Upon our arrival to the Santa Ynez wine growing scene, the one thing that we were repeatedly told was that Cabernet Sauvignon was not built for our climate and soils. Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Santa Ynez Valley struggled to ripen and was often plagued with green, vegetal aromas and flavors of tomato, jalapeño pepper, and leafy green vegetables. True enough, the bottles which we inherited after purchasing the winery and vineyard and our initial releases of Cabernet exhibited many of those flavors.
The Beginning of our Cabernet Journey
Working our first crush in 1994, we processed around 25 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Most of the wine we produced was plagued by under-ripe flavors, with the notable exception of a small lot of wine that we made separately, originating from the steep hillside where the original Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were planted. The vines struggled on that hill and produced about half the crop as the rest of the vineyard. The berries were small and the clusters were also smaller than the rest of the fruit we processed that vintage. That block of Cabernet produced a wine that was head and shoulders above the rest of the crop. Lightbulbs quickly went off in our heads as we realized that the problem with Cabernet Sauvignon and the Santa Ynez Valley probably had more to do with farming techniques and site selection rather than with the variety itself. We also noticed that crop size was a vital part of achieving the ripeness levels we desired, and we knew then that we should continue to pursue this variety.
Over the next several vintages, we continued to make the Cabernet Sauvignon from the hillside as a separate wine from the larger bottling, and it continued to impress us with its riper flavor profile, fuller bodied wine, and fine tannin structure. After we completed the development of Purisima Mountain in the late 90s, we turned our attention to the replanting of the Thomas and Judith Beckmen Estate Vineyard in the early 2000s.
Purisima Mountain was initially planted with 16 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. After a couple of initial successful harvests, it became apparent that the variety was not thriving in the heavier clay/limestone soils of Ballard Canyon. Given the initial successes in portions of the other vineyard, we determined that Cabernet Sauvignon would be the focus variety at the Thomas and Judith Beckmen Estate Vineyard.
Redesigning our Estate Vineyard
We first secured a couple of different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon on some rootstocks perfectly suited to the site and then went about the redevelopment. Our first step was to redesign the vineyard into several smaller more contiguous blocks with vines planted at a much higher density of vines per acre compared to the original planting. Putting some numbers on this to understand the difference, the old vineyard contained 490 vines per acre versus around 1,400 vines per acre for the new vineyard. The idea is that we would ask each vine to carry and ripen about a third less fruit than the original planting, while keeping the total yield from the vineyard constant. We also shifted the row directions to more favorable angles and did not plant in the swales or heavier soil areas to help limit the vigor of the vines. The goal behind all these ideas was to increase the fruit quality from these vines.
World Class Cabernet
We are happy that our decision to continue to produce Cabernet Sauvignon has really paid off. No longer do we have the worries about a preponderance of under ripe flavors in these wines. We are proud that our work in better understanding what was required to grow world class Cabernet in the Santa Ynez Valley has opened the door for others to come along and find success with this variety. Now, our Cabernet Sauvignon wines can and do compete with the finest Cabernet Sauvignon wines produced anywhere in the world. Based on our recent run of incredible vintages and high critics scores, our Cabernet wines are where we wanted to be 30 years ago.
Annually, we produce three distinct bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon off the Thomas and Judith Estate Vineyard. They are the Santa Ynez Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and the TLB Red Wine, named for our founder Thomas Lawerence Beckmen. In exceptional years, we produce a fourth bottling named after both Tom and his wife: the Thomas and Judith Beckmen Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Santa Ynez Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Our Santa Ynez Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is primarily made from fruit grown at the T and J Beckmen Estate Vineyard but is occasionally blended with fruit from a few of our neighbors’ vineyards who share a similar farming philosophy. Forward fruit, seamless texture, and beautiful balance are the hallmarks of this bottling which is typically aged for 18 months in 33% new French oak barrels. The beauty of this wine is that it drinks fantastically on release; yet, it has the structure beneath those fantastic fruit flavors that allows it to age beautifully for 10 – 15 years. In fact, our original Cabernet Sauvignon bottling that began with the 1993 is better than ever after 30 vintages!
Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
The Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is produced from a selection of fruit harvested from two finest blocks on the Thomas and Judith Beckmen Vineyard: Block 4, the site of the original hillside block discussed earlier, and Block 2, which extends north from the original pond. Because of the stress created by the hillside plantings, these vines produce a tiny crop with both the berries and clusters being smaller. The wine created from these two blocks is the most concentrated in flavor and highest in phenolic compounds (tannin and anthocyanins, color). These factors make a more powerful, structured Cabernet Sauvignon compared to the Santa Ynez Valley; yet, the wine is deliciously approachable when young. Built to last 20+ years or more, the wine is typically aged for 22 months in 60 – 70% new French oak barrels. Annual production on this wine is typically around 350 cases.
The third Cabernet Sauvignon wine that we produce on the Thomas and Judith Estate Vineyard is an annual favorite, the TLB Red Wine, a field blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah. Harvested and co-fermented, this wine carries the name of our founder Thomas Lawerence Beckmen and is one of our finest bottlings each vintage. A blend of fruit from Blocks 3 (the original TLB field blend block), Block 2 and Syrah G, Cabernet takes center stage in the aroma profile while the Syrah comes through on the mouth bringing velvety texture and acidity while boosting the wines juicy profile. A wine that is built to last, all vintages going back to the inaugural release in 2007 are drinking beautifully now. TLB is the benchmark release from the Thomas and Judith Beckmen Estate Vineyard.
Thomas and Judith Beckmen Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
When the harvest quality is especially promising, we would bottle a fourth Cabernet Sauvignon wine, the Thomas and Judith Beckmen Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. This more recent addition to the Cabernet line-up is only produced in the finest vintages. It is a selection of the best Cabernet Sauvignon barrel or two barrels from the harvest. Primarily sold through the Beckmen Futures Program (our annual Futures wine sale), this special bottling encompasses the finest qualities of our Cabernet Sauvignon, bright-lifted fruit and impeccable structure.
While it took some learning and time, we are incredibly proud that the hard work and commitment we have put into growing Cabernet Sauvignon has yielded a portfolio of wines that offer consumers an incredible value. Try some of our Cabernet today and appreciate what 30 years of knowledge and experience can deliver.