Most travelers to the Napa Valley have never heard of Andy Beckstoffer. Yet he is the man behind many of the finest wines made in the Napa Valley. No, he is not a winemaker or winery owner. What he does is farm vineyards, 1000 acres of them in the Napa Valley and many more in Lake County and Mendocino County. He has been doing this since 1975 and today is recognized by his peers as one of most influential figures in the Napa Valley wine scene. We recently met Andy Beckstoffer and his wife Betty at a wine event held in nature’s paradise, the Yosemite Valley. The wine event was the Vintner’s Holiday held each winter at the Ahwahnee Hotel.
We listened to Andy and Provenance Vineyards winemaker Tom Rinaldi at an informative seminar detailing the relationship between a grower and winemaker. But the most enlightening and fun experience was when we had the opportunity to dine at the table of Andy and Betty Beckstoffer at the culminating dinner of the event. Both of them are very charming and gregarious folks. The Beckstoffers recently celebrated their 50th anniversary and have five adult children, two of whom are in the wine business. The oldest son, David is President and COO of Beckstoffer Vineyards. Another son, Tuck is a wine negotiant with several labels under the company name of Tuck Beckstoffer Wines.
When Andy first came to the Valley and began buying vineyards the cost of an acre of land was $4000 and now 40 years later one acre is between $100,000 to $300, 000. And indeed, we learned shortly later that Andy Beckstoffer had just announced purchase of two historic vineyards in St. Helena for near-record prices per acre. Andy does not physically farm his vineyards, as he states, “I’m a businessman and I see to it that my vineyards are carefully managed.” Quality of the grapes is his utmost concern along with has passion for preserving the environment. Andy also commented often about the hang time issue and harvesting grapes. It is grower vs. vintner in this matter and Andy is more in favor of picking grapes at lower sugar levels, thus reducing the levels of alcohol in the wine produced.
He is often asked why he does not take some of his best grapes and make his own wine. His passion is farming the land and that is where wants to concentrate his efforts. “Besides,” he states in his southern drawl, “if I make wine, I will have to sell it and that is a whole lot harder than selling good grapes.”
Move over Robert Mondavi, Andre Tchelistcheff, Louis Martini and others. Andy Beckstoffer is a living legend and has been instrumental in shaping the Napa Valley wine industry. If you want to learn more about Andy, there is a great read on how he got started in the wine business in the book “Napa, The Story of an American Eden.” It details his work with the Heublein Corporation, his contract negotiations with Ceasar Chavez, and his initial purchase of his own vineyards. It is a fascinating read.