Andrew and Annedria Beckham are making some of Oregon’s most compelling wines, and they have a great story, too.
I visited their property in Parrett Mountain (in the Chehalem Mountains AVA) on a gorgeous July afternoon. They have 6.5 acres of Pinot Noir, plus an acre of Riesling, which they farm organically. They are planning to move to biodynamics in the near future. Allied with this transition, winemaking has moved from conventional towards natural. ‘We are just really interested in the holistic approach because we live here with our family,’ says Andrew.
They are best known, though, for the use of clay amphorae. Andrew is a high-school ceramics teacher (he still teaches), and he has spent the last few years perfecting the art of producing amphorae suitable for wine.
They’ve just build a new workshop, with a shuttle kiln and a jigger, to make the manufacturing of these amphorae less labour intensive. Soon Andrew will be selling them, at a price that undercuts the Tuscan amphorae that others producers are now importing. He lucked out recently. A woman who owned a ceramics factory in Washington had a commercial pottery with custom-built equipment that allowed her to spin 6 x 8 foot flowerpots. She couldn’t compete with Asian producers and so sold the equipment to Andrew cheaply, allowing him to automate the process.
The amphora take 72 h to fire. At the time of writing (August 2017), 350 litre amphorae are available commercially, and by October/November, 700 litre versions will be out. Then, in 2018, Andrew is planning to have 1000 litre amphorae on the market. Different sizes and shapes suit different wines: conical bottoms are best for Pinot Gris, Qvevri for red wine ferments, and Tinajas for storage (they have smaller openings).
They bought their home in December 2004, and it was in the middle of woods. They cleared the area for planting with vines, and made their first wine in 2009 (just 250 cases). 2013 was a pivotal year because it was when they started with organics, started making their own wine all themselves, and also started making some wine in clay.
They have just planted another 8 acres with rootstock, on more cleared ground. This rootstock will establish itself, and when they can get the new vinifera planting material they will graft it over. The varieties they are planning to plant include Trousseau, Savignan, Plousard and Chardonnay – spot the Jura influence. They hire a crew from California to do the in-field grafting and the success rate is high.
The Beckam Estate wines are made using more conventional elevage, and the AD Beckham wines are made using clay. Both are fabulous.
We began with the dry Rosé 2015, which is pretty and bright with lovely texture and finesse. Then we looked at the regular Pinot Noir and the Dow’s (a reserve bottling) in 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 versions. I really liked these: particular preferences were for the 2014 Dow’s, the 2013 Estate and the 2012 Dow’s. They are brilliant.
Then: the amphora wines. There are two versions of 2014 amphora Pinot Noir: Lignum and Creta. Both are fermented in amphora, but Lignum leaves and spends the rest of its upbringing in oak, while Creta stays in amphora for its entire elevage. Both are quite brilliant. The Lignum is probably my favourite, with less impact from the amphora, but still a lovely elegance and mouthfeel that sets it apart from the regular conventional elevage Pinot, made from the same fruit. The Creta is a distinctive wine, and it’s lovely. There’s an impact from the clay in terms of the flavour, but it works really well.
Pinot Gris is also made in amphora. The 2014 is a complicated, detailed, edgy wine that spent 40 days on skins in amphora, and it’s remarkable. I’m not sure how it will develop, but it’s just so interesting. Follow-on vintage 2015 is just as interesting.
