Vintage California | Andy Beckstoffer: His Influence in Napa Valley,…

Andy Beckstoffer: His Influence in Napa Valley, and His Legendary Vineyards

Andy Beckstoffer is a Napa Valley legend. In fact, Beckstoffer has made such an impact in Napa Valley in the five decades he’s lived there, that both the Wall Street Journal and Wine Spectator proclaimed him to be, “Napa’s most powerful grape grower”, and for good reason. His heritage vineyards, which date back to the 1800s, produce Napa Valley’s most sought-after grapes, which then become Napa’s most sought-after wines.

Vineyards like the To-Kalon vineyard, Dr, Crane, Missouri Hopper, and Las Piedras are what make the Beckstoffer Vineyards the crown jewel of Napa Valley grape growers. But Beckstoffer isn’t just another wealthy businessman who came to Napa to grow grapes, and then rest on his laurels. He set out to have a meaningful impact, one that would preserve Napa’s history as an agriculture-first community, for generations to come.

Let’s dig a little deeper into how Andy Beckstoffer has shaped Napa Valley, and what makes the vineyards that produce his Beckstoffer wines so special.

Reinventing the Economic Model for California’s Wine Industry

When Andy Beckstoffer arrived in Napa Valley in 1970, one of the first things he noticed was an imbalance in power between grape growers and wine producers. In this artificial hierarchy, winemakers were situated at the top, and wine growers at the bottom. The disadvantage became especially apparent when it came to negotiating the price of grapes.

Most years, grape growers were lucky if they broke even, or came out a few dollars ahead; meanwhile, winemakers paid the same amount across the board for the grapes they used, regardless of whether they were producing a $100 bottle of wine, or a $10 bottle of wine.

It’s also worth noting that during this period, the price of wine grapes was the same, no matter which variety of grapes was being sold. This meant that Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were the same price as Zinfandel or Riesling grapes. While growers were stuck with this price model, winemakers could charge whatever they pleased to the consumer.

To remedy this, Beckstoffer created an entirely new business model, one that was based on the Burgundian model.

Decades ago, Beckstoffer settled on a formula borrowed from Burgundy: For a ton of grapes, he would charge 100 times the price of a bottle made with them. In other words, if a bottle made from cabernet sauvignon grown at Dr. Crane retails for $150, the cost of buying the fruit equals $15,000 per ton.

New York Times journalist Ben Ryder HoweI

To further support this model, in 1975, Beckstoffer helped create the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association, whose mission was to preserve and promote Napa Valley's world-class vineyards by collectively giving growers a seat at the negotiating table, and a platform from which to be heard.

When we started out, the growers couldn’t make money, and the vineyards were not economic entities, so we had to do things to make them profitable. We created bottle pricing in which we tied the price of grapes to the price of wine. This meant that when the vintner raised the price of the wine, it also raised the price of the grapes. Soon you can vineyard designate the wines, thus making the vineyard economically viable. When that happens, we in turn preserve agriculture in the Napa Valley.

As stated by Beckstoffer in the same interview with Howel

To this day, Beckstoffer’s idea remains one that has restructured the grape growing industry in Napa Valley, and subsequently influenced the entire California wine industry.

Agricultural Preservation & Napa Valley Heritage

Beckstoffer takes the idea of preserving Napa Valley’s heritage as a community built on agriculture first, and tourism second, seriously. It’s a battle he views existentially, because, for Beckstoffer, there’s more at stake than just a changing landscape, new vineyard owners, and competing economic interests.

He compares the urgent need for agricultural preservation to the transformation that happened in the Santa Clara Valley over the last 150 years. The Santa Clara Valley was once as rich and dense with vineyards and orchards as Napa Valley is today, but whose agricultural history has since been replaced with housing developments and business buildings.

To demonstrate his commitment to this issue, Beckstoffer has gone so far as to place his legendary vineyards within a trust that states they can never be sold and used as development properties - even by members of his own family. Even if the vineyards no longer exist, the land must stay open and in their natural state.

To-Kalon

The To-Kalon vineyard was planted by H.W. Crabb in the 1860s. The name To-Kalon translates from the Greek to mean “highest beauty”. VineBase went so far as to call the To-Kalon vineyard, “Napa’s most important grape-growing real estate”.

As the current owner of the To-Kalon vineyard, Beckstoffer, remains committed to Crabb’s vision of this special vineyard when it comes to the quality of grapes the vineyard produces. He even considers it part of what he calls North America’s “first growth” vineyards.

Respected winemakers from Paul Hobbs, Realm, and Schrader Cellars all produce To-Kalon wines. The Beckstoffer To-Kalon cabernets command some of the market’s highest prices when it comes to Napa Valley cabernets, but fans of these wines will tell you they’re worth every penny.

To-Kalon is located in the Oakville AVA.

Tor, Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard, 2019
Tor, Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard, 2019

Dr. Crane

The Dr. Crane Vineyard, also known as the Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard, is one of Napa’s oldest vineyards. Dr. Crane was originally planted in 1858 by George Belden Crane, an influential figure in California viticulture.

When it was planted in the 1800s, the vineyard included a mix of Alicante Bouchet, Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Sirah and a few other varieties. As tastes changed, the Dr. Crane Vineyard was replanted with clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.

The clay and loam soil is known for producing wines that are rich, age well, and have a mineral-like finish.

Wines like the 2018 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard, and 2019 Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate Lithology Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Cabernet Sauvignon, regularly achieve scores at or above 97 points.

The Dr. Crane Vineyard is planted to 21 acres, and is located in the St. Helena AVA.

Arrow & Branch, Beckstoffer Dr Crane Vineyard, 2016/2017
Arrow & Branch, Beckstoffer Dr Crane Vineyard, 2016 & 2017

Missouri Hopper

Like the Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard, the Missouri Hopper Vineyard is located in the Oakville AVA. Originally planted by George C. Yount, for whom the town of Yountville is named, the Missouri Hopper Vineyard was acquired by Beckstoffer in 1996.

Consistently display the complex profile of power with refinement that is a hallmark of the celebrated Oakville Bench appellation.

According to Amici Cellars who makes several wines from the vineyard

Las Piedras

Like the other Beckstoffer vineyards, the Las Piedras vineyard is one of Napa’s most prestigious vineyards. Planted to grapes over 150 years ago, Las Piedras is known for its incredibly gravel-heavy soil (the name Las Piedras means ‘little pebbles’ in Spanish). It’s this gravel which aids the vineyard in drainage, and ultimately helps the vines reach a water source deep within the earth, even in drought-stricken years.

Fait Main, Vice Versa, and Paul Hobbs all produce outstanding wines from the Beckstoffer Las Piedras vineyard.

Fait-Main, Beckstoffer Las Piedras Vineyard, 2019
Fait-Main, Beckstoffer Las Piedras Vineyard, 2019

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