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Peachy Canyon Winery

Doug Beckett We met with Doug Beckett, founder and owner of Peachy Canyon Winery, on one of those warm August days that gets the Zinfandel that much closer to harvest. He was in his office, dog curled up next to his desk. Doug enlisted in the Marines in 1965, and went to college with help from the G.I. Bill. Very much the family man, and devoted to Peachy Canyon, but also a leader in the Paso Robles wine industry and among Zinfandel producers. Doug is intense, and passionate, about everything he does, including interviews.

Wine-Food pairing with Peachy Canyon wines How did you get into the wine industry?
Doug Beckett: My wife Nancy and I were married in 1970 and we moved up here to Paso Robles in 1982 from the San Diego area. We wanted to raise our boys in a quiet community. I had been a teacher, a carpenter and amateur winemaker. Nancy was a school teacher, then became a dance teacher, and now has her own studio in town. When we moved here to Paso Robles there were walnuts on the property. The first year here we harvested them. One of the locals who was helping us harvest asked us if we were going to make wine, because the previous owner of the house had made a barrel of wine. He said, “Why don’t you come over to my friend’s house, he is doing a bottling.” The rest is history.

My first formal introduction to wine was with Tobias Winery, which was a little 100 case producer. The owner, Pat Wheeler, and I became partners in 1983. We stayed together until 1987. We were making wine at night after working our day jobs. We had no stainless tanks, we bottled by hand, we were real “guerrilla” winemakers. That is how we referred to ourselves. But it didn’t last, and in 1988 we had shut down the winery, liquidated, and had nothing except a crusher.

So as a family we had a very important meeting. We decided to start up again. A local vintner fronted us couple tons of Zinfandel, which I had learned how to make from Pat. Chris Johnson from HMR loaned me 20 used barrels. We did our first harvest together and from there on we kept on making wine. We had to keep our day jobs for about 12 years to be able to afford keeping up with the winery. In 1990 we released our first wine. By 1992 we were recognized as one of the top 100 wines of the world with our Westside Zinfandel. With that we established ourselves to be a Zinfandel producer, and to this day we’re still recognized as one of the top Zinfandels in the world. This is very exciting because it’s been a real hands-on effort from everyone in our family and then also the folks that came through and lent themselves and their knowledge. Last year we hit 85,000 cases, we sell throughout 49 states, plus we are in Europe and Canada.

VV: How much land do you have?
DB: We have 200 acres in 4 primary locations, plus a few small lots. We are just shy of 100 acres planted that we manage ourselves, and we have another 35-40 acres that we have prepped for planting right now. A portion of that will go to the Heritage Vineyard project. (See below for details.)

Zinfandel left on the vine after harvest VV: Why do you primarily produce Zinfandel when a lot of other wineries in the Paso Robles area lean more toward growing Rhone grapes?
DB: I think that Zinfandel is a stand-alone wine. It has maintained its popularity, which ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) has really helped with. I believe that it is the heritage grape of California. There was no such thing as “Zinfandel” before it was produced in California. It didn’t come to California until the 49ers came with the Gold Rush, and it was originally a table grape with seeds. At one point it was the most heavily planted grape in California. I believe, without a doubt, that Zinfandel is the most unique wine grape in America.

VV: There are now over 100 wineries in the Paso Robles area. How do you see Paso Robles getting defined as a region, in terms of varietals?
DB: Right now the Rhone varietals have only gained in popularity in the last 2-3 years. The festival celebrating Rhone varietals called Hospice du Rhone, is a super plus for the Paso Robles region, as it gives us the chance to really look at Rhone varietals. It has been growing for the last ten years and it has brought in Rhone producers from all around the world. It is the premier event in California and perhaps in the United States, surpassing the Rhone Rangers, Because of the success of a couple young new wineries we are seeing a greater focus, certainly on the West side of Paso Robles, in the area of Rhone varietals. We don’t have that much Zinfandel planted. And the guys that are having the most success with Zinfandel are blending using Movedra, Syrah, and Petit Sirah. So the majority of the new planting that I’m seeing is Rhone varietals.

VV: What is your role today in the winery?
DB: I am the general manager. I make the final decisions, and I try to make them collectively with Josh and Jake (his sons Josh and Jake Beckett). Josh is the winemaker and has a lot of leeway in the winery, but all the wines go past me last. I think putting our palates together with Josh, Jake, our assistant winemaker, and our cellar master, makes a significant difference in the final product.

I am traveling less and less for the business and more for pleasure. Having said that, I’ll be in Texas in a couple of weeks going door to door. I will be hosting the ZAP cruise next year, going to the Mediterranean. I’m the face of the family, and we still have to show that face. We are one of the few family wineries left that are our size. This year is the 20th anniversary of Peachy Canyon. We are very proud of where we are and what we became.

