Since 1876 Beringer Vineyards has stood as an icon in Napa Valley, California, consistently delivering a wide range of product to every wine lover’s palate. As a state designated California landmark, Beringer is the oldest continually operating vineyard in the valley and each year it continues to diversify its offerings while staying true to the core of its existence – good wine. Although Beringer has changed hands over the years from the original family to Nestlé and then others, its never strayed from utilizing the expertise of their winemakers to make a permanent mark on wine culture throughout the United States and the world.
Beringer offers a wide range of labels under their umbrella company and each serves as a boutique experience within an experience, bringing its drinkers close for an unbridled look at what makes that particular variety special. On site, Beringer’s tastings are designed to suit everyone’s needs and introduce them to something new and unexpected. A few of my favorites include the Knights Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 and the Winery Exclusive Chardonnay 2019. What I love about each is the drinkability whether paired with food or just on their own. Rich, smooth and complex – Beringer’s product, especially their reserve wines, are exceptional. This couldn’t be achieved without the chief winemaker and general manager, Ryan Rech. We spoke with Mr. Rech and asked him questions we had about his wines, Beringer’s future plans and the uniqueness of what the operation does in the industry.
IC: Beringer has such an incredible history in California. What is your unique approach with wine, as chief winemaker, that is different than those who held that role before you?
RR: Founded in 1876, Beringer is the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley (having operated through Prohibition making wine for religious purposes). We are a leader in the AVA with several “firsts,” namely one of the first gravity fed facilities and among the first to operate using hand-dug caves and cellars; the first to give public tours in 1934, starting a Napa Valley hospitality tradition; and, most notably, the first winery to have both a red and a white wine named #1 Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator Magazine. At Beringer, I’m fortunate to work in some of Napa Valley’s finest vineyards, and I want the characteristics of this land to show through in my wines. There are several actions we take in the vineyard to make incredible wines with a sense of place, but foremost is creating a healthy environment for our vines by preserving natural habitat, improving soil health, and conserving our water resources.
My approach to winemaking is similar—I practice minimal intervention to showcase the beautiful fruit that comes from our estates. Color, Clarity and Focus are today some of my guideposts when I am creating these wines and I try to stay open-minded as I engage with what the season and each vineyard site brings me. With Beringer’s trailblazing legacy in both Napa Valley and Knights Valley, I feel an honor and responsibility to strike a balance between preserving the traditions that have come to define this historic brand, while also pushing the boundaries of creative winemaking to ensure that we are always at the forefront of the latest innovations.
IC: Beringer has such a diverse portfolio of wine that it offers consumers. Is there one common thread or ethos that runs through everything they produce?
RR: Our unrelenting commitment to quality has always been at the heart of everything we do at Beringer. Obviously, our pioneering efforts to establish premiere vineyard sites in Napa Valley and Knights Valley is one example, but there have been incredible advancements in winemaking over the past 145-plus years. In 1977, Beringer began fermenting Chardonnay and Cabernet in French oak barrels. In 1989, Beringer launched the first formal research and sensory evaluation program. And today, we continue to push sustainability forward with a plan to transition to one hundred percent renewable electricity by 2024 and a bold target of net zero emissions by 2030. This focus on sustainability means we’ve gotten groundbreakingly creative in developing several new technologies to use our precious resources wisely. For example, recaptured rainwater at our winery ultimately helps cool our tanks during fermentation; and a new technology system, allows the entire winemaking team to manage every step of the winemaking process in real-time and in great detail from anywhere. It’s the largest and most comprehensive system in the wine industry, helping us not only achieve the highest quality but also save us money and energy.
IC: What is special or unique about the Knights Valley wines?
RR: We like to call Knights Valley “Cabernet’s best-kept secret.” Beringer has been, and continues to be, a pioneer in Knights Valley, first establishing vineyards there in the mid-1960s. We were a key driver in garnering official recognition for the area as a premier wine growing region in the form of its own AVA designation in 1983. Located 17 miles north of our Napa Valley-based winery, in the northeastern corner of Sonoma County, our Knights Valley Vineyard features volcanic, well-drained soils that are perfect for growing high-quality wine. It’s largely farmland and wilderness, and, back in the day, it was home to a hunting lodge. The rocky soils there create a unique, high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon with flavors that are a bit “wilder” than the “refined” flavors of Napa Valley.
IC: What is your favorite part of the wine making process?
RR: I love the seasonality of winemaking. Growing grapes, making wine, blending, bottling – it’s all tied to the season. There are constants in the winemaking process like the vineyards, the style of wine I want to make, but it’s all the variables that the season gives us that intrigues me every year. The wines we make do reflect every vintage but it’s my job to highlight that and stay true to the vineyards I get to work with. The quality and beauty of Beringer’s vineyards are unlike any other, and I’m grateful to work in an environment with such a diversity of microclimates, terroir, and location – producing Napa Valley’s absolute best. Working in these vineyards each day gives me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create world class wines that are truly unique.
IC: Which wine makes the top of your list of favorite wines to drink, regularly, that Beringer produces and why?
RR: Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay. Our Private Reserve label is the pinnacle of our wines. Both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the very best wines we produce in each vintage. The chardonnay comes from our Oakville estate, Gamble Ranch. The vineyard is very mature, and each vine only produce a few clusters. The grapes express a rich yet elegant style of chardonnay with lots of acidity and complex flavors. It’s a classic style of chardonnay.
IC: Are there any special experiences or offerings Beringer has that people should partake in when visiting the vineyards?
RR: Visiting our property is an experience in itself! Not only is Beringer one of the most beautiful properties in California’s wine country, it’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The homes of both founding brothers, Frederick and Jacob Beringer, are the centerpiece. Frederick ‘s former residence, the Rhine House, is a beautiful German-inspired, 17- room mansion, exhibiting the fine, detailed craftsmanship of the period with beautiful exterior stonework, 26 stained- glass windows (the owl in the library room window is a must-see) and interior wood paneling. It’s where we do our special luxury tasting experiences such as the Veranda Tasting, Salon Tasting, and Single Vineyard Wine & Food Pairing Tasting. You can also enjoy a self-guided tour through our property including a visit to the historic gravity-flow winery and hand-dug caves, a walk through our demonstration vineyard, or enjoy quiet time in the garden by a one-of-a-kind fountain designed by renown Japanese American sculptor Ruth Asawa–dedicated in 1988 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the planting of the first grape vines in Napa Valley. If you’re looking for something more casual, I personally love the Beringer Backyard Social, a 90-minute experience with relaxing seating in Beringer’s Backyard, access to our Bocce Court, and a bottle of wine per every 4 guests, served with a charcuterie board.