A Cellar Chat with Curtis Strohl of B Cellars on Single-Vineyard Production
September 13, 2019
Written By Coravin
Napa Valley is arguably the finest region in the world for producing wines that are balanced with depth and flavor. There’s no better exhibition of this than B Cellars using grapes from Beckstoffer’s Heritage Vineyards representing 6 plots of land that have been farmed since the 1800s. We were lucky enough to catch up with Curtis Strohl, General Manager of B Cellars during the busy Harvest Season to learn what makes each of their wines unique, and how they’re prepping for Harvest.
Coravin: Could you tell us more about the partnership B Cellars has with Beckstoffer Vineyards?
Curtis Strohl: Andy Beckstoffer and Beckstoffer Vineyards is our largest grape growing partner. We purchase more fruit from Beckstoffer than anyone else. They set the gold standard in Napa for excellence in vineyard management and for growing top quality fruit. Where it gets interesting is that we’re a little different from most of the wineries who purchase Beckstoffer’s grapes in that we do not simply purchase a small amount from him to produce a super-limited, reserve-level bottle, but rather nearly 20% of our total production is sourced from his “Heritage” vineyards. We produce a single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from off of Missouri Hopper, To Kalon, Georges III, Bourn, Las Piedras, and Dr. Crane.
C: For those of us who are only hearing the term “single-vineyard” for the first time, can you explain what that means and what the winemaking process looks like?
CS: When a wine label includes the name of a vineyard on it, then by law, 95% of the grapes used to make that wine must have been grown and harvested in the named vineyard. When making a single vineyard wine, the first challenge is identifying a vineyard site that can produce a compelling and complete wine all on its own. Each vineyard has its own unique combination of soil type and structure as well as its own unique climate. Combined, these elements will produce grapes with a unique flavor profile, known as the vineyard’s terroir. In making a single-vineyard wine, we look to emphasize that vineyard’s particular terroir. In doing so, we look to make a wine that celebrates a sense of place and origin and which is utterly unique and different from any other wine made. Single-vineyard wines are allowed to stray from the average and to showcase their characteristics and their own personality.
Andy Beckstoffer (left) and Kirk Venge, B Cellars Winemaker (right)
C: How do the vineyards showcase the flavors that are exclusive to Napa Valley?
CS: B Cellars produces wines from vineyards whose terroir allows them to ripen evenly and completely and fully, producing deep, long, rich, powerful flavors. The Napa Valley area is arguably the finest region in the world for producing wines of concentration and power but still balanced with depth and layers of nuance and flavor.
C: Tell us more about the nuances of each of the heritage vineyards.
CS: Each one has so many unique characteristics that it’s hard to name them for each of our six wines, but the best way to describe each would be:
Missouri Hopper: elegant, with brilliant aromatics and organic, forest-floor flavors,
showing a feminine side to Oakville fruit;
To Kalon: the epitome of Oakville. Bold, brawny, broad-shouldered wines with deep flavors of cassis and black olive, black teas, and tobaccos;
Georges III: Ripe and pungent fruit, balanced between red and black and finished with the famous “Rutherford dust” referring to the fine-grained and long-lasting tannins particular to this region;
Bourn: Ripe and bold, with flavors of pie and baked fruits and baking spices;
Las Piedras: Also with bold ripe flavors but more focused and layered, with the addition of blueberry, and with graphite and stony earthy flavors as well;
Dr. Crane: It’s hard to imagine how a wine can be so ripe and powerful and yet also finish with a lingering and layered nuance, but this one does!
C: What qualities do you think set Beckstoffer Vineyards apart from other winemakers in California? The rest of the wine industry?
CS: Beckstoffer Vineyards is the largest non-winery owner of vineyard land in Napa Valley. The amount of acreage and experience that they have is second to none—and they are completely focused on growing grapes. They leave the winemaking to their clients (like us) so, they are the very definition of an “expert.” On top of that, Andy Beckstoffer is obsessed with knowing and celebrating the history of his lands. His “Heritage” sites represent 6 plots of land which have been farmed for grapes since the 1800s. Rare for the US and California, which are still relatively young viticultural areas. These 6 vineyards have over 100-150 years of grape growing history to back up their claims to excellence. Andy’s commitment to being a steward of his lands, to the highest standards of quality in viticulture, and to focusing his effort and knowledge only on grape-growing, and not winemaking are what help him to stand apart.
C: Could you give us a bit of insight into what harvest season is like at B Cellars and Beckstoffer Vineyards?
CS: Harvest at both B Cellars and Beckstoffer Vineyards: it’s what we love the most and what we do best! Harvest time is like Christmas every morning. The excitement and energy are intense. The hours are long, but everyone is smiling. It is a special morning when Andy drives up behind the truck bearing the first pick of the year. You can see the pride in his eyes as we sample and taste the fruit from the harvest bins and begin to describe the vintage flavor profiles. Pure and gratifying.
C: How do you use Coravin in your business or how has it changed your view on wine?
CS: We are proud of our relationship with Beckstoffer Vineyards and proud to create such a large array of wines from his Heritage sites—and we love to taste these wines with our customers. Tasting several wines of this quality, side by side is an amazing opportunity to understand the importance and primacy of a vineyard’s terroir in creating great wines of the highest level. However, these wines are rare and dear—both for us to produce and for our customers to collect. Coravin enables us to present these wines in a controlled, curated environment for our best customers to enjoy and to learn. Without a Coravin, we’d have to restrict the tasting of these wines to certain days or certain events only instead of being able to personalize the experience for our best customers, on their schedule, not on ours.
Do you have a favorite B Cellars wine? We’d love to hear which one and why! Share with us by tagging @Coravin on all social media, @BCellars on Facebook and Instagram, and @BCellarsWinery on Twitter.