In Oregon: Beckham Estate Vineyard

andrew annedria beckham

Andrew and Annedria Beckham (pictured above) are making some of Oregon’s most compelling wines, and they have a great story, too.

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We visited their property in Parrett Mountain (in the Chehalem Mountains AVA) on a gorgeous 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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 worksop, 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 some producers are now importing.

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By next September, 500 and 1000 litre amphorae will be on the market, and then in time a 2000 litre version. 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, and also started making some wine in clay.

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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, Ploussard and Chardonnay – spot the Jura influence.

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The Beckam Estate wines are made using more conventional elevage, and the AD Beckham wines are made using clay. Both are fabulous.

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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.

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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.

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In 2013 just the lignum-style version was made. It’s also compelling.

We also tried the Creta from 2015 (an amphora sample!), which for me was potentially profound. It is early days for this wine, but it looks very pure and expressive.

Pinot Gris is also made in amphora here. The 2014 is a complicated, detailed, edgy wine that spent 40 days on skins in amphora, and it’s just remarkable. I’m not sure how it will develop, but it’s just so interesting.

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