Beckmen 2.0: The Evolution of 1NGREDIENT Continues
Beckmen is a farmer first winery. Steve Beckmen’s philosophy is to grow great wines, rather than overcome the limitations of a vineyard through manipulation in the cellar. That means fastidious vineyard management utilizing the techniques of biodynamic farming and capitalizing on the potential of the rich soils and unique climate that we enjoy at Beckmen Vineyards. Over the decades, Steve has learned from the land and steadily honed his craft as a grape grower to forge one of California’s great vineyards. Inspired by the evolution of Purisima Mountain Vineyard, he wanted to evolve as a winemaker and bottle something completely different, something that expressed Purisima Mountain Vineyard with a higher fidelity.
Steve was driven by both the increased quality of fruit coming from the Purisima Mountain Vineyard and by the quality of traditional white wines that he tasted in Northern Italy, made with skin-contact and aged in clay vessels. It was in Italy that Steve found Tava Anfore, a Trento-based potter of traditional winemaking amphora. Steve worked with Tava to determine the right composition of clay and sand as well as the right firing temperature to customize the amount of oxygen the wines would be exposed to throughout fermentation. Armed with these bespoke clay pots and some of the best grapes that he’d ever grown, seeking a new challenge, 1NGREDIENT was born.
1NGREDIENT is Steve Beckmen showcasing his biodynamic fruit through the lens of traditional winemaking. Wines are made naturally, without oak, additives, preservatives or other distortions. As a winemaker, this required starting over and considering the process with a fresh perspective. It reminded Steve of his first days making wine.
“Starting out Beckmen, we were chasing the wine. We didn’t know what it was going to be. With time, you learn how to make the wine do what you want. This project like starting over, but with a heck of a lot of knowledge and experience to work from.”
Grapes are always the most important ingredient in wine, in 1NGREDIENT, they are the only ingredient. Not all wines that are called “natural” are made with only one ingredient. In truly natural winemaking, no chemicals can be added to paint over any errors. Rough edges can’t be smoothed out later through adjustments. The first take has to be perfect. Utilizing the protection of amphora and the natural preservatives in the grape skin, traditionally crafted, additive-free wine can be rich and complex, while maintaining a clear expression of fruit. So why doesn’t everyone make wine with just one ingredient? Well, the secret ingredients required are heavy additions of hard work, uncertainty and patience. Steve compares conversion to natural winemaking to converting to biodynamic farming.
“Converting vineyards to organics or working with a recently converted vineyard takes a lot of extra work, but after a while, it gets easier. We’re still checking the amphora regularly and figuring out the best position for them within the cellar. You have to consider every small improvement that you could make.”
Starting in the vineyard, these wines are impossible to make without pristine fruit. So-called “natural” wines that don’t come from pesticide-free vineyards betray their implied ecological principles and no longer offer any rewards in the promise of true vineyard expression (who wants a clearer expression of a poor vineyard). Because Beckmen has been farming biodynamically since 2002, the challenges really begin in the cellar. To capture the Purisima Mountain Vineyard vividly, the wines had to be cleanly fermented and aged, or the purpose of the project would be lost. The pots of fermenting wine are monitored daily and carefully topped off to prevent oxidation or contamination. Wines are racked into a tank to rest where they naturally evolve and clarify by gravity. This is all done by siphon, without machine. No fining or filtration is used. This process is arduous, and the difficulty is compounded by the risk of contamination in making a wine without preservatives.
Steve’s winemaking evolution has always been guided by learning from the land and applying these lessons to the next vintage. He’s now learning how to leverage traditional winemaking to best express Purisima Mountain Vineyard. A lesson learned from the 2018 1NGREDIENT Sauvignon Blanc was to pick slightly earlier to better express the signature qualities of Ballard Canyon Sauvignon Blanc. Beckmen Sauvignon Blanc is generally harvested over several evenings to capture a wider range of the grape’s expressions throughout ripening, but for the 2020 1NGREDIENT Sauvignon Blanc, only the earliest harvest was used. The result is a skin-contact white that comes in with a lemongrass sheen rather than a deeper orange. The natural greenish tint of Sauvignon Blanc bestows a natural radiance rarely found in beverage. Rather than the sharper tannin in some darker skin-contact whites, the delicate structure of the Sauvignon Blanc acts to embellish the chalky limestone minerality of this fruit.
Another lesson learned from the 2018 vintage was that natural winemaking requires great patience. The wine finds a natural harmony over a longer period in tank and bottle before release. Longer resting helps to integrate the tannin into the wine and to allow some of the rich stone fruit character to emerge from the powerful candied citrus flavors that dominate the palate of the young wine. After 10 months on skins in amphora and 2 months in tank, the wine is bottled by hand and aged a full year in bottle. Over years of maturation in bottle, drinkers will see the apple and pear notes come forth and the tannins integrate deeper further.
The combination of Sauvignon Blanc’s brisk acidity and natural antioxidant qualities of grape skins allows this wine to age more gracefully than typical Sauvignon Blanc bottlings, all without sulphur dioxide additions. This release offers a rare opportunity to experience a Sauvignon Blanc that continues to evolve after days of being open or over decades in your cellar. At $50, the 2020 1NGREDIENT Sauvignon Blanc is the least expensive of our natural wines, but it is in many ways the most inviting, approachable, and surprising. If you haven’t tried 1NGREDIENT, this is the time to do it. Only 63 cases were produced.
The Beckmen Vineyards style is anything but boring. Steve has always pushed boundaries and taken risks to make powerful, expressive wines. With 1NGREDIENT winemaking, the challenges and risks were greater, but the rewards are more satisfying. 1NGREDIENT is the evolution of Beckmen Vineyards, and every vintage is another step in the journey towards revealing the potential for what grapes can become.