January 27, 2014

Andrew Beckham balances teaching with winemaking

A history and art major combines his passions as an educator—and winemaker.

Andrew Beckham (BA, MAT. ’01) sculpted a career by merging his three passions: history, pottery, and education. He teaches ceramics at Beaverton High School and owns Beckham Estate Vineyard, where he ferments Pinot Noir using ancient methods in handcrafted terracotta amphorae.

Pottery became a hobby for Beckham in high school. He loaded up on ceramics classes while pursuing his history degree at Lewis & Clark, and stayed an extra semester to earn a double major. He moved to Park City, Utah after graduation, tuning skis at Park City Mountain Resort for extra cash while showing pieces at galleries on Main Street. For five years he worked as studio manager and ceramics teacher at the Kimball Arts Center. He said, “That’s where I discovered I loved sharing my passion with others.”

He enrolled in Lewis & Clark’s MAT program with a focus on art with a goal of becoming a full-time ceramics teacher. In the early 2000s he landed the job at Beaverton, where he teaches one of the school’s most popular electives—550 students signed up for his classes this year. They come for the individualized instruction and plenty of hours on the potter’s wheel. “There’s a lot of room for personal exploration,” Beckham said. “I’ve tried to set it up so the kids focus on their own strengths.”

He began showing work at a local gallery and looked with his wife for a space to practice his passion. They found eight acres in the Chehalem Mountains in February of 2005, with neighbors who grew Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. One day, Beckham rode home with them in a truck full of vine clippings and told his wife Annedria, “we should plant wine grapes.” They established Beckham Estate Vineyard, and ever since have cultivated six and a half acres of Pommard, Wadenswil, and Dijon vines for Pinot Noir. In place of barrels, Beckham ages some of the wine in amphorae, first used on the Phoenician coast around 3500 BC. He molds each vessel on a standard potter’s wheel, a process that takes two weeks. His 40 to 60 gallon jars weigh 250 pounds when wet. He allows three months for drying, and 40 hours for firing.

For the two months it takes to harvest and crush his grapes, Beckham works at the vineyard from 3:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., teaches from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and returns to the field from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. He only sleeps for three to four hours, but the opportunity to unite his passions makes it all worthwhile. “I’ve been able to use my history and art major in a practical sense, he said, “which used to seem impossible.”

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