Take a handful of sandy soil; blend with a fine vintage sediment from a December flood; toss until stable; add a pinch of ground fog; and bake at 100+ degrees in the warm California sun. Voila! You’ve just described a recipe for success in the Napa Valley.

While Mother Nature can take the bulk of the credit as Valley architect of record, it’s the touch of man that has tamed the land and produced one of the most breathtaking, productive and exclusive wine regions of the world. And, one of these men is Andy Beckstoffer, viticulturist and entrepreneur.


Andy has spent more than 30 years planting vineyards and cultivating grapes. His footprints can be found in vineyards from Carneros to Yountville to Calistoga to Lake and Mendocino Counties. Wherever he steps innovation follows.

Andy grew up in Richmond, Virginia. After attending Virginia Tech on a football scholarship, doing a stint in the Army and earning an M.B.A. from Dartmouth’s Amos Tuck School of Business, he settled in California in 1966 and went to work for Heublein. By the early 70ís his career had skyrocketed. In 1970, Heublein formed a small subsidiary, Vinifera Development Company, and named Andy president. The following years were turbulent in the California wine industry. Prices plummeted and growers suffered. Andy paid close attention to problems as well as opportunities.

Being in the right place at the right time is another Beckstoffer trait. In 1975 opportunity shined and Andy became a founding member of the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association and their first President. It was at this time that he introduced his revolutionary idea of basing the price of a ton of grapes on the future price of a bottle of wine. Mondavi and Christian Brothers quickly adopted the new formula and wine grapes finally became a valued specialty product, no longer a commodity. This change of mindset completely changed the role of the grower in making fine wines.

A crowning achievement came in 1986 when Andy was hailed as the “chief architect” of the 75 percent rule, which states that 75% of the wine made in the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve, be made from Napa Valley grapes. Andy also played an important role in the Napa County Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO), which defined more tightly how wineries were permitted and licensed in Napa County, protecting agriculture in the face of significant development.

In 1994, Andy was a founding member of The Rutherford Dust Society. He remains on the Society’s Board of Directors and is the current President. In his position he has the opportunity to take a larger view of the California wine industry. What he sees distresses him. The shrinking American dollar abroad has left many of Napa’s great wineries susceptible to foreign acquisition. “The problem is succession planning,” says Andy. “Many of the 400+ wineries here in the Napa Valley are ripe for acquisition, and many will be forced to sell because they don’t have a succession plan for the future.”
Andy is referring of course, to the sale of Napa’s Chateau Montelena to Parisian Michel Reybier of Cos d’Estournel this past July. The winery is most famous for its 1976 Judgment of Paris win for its 1973 Montelena Chardonnay. Observers of the famed French winery’s interest in this American winery left some quite nervous, driving the point home that the weak dollar compared to the Euro left some of the region’s most prized possessions prime targets for such a take over.

There was quite a bit of relief when two of the region’s other noted sales, Stags Leap and Duckhorn, brought very high sums, and stayed “home” to boot.

The purchase of Stags Leap to a joint venture partnership of Chateau St. Michelle Wine Company of Washington for $185M, and the purchase of Duckhorn Winery by a financial investment firm out of Menlo Park for $250M, kept the wineries intact, and in America. “But”, Beckstoffer warns, “If wineries don’t plan for future succession, they will be forced to accept offers from foreign investors in the future.” The element of planning, or the lack thereof, is the key to looking ahead and seeing what the future holds. What is happening in the Napa Valley, is that the supply of independent grape growers continues to shrink, as wealthier Americans buy up the land and build their exquisite estates. There is not going to be any more land opening up in the Rutherford region anytime soon.

That is why Beckstoffer keeps his finger on the pulse of fellow viticulturists and wineries. With his commitment to producing the greatest grape in order to make the greatest wine, he would like to see the region that he has invested in so dearly stay intact, instead of split apart.

By comparison, the vineyard side is remaining stable, and you don’t see a lot of the grape growing vineyards changing hands. However, 50% of the grapes grown by farmers do not make wine, they sell the grapes; but there is a limit to any more land opening up to grow these grapes. This could potentially be a problem.

If grape growing ceases to be profitable, then you will cease to see grape growing,” says Beckstoffer. “What is happening there, in Napa, is that the supply of independent grapes is getting smaller. It is crucial to make it a reasonable investment for people. This is about insuring the future viability of the greatest wine growing region in the world; the .”

Andy has left more than his footprints on the wine industry. He has been a voice for growers and winemakers alike. He played by the rules and also broke them; he demanded respect for growers and got it; he invested where others dared not go; he challenged the quality of corporate winemaking and won; he continues to find problems and apply solutions.

And remember, in a recent Wine Spectator review of California Cabernets, ten of the top twenty-five wines were grown by Andy Beckstoffer. Andy has indeed left a legacy for our industry.