Drew Winery is the leading producer of Pinot Noir in the Mendocino Ridge AVA, a unique elevation-based coastal growing area in California’s far northern coast. The winery is owned and operated by Jason and Molly Drew who founded their winery in 2000 and built their estate winery in 2005 on an old 26 acre apple orchard situated at 1250 ft. elevation and a mere 3.3 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Establishing a winery on this site was a daunting project, but the Drews were up to the challenge. Indeed, since then, their operation has grown steadily and successfully produced some of the finest cool climate Pinot Noirs in California. In this article, we review the exciting winemaking of Drew Winery in the Mendocino Ridge AVA.
Mendocino Ridge AVA
Mendocino Ridge is a coastal appellation, located directly west and southwest of Anderson Valley and north of the true Sonoma Coast. It is the westernmost AVA in Mendocino County with a series of ridges that run northwesterly along the coast. It is unique in that it is limited by elevation, including only vineyards at or above 1,200 feet. At this elevation vineyards benefit from long cool days, ocean breezes and mild evenings. Diurnal temperature swings are narrower than its inland AVA neighbors. The soils are of ancient oceanic sedimentary origin (ocean floor uplift) making for distinct mineral tones in the wines grown there. Harvests usually take place from late September to the middle of October. There are 18 scattered vineyards in the area with total plantings of roughly 400 acres. Much of the non-planted land is covered by Redwood and Douglas fir trees. There are just a handful of wineries located within the Mendocino Ridge AVA, producing wine from local vineyards as well as from the Anderson Valley AVA. In addition to Drew Winery, they include Baxter Winery and Philips Hill, which also craft outstanding Pinot Noirs. As in Anderson Valley, Pinot Noir has become the most common grape in the Mendocino Ridge AVA since the 1990s. Map: www.everyvine.com
Jason Drew was undoubtedly well-equipped to meet the many challenges he faced in building his winery. He spent quite a few years honing his skills in both farming and winemaking. After obtaining a graduate degree in Enology from the University of Adelaide in Australia, he worked in several California wineries alongside some of the state’s finest winemakers. In St. Supery he worked with Kirk Grace; at Joseph Phelps it was with Craig Wiliams. He also worked with John Konsgaard, Jeff Baker, Cathy Corison and Brian Babcock for a total of 29 years in the industry.
“From the very beginning, Jason notes, “There was pushback from local industry professionals that didn’t think we would be able to grow and ripen grapes this close to the coast. I can also speak of the concern I had of not being able to ripen or secure a decent enough yield. These are chances we were willing to take because we believed and had faith in the upshot and world class potential of the climate and soils for making [wine these] coastal wines.“
The Drew’s eight acre estate vineyard was planted in 2011 to California heritage field selections, suitcase selections, and several Dijon clones of Pinot Noir. They also planted one acre of Chardonnay in 2018 and a small truffle orchard in 2015. Faîte De Mer Farm is certified organic and a high proportion of the vineyard is dry-farmed. After 10 years of growing wine grapes on Faite de Mer Farm, the Drews have learned a lot about how the vines respond to farming and winemaking. “The cool, wet and windy conditions are challenges we contend with,” Jason asserts, “especially during flower. Hail often occurs in the springtime that can damage young shoots. Rain can also be challenging at the close of harvest when we are finishing our estate harvest as it pushes into the rainy season.”
In addition to developing Faite De Mer Farm, the Drews have leased and sourced grapes from several low-yielding Anderson Valley and Mendocino Ridge sites. These sites have been chosen for their climate, clonal selection, soil types and above all for their meticulous and sustainable farming practices. The more prominent ones include: Perli and Valenti Ranch in Mendocino Ridge and Wendling Vineyard, Morning Dew Ranch and Joshua’s Vineyard in Anderson Valley. For more information on these vineyards refer to IWR’s Report # Anderson Valley and its Wines.
Currently there are 5.5 acres of Pinot Noir and 2.5 acres of Chardonnay. The Drews will be planting another 2-3 acres of wine grapes in the near future. They also currently have 12 acres of heirloom apple varieties planted in the early 1960’s. The property is certified organic and a good portion of the vineyard is dry farmed. They create their own compost on the property with the help of a flock of sheep and two horses as well as recycling grape and apple waste.
The Drews are currently crafting Pinot Noirs, Syrahs, Chardonnay, and Albariño. Winemaking at Drew Winery is performed with traditional practices and minimal intervention. Gravity racking and foot stomping/ hand punchdowns with minimal new oak are utilized. Native yeast as well as native malolactic bacteria complete the fermentation. Whole clusters are added to the vats in fermenting most of the wines, the percentage mainly depending upon the vintage. The whole clusters help soften tannins and add complexity to the wines.
For this article, we reviewed 10 of Drew Winery’s current releases. Our reviews confirmed what we had anticipated, namely that Drew Winery is crafting some the finest Pinot Noirs in California and Jason Drew is arguably the leading winemaker in Anderson Valley and Mendocino Ridge. Jason is a meticulous winemaker both in the vineyard and the winery. He is rigorous in managing his own estate and highly discerning in his selection of others. He crafts his wines like a Burgundian vigneron while recognizing the special qualities of his California terroir. Tasting his wines blind, we looked for and found unique expressions of the terroir in each bottling, the mark of a brilliant winemaker.
