Blackberry Farm proprietor Sam Beall, who turned a small Tennessee inn into a first-class food destination with one of the world's best wine programs, died Feb. 25 in a skiing accident in Colorado. He was 39.
"The Beall family and the Blackberry Farm team are understandably shocked by this heartbreaking news about the man they loved dearly as a son, brother, father, friend and host," read a statement by Blackberry Farm. "They welcome the thoughts and prayers of all those whose lives were touched by Sam's hospitable nature, visionary leadership and adventurous spirit."
Blackberry Farm was originally a family home, purchased in 1976 by Beall's mother and father, Kreis and Sandy, the founder of the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain. Soon afterward, Kreis and Sandy opened the 1,100-acre property up to the public as a six-bedroom country inn. Sam was born on the farm.
When Beall began working full-time at Blackberry in the early 2000s, he was determined to turn it into a top food-and-wine destination. He had learned about hospitality and fine dining while studying at the California Culinary Academy and working stints at the French Laundry and California wineries before returning home.
Building a top wine program brought special challenges. Walland is a tiny town in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee with restrictive alcohol laws. Overcoming the area's arduous regulations and limited wine distribution, as well as state laws prohibiting purchases from private cellars and auction markets, was no easy feat. Beall made it standard practice to personally visit wineries, forming solid, lasting partnerships.
Those who know Beall say he loved a challenge. In only five years, he and his team amassed a 4,200-selection wine list and an inventory of over 90,000 bottles in the wine cellar. Blackberry Farm won the Grand Award from Wine Spectator in 2006. "It's all built on relationships," Beall told Wine Spectator that year.
"He lived in triple-time. I've never met anyone like Sam Beall," said Charles Banks, the owner of Terroir Selections and a former investor in Blackberry Farms. "I will miss him making pancakes in his long underwear on family ski trips. I will miss watching him love his wife and kids. I will miss him falling asleep at the table too many times to count. I will miss watching him create magic at Blackberry Farm."
One to never slow down, Beall and wine director Andy Chabot continued to grow the wine program, which now boasts over 7,500 selections and 180,000 bottles, including impressive greats from California, France, Italy, Australia and Germany.
As fast as the wine list was growing, so was the property. Today, Blackberry Farm comprises 9,200 acres, with three restaurants. A staff of 400 manages the property, including the farm, which supports the resort's signature culinary style, which they dubbed "foothills cuisine." It has become a destination for food-and-wine lovers, often hosting seminars.
Philanthropy was an integral part of Beall's character. In 2012 Blackberry Farm partnered with the East Tennessee Foundation to launch the Blackberry Farm Foundation, which focuses on children and food-related causes. The foundation raised more than $275,000 in 2015. Beall helped raise more than $3 million dollars for other charities through events at Blackberry.
Beall is survived by his wife, Mary Celeste, their five children, and his parents.