Friday, June 08, 2007

Winery Watch: Beckmen Vineyards

An ongoing series of Friday posts highlighting California family wineries. You might not be familiar with all of these vineyards and winemakers--yet--but they produce wines that speak with the voices of this state's people, places, and history. They are worth seeking out. These posts will be longer than most posts on the blog, but I hope you will find them perfect for leisurely weekend reading and internet browsing. To read previous posts in the series, click here.

High up on a mountaintop overlooking the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, Steve Beckmen found a 365-acre plot of land that would be difficult to plant and hard to harvest. It was perfect, he thought, for Rhone varietals. In 1996 he bought this Purisima Mountain property and began planting grapes as high as 1250 feet. People probably thought he was nuts. (photo courtesy of Beckmen Vineyards)

Good news for us: Steve wasn't nuts. Beckmen's hilly vineyard was planted on a limestone subsoil just like the Cote Rotie and Chateauneuf du Pape, with marine influences, and lots of sunshine. The steep terrain dictated how he could plant his grapes, with the result that you don't see row after row of orderly lines of vines but a patchwork quilt of plantings (for a great map, click here), each one of which had its own microclimate and soil conditions. It turns out that Purisima Mountain was indeed perfect for growing the Rhone varietals Beckmen wanted to plant, including syrah, roussanne, grenache, marsanne, and mourvedre.

But Steve Beckmen didn't just want to grow Rhone varietals in a challenging spot. He wanted to respect the land, and to do that he decided to try out biodynamic farming protocols. Beckmen noted that the vines he grew biodynamically were strong and healthy, that the soil surrounding them retained its moisture, and that the grapes produced had a superb balance between natural sugar and tannin structure. In 2006, the vineyard began a new stage in its development, with 100% of the vineyards on Purisima Mountain farmed biodynamically, and watered by drip irrigation to minimize water waste.

Steve Beckmen, Judy Beckmen, and their son Tom have been winemakers in the Santa Ynez Valley since 1994, two years before they purchased the Purisima Mountain estate. They believe in the great potential of this area of Santa Barbara's wine country, and after tasting their wines it's easy to see why. Beckmen wines are rich and flavorful, with glimpses of the mineral composition of the vineyards, the rich earth where the vines are planted, and the softness of an evening breeze from the sea. They beautifully capture and incorporate the place where they were grown, and the care that went into making them. (photo of Steve Beckmen courtesy of Beckmen Vineyards)

Here are my notes on the Beckmen wines I tasted at the 2007 Rhone Rangers Tasting this spring. Prices indicated are the suggested retail prices at the winery; as always the price you pay may be higher or lower. Clicking on a wine's name takes you either to a list of merchants who stock the wine, or directly to the Beckmen online store.

2005 Beckmen Vineyards Cuvée le Bec ($18) A super Rhone-style red blend with lots of great structure from the tannins and acidity, and deep fruit flavors. Made from a blend of grenache, syrah, counoise, and mourvedre, it has a lush set of berry and chocolate aromas and flavors. Excellent QPR.

2005 Beckmen Vineyards Grenache Estate ($28) Possibly my favorite of the Beckmen wines tasted, in large part because of its lovely aromas of blackberry, dusty earth, and flowers. These notes appear in the flavors, too, and the wine just screams out "summer in Santa Ynez." Excellent QPR.

2005 Beckmen Vineyards Le Bec Blanc Purisima Mountain Vineyard ($20) If you love white Rhone blends as much as I do, make sure you try to find this engaging blend of roussanne, marsanne, and grenache blanc. It has a nice balance between round fruit and acidity, with lots of citrus and orchard fruit flavors and aromas. This wine is aged in oak, but the oak is neutral and doesn't impart an oaky flavor, just adds a creaminess of texture. Excellent QPR.

2006 Beckmen Vineyards Grenache Rosé Purisima Mountain Vineyard ($18). This is a crisp and light rose that is perfect for summer sipping. Watermelon in color, the wine has juicy watermelon aromas. Nice round fruit flavors of summer berries and melon build to a dry finish. Very good QPR.

2005 Beckmen Vineyards Syrah Estate ($25) Ripe red fruits, rich coffee, and dusty chocolate notes fill the aromas and flavors of this young red. There's still a pronounced grip of tannins to pucker the edges of your tongue, so I'd give it a few more months at least to settle down if you can possibly wait. Very good QPR.

2004 Beckmen Vineyards Syrah Purisima Mountain Vineyard ($40) The distinctive mineral components of the Purisima Mountain vineyards really come through on this big syrah. Berries, coffee, dark chocolate, and spice are evident, too, in both the aromas and the flavors. Even at the relatively high price, good QPR for what it undeniably a very special syrah that doesn't taste like any domestic syrah I've ever tasted before.

If you like Rhone varietals, seek out wines produced biodynamically, or are drawn to wines that exude terroir, then you need to know more about Beckmen Vineyards. If you see them on the shelf of a wine store near you, don't hesitate to pick one up and give them a try. I think you'll be a fan. And if you're already a Beckmen fan, leave us a comment and tell us which are your favorites.

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