Walking through the apple orchard with Molly Drew on a balmy coastal day to see where the new vineyard will be planted, I was reminded of my own family’s arrival on the Mendocino coast in 1975. It felt reassuring (and a little nostalgic) to see the next generation of enterprising young people moving here to raise their families.
As she tells me about their living and working on this beautiful spot on Greenwood Ridge, five Babydoll sheep graze under the apple trees. “Lamb mowers,” we laugh. “They are descended from a heritage breed in the South Down hills in Sussex,” Molly says. The sheep are known to work well in berry farms and orchards.
She waves to her sons, ten-year old Owen and seven-year old Aidan, who yell they are running off to play with the neighbors. A yellow lab named Boggs and a Corgi named Grizzly follow us to the vegetable garden. Tomatoes are still ripening. Beans and squash are on their vines and an herb garden blooms.
We turn toward the barn. On the bottom level is the Drew Family Winery. From the deck on their upstairs home, on a clear day you can see the ocean three miles away. Husband and winery partner Jason is just finishing pressing white albarino and viognier grapes. The air is thick with the heady sweet aroma of grape juice and apples in crates.
Molly and Jason look each other in the eyes when they talk about their place. They purchased this 26 acres from Stuart Beck, who has the Greenwood Gold apple juice brand. The orchard was established in 1960. “Part of the charm of the ranch is the apple trees,” says Molly. “They give privacy and I love the sheer beauty of them.” The apples are sold to Knudsen, The Apple Farm & Germain Robin.
Although they both attended Los Altos High School on the Peninsula Molly and Jason didn’t get together until after college. Jason, 40, with intense blue eyes and a premature gray goatee, wears a Navarro Vineyards T-shirt, baseball cap, and has been serious about wine since his college days in the 1990s. “I went to UC Santa Cruz and did a stint at St. Supery winery in Napa Valley,” he says. He got his degree in Agro-Ecology and then moved toward wine. “I became captivated,” he remembers.
For the next 18 years Jason translated his captivation into “completing the circle of wine.” In 1996 he and Molly got married and moved to Anderson Valley where he was vineyard manager at Navarro Vineyards.
“I wanted to get more serious in the wine arena,” he says. He and Molly moved to Australia where Jason got a graduate degree in oenology at the University of Adelaide. They lived there for one and a half years.
Their first son Owen was born in Australia. Afterward they moved back to California where Jason went to work for world class wineries including Phelps and Corison in Napa Valley. Next, they moved to Santa Barbara where Jason spent five years at Babcock Vineyards and got hooked on syrah and pinot noir wines. He and Molly, who was a social worker, launched the Drew label in 2000. They focused on syrah and pinot noir from the central coastal region.
“We wanted to buy land,” says Jason, “but our home is northern California and we had lived in Anderson Valley which is prime ag land for pinot noir.” They found this California Certified Organic property in 2004. There was a little school in Elk that was just right for now two sons. “And the closest neighbors had kids, which was a bonus,” says Molly.
For most of 2005, four Drews lived in a silver Bambi Air Stream trailer while building the barn. They bathed the boys in the plastic grape bins and fortunately had hot water to fill them up. “Sometimes we would fill one of the giant galvanized bins with water and just soak in it after a hard day,” Molly says, adding that the best moment of that year was when the washer and dryer were delivered.
In addition to building the barn-winery-home Molly and Jason also did their first crush. They had to move all their winery equipment from Santa Barbara and work around the construction site at the same time they were making wine.
They still bring up some grapes from Santa Barbara, says Jason. “We started down there and this pinot noir we get is so good, we’d be fools to let it go.” The grapes come from a two acre section of Pinot Noir from Rio Vista vineyard located in the Santa Rita Hills which Drew has been sourcing from since their first crush.
“We are making the transition to Mendocino County grapes,” says Jason. He is proud of the local vineyard contracts he’s latched onto over the last four years. He explains that you can’t underestimate doing your homework when it comes to contracting for good grapes. “I like to find out about their farming techniques and to meet the grower,” he says. “If I like the energy and philosophy of the vineyard manager and the taste of the fruit, that’s who I want to buy grapes from.”
He’s delighted with his Mendocino sources for pinot noir and syrah. He makes a pinot noir grown at Weir Vineyard in Yorkville Highlands. And he uses the Boontling term “Fog Eater” (which refers to those from the coast) for pinot noir made from other Anderson Valley vineyards including Monument Tree, which is about 14 miles from the ocean. Drew’s Syrah comes from Broken Leg Vineyard on the northwest side of Anderson Valley and the Ridgeline label comes from two Vineyards from Mendocino Ridge appellation.
Drew makes a total of 2000 cases of wine, ninety percent is pinot noir and ten percent syrah. The white albarino is new and he’ll make about 100 cases this year. The grape is native to Galicia in Spain where the climate and proximity to the coast are similar to Mendocino. Jason calls albarino a “wonderfully vibrant and aromatic wine.” And Molly’s eyes light up at the prospect of albarino
The launch of Drew in 2000 is the culmination of Jason’s years of experience, dedication and dream of doing it his way completely. At the Drew’s idyllic spot three miles from the Pacific, they are often above the fog that just comes up and wraps around this knoll. It’s never too hot and doesn’t experience the diurnal temperature swings you get in Anderson Valley which minimizes the need for frost protection. Jason and Molly will be planting pinot noir grapes in the cleared acreage next spring. They will raise their children, apples, animals, grapes and garden and live a lifestyle that is both integrated into the community and their natural environment.
TASTING NOTES: The 2006 Drew Fog-Eater Anderson Valley Pinot Noir has bright dark cherry aromas and an excellent balance of fruit and oak. I loved it with roasted garlicky potatoes and can’t wait to try it on a cool evening with Swiss Raclette (broiled Raclette cheese on boiled potatoes).