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Winemaker to watch: Jason Drew
Less is more to Jason Drew. Quite Literally. He's willing to give up big flavors and sugar in his Pinot Noir grapes in order to get more structure and acidity from careful farming.
Drew wines like the 2007 Fog Eater are packed with intense red-fruit flavors and earthy accents, without topping 14 percent alcohol. Yet this isn't about alcohol levels. Drew believes that low-yielding grapes at modest ripeness best express Pinot's complicated nature.
"I think structure is almost more important to me than richness," Drew says. This sensibility is borne out in most wines from the Drew label, run out of the tiny town of Elk (Mendocino County) by Drew and his wife, Molly.
Drew, 42, went to high school in Los Altos, where he met (and briefly dated) Molly. Through the 1980s he worked summers at a 6-acre vineyard in Napa Valley's Stags Leap District owned by family members before going to UC Santa Cruz for environmental studies. The couple reconnected during his last year of college. After school, he installed vineyards and did organic farming for the Carmenet label, and by 1996 he wound up in Anderson Valley at Navarro Vineyards. Then he and Molly headed to Adelaide, Australia, where Jason studied winemaking.
They returned in 1998 with a newborn son, and Drew carved a path through Napa, working for Joseph Phelps, Luna Vineyards (with John Kongsgaard) and Corison. Then he got a call from Babcock, in Lompoc (Santa Barbara County). The family packed up and moved to the Santa Rita Hills for the next five years, where Drew worked as associate winemaker, refining an appreciation for Pinot Noir.
Drew sensed the southern Central Coast wasn't quite right for him: "The toughest thing for me when I was down there was to make a wine that had restraint." So he and Molly turned their attention north. In 2004, they found an old 26-acre apple orchard on a 1,200-foot-elevation ridgetop in Elk, less than four miles from the ocean. "It was just one of these moments when you're walking through a piece of property and it feels right and the energy was right, and the dirt and the climate and the air," Drew says.
They settled in the Mendocino hills and built a redwood barn that served as their combined winery and house. Drew began buying Pinot Noir and Syrah from a mix of Mendocino sites, some known (Savoy) but many obscure, like the Valenti and Balo sites that compose the Fog Eater. These emerging sites gave Drew the chance to pick earlier and craft wines that harken back to Anderson Valley's original red-fruited style.
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