Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Jim Prosser, JK Carriere Wines

Carolyn at Chehalem made a phone call for me after I'd tasted through the Chehalem lineup, and gave me directions to a white barn. "You'll like this guy," she said. "He's a good guy and he makes great Pinots."

I found the white barn easily, surrounded as she said it was by hazelnut trees. An open barn door revealed stacks of white cases, the only visible clue that somebody was in there making wine.

Jim Prosser was in the middle of an intense conversation on the cell when I drove up. He waved and motioned for me to wait a sec. "Label problems," he'd later tell me. I took the moment to take in the fact that it was springtime in the Willamette Valley. The sky was blue, the hazelnut trees were lush with their bright green spring foilage. I watched a farmer as he drove around the orchard in a John Deere, thinking what it would be like to live the simple life out here in the valley, living off the land...

"They're spraying for worms," Jim told me as he greeted me. "It's a pain in the ass."

With my bucolic bubble temporarily burst, we began the grand tour.

He took me around and told me a bit about the history of the grounds. "This is old Oregon," he said. And it was: the Springbrook Farms B&B across the yard is an historic monument, and its hazelnut orchard has been surviving worms for upwards of 70 years. The white barn itself has a full century behind it. Jim told me that when he moved in, the structure was listing 12 degrees and had to be righted before anything else could go on inside.

The attic, he told me, had something worth seeing, so we hoofed it up creaking stairs. Like everyone else who's gone on this tour, I wasn't expecting what I saw. Suspended a few feet above the floor was an long, slender wooden boat with hand-shaped oars sticking out in all directions. Jim walked around it and gave each paddle a light push until all were swinging silently back and forth. Below the boat and covered with a layer of dust were water-blue wooden cutouts, mostly thin planks, but some with human shapes. This kinetic structure was once in the Smithsonian, but needed a home. Local artist Larry Kirkland hung it in his buddy's barn.

We went into the central room of the barn next, that part with all the beakers, barrels and bottles. The label on the bottles offers up a lot of clues about Jim. 'JK Carriere' is a melding of his grandfather's names, a sort of charm to keep him and his pursuits worthy of their approval. The wasp is a talisman as well; Jim nearly died during a severe allergic reaction after a sting. "That which doesn't kill you, et cetera," he said. He doesn't have to tell you that he's traveled the world, been a business advisor to the Peace Corps, and biked across America for you to sense that he's already done big things. "I used to be in commercial real estate, drive the expensive sports car," he admits. But clearly that wasn't the direction he desired.

His current production is at 1500 cases, and he likes that number. What growing there is to do is in improving the wine rather than making more of it. It was right about here that I thought again of the so-called 'simple' life I'd been mulling over at various stages of my trip. But 'simple' isn't the word. I was thinking of a life that wasn't driven by the quest of business growth and greater profit, but by establishing a lifestyle that focuses on productivity, creativity and passion. Quality versus quantity. Making enough money to do that thing you love to do. It always seems unrealistic when I think of this life, but I began to see that Jim Prosser was living it, folding all of his energy and work into a lifetime's fascination and reverence for one grape: Pinot Noir.

He asked if I wanted to do some barrel sampling. What? Oh, yeah--the wine. Absolutely.

Like most of the other Pinotphiles, Jim's got several single vineyard wines in barrel. Rather than the usual, efficient labeling of the barrel's contents with a marker, each barrel has a thin wooden plank with the name of the vineyard in the same calligraphic hand as the official logo: Shea, Temprance Hill, Montazi. Nice touch.

Out of the barrel, they're showing youthful power and bravado. But unlike some of his peers, this bravado isn't the goal. They're still developing. Jim wants the final juice to follow a classic Burgundian style: elegant and graceful rather than a hussy-like come on, swinging big sexy fruit in your face. I've found more of the latter than the former in my Willamette adventures, and the break from it is refreshing.

We taste a few releases next: the 2005 'Glass' White Pinot Noir, a dry, slightly frizzante refresher for the summer, and two vintages of Pinot Noir. The 2003 was still developing, but well; the 2001 was right-on, coming in at the magic number 13% alcohol, great weight, dried orange peel, herbs, lean power and silky tannins. The man can make some Pinot.

I told him about my trip, my goals and all that. He asked me what I planned to do when I was finished. Instead of my usual speil about how I'll get a job and maybe see if I have enough material for a book or I'm checking out potential new places to live, blah blah blah, I tell him: "I dunno. I'll figure that out when I get back."

He smiled. "You know you'll never be the same, now that you've chosen to wake up." I nodded. I knew this. Beyond wine, this trip was about meeting people like Jim, who had woken up, founded a sustainable lifestyle away from the conventional definitions of success.

What's red and white and makes Pinot all over? Peter Rosback of Yamhill County's Sineann Winery, up next post.



Blogger berly said...

Is it a little warm in here, or is it just me?


Is he single? Interested in a little spiritual romp with a river girl? I think I could learn to drink Pinot everyday. And I could sure as hell spray hazelnut trees for worms. And enjoy it.

3:42 PM  
Blogger taj said...

I don't know what kind of credibility points I lose for saying so, but yeah. He was pretty hot.

5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So stop for a few days and smell the roses.

6:00 AM  
Blogger taj said...

How I wish I had...

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh ye wine neophytes, beware...the photogenic who work in the biz already know Mr. Prosser. It's about the WINE, remind yourselves as I have reminded myself and others.

10:12 PM  
Blogger taj said... That's good. That made me laff.

I see no need to beware. A gal can appreciate both the wine and the fella who made it, seems to me.

So you say "photogenic who work in the biz already know Mr. Prosser". Does that mean there's a whole gaggle of good looking people who won't be surprised that Jim is also a hottie?

You so crazy.

6:47 AM  

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