It would be difficult, actually impossible, to chronicle the history of wine in Paso Robles and not include Peachy Canyon.
You’d be hard-pressed to not include the iconic zinfandel house, started by Doug and Nancy Beckett back in 1988, on the Mount Rushmore of the Paso Robles AVA.
The Becketts built Peachy Canyon from the ground up and after 30 years are ready to pass the legacy on to their sons, Josh and Jake.
Doug takes great pride in that legacy, knowing full well that not everyone succeeds.
“Peachy is still a family winery, we are one of the only truly family wineries in California,” Doug said. “And we make a living at this. We created the opportunity.”
An invitation-only celebration of their 30 years in operation was held in July.
Peachy Canyon is a sustainable winery in Paso’s westside, technically the Adelaida District, but the Becketts prefer to pay homage to their roots and use the former on their label.
Beckett wrote a proposal to recognize the distinctive character of the soil and climate on the westside of Highway 46, but it was defeated. Later the AVA was divided into 11 sub-regions.
When the Becketts first moved to Paso Robles, their house was on Peachy Canyon Road in Peachy Canyon. The area and the winery draws their name from an infamous horse thief, Peachy, who tried to elude capture by hiding in a cave near the vineyard. Peachy was ultimately caught and hung in town.
The winery has four estate vineyards, totaling over 100 acres, and also sources grapes from other growers in the Paso Robles AVA. The Old School House Vineyard, located within the county’s Templeton Gap, was purchased in 1998. The property’s landmark attraction, a school house, was built around 1886 and now serves as the winery’s only public tasting room.
Their other vineyards include Snow, Mustang Springs Ranch and Mustard Creek.
Today, Peachy Canyon produces over 50,000 cases a year and 23 different wines, including 10 different Zinfandels, many of which are vineyard designates.
Today, Peachy Canyon wines are currently sold in 48 states, Europe, the Pacific Rim and Canada. The senior Becketts now run the daily operations along with their sons and partners Jake and Josh.
Zinfandel is their claim to fame. In 1991 and 1992, their Westside Zinfandel landed on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines lists.
“Spectator opened up the world for us,” Doug said.
Move to Central Coast
The Becketts, who are both college graduates, brought their young surfer sons from San Diego to Paso Robles back in 1982 when they bought a walnut farm in the area. Leaving San Diego was not easy, but it was something the couple felt they needed to do in order to raise their children in the country.
“It was really home,” Doug said of San Diego. “It was at a time when I had a real fear, and Nancy had a real fear, of losing one or both of our boys to the community, to the streets.”
Peachy Canyon begins
While enjoying their new surroundings, the Beckets met hobby winemaker Pat Wheeler, who had a garage-based winery under the label Tobias producing 100 cases a year.
“I went over to help him with bottling, and one thing led to another and we decided to form a partnership,” Doug said. “I would be the business side and he would teach me how to make wine.”
The Becketts enjoyed their new venture, but the other Paso Robles wineries, seven at the time, “had trouble accepting Tobias as a legit winery,” Doug said.
Even though, Tobias helped get the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance going and poured at the first-ever Paso Robles wine festival, “We still were on the edge,” Doug said.
No matter, the Becketts were hooked, but were ready to do their own thing. After breaking away from Wheeler, the Becketts moved all of the winemaking equipment from Wheeler’s garage to their farm near Peachy Canyon Road.
Peachy Canyon officially launched in 1988 with just a few hundred cases with Doug as the winemaker. In 1990, Doug struck a deal with an up-and-coming young winemaker from Ohio — Tobin “Toby” James.
“He was this rookie kid … but he had a real gift for wine,” Doug said. “He wanted to start his label and I was starting mine, so we decided ‘OK, I’ll help you, you help me. We’ll do Tobin James here and we’ll do Peachy Canyon here.’ He certainly had more talent than I did.
“That was sort of our beginning,” Doug said.
James went on to start Tobin James Cellars and opened the door for Robert Nadeau to takeover the winemaking reins at Peachy Canyon for a few years before starting his own label — Nadeau Family Vintners.
“Zin was the first grape that I could get my hands on,” Doug said. “It was the only grape that Pat Wheeler was making when we joined forces. His source was Benito Dusi, old-vine Zinfandel, delicious.”
Dusi, at the time, was doing most of his work with Ridge Vineyards, but helped Doug when he started Peachy Canyon.
“It became a real love affair with Zin,” Doug said, adding that the second grape he bought was Petite Sirah, which gave the Zinfandel color, complexity and depth. “Some people say Zin is scary. I think Zins a no-brainer, crush it, ferment it, squeeze it, put it in a bottle and you are on your way.”
As Peachy Canyon’s Zinfandel success grew, they were able to purchase vineyards and today produce vineyard designates.
“I take a lot of pride in acknowledging that I think we are the best in the area,” Doug said.
Their latest project, the Davis block, was started 15 years ago as a collaboration with University of California, Davis. They collected bud wood throughout the state from only vineyards “that were certified to be over 100 years old,” Doug said. Peachy Canyon was one of three to get the wood.
“2015 was the first release of the Davis Block, $85 a bottle, it sold out in 10 minutes,” Doug said. “We just doubled our production, we are up to 50 cases. That is the max we will get. Last year was our first crop in 8 years, we have been working on it that long. We just never got enough fruit to where we thought we could make a nice wine.”
About 20 years ago, the winemaking operation was moved to an old abandoned winery on Nacimiento Lake Drive in Paso Robles and the vineyard was replanted. The Peachy Canyon Tasting Room is open seven-days a week on North Bethel Road in Templeton.
Today, Peachy Canyon’s winemaker is Robert Henson, who came over from Tooth and Nail Winery in 2015. At one point, Peachy produced 100,000 cases of wine a year, but tapered back to 50,000.
The winery is 100 percent sustainable, 100 percent solar and have their own wells.
“This is our footprint,” Doug said. “We try to keep it clean. We try to keep it as something that people would like to emulate.”
Doug and Nancy still head the winery and their sons also play a big part in the family business. Josh and Jake started the successful Chronic Cellars label and sold it to Winery Exchange in 2014. Over the years, both worked at Peachy Canyon, Josh as winemaker and Jake on the sales side of the business.
Josh and Jake are poised to take over the day-to-day operations of Peachy Canyon.
“Our plan is for them next year to come and take over ownership as well as management,” said Doug, who is in his 70s. “I’m really ready to phase out.”
But not totally.
“Not on the PR side,” Doug said. “I’ll go all over the world for the brand.”
Peachy Canyon’s story is important to the Becketts.
“I want to perpetuate that story — of the family, of the marriage that lasted through all of this, the kids who are great businessmen and great winemakers, and their really cool husbands and great dads, and so the goal is for them to come in,” Doug said.
PHOTO: Doug and Nancy Beckett started Peachy Canyon Winery back in 1988 and are ready to pass the torch to their sons, Josh and Jake. The winery is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. (Photos courtesy of Peachy Canyon Winery)