I’m here to tell you today about a Pinot Noir named Rastaban. But first I have to tell you about Hera and the legend of Ladon the Dragon.
When Hera married Zeus, she received as a wedding present a tree from which grew golden apples. Delighted with this gift, she planted it on the slopes of Mount Atlas. The daughters of Atlas, the Hesperides, guarded the valuable tree, but because they kept picking the golden apples, Hera set the watchful eye of Dragon Ladon to the task.
Enter Heracles. For one of his labors, he had to collect a golden apple. This required slaying Ladon the Dragon which he accomplished by shooting him with poisoned arrows. To honor the heroic Ladon, Hera placed the image of the dragon at the north celestial pole as the constellation Draco, the eighth largest in the sky.
One of Draco’s eyes is the massive star Rastaban. Rastaban is also a star at Brooks Estate in Oregon, made from the best Pinot Noir possible.
Legends and myths abound at Oregon’s biodynamic Brooks. First and foremost, there’s the legendary Jimi Brooks, who was fascinated by mythology and astrology and whose legacy is Brooks Winery which features the Ouroboros on its label.
The Ouroboros depicts a snake or dragon (as in the case of Brooks) which in the act of swallowing its own tail symbolizes wholeness, infinity, the completion of a cycle, and the transmigration of the soul. According to Jung, the Ouroboros dramatizes the integration and assimilation of the opposite, of the shadow.
Passionate and charismatic about holistic farming, Jimi started his winery in 1998 following several seasons interning in Beaujolais. When the 38 year old winemaker died unexpectedly of an aortic aneurysm on the eve of harvest in 2004, a dozen Oregon legends stepped forward to make sure the grapes he had contracted for were picked, processed, and made into wine.
One of these dozen, Chris Williams, worked with Jimi at the young winery, and today he strives to fulfill Jimi’s sustainable vision and makes the wine at Brooks. Jimi’s son Pascal became the youngest winery owner in the word at 8 years old, and remains the owner, while Jimi’s sister Janie serves as managing director and shares stories about the winery in weekly folksy newsletters, and in typical non-COVID years, travels telling tales of Brooks and the wines that bear his name. In 2019, Brooks produced 20k cases of wine.
Having interned for the past two years at the small, mostly organic winery Clos Des Amis here in Ventura County, I know that there’s a lot to farming holistically, and that there’s a lot of quiet time working and reflecting; there’s time for the mind to consider mythology. The naming of wines, and the symbols used are not random. I expect this January while I’m pruning, I’ll be thinking about Jimi and how the ouroboros and Ladon’s watchful eye on the fruit are important symbols in the process of making wine.
The Brooks story of resilience and family is one that is featured in An American Wine Story; check out the trailer and other videos about Brooks on their YouTube channel here.
And it’s a great story to share with your family around the holiday table whether it be in person or via ZOOM — where you can even enjoy the same wine and the same menu!
When I visited Oregon with the LA Wine Writers, we tasted a lot of Pinot Noir but the Brooks Rastaban stood out to me because I appreciated how it is farmed biodynamically, I loved the stories, and I enjoyed what was in my glass so much I purchased a bottle of the 2015 at the winery and then later a library bottle of the 2006 so I could compare them.
Planted between 1973 and 1978 with Pommard, 115, and 777 in volcanic basalt-nekia soil, these grapes go into one of the first and more reserve pinot noir labels that Jimi Brooks produced and since 2012 this Brooks Estate Vineyard is farmed and certified biodynamic by Demeter.
Comparison of vintages 2017, 2016, 2015, 2006
Brooks Estate Vineyard “Rastaban” Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Simple ingredients and a simple meal that went together perfectly and harmoniously with the wines. This is a menu that works for a small gathering or could expand easily for a larger one by simply purchasing more duck breasts, or if you’re more ambitious, do a whole duck. For four of us, we shared two duck breasts which was plenty because of the rich, filling baked brie and mushroom appetizer and the generous sides of salad and squash plus we knew there was dessert coming!
- Truffle Brie encroute with butter sautéed mushrooms with baguette.