Not to knock newcomers to the industry, but for us it’s a way of life, for people coming in it’s a life style. You can buy a life style. You have to create a way of life.

You will see that in the older wineries. The people who have struggled, that put in the years. We are farmers. We planted our vineyards, we created our markets, when we got $500 ahead, we put it back into the winery. And if we didn’t have the $500 we borrowed it.

VV: How is it working with family?
DB: Our family is close. One of the keys to the success of our family is that we stay close. Until both boys were out of high school our mantra was, I’ll be your friend but I’m not going to be your buddy. I’m not going to your parties and I don’t want you at mine. We have traveled all over the world and have done wine tasting in most of those countries. Every year since Jake (who is the youngest) was 10 we would go on a family trip. That was the first year that the boys went out of the country. If we had extra funds then Nancy and I would take a second trip, just the two of us. Jake and I are exactly 40 years apart. So for my 70th and his 30th we all went on a big trip with our wives to Galapagos Islands and Machu Pichu. We feel so fortunate to be able to do this.

VV: With your sons starting their own winery (Cronic Cellars) while still working full time at Peachy Canyon, what do you see in the next generation of winemakers?
DB: I feel that the next generation’s approach to winemaking (what I call the X generation approach, and I say that very positively), is that they don’t really want to be big, they want to be successful. They don’t want to make a whole bunch of money; they want to make just more than they need. They don’t want to wait twenty years; they want it now. And they are going to work hard for that. I think you will see that in your kids; I see it in mine and the whole generation.

Peachy Canyon winery and one vineyard VV: You are involved with the Heritage Vineyard (HV) project. Please tell us about the project and your involvement with it.
DB: I got involved with ZAP a year after its inception. I was on the board for twelve years. I developed (with great volunteers) the evening with the winemakers, which is held during the ZAP festival in January. That includes a silent auction, and all the monies made go directly toward the HV project and UC Davis and their program. Last year we were able to raise over $130,000 towards this project! That has been my major involvement, one that I’m real proud of. My role now for the HV project is primarily providing financial help.

The ultimate goal of the Heritage Vineyard project is to understand which specific clones are best grown in which regions in California. With this project we have an opportunity to study selected old vine Zinfandel clones which have been collected from throughout California. These vines had to be at least 100 years old to qualify, and the wood had to be virus-free. Once you have the wood it is propagated. We at Peachy Canyon have dedicated a portion of our land for this seven-year study. During that time we will plant the approved clones, making sure that they are all at the same elevation, are trellised the same, and have the same irrigation, soil types and exposure to the sun. U.C. Davis interns, under the direction of Dr. Jim Wolpurt, will be monitoring the vineyard looking for cluster size, weight, skin thickness, juice content, flavor profiles, etc. Our job will be to harvest those grapes separately from Peachy Canyon grapes, ferment them all with the same inoculations, let them develop separately and then check them after 1-2 years in the barrel. What this will hopefully tell us is which Zinfandel clone works best for our ranch, and for the Westside of Paso Robles. Then that clone will be the one that we will want to promote for this area. We won’t have an exclusive, we won’t sell the wood; U.C. Davis would do that.

Those test vineyards will be planted all around California. We will most likely be planting the wood next year. We are not sure of the timing due to concerns about having enough water with the drought. We recently dug new wells on our property, and out of five locations that we dug, three were dry!

Jake is on the board of the HV committee and Josh is on the committee. I’m a firm believer that we need this next generation in order for the wine industry to continue to prosper. We need the creative winemakers and business people that are between 25 and 45 years old, that I believe are the future of the wine industry.

VV: Do you have any favorite food pairings with your wine?
DB: I always love rack of lamb, or a Tuscan style porterhouse steak done on a Hibachi with a hot fire. I think that since the majority of our wines we produce are Zinfandel I’ve learned to enjoy anything from fish and foul to big red meats. I’ve even taught people at a fish festival how to enjoy oysters with hot sauce, not lemon, with my Zin. I believe that the key to enjoying a great meal is to share it with a great bottle of wine. My slogan to everybody is “buy what you like.” And when you find something you like, buy a case of it so when you share it with your friends you’ll have stories to tell.

VV: What do you want our readers to know when they hear the name Peachy Canyon?
DB: There are a couple things. When someone hears the name “Peachy Canyon” I want that person to know that there is always going to be value in the bottle. That whatever they pay they will get their money’s worth. That the quality is consistent, year after year after year. They never have to worry about Peachy Canyon coming out with a bad vintage. We will put bad wine down the drain before we will put it in a bottle. We put the same quality and care into every bottle of wine with the Beckett Family pride.

Peachy Canyon Winery
1480 N. Bethell Rd.
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Peachy Canyon Winery