Amulet Estate (formerly the Tuck Beckstoffer Estate) produces several brands; the most premium wines, mostly focusing on Napa Valley vineyards are part of Amulet Estate and 75 Wine Company produces a diversity of often lighter style and more affordable wines from a variety of locations including Lake and Mendocino counties. Amulet Estate was founded by long time Napa Valley resident Tuck Beckstoffer and his wife Boo with their first commercial release coming in 2004. However for serious Beckstoffer followers, Tuck also made some now much sought after Cabernet Sauvignon in the late 1990’s.
A little history is also in order. Tuck’s father is Andy Beckstoffer who after moving to the Napa area in the late 1960’s would later go on to establish Beckstoffer Vineyards. Today the Beckstoffers are one of Napa’s largest independent family growers providing premium grapes for a number of well known wineries. Beckstoffer Vineyards has acquired several historical and well-recognized Napa based vineyards over the decades – these ‘heritage vineyards’ are in extremely high demand among premium wineries. Beckstoffer Vineyards chooses its sites carefully, selecting excellent terroir, but then also carefully micro-managing the vines and implementing smart viticultural practices. Not only do they own a number of a Napa vineyards but they also own and manage vineyards in other Northern California counties including Lake and Mendocino. If one spends even a short time visiting the Napa Valley, one will soon hear about the Beckstoffer family or reference to some of their vineyards.
Tuck Beckstoffer’s specialty in the wine business is farming; he was raised working among the vines and quickly learned to recognize high quality vineyard sites. As a result he very carefully selects premium sites for his own wines and based on his father’s vineyard management company he has a remarkable selection of vineyards to source from. Over time Tuck has established invaluable contacts with local farmers for single vineyard sources as well as having the luxury of being able to use fruit from some of the Beckstoffer’s holdings both in Napa and beyond.
The 75 Wine Company wines are named in honor of 1975 – when Tuck came to the Napa Valley as a child. The 2007 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp clean entirely tank aged single vineyard wine from the organically farmed Block House Vineyard, one of Napa’s oldest Sauvignon Blanc vineyards. It undergoes no malolactic fermentation. The nose is very clean with notes of cut grass, green apple and hints of tropical aromas. The wine stays crisp and lean throughout the well balanced palate.
The 2007 Niveus (the Vinifera label) is a delightful blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Some of the nicest Sauvignon Blancs we have tried in the Napa area are typically blends. The best descriptor for this wine is ‘more’. More fruit, more creaminess, more aromatics and more flavor. It was aged in French Oak, was aged surlie (helps bring out a more viscous and rounded mouth feel), and malolactic fermentation was inhibited. The richness of the mouth feel makes a pleasing impression with various stone fruit flavors including white peach, nectarine and apricot. The finish is also very long.
Besides their significant contributions to the Napa Valley, the Beckstoffers are pioneers in the Red Hills Appellation in Lake County having developed a number of vineyards in this high elevation location. Lake County is north of Napa and often boasts the cleanest air of any county in California. This is also home to a developing vineyard industry where land is still much more affordable as compared to the Napa Valley. Tuck told us, “the Red Hills have the possibility of being what Oakville is to Napa, but for Lake County”. Oakville of course has the recognition and long history of grape growing – the Red Hills became an appellation in 2004 and growers are still discovering what this area is capable of and fine tuning their viticulture practices. Oakville lies between the Vaca and Mayacamas mountain ranges; both ranges roughly form the north to south borders of the east and west sides of the Napa Valley and are prime regions for growing premium Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux red varietals.
The Amber Knolls Vineyard in the Red Hills Appellation in Lake County (to the north of the Napa Valley) extends from about 1500 feet up to 2600 feet – the highest points of this appellation are slightly above 3000 feet, certainly much higher than what you will find in Napa. Tuck told us about the challenge of starting a vineyard in this area. Boulders of obsidian half the size of rooms were removed…or if you prefer another comparison, the size of cars. The shallow soils in this region are red and extremely rocky – composed of black glassy obsidian rock and gravel combined with excellent drainage. These are ideal soils (or lack of soil) for growing Cabernet Sauvignon.
