How does a Virginia-born businessman go from a corporate dealmaker and numbers cruncher to one of Napa’s most influential grapegrowers? Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth chatted with Napa vineyard magnate Andy Beckstoffer to find out, in the May 28 edition of Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, an Instagram series sponsored by Wine Access.
Among the topics covered were Beckstoffer’s shift from businessman to farmer, Millennial wine-drinking habits, the 1990s phylloxera scourge, his magic formula for pricing grapes according to the price of the finished bottle of wine and, perhaps most significant, his preservation of heritage vineyards.
“Until the 1990s, we farmers did what we had done before,” Beckstoffer said, noting that grapes were picked on grape quality, not wine characteristics. When phylloxera forced the replanting of most of the valley, Beckstoffer and others changed not only rootstocks but also the ways they manipulated the vines to better express terroir as viticulturists. “We moved from being farmers to viticulturists, and I’d argue today that we’ve moved from being viticulturists to stewards of the land.”
According to Beckstoffer, the years following the phylloxera replant were when Napa Valley moved to the Burgundian way of vineyard designation, which paved the way for highlighting the unique terroir of his six heritage vineyards, including the famed Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville.
Conservation easements protect each of these vineyard sites and family trusts, which means they can never be developed or sold. “When you have a career, you decide what you want to leave for your children,” said Beckstoffer. “You can leave a bag of money if you want, or something more substantial; plus, it’s more important to leave something to the community.”
Beckstoffer said that even if his vineyards are destroyed, they will remain as open spaces, and that his children, and their children, and their grandchildren’s children will continue to have a stake in Napa Valley, and Napa Valley will have these parcels forever. “That’s what we want to leave for our time here.”