L to R: Janie Brooks Heuck, Chris Williams, Claire Jarreau, Brooks Winery. Photograph by Carolyn Wells-Kramer.

Brooks Winery in Willamette Valley has promoted associate winemaker Claire Jarreau to head winemaker. Long-time winemaker Chris Williams will remain at the winery in a supporting role.

“I feel humbled and grateful for the opportunity,” Jarreau says. “I’m really passionate about our two main focuses: making expressive Riesling and Pinot Noir.”

Raised in southern Mississippi, Jarreau’s path to winemaking started with an interest in chemistry. She became fascinated by the subject in high school, in particular the study of aromatic compounds.

At Appalachian State University in North Carolina, Jarreau studied chemistry with the intention of becoming a perfumist. However, a wine appreciation class changed the course of her life.

“A lot of people in my family are tied to the culinary world and then family on the other side are tied into forestry and horticulture,” Jarreau says. “This was a mix of chemistry and food culture.”

Jarreau switched to a fermentation science track within the chemistry department. In fact, she was the original student in what is now a fermentation science degree offered at the university.

Graduating in 2009, Jarreau went to New Zealand. She lived in a van and traveled around the country for a year and also worked in a vineyard in Marlborough.

Jarreau subsequently returned to the U.S. and worked as a buyer for a wine shop in West Asheville, North Carolina. A connection knew someone working in Willamette Valley and put Jarreau in touch. She came to the valley in 2010 to work harvest.

“I fell in love with the place immediately, with the people and the industry here,” she says.

Jarreau returned to Willamette Valley in 2012 to work another harvest. Then from the fall of 2013 until spring of 2014, she worked harvests abroad. One of her formative experiences was working for Emmerich Knoll in Austria’s Wachau region.

“That solidified that I wanted to make Rieslings the rest of my life,” Jarreau says.

She subsequently worked in South Africa’s Swartland region and then returned to New Zealand to work in the Waipara Valley. In 2014, Jarreau returned Oregon ready to put down roots.

Jarreau knew three things. First, she wanted to work in Willamette Valley. Second, she wanted to make Riesling. Third, she had a strong interest in regenerative farming.

Brooks Winery checked all the boxes and was at the top of her list. She sent a cold email to Janie Brooks Heuck, managing director of the winery.

“I didn’t expect I’d hear back right away, but I did,” Jarreau says.

Jarreau started out with a winter job in the winery’s tasting room. Soon she found herself in charge of grower relations. The relationships she made at that position continue to resonate today.

“A lot of them are family to me at this point, “ Jarreau says.

Now 10 years later, having worked her way up to head winemaker, Jarreau will be responsible for Brooks’ 17,000 case per year annual production. She also becomes a female head winemaker at an important Willamette Valley winery. The Oregon Wine Board estimates that one-third of the state’s winemakers are women.

“I hope that we’ll see more people in my shoes be able to move up and particularly more women,” Jarreau says. “There are a lot of women in this valley that are very talented that certainly deserve the opportunity.”

Brooks Winery celebrated its 25th year in 2023. The winery was founded by Jimi Brooks, who passed away in 2004. Chris Williams took over winemaking responsibilities at that time.

Brooks has been a leader in sustainable winemaking. The winery is B-Corp certified, has 1% for the Planet membership, is Demeter-certified as biodynamic, and is an Ecologi partner. Brooks has also been one of the valley wineries championing Riesling, in addition to Pinot Noir.

“I can’t think of a better scenario for me,” Jarreau says.

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