The 2005 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (75 Wine Company) from the Amber Knolls Vineyard is an ideal expression of terroir and is representative of what this area can produce. In addition this wine has an excellent price to quality ratio. A touch of toasted oak intermingles with ripe fruit on the nose with a palate full of dark black fruit containing notes of blackberry and black cherry. A pleasing earthy component shows in the wine with notes of crushed rock and mineralities; the rather smooth finish is anchored by smoky dusty tannins.
The 2005 Vinifera 100% Cabernet Sauvignon was sourced from two of the best appellations in the heart of Napa’s Cabernet Sauvignon country, Oakville and Rutherford. Tuck spent over 2.5 years searching for vineyard sites that met his exacting specifications. Cabernet Sauvignon from these two appellations often illicit sticker shock when seeing the prices. Not so with Vinifera – it is reasonably priced and for a number of years was their most produced wine. Similar to the other wines produced by 75 Wine Company, the core focus of this particular wine is to deliver a quality product at a reasonable price. This wine clearly does that. It is an excellent food wine showing bright fruit and lively acidity. Its balance is the key to pairing with food – not one component dominates. The nose is elegant and refined leading to a palate bursting with red cherry and red currant flavors. Structurally this wine is also in balance; the finish is harmonious and long lasting.
The 2016 Semper Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir from the Fort Ross Vineyard offers a spiciness on the bouquet with old cedar box, raspberry, a dusty note and dried rose petals. Not a delicate Pinot Noir, the texture is supple with a firm yet a light grip across the entire palate. The tannins are noticeable and somewhat chalky in their structural presentation. A very well concentrated wine of this varietal.
The Mockingbird Red and the Mockingbird Blue are their flagship wines (both with gorgeous looking labels). The 2014 Tuck Beckstoffer Mockingbird Blue is a blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Merlot. Shows plenty of aromatic punch if you will including fruit driven aromatics of blackberry and black cherry complemented nicely by a dry dust nuance, cedar box and bittersweet chocolate on the bouquet. Balanced but big on the palate, offers mostly darker fruit. Well layered. A powerful and lasting finish. Juicy and mouth watering with firm but not overly muscular tannins.
In early 2016 Tuck and Boo purchased the existing Dancing Hares Winery and accompanying vineyards from original founders Robert Cook (who we met with years ago) and Paula Brooks and renamed the property to Tuck Beckstoffer Estate. Bob spent 3 decades in the computer software business and enjoyed drinking fine wines for many years. He is also a prolific and very accomplished author of both national security thrillers and children’s book genres. He first fell in love with the Napa Valley during one of a number of trips to the area. In the mid 1990s he started looking for property and by the late 1990s had purchased this hillside estate.
Eleven vineyard acres are planted on the 31 acre estate which lies in the northern part of the valley below Howell Mountain but within the St. Helena sub appellation; this property is mostly hillside, located just above the valley floor near a small offshoot valley called Italian Valley. The vineyards were planted in 2000 and are separated into a number of very small unique blocks. Several Bordeaux red varietals are planted on site.
We first discovered the Dancing Hares wine at a premium tasting at ACME Wine Shop in St. Helena. Select Napa wines were represented at that tasting from some of Napa’s finest winemakers, but it was the Dancing Hares wine that ultimately stood out. Fortunately, after the acquisition of this property, Tuck Beckstoffer continues to produce this wine – usually only several hundred cases a year.
The 2015 Dancing Hares Proprietary Red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot; noticeably dark purple in the glass it offers aromatics of blackberry, mocha, a hint of cedar box and a subtle savory dried herb character. Lovely texture, quite approachable in its youth – with firm but fine grained and chalky tannins. Hints of mocha, cedar and toasted oak also complement the long finish.
Tuck Beckstoffer’s wines have fairly good distribution nationally and are currently found in about 40 states. In addition they are available in select parts of Canada and Asia. Locally you can sometimes find select wines & vintages at Cal Mart in Calistoga. For their portfolio of wines or to schedule an appointment at their estate, visit: www.amuletestate.com