Bauhaus's wine expert, Alan Koller, is back. This time, with a story about a California man and his vineyard.
Let’s begin by talking about the vineyard. The To Kalon Vineyard is a very old vineyard site near Oakville, originally planted in 1868. Fast forward many years and you will find 3 owners of this vineyard site. Robert Mondavi, Mouton Rothschild and Mondavi from Opus One, and Andy Beckstoffer. Opus and Mondavi own 75% of the site, while Andy owns the rest. The grapes that come from this vineyard are incredibly intense and complex, and are some of the most desired grapes in California. Wines made with these grapes almost always score over 95 points and it is one of the few vineyards that can brag about perfect scores of 100 on what it seems a yearly basis. Janzen, Paul Hobbs, Schrader, B Cellars, and Tor vineyards are all some of the big names that feature wines made from this vineyard. However, he important part of the story at this point is the understanding that only Andy Beckstoffer sells grapes from his vineyard.
Who is Andy Beckstoffer? Well, way back in 1966 he got involved in a marketing company, Heublein, which owned wineries like Inglenook and Beaulieu. In 1970, he created a separate division in Heublein called Vinifera Development Corp. All the wineries would be shifted into this division. As if in a game of chess, this move set up the next, which was to buy out Vinifera and make it his own. Now this is how Andy became owner of his part of the To Kalon vineyard. It was the vineyard that supplied Beaulieu vineyard. From this point is where Andy’s marketing side took control again and he began rebranding and creating the Beckstoffer Vineyards. Here is the interesting part: Beckstoffer Vineyards only grows grapes, they do not make wine. The brand has expanded to include 16 vineyards, and several are the most sought after in Napa, Mendocino and Red Hills.
Perhaps at this point you might be wondering, well why doesn’t he just make a Beckstoffer Winery? Apparently, he has two goals: firstly, to grow the best grapes in the world; secondly, to create vineyard designation as the highest level of wine in California. He is content to let others take his grapes and create wines, but if you think this man is just a nice guy that grows great grapes, you would be mistaken. To call him a shrewd business person would be a polite description, and to call him a confident business person would be very polite. The reports from the vineyards seem to be relatively consistent. He is direct, arrogant, and one of the most difficult people to negotiate with on the planet. All characteristics of a person that would fail as a business person if they didn’t own the greatest grapevines in California.
To illustrate this, let’s say you want to buy grapes from his To Kalon Vineyard. First, you and your winery must be approved by Andy. Second - the best part - the pricing. Believe it or not, the pricing is not the same for everyone. Originally, there was the price per tonne and the price per acre. You paid whichever was higher. Yield per acre can vary from 2.5 tonnes to 4 tonnes in a strong year, and it is because of this that there existed the two pricing options. This created consistency for Beckstoffer in revenue, but inconsistency for wineries. The system worked for a while, but then Andy torched all his contacts with wineries, came back to them and said, "here is how the pricing is going to work now. It is based on a minimum price per acre of $45,000, and we still have a pricing based on a per tonne. BUT we are now charging you based on the price of your wine per tonne. If you are charging $350 for a bottle of wine, then you will pay 350 X $175 per tonne. That would be $61,250 per tonne." Andy used to base it on a set number of 100 times the bottle price. Now the price fluctuates. Well, I guess if your grapes are that good, you can do it.
So, the moral of the story is this: if you find a wine that is from the To Kalon vineyard, the grape cost alone for the vineyard is $100 a bottle USD. Expect to pay a lot more than that.
We have two wines carrying the To Kalon designation: The Janzen and B Cellars. The Janzen is the 2011, and the wine is showing its true colours a little more with each passing moment. Rich black currant and black cherries get wrapped with incredible amounts of herbs and spice all balanced with wonderful mocha and soft tannins in the finish. The B Cellar’s is the 2014; early tastings are putting the score between 98 and 100, with Robert Parker leaning towards the 100. Parker describes this wine as a skyscraper of flavours and textures, it just keeps going for 50 to 60 seconds on your palate. There is no quit in this wine. What do I think of it? I haven't tried it. I had to write a blurb about it so Uwe realizes he hasn’t tried it. That way, when he gets back from Germany he'll want to try one. Based on the price, that's probably the only way I'll get to try some too.