- Brie en Crout Recipe: Take a round of brie, wrap it in puff pastry, bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until pastry is nicely browned. While the brie is in the oven, sauté 1/4 pound mushrooms in a tablespoon of butter. Plate warm brie with the sautéed mushroom. We loved every vintage with this appetizer.
- Salad: Blackberry and pomegranate on spring greens.
- Winter squash: lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and tossed in oil then oven roasted.
- Duck Breast: with pomegranate reduction and pomegranate. While I absolutely love duck, Sue is not a great fan. Tonight, Sue even got on board. The rich dark meat of the duck breast with the pomegranate reduction was the perfect pairing with the meal.
- Pomegranate Reduction Sauce Recipe: 1 cup fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, 1 T maple syrup, 1/4 t kosher salt, pinch of ground cinnamon. Bring to boil in a saucepan on high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until reduced by 2/3.
- Galette: pumpkin spiced apple, persimmon, and blackberries
- Galette Recipe On sliced apple, persimmon, and blackberries, sprinkle pumpkin pie spice, 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar on sliced fruit and stir until fruit is covered; wrap in pastry crust, bake at 375 until brown and bubbles. As we had pomegranate reduction from the duck, Sue drizzled it over the galette and sprinkled additional pomegranates. Purchased pie crusts are perfect and can serve 4-8. Serve with whipped cream if desired.
2017 Brooks Estate Vineyard “Rastaban” Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley OR
sample for my review
Color: So pale and translucent, dusty rose, pink rim, the wine really catches the light like a Christmas ornament.
Nose: Light perfume, rose petals, raspberry, cranberry, earthy loamy soil, slight herbs, cedar and sandalwood
Palate: Wow! Clean and slick, slippery like clay, very interesting mouth feel, bright fruit acidity, cranberry, rhubarb, the finish is mouthwatering and lingers with some interesting sarsaparilla notes
Pairing: When there are the rich flavors and then you add the bright fruit of the wine, there is a wonderful explosion in your mouth. Really great with the squash, it wasn’t too sweet for the wine. The baking spices in the dish bring out nice baking spices in the wine. The pomegranate reduction was perfect with the wine. The dessert carries through nicely with the wine as well. Because the berries in the galette were not super sweet. It went so perfectly. Mmm, wow, so great. It is as good as anything else we had this evening with this. Minimal sugar and flour, just ripe fruit, and the Trader Joe’s pie crust has a bit of sugar in it (more than Sue would like in a pie crust).
2016 Brooks Estate Vineyard “Rastaban” Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley OR
sample for my review
Color: Pale and translucent, garnet, very pale pink rim, a bit deeper and richer in color than the 2017,
Nose: This is how I want Christmas to smell, pine notes, cranberry, baking spices, pine forest, very inviting nose, it is more intense on the nose than the 2017, toasted coconut, black pepper
Palate: Smooth and clean, not as clay like as the 2017, but it does cling to the tongue, light raspberry, sage, black pepper back of the palate to the finish, tart fresh cherry,
Pairing: The appetizer brought out fruit in the wine, the acidity in the wine meets the cream and leaves a creamy sensation in the mouth. So fantastic. Truffles, mushrooms, and bright fruit, a wonderful pairing. The squash and the spices in the squash really love the wine. The pommegranate sauce with the wine was so brilliant. I was thinking that liver on the BBQ with the pomegranate reduction would be over the top. While this desert was not sweet, this wine wanted a bit more creaminess or sweetness in the dessert. It is not bad, it is just not the best.
2015 Brooks Estate Vineyard “Rastaban” Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley OR
purchased at the winery with an industry discount
There’s a bright fruit and sherry quality in this wine that reminded us of the wines of Jura, France.
Color: Very light, very pale, ruby, mauve rim, not as pretty as the 2017 or 2016
Nose: Slightly oxidized, a bit like sherry, stewed fruit, prunes,
Palate: The stewed prunes also come across on the palate, sherry, oxidized, less clay than the others, this is more lifted,
Pairing: So wow with the truffle brie appetizer– the sautéed mushrooms sent it over the top bringing out nice tart fruit. Melted cheese and mushrooms are also a thing in Jura as we have learned, and the combo worked so well here. It was an insanely great pairing. The wine did not do so well with the roasted squash. It was just not creamy enough; mashed potatoes would go better.
