Sam Beall Turned His Ambitious Dreams into Reality

The Blackberry Farm proprietor had big ideas about food, wine and people
Feb 26, 2016

I first met Kreis Beall in the early 2000s. The then-proprietor of Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn., told me, “My son is really into wine.” This was funny, because the now Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning property is in a dry county. Kreis had turned the rural country getaway into a small resort. Her son Sam turned it into something greater.

Sam Beall died Thursday in a skiing accident. He leaves behind his wife, Mary Celeste, five children, his mother, and father, Sandy. As a somewhat isolated destination of great refinement, Blackberry engendered deeply familial relationships. Most of the people I know there have been on staff for more than 10 years. It mixes locals with imports seamlessly. It is proudly Southern and also quite worldly, as Sam was.

The first time I met him, about a year after meeting Kreis, he was fresh off a stint working at California wineries. He seemed pretty green, wide-eyed even. He never let me forget my later confession that I doubted that he’d ever be able to build Blackberry's wine program to match his dreams. Sam was one of those people who you might beat in the 100-yard dash but he’d flatten you in a marathon. He had a quiet drive. He could be deferential and polite, but also very direct.

He accomplished a lot. He'd built Blackberry into a Grand Award winner by 2006, then kept growing it. If he didn’t like where the house was, he moved it. He used local stone as much as possible for new buildings, but was not averse to buying a barn in Pennsylvania and bringing it down to Tennessee and installing the restaurant in it. During his tenure he vastly expanded Blackberry’s acreage. He added buildings to the point that it was hard to keep up. Foodwise, if he decided he wanted to make it onsite he’d do so—cheese, beer, you name it. No detail was too small; no idea too grand.

But regardless of growth, Blackberry was personal to him. He surrounded himself with a diverse group of people he respected. His staff farmer, John Coykendall, is a seed collector with deep local roots; Andy Chabot, the sommelier and director of food and beverage, is from New Hampshire but married Sarah Elder, a local who is now head of marketing; the staff presents an unerring combination of homeyness and sophistication.

Sam was just 39. It amazes me to think that when I met him he was still in his 20s, with outsized dreams that he’d realize with alarming speed and accuracy. That just adds to the upset, of course. I wonder what dreams were jogging around his head these days, and what he might have made of them.

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