Napa Valley Trailblazer
By Fran Endicott Miller
Few have made a larger impact on the evolution of Northern California’s wine industry than Andy Beckstoffer and the company he founded in 1970. For 50 years, Beckstoffer and his Beckstoffer Vineyards have forged major shifts in the way the wine industry values land, grapes, and farmers. His passion has helped to put Napa Valley and California on the global wine stage.
Beckstoffer’s ever-growing portfolio of premium vineyard sites in Napa, Mendocino, and Lake Counties consistently yield the highest quality Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in Northern California. The company’s six Napa Valley Heritage Vineyards alone produce some of the most sought-after grapes in all of California wine country, if not the world. Beckstoffer sells this fruit to a carefully selected group of winemakers who collectively produce more than 50 vineyard-designated wines that originate entirely from a Beckstoffer Heritage Vineyard. These wines consistently receive 95+ scores and other accolades.
But beyond his impressive vineyard portfolio, Beckstoffer has served as a catalyst for some of Napa Valley’s most stunning transformations. In 1976, he initiated a new grape pricing structure that triggered a shift in how the California wine industry viewed the importance of wine growers and grape quality. When Beckstoffer started his Napa Valley farming business, grapes were a commodity, and the best wines were credited to the talent of the winemaker, not the quality of the fruit. He advocated for tying the price of grapes to the retail price of the bottle. The more expensive the bottle, the more Beckstoffer charged for his premium fruit. The shift enabled Beckstoffer to successfully advocate for vineyard-designated wines as the best expression of single vineyard sources—another shift that transformed how Napa wines are marketed and sold.
Preservation and sustainability have always been paramount to Beckstoffer. He was instrumental in forming The Napa Valley Grapegrowers Association in 1975, with a mission to sustain grape growing in Napa Valley. In 1990, he played a major role in Napa County establishing the Winery Definition Ordinance, which introduced key measures to preserve agriculture in Napa Valley and required that wines from new wineries and expansions of existing wineries be produced from at least 75 percent Napa Valley grapes. “Napa wineries should make Napa wines,” declares Beckstoffer.
In 1994, he served as founding director and first president of the Rutherford Dust Society, the Rutherford American Viticultural Area’s advocacy group. Under his leadership, in 2002, the group initiated the Rutherford Reach Restoration Project, the goal of which has been to restore the 4.5- mile Rutherford Reach of the Napa River to rehabilitate the local riparian and aquatic habitats. The project has received national acclaim. Today, Beckstoffer Vineyards focuses its preservation efforts on climate change. Fearing that Cabernet Sauvignon may not be viable in the future, many growers and vintners are starting to experiment with alternative and less profitable grape varieties, but Beckstoffer is committed to not only preserving but also improving the quality of the grape that put Northern California wine on the map.
“The past 50 years have been remarkable,” says Beckstoffer. “We made Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wine a major American contribution to world culture. And while business success is wonderful, saving the Napa Valley for agriculture and open space has been my career. We’ve accomplished a lot over the years, and it is really about the people and their passion for our land, our wines, and each other.”