Jimi Brooks died ten years ago today. I never met him. He passed away, at the age of 38, long before I’d ever heard of him. He was an Oregon winemaker. He was an upstart and rebel. And if he were alive today, he’d be one of the most influential people in the business. His story is the anchor of our documentary American Wine Story.
Now, a decade after he left us, despite never once speaking with him, I feel like I know him well. I sometimes can even sense his voice…which I’ve heard only once on a compressed video recording…in my head.
We have a lot in common. He loved food, wine and travel. He was a writer and poet. I’ve read his work, and his prose, sense of imagery and lyrical, rambling style I admire. I’ve read his letters and journals, listened to his music and talked for hours to his friends and his thoughtful son, Pascal, and amazing and determined sister, Janie.
When you’re telling stories about people, especially those who are no longer here, you have to inhabit their world. It’s like crashing at a friend’s apartment while he’s on vacation. You rummage through his fridge. Wear his clothes. Poke through his medicine cabinet. Inhabit his being. I know details about Jimi that only a friend would know: his penchant for communist poets, exotic motorcycles and German farm trucks. I know that after his divorce he would call his son every morning before school. And because I’m a documentary filmmaker, a whole lot of other people now know these details, too. We know that he told his son often that he loved him. We know that he had a huge appetite and vast love of life. We know that he was gregarious, mischievous and had a huge heart. Maybe it was even too big.
And while I should count as fortunate the fact that I’ve been able to learn about him and help unfurl his story for a wider world so that more people could draw inspiration from it, I still feel a sense of loss of the fact that I never had a chance to meet him, this person I’ve now spent so much time with. And that’s especially true today, ten years after he died on a cool, sunny day just before the wine harvest.
But despite the empty feeling that comes from both knowing and never having known someone, getting to learn about Jimi has been a great stroke of luck. It’s a sort of gift that I happened to stumble across his story at the exact time that it seemed ready to be told. I’m not much of a believer in fate, but his sister sees such serendipitous moments as proof that he is still looking out for us all. And maybe he is.
The gift he’s given me, without ever knowing it, is a different perspective on life, family and friendship. And a host of new friendships and experiences.
Cheers, Jimi. And thank you.