Beckstoffer Vineyards’ roots run deep in the soil of northern California’s wine country, as well as in the evolution of a centuries-old industry. In the heart of the world-renowned Napa Valley with some of the most historic property in the region, Beckstoffer Vineyards has played an integral role in land conservation, labor practices, technology, grape and wine quality, as well as overall agricultural sensitivity since the early 1970s when Andy Beckstoffer, now CEO, established the grape-growing operation.
After earning his MBA from Dartmouth in 1966, Andy began working for Heublein Inc. (Heublein), the parent company of the popular Smirnoff Vodka brand. “I started out in the business of mergers and acquisitions,” Andy recalls. “I did the analysis before Heublein decided to pursue candidates.”
Andy’s knowledge and experience played a critical role in advising the liquor giant to enter the super-premium wine segment of the California wine industry, including the purchase of Beaulieu Vineyards and United Vintners, owners of Inglenook and Italian Swiss Colony wines.
New Roots and a New Opportunity
“After we had purchased Inglenook and Beaulieu Vineyards, it turned out that we didn’t have enough grapes to satisfy the demand,” recounts Andy. Therefore, in 1970, Andy uprooted from Virginia. Andy moved his family to California where he established the Vinifera Development Corporation for Heublein with the purpose of acquiring the required fruit; he directed all aspects of the vineyard farming as the company’s president.
“We developed the economics of premium vineyards and I started asking if they wanted to invest,” reveals Andy. “Several said ‘yes’, but wanted no part of the actual farming. We had to establish a custom farming company to operate their vineyards. By 1972, we were farming more than 10 percent of the Napa Valley. I quickly found that I liked farmers better than salesmen.”
When Heublein no longer desired the farming operation in 1973, Andy saw an opportunity. “I saw my chance to be an entrepreneur and do my thing with the business I had established,” he recalls. “We bought the company and renamed it Beckstoffer Vineyards. We slowly acquired more and more vineyard development business and every time we got a couple of nickels we bought another vineyard. From the very beginning we valued our people most of all. We provided our farmworkers with medical benefits and treated them with respect as skilled workers who were an important part of our team.”
Andy has been an industry advocate since, as a founding director and the second president of the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association (NVG). He forged an early, historic agreement on grape pricing, which tied the price of grapes to retail bottle sales. The agreement began a new era in which grape quality and land preservation was brought to the forefront of the wine business. The NVG continues to thrive in its mission, promoting Napa Valley’s world-class vineyards.
In 1989 Andy led the NVG in establishing the Winery Definition Ordinance, which requires 75 percent of grapes used in the region to come from the appellation. Following the movement, in 1994, as founder and president of the Rutherford Dust Society, Andy encouraged and promoted the highest quality standards in grape growing and winemaking in the Rutherford, Napa Valley, California viticulture area.
After nearly a decade in the corporate construction world, Andy’s eldest son, David Beckstoffer, joined the family-run operation in 1997. David quickly learned that the intricacies of running a labor-intensive viticulture operation are often no less challenging than the complexities of large-scale construction projects.
Like his father, David also plays an active role in the industry and community affairs. He is a former director of the Napa County Farm Bureau and a former trustee of the Blue Oak School in Napa. From 2010 to 2012, David was president of the NVG, supporting the organization’s mission to preserve and promote the areas world-class vineyards.
Pioneering Natural Resource Gold
As industry supporters through-and-through, Andy and David wasted no time growing their own operation. Beckstoffer Vineyards is now northern California’s largest single-family-owned and -operated vineyard. The company now owns and farms more than 3,600 acres of high quality grape growing property in three northern California winegrowing regions, including the Napa Valley, Mendocino County and the Red Hills of Lake County.
“We’re not winemakers,” Andy says, “We grow grapes. Beckstoffer Vineyards has 11 vineyards across four cities in the Napa Valley, three in Red Hills and five more in Mendocino County. We have about 130 full-time employees throughout all locations.”
The company has prospered through a mixture of tradition and innovative growing. Since 1970, Beckstoffer Vineyards has pioneered drip irrigation, vine spacing, bench graft production, vineyard technology and farming management that have significantly improved grape quality.
“We’re committed to sustainable farming across our operations,” ensures Andy. “We have new technologies to monitor and analyze vine health and productivity, manage water use and improve vineyard efficiency.”
Beckstoffer Vineyard’s cabernet sauvignon grapes are the foundation for some of the Valley’s most exceptional wines. The grower’s six heritage vineyards tell a story that’s grounded in history even amid some of the best wine country in the world.
“Each vineyard is different, producing fruit of varied personality and character for wines that are exceptional and each in their own way distinctive. More than 50 fine wines are vineyard-designated as originating entirely from Beckstoffer Vineyards’ heritage properties, honoring those vineyards that have consistently produced fine wine for generations, and in some cases, centuries.” –Beckstoffer Vineyards’ website reads.
“We own six heritage vineyards which were first planted in the 19th century, but our most unique property is in Red Hills, which we acquired in 1998,” adds Andy. “Farmers began growing grapes in Red Hills in the 1870s, but over time, it fell to the wayside. We’re bringing it back.”
Located at 2,000 feet above sea level, while Napa Valley is just hundreds of feet above, Red Hills is able to offer an extraordinary growing environment for Malbec, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. However, the real gem is Cabernet grapes, due to the deep, rich volcanic soil.
“Red Hills is a completely different microclimate in comparison to our other vineyards,” explains Andy. “The hillside vineyard looks like a scene from Tuscany. We selected the area over a long period of time because as farmers, we knew where the good land was.”
With some of the region’s best natural resources at hand, Beckstoffer Vineyards is capable of selling to ultra-high-end customers. “Wine from our grapes sell nationally and internationally,” reveals Andy. “With the amount of vintage we produce we sell to top companies such as Kendall Jackson and Clos Du Bois, but we also supply highly exclusive, smaller wineries that sell bottles at $150 to $350.”
Andy says managing this supply chain is of the utmost importance to Beckstoffer Vineyards’ operation. “Especially in the premium end, it’s very important,” he notes. “From our truckers to nursery hardware suppliers and farm hands, we have developed close relationships with all people up and down the chain. This business is really about people, and that includes the farmworkers.”
Andy, who still lives in the Napa Valley with wife Betty of 50 years, has been recognized for his commitment to people and the community. In 2000, Andy and Betty were named Citizens of the Year for their dedication and active participation in the area. Following that recognition, and also in 2010, Andy was elected into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame as the first grower to be honored with the prestigious wine industry award.
At the hands of Andy and David, Beckstoffer Vineyards continues to grow sustainably, pioneering farming practices and new territory with the only 2,000 feet above sea level operation in the state. The company’s commitment to excellence, innovation and people sets a standard for the industry as a whole.
Beckstoffer Vineyards continues to set the bar high, backed by Andy’s vision of building a strong future for the industry and community in which the Beckstoffer family has established deep roots. •