tasting notes below, we couldn’t agree more.
*[Authour’s Note: We interviewed Aaron when he was less than a month from leaving Beaux Frères to take on the role of head winemaker at Compris Vineyard (formerly Vidon), also based in Newberg. More to come on his personal journey & Compris in a future article].
2021 Beaux Frères Willamette Valley Chardonnay
This wine was a stunner from the first sniff! Wonderfully floral with supporting notes of lemon and lime. This carries through on to the palate where after a bit of air further complexity is given with the apple and pear notes. The finish is incredibly long and mineral infused. Medium body and medium+ acid come together to create a beautiful texture that is crowned by just a kiss of oak. The balance is right on the fulcrum. A reference point in Oregon Chardonnay.
2020 Beaux Frères Doration Pinto Noir
2020 was a big fire year and not much Pinot got produced. This vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains AVA was picked on September 9th and managed to avoid any smoke taint. Medium red in colour it starts off with lovely aromas of red cherry, forest floor and brown spices. On the palate the texture is rich and mouth coating. Flavours of cherry pie, biscuit, dried fruit earthy hints all take turns at being in the lead. Each sip gives you something slightly different, urging you to come back for more. Vanilla and spice complete the finish.
2021 Beaux Frères Stardance Pinot Noir
Medium red in colour with a nose showing floral tones, black cherry and baking spice. These aromas carry on to the palate and after time are joined with more earthy and savory qualities. Own-rooted Pommard clone Pinot from a high elevation vineyard. Here the emphasis is on finesse the result is a very sophisticated wine showing elegance and restraint. Another few years in the cellar will bring out even more complexity.
2021 Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir
With this wine, all of the dials are turned way up! Wonderfully intense. We get flavours of dark cherry, dried fruit, earth, hints of blackberry and all sorts of spice notes. Amazingly long finish. The mineral notes add a great counter point to the plush fruit and bring the components together. A powerful wine for sure, but it minds its manners very well shows sophistication rather than brute strength. Amazing!
15155 NE North Valley Road,
Newberg, OR 97132
T: (503) 537-1137
*Visits by appointment only.