June 6th was an exciting day for all of us at Tuck Beckstoffer Estate. We “field budded” the wild, disease resistant rootstock to Cabernet Sauvignon in our Amulet Vineyard on Galleron Road on the Rutherford Bench. As farmers, it marked the beginning of the winegrowing process. Three years from now we will have our first crop and three years after that the first bottle of wine from the vineyard will be released for our customers to enjoy and to cellar.
It may come as a surprise to you that Vitis Vinfifera grapes (i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon) are subject to soilborne pests that can harm or even kill grapevines if grown on their own roots. These harmful pests, most notably phylloxera, are found throughout many of the world’ s finest grape growing regions, including the Napa Valley. In order for the vine to flourish one must first plant a (pest) resistant rootstock, which is allowed to grow on its own for a season and establish a strong root base. The following spring (or early fall), the grafter cuts off all of the rootstocks shoots and leaves, leaving only the base (trunk) of the rootstock.
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Immediately after cutting the rootstock, a single bud (i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon) is inserted into the rootstock’s trunk which has had a notch cut into it that mirrors the bud so that the two fit snugly together. The bud union is then wrapped with nursery tape and the two parts grow together and form a single plant. Is that cool or what?
From this single bud, a shoot grows and is trained up the vine stake and becomes the trunk of the vine. The plant has only the Vitis Vinera (Cabernet Sauvignon) above ground that will yield the crop and only the resistant rootstock below ground to protect and nourish the vine. It is, as they say, “a match made in heaven.”
There is tremendous skill and artistry required to become an expert field budder. It requires years of training as well as patience and artistry to become an expert. It is a highly prized skill that only a select few ever perfect. We are enormously grateful to our team of expert farmers and field budders who execute this task to perfection.
For farmers and viticulturists, Spring time is the most exciting time of the year. Not only is it exciting to watch the vines herald the beginning of the growing season, it is the beginning of winemaking.
The Spring of 2018 weather has been cooler than normal in the mornings and the daily high temperatures for the day have been cooler as well. This has had the effect of putting us about 10 days to two weeks behind a “normal” year. Additionally, this bodes well for wine quality because a longer, cooler growing season tends to produce berries that have more flavor and aroma which yield wines with more varietal character and intensity as well as better balance. By mid-May, we no longer fear that we will have frost which takes a big weight off our collective shoulders.
The vines look very healthy and are growing about an inch per day. We are walking the vineyard daily- as one of our fellow farmers once said- “the best thing you can put in your vineyard is your own two feet.” It is only by being in the vineyard that one can observe the subtle things that make the difference between a good wine and a great wine.
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With plenty of water in the soil from near normal winter rains, we are proceeding with training the vines for maximum photosynthetic efficiency and ideal air circulation. We have already removed non-essential shoots (suckering) so as to channel all of the vines energy into the appropriate shoots and clusters.
At the time of this writing, we are at about 30% of flowering. The subtle but telltale aroma of the grape flowers is in the air. As is typical, Merlot blossomed first, followed by Cabernet Franc and then Cabernet Sauvignon. The Petite Verdot is just beginning to “open up” (blossom).
We can feel the positive energy in the vineyard which always fills us with the confidence that a great vintage is on its way.
Photo: May 21st, Merlot vines beginning to flower at Tuck Beckstoffer Estate in St. Helena, Napa Valley
Shawn Johnson and the Tuck Beckstoffer Estate Winemaking Team
With the buds pushing and the bulk of the rain behind us, we are excited to get to work in the vineyard and prepare for the upcoming growing season.
Walking the vineyard, we’re starting to see the beneficial insects hatching out and doing their part, while we begin to do our work of “suckering” the vines. For those of you that don’t know, suckering the vine is removing the extra shoots from the base of the vine and thus channeling the vine’s energy into the parts of the vine that will produce this year’s crop.
In the winery we are involved with topping the barrels that contain the v2017 wines and finalizing the v2016 blends which will be bottled this summer.
While this time of the year is a bit slow in the winery, it gives me the opportunity to get out into the marketplace to thank our customers. It has been a bit of a whirlwind since early January. I have had the pleasure of visiting Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Houston, New York, Atlanta, Washington state, Miami, Boston, Monterey and Toronto and Mexico City. Whew!
Trust me when I say it sounds more fabulous than it really is. As daunting as the travel schedule has been, it has equally gratifying to talk with our customers and friends and hear their reaction to the wines.
While I have been visiting cities across America, our team at the winery has been hosting customers from around the world. While we do not have public tours, we do host small groups by appointment, for private visits to our estate winery in St Helena. It’s more like welcoming friends into our home than it is touring and tasting. When I’m in town I always make a point to come by the winery to see guests. . . having a glass of wine in the middle of the day with new friends is certainly not what I consider “work!”
My husband Tuck and I just returned from Atlanta, where we acted as Honorary Vintners of the Atlanta High Museum Wine Auction. Our week was filled with delicious meals, old and new friends, and lots of fabulous wine. We were humbled and honored to support my beloved home-town museum, which was a cherished part of my childhood. From the Ladies’ Luncheon, to the Vintner Dinner, to the trade tastings, to the Friday Fete and finally the Auction itself, each event was extraordinary.
An ocean of thanks to The High Museum, to all the generous donors, volunteers, and to the people of Atlanta. Who says you can’t go home again?
Director of Hospitality
A hero of hospitality. An unmatched attention to detail. A warm and knowledgable force. After a pivotal role with The Restaurant at Meadowood, she went on to open Otium Restaurant in Los Angeles as lead Sommelier. We're thrilled to welcome her back to Wine Country, as she helps to create beautiful memories for our guests that will last a lifetime.
Boo remains true to her native Atlanta in her gracious hospitality and Southern literary leanings.
Tuck Beckstoffer arrived in the Napa Valley as a young boy in 1975 and was told to go play outside. He has been drawing inspiration from local vineyards ever since. Tuck's humble beginnings as a farmer ring true in his wines.
A wealth of experience. A creator of iconic brands. A champion of Napa Valley for more than 40 years. Each and every day, Bob is a pivotal piece of the puzzle in leading both Tuck Beckstoffer Estate and Tuck Beckstoffer Wines to greatness.
Shawn Johnson brings a wealth of experience to both the winery and the vineyard. After working with consulting winemaker Philippe Melka, Shawn blazed his own path. We are thrilled to have Shawn as our head winemaker, and have found both his skill, excitement and curiosity contagious. His thoughtful, gentle leadership guides our winemaking at every step.