Beckham Estate Pinot Noir 2014 Chehalem Mountains, Oregon, USA
13.2% alcohol. This is four clones: 115/Pommard/777/Wadenswil, fermented in two-ton macrobins, mix of wild and inoculated ferments. Very fine, fresh and supple with some spiciness (35% whole cluster). Nice bright fruit, grippy and spicy with a stylish character. 93/100 (07/16)
Beckham Estate Dow’s Pinot Noir 2014 Chehalem Mountains, Oregon, USA
13.1% alcohol. Pommard and 777 clones, and sees some more new wood. Detailed, supple, elegant and pure with fresh, direct, sweet raspberry and cherry fruit, with some grippy structure. Lovely focus and grip with robust berry fruits. 95/100 (07/16)
Beckham Estate Pinot Noir 2013 Chehalem Mountains, Oregon, USA
This was a challenging, rain-affected growing season. Beautifully floral with fine, elegant cherries and plums. Supple, fine and pretty with fresh red cherry fruit. Such finesse here. Fragrant with good acid structure. 94/100 (07/16)
Beckham Estate Dow’s Pinot Noir 2013 Chehalem, Mountains, Oregon, USA
Structured with lovely savoury underpinnings to the red cherry fruit, with nice grip and fine-grained tannins. Has good structure and nice juiciness. 94/100 (07/16)
Beckham Estate Pinot Noir 2012 Chehalem Mountains, Oregon, USA
35% new oak. Fresh, juicy and a bit chalky with nice grip and sweet red cherries. Some spice and grip, too. Has lots of savoury character and good structure. 92/100 (07/16)
Beckham Estate Dow’s Pinot Noir 2012 Chehalem Mountains, Oregon, USA
40% new oak. Fresh fine cherries and a hint of cedar. Supple with fine red cherry fruit and some floral detail. Lovely wine. 94/100 (07/16)
Beckham Estate Pinot Noir 2011 Chehalem Mountains, Oregon, USA
Pale in colour. Supple, fresh and finely detailed with nice red cherries and spice. So fresh. Has a nice savoury character with fresh red fruits and a bit of pepper. 93/100 (07/16)
Beckham Estate Dow’s Pinot Noir 2011 Chehalem Mountains, Oregon, USA
Real finesse. Roses, dried herbs, pepper and red cherries. Grippy structure and lots of finesse and appealing weight. Good acidity and fine spices. 93/100 (07/16)
AD Beckham Lignum Amphora Pinot Noir 2014 Oregon, USA
This spends 30 days on its skins in amphora and then is pressed to neutral wood for ageing. SO2 only added at bottling. Lovely floral cherry fruit nose is really expressive. Pure, delicate and fine with a silky texture and lovely fruit purity. Astonishing detail and freshness. 96/100 (07/16)
AD Beckham Creta Pinot Noir 2014 Oregon, USA
This was fermented and aged in clay. 30% whole cluster. There are hints of ginger and pepper on the floral, expressive nose. So pretty with fresh red cherries. The palate has detailed, herb-tinged, slightly earthy spiciness. This has structure and grip with fine cherry fruit. Beautiful aromatics and astonishing finesse. 95/100 (07/16)
AD Beckham Amphora Pinot Noir 2013 Oregon, USAThe debut amphora vintage: this wine was just fermented in amphora. 24 cases made. Fine, pretty, juicy and sappy red cherry fruit. Aromatic, sweet and expressive with a lovely textural quality. Finely spiced and a bit grippy with some juiciness. 95/100 (07/16)
AD Beckham Lignum Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon, USA
This starts off in clay and then goes to barrel. Very elegant and a bit stony with fine red cherries and plums. Fine grained and elegant. Lovely stuff. 95/100 (07/17)
AD Beckham Creta Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon, USA
Stony and detailed with lovely elegance and purity. Very linear with nice grip and structyre. This is a linear wine of real beauty and purity. 94/100 (07/17)
AD Beckham Grenache Amphora 2015 Oregon, USA
85% whole bunch. Very fine and lively with a lovely silkiness. Has some fruit sweetness and real finesse, with a smooth mouthfeel. Subtle stony, slightly earthy undercurrents here, and just a hint of mint. 94/100 (07/17)
AD Beckham Pinot Gris Amphora 2014 Oregon, USA
Two lots were made, spending 30 and 40 days on skins, and then half being aged in clay and half in acacia. Pale pink/orange colour. Supple, fine and expressive with some pepper and nice spiciness. Fresh and detailed with a hit of mint. Lovely focus with fine cherries and spices, and nice texture. 94/100 (07/16)
AD Beckham Pinot Gris Amphora 2015 Oregon, USA
40 days skin contact in clay, and then half goes to acacia and half back to clay for ageing. Slightly cloudy red/orange colour. Stony and savoury with nice grippy citrus and tangerine notes. Grippy and a bit tannic on the palate with a stony edge and good acidity. 92/100 (07/17)
AD Beckham Vermentino Amphora 2016 Oregon, USA
2 months in Tinajas, after a day and a half on skins. Then malolactic in stainless steel. Very fresh tangerine and grape notes with a lively fruitiness. There’s a hint of creaminess here, too. Bright fruit. Juicy and expressive. 90/100 (07/17)