Drew Winery only produces about 2,500 cases annually. The wines are sold on the winery’s website www.drewwines.com and through selected restaurants and wholesale partners. They are also sold at the winery’s tasting room at 9000 Hwy 128 in Philo in Anderson Valley. The hours are Thursday – Monday 11:00-5:00). We recommend readers join the Drew Winery mailing list and the Pre-Release Wine Club to be notified about new releases. Wines sell out quickly.
Drew’s Faîte de Mer Vineyard
Drew Family Cellars 2018 Chardonnay Bahl Briney Anderson Anderson Valley ($32) 94 Chardonnay Bahl Briney Anderson is a blend of grapes from Valenti Ranch and Clow Ridge Vineyard, both in Anderson Valley. It is beautiful wine offering aromas and flavors of Meyer lemon, sage, dusty minerals and light tropical fruit notes. Aged 11 months in French oak, it is perfectly balanced and reveals excellent acidity, overall freshness and an attractive finish. Very fine.
Drew Family Cellars 2018 GSM Field Blend Mendocino Ridge ($32) 94 The GSM Field Blend consists of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre sourced from a 1 acre block on the Valenti Ranch. Dark ruby purple in color, it displays an earthy nose with hints of boysenberry, dark plum and cherry. Fermented with 50% whole clusters, it is soft and round on the palate, silky smooth, with concentrated dark fruit flavors, firm round tannins, and a long finish. Give this one time in the glass to show all of its attributes.
Drew Family Cellars 2018 Pinot Noir Estate Mid Slope Mendocino Ridge ($70) 96 The Pinot Noir Estate Mid Slope is a reserve bottling and given extra time in barrel for an elevage of 19 months. It reveals lovely dark cherry plum aromas and flavors and is soft and round on the palate. It’s a beautiful wine with a cool climate character, fresh and lively with 85% whole clusters and 25% new French barrels. There’s a wild element to the wine with prominent pine pitch notes. Complex and interesting.
Drew Family Cellars 2018 Pinot Noir Estate Field-Selection Mendocino Ridge ($60) 96 The Estate Field-Selection displays a dark ruby color and aromas of pure black cherry, sage and mint. Fermented with 80% whole clusters, it is a complex wine with layers of pure flavor and a wild pitch element that make this wine very appealing. Our favorite of the tasting.
Drew Family Cellars 2018 Pinot Noir Fog-Eater Anderson Valley ($45) 95 Medium ruby. Notes of tart dried cherry and a pure incisive scent of kirsch with a hint of sage. Soft on entry, suave and broad on the palate with a lovely silky texture but with layers of flavors, some non-fruit notes but not overtly earthy. Finishes more savory than fruity. Excellent complexity and ageability, but ready to enjoy now. A complex and delicious wine with notable purity.
Drew Family Cellars 2019 Pinot Noir Mid-Elevation Mendociino Ridge ($32) 94 Medium red in color with a floral and fruit-forward character showing red cherry and raspberry on the nose. Soft and elegant on the palate with a firm backbone, it reveals hints of earthiness with suave tannins and has a lovely persistent finish. A blend of Faite De Mer Farm and the Valenti Ranch, two coastal ridges of Western Mendocino county.
Drew Family Cellars 2018 Pinot Noir Morning Dew Ranch Anderson Valley($70) 96 The Pinot Noir Morning Dew Ranch exhibits a medium ruby color with savory aromas and flavors of dried cherry and plum. It is mouth filling on the attack with good concentration and focus. It is a lovely blend of dark red fruit and herbal/earthy elements. Most notable is its outstanding purity, balance and freshness.
Drew Family Cellars 2018 Pinot Noir Wendling Vineyard Anderson Valley ($70) 96 Lovely dark cherry plum and pomegranate aromas and flavors. Soft and round on the palate, fresh and lively with a hint of savory herbs and pepper on the nose. Softly textured with lovely, friendly flavors and a mouth-filling character. Good extract on a very long finish. One of the finest vineyards in Anderson Valley. Superb.
Drew Family Cellars 2018 Syrah Perli Ranch Mendocino Ridge ($50) 93 Dark ruby purple showing sage and dark berries on the nose. Very soft and broad on the palate and mouth filling in all respects with high acidity balancing the rich Syrah flavors. The soft texture persists on a long, dark flavored finish. A cool climate Syrah from a 33 year old vineyard of shale, fractured sandstone and rhyolite, co-fermented with 5% Viognier.
Drew Family Cellars 2018 Syrah Valenti Ranch Mendociino Ridge ($55) 94 Opaque dark ruby. This cool climate Syrah has a somewhat reticent and savory nose showing the essence of dark berries and loam. Big on the attack and packed with dark fruit; complex and rich with excellent mouth filling character. Refined tannins and a long, pure finish. Elevage 15 months. 5% cofermented with Viognier.