The richness of the duck breast went perfectly with the richness of the wine. The pomegranate sauce over the duck shines; the oxidation is tamed and unnoticeable with the meal.
However, this wine did not do well with our galette so stick with rich savory earthy meals to enhance this wine. All night long we were back and forth about how we liked this wine; very much like the wines of Jura, this vintage may not be for everyone.
2006 Brooks Estate Vineyard “Rastaban” Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley OR
purchased from the winery during a library sale
If there was any question that maybe this 2006 would be oxidized or showing its age, these doubts were dispelled instantly: this wine is showing great and could even lay down for longer. This was an early vintage for Chris Williams after Jimi’s passing in 2004 but it might be as immortal as Jimi’s spirit which clearly lives on in this wine. If they do another library sale, I will definitely purchase more. Definitely. Wow.
Color: Much denser than the others, but a medium density, garnet with a coral rim
Nose: Rich ripe raspberries, rhubarb, I got a bit of prune with this wine as well, rose petals, nice herbs including sage and pine, forest floor, violets, iris, ginger root, sarsaparilla, black licorice. There is a bit of smokiness, spice, sweet caramel; very complex nose.
Palate: Very yummy, this wine is a smooth operator, very cool minty finish, rhubarb, cranberry, pomegranate, Dr. Pepper, lots of nice vibrancy for a 2006 wine. Round mouth feel, bright tart fruit, cherry, raspberry, eucalyptus, pipe tobacco.
Pairing: Oh so fantastic with the truffle brie and mushrooms; what a hedonistic pairing. This wine is so fun with the baking spices in the squash enhancing the baking spices in the wine. If you are a vegetarian, you could totally make a meal of the wonderful cheese plate, the squash, and the salad. If you are not a vegetarian, the duck breast with the pomegranate reduction was so very fantastic. The pomegranate flavors of the fruit go so well with the wine. Great to the best last bite. So perfect with the crunchy duck skin and pomegranate reduction. A must do for any small dinner party. This was so fabulous with the dessert, we loved the pastry, and the fresh fruit that was barely cooked. It was not too sweet and it paired so perfectly with the wine. There is a wildness in the pomegranate that just works with the wild notes in the wine. We loved this dessert with this wine. There is a lively characteristic in the wine that is present in a wine that is a 2006 vintage. The crunch of the pomegranate seeds and the blackberry seeds are a delight.
With the success of this wine with the truffle brie, on a subsequent evening we enjoyed it with chicken marsala. On another occasion, we enjoyed this wine with a wonderful cheese from Dorothy’s creamery, an American creamery that is doing wonderful French like cheeses. Sue made a mushroom alfredo sauce with pasta that went quite nicely; without the mushrooms, the pasta would have been just too boring but the wine brings out a sweetness in the dish and the earthiness of the mushroom brings out the earthen elements in the wine. Salmon is always a favorite with Pinot Noir and we paired that also finding it a fantastic match with the wine.
Oregon is a national leader in sustainable, salmon safe, and biodynamic winemaking; many winemakers embrace dry farming, also. Here’s more Willamette Valley Pinot Noir that’s Sustainable, Biodynamic Estate Wines from Antiquum, Brooks, Cooper Mountain, Left Coast, and Montinore which we paired with salmon in May 2020.
Of possible interest coming up on Wine Predator:
- “From France’s Bourgogne and Oregon’s Willamette Valley: Domaine Drouhin Does Pinot Noir #Winophiles”
- “Wine Lover’s Wine Guide: Seven Wine Clubs” which includes Brooks!
- “Wine Lover’s Gift Guide: 8 Bottles of Bubbles”
- “Wine Lover’s Gift Guide: Nine Cheeses and a Cheese Grotto paired with Pinot Noir from Bourgogne’s Domaine Michel Magnien”
Want to visit Brooks? Because of COVID, currently Brooks is open only for outdoor seating; you can make a reservation for the patio or deck. To visit other Willamette Valley wineries, the Willamette Valley Winery Association has a resource page related to COVID-19 where you’ll find wineries which have provided new protocols, contact details, and consumer information on their websites.