18 Jul Beckham Estate Vineyard – The story
It was early morning of our last day in the Willamette Valley and we drove North from (where we were staying) heading toward the Chehalem Mountains. The road into Portland was moving fast and we came up a hill, with the side of the roads deeply forested. There was our turn. We had to make it fast. And suddenly, from the whirl of fast trucks, we turned and turned again into the quiet of the forests on Chehalem mountain. This is timber country. Deep forests with early morning mist. It was a magical escape from the fast morning pace on the road behind us.
We were running early (it’s in our nature), so we had time to drive and explore the mountain. When you reach the top, you find clearings, fields with houses or sometimes, giant pink painted adirondack chairs, between bunches of Douglas fir. We followed the google maps and ended up on a gravel road at one point, but found our way back around to Beckham which actually sits on Parrett Mountain on the South west end of Chahalem Mountain. We knew we were in the right place before we could read the sign, because of the clay amphorae at the gate.
I came upon Beckham in the usual way, at least for me. When researching where to go in a region, I head to the regions site, in this case the Willamette Valley Wine and one by one, I click through the links and check out the sites for each winery. The Beckham site stopped me as I saw their Amphorae Project video. I read on, and knew that these were people I wanted to meet.
We arrived and met Annedria Beckham who walked us to their tasting room, that sits just down from their home, next to the garden. We met Ruby Tuesday, their dog and Annedria set us up at the picnic table on the patio for a tasting.
She and Andrew bought this property in 2004 to build an art studio. Andrew is a high school art teacher and a ceramics artist. He teaches in Beaverton at the High School. They bought this little house in the woods to grow a garden and raise a family.
Directly across the street there was a little 2.5 acre vineyard. The owners were in their late 70’s early 80’s and had 20 year old pinot noir and chardonnay vines back in 2004. They farmed the fruit and had someone else make the wine for them and then on Saturdays they would sell their $11 pinot noir out of their garage.
… we were there quite often, fell in love with the idea of growing something on our property. Andrew went and helped Fred prune the vineyard that first year, came back with a truck load of Pinot Noir cuttings and said “Hey hun, how ‘bout we plant a couple rows right over here for fun.” I humored him thinking he will get over this crazy notion, we didn’t know anything about growing grapes. Next thing I know we are propagating vines on the coffee table in the living room.Annedria Beckham, Beckham Estate Vineyard July 2018
As the tale goes, the vines then went to heat mats in the garage and then a timber company was called to see what the 60 year old Douglas Fir on the property was worth. They negotiated and had the company come and cut the timber, but they were left with the stumps, limbs and the mess. They cleaned that up themselves with a rented track hoe and a cat. There were some pretty big bonfires and they have been using the limbs for firewood ever since. Finally, after some grading, the first block was ready to be planted in May of 2005.
They began with own rooted, dry farmed Pommard and Wadenswil. They added on and planted about 2.5 acres the first year and another 1.5 the next. This was a gradual slow process, bit by bit as their budget and time could allow. This is a labor of love, that grew out of a passion. They dove in headfirst into farming.
So once we put our little baby sticks in the ground we had to keep them alive. So when I mentioned dry farming, we hand water about 15 lengths of hose and a few beers and me after work every day, watering just to keep them alive that first year, and then after that they were on their own. Just a little in 2005 and spot watered some stressed areas in 2006 but since then they haven’t seen a hose.Annedria Beckham, Beckham Estate Vineyard July 2018
At this point they were focused on the farming, so they sold their first tiny batch of fruit to a winery in Dundee in 2007.
But we had those first few babies, we were really excited for and at that point you’ve hand rooted every vine, pounded every post, run every wire, hand hung every cluster and then at that point to give them away to someone else was nearly heartbreaking. But Andrew got to stay and help with crush deliver the fruit and help with processing and then went back every couple of days. He came home and said “I don’t know that I can continue to farm with this much energy and effort and then just hand it off to someone else. I think we should make wine.”Annedria Beckham, Beckham Estate Vineyard July 2018
They did spend another year selling off fruit, while Andrew apprenticed for a few years with different wineries. In 2009 they kept the fruit to make their own wine. The first year it was 250 cases of one wine. In 2011 they opened the tasting room. At the time it had a roof, but no sides, only one light and no running water.
.. but people came and they got to taste one wine about 5 different times, because that was all I had. And they came back and they bought and they came back and they brought their friends.Annedria Beckham, Beckham Estate Vineyard July 2018
All this time Andrew was still teaching as well as working for a couple of different winemakers and they now had 3 children. Annedria began working for the Chehalem Mountain Wine Growers Association in 2008. Their executive director went on maternity leave and Annedria was asked to fill in, and the previous director never returned. She found this to be a wonderful way to immerse themselves in the community.
When we speak about Oregon wine country, you always find people speaking about the generosity of the community, with people happy to share their time, resources and knowledge.
To have David Adelsheim on speed dial? How lucky was I to be in that position. It was a wonderful way to learn how winemaking works and making business decisions….hey this first restaurant wants to have our wine, how do I price it? I have no idea? So asking those important questions and having the right people to be able to talk to while Andrew was working in the vineyard and the winery.Annedria Beckham, Beckham Estate Vineyard July 2018
At this point we tasted the first of the wines. It was the 2015 Estate Pinot Noir, which is a composite wine from the entire site. They make about 300 cases of this. It’s 30% whole cluster with native yeast fermentation.
They farm organically here and have been farming organically since 2013. They are not certified. It’s expensive and time consuming to become certified, and they are looking into that now. They would need to hire someone just to deal with all the paperwork for this and they are a small operation.
A lot of folks are like “how do we know that you are doing everything organically unless you are certified?” I’m not doing something for someone else, we are small enough that I’m not putting it on my label, we still sell the majority of our wine direct to consumer. You can walk around and see that we farm things organically. I grow for my family. My kids are running around these vines, our chickens are running around these vines. That we are eating the eggs from, we have sheep around the vineyard the majority of the year. We do it for us.Annedria Beckham, Beckham Estate Vineyard July 2018
They’ve started some biodynamic practices, burying their first 500 cow horns in 2017 with their first sprayings of the solution in 2018.
Annedria poured us the Dow’s 2015 Pinot Noir, which is from Andrew’s favorite couple of barrels from each vintage.
Their first vintage was in 2009 and all they had was the Estate bottling. Of course it’s tough to do a tasting with just one wine, so she asked Andrew how they might make a second wine, and that is how the Dow’s came about.
Dow is a family middle name in the Beckham family with over 20 Beckham sons carrying the name. In 2011 they added their wine club and Annedria asked how they might get a 3rd release. They only had Pinot Noir, and rosés were just becoming popular again so Andrew made her the Olivia’s Rosé and Sophia’s Pinot Noir. Sophia’s is the first release, elegant and delicate, the Estate follows with more complexity and then the Dow with a little new oak and a darker fruit profile.
This was all of their estate wine until 2013 when they started the Amphorae Project.
We will continue our visit with Annedria and Andrew Beckham with a pod cast speaking with her about the addition of their riesling, their inspiration in the Jura and the Amphorae Project