SF Wine Blog

Exploring wine in and around San Francisco.


Winery Profile: Drew Family Wines

Drew Family Wines

Drew Wines Tasting Room
9000 Highway 128
Philo, California

Hours:  Thursday – Monday, 11am – 5pm

Back in December, the SF Chronicle’s Jon Bonné wrote a glowing story of a small Anderson Valley winery,  Drew Family Wines, making well-structured, cool climate pinot noirs and syrahs.  I’ve had a print out of that article on my coffee table ever since, hoping to find an opportunity to try these wines.  Luckily, that day came over Memorial Day weekend, and the wines did more than just live up to the hype — they were the highlight of a day of tasting in Anderson Valley.

Drew Family Wines is run by Jason Drew and his wife Molly, natives of Los Altos, California. Having worked in Napa and Anderson Valley wineries, Jason left for Australia to continue studying winemaking.   After returning to the U.S., Jason began working for Babcock Winery & Vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills as their associate winemaker.  In 2000, he started producing wines under his own label, too, sourcing mainly from the surrounding areas.

But Jason and Molly wanted to go in another direction, and they started exploring sites in Northern California for a winery and a vineyard.  Jason had previously worked with Navarro Vineyards in the Anderson Valley, so the Mendocino area became part of that search.  In 2004, the Drews found their ideal location:  they purchased an old apple orchard in Elk, just south of Mendocino Village, and close to the coast.  This rugged terrain became their new home, and they’ve planted some pinot which will someday become part of an estate-bottled wine.  You can sense the excitement from Jason as he talks about this venture, and I’m sure that first vintage will be very special for both Jason and Molly.

The move north has resulted in many accolades for Drew Family Wines and their Mendocino / Anderson Valley sourced pinot noirs and syrahs.  In 2009, Drew was named a “winery of the year” by Wine and Spirits Magazine.  And as I mentioned earlier, that same year the San Francisco Chronicle identified Jason as a “winemaker to watch” and PinotFile called him “A star in the making.”

Drew Tasting Room

Now, consumers can taste these wines on their way through Anderson Valley.  In mid-May 2010, Drew opened a small tasting room space just past Goldeneye Winery.  They’ve decorated the space with great pictures of their wine adventures, including a priceless shot of their son taking a “swim” in a fermenting bin.  This is not an elaborate tasting room, and the soft pink, mission-style building seems a bit disconnected from the character of the wines.  These earthy pinot noirs and syrahs would probably be more at home in a weathered, dark-wood barn looking out over rolling hills.  [Yes, I know it may be an odd to think about the type of “house” a wine would buy if it were in need of a residence, but these wines have serious character.]  But putting architectural aesthetics aside — the quality of wines makes this tasting room a required stop during any trip to Anderson Valley.  And given the small production, a visit to Drew is your best bet for finding (and securing) a few bottles of these exceptional wines.

I’m a big fan of what Jason and Molly are doing.  They’ve got a clear vision of the types of wines they want to make, have taken some risks along the way, and are executing their plan flawlessly.  Please do stop by their tasting room when you’re up in the Anderson Valley — you won’t be disappointed.

WHAT I BOUGHT: Always a tough decision on how much wines to bring back, but I demonstrated tremendous restraint and limited myself to four bottles.  I have a return trip to the area in July, and am likely to pick up a few extra bottles during that excursion.

  1. 2008 Drew Valenti Vineyards Pinot Noir (Mendocino Ridge) – $36 (362 Cases):  A really fresh and tasty pinot noir, but a lot more restrained than the ripe pinots from the Russian River Valley.  This wine has great style, with enough tannins to make it a food-friendly wine, but not so much as to keep you from enjoying the balanced cherry-and-earth flavors (though note that the winery recommends cellaring or decanting).
  2. 2007 Drew Valenti Vineyards Syrah (Anderson Valley) – $30 (100 Cases):  Ridiculously small production from a difficult vineyard site, but wow was it worth it.  This is a mouth-wateringly good syrah that sent me into wine-tasting nirvana.  One sip of this wild, lively, structured wine conjured up images of a hearty lamb shank dinner.  I couldn’t believe the price point, and took home two bottles.  The other folks in the tasting room also picked up a bottle of this wine after tasting it, with no hard sell by either me or Jason — this wine just sells itself.
  3. 2006 Drew Broken Leg Vineyards Syrah (Anderson Valley) – $35 (115 cases) :  I tried the Drew 2007 Broken Leg Syrah, which was delicious, but needed some time to settle down.  Having had great experience with this vineyard before (A Donkey and Goat Winery also makes a fantastic syrah from this vineyard), I took Jason’s recommendation, and brought  home a bottle of the ’06 vintage.  I’m looking forward to opening this up at a later date, and will update this post when I do.  For now, here’s what the winery say about this bottle:

“The nose is generous with aromas of violets, white chocolate and blueberries. The flavors have seductive and wild fruits with the aromas with black cherries and raspberries. The structure is aligned and very cellar worthy.”
[please excuse me as I wipe the drool off my chin].

WHERE TO FIND IN SF: Drew seems to have limited distribution in SF retail stores, but much wider restaurant distribution.  Here are some place to try these wines in the city (and the quality of the restaurants below should probably tip you off that this is some seriously good juice):

  • Bacar
  • Epic Roasthouse
  • Foreign Cinema
  • Gary Danko (!!!)
  • Range

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NYT: Mixing Fine Art and Fine Wine

Next Stop – Mixing Fine Art and Fine Wine in California – NYTimes.com.

The New York Times Travel Section explores Napa, and likes what it sees.  I’ve got to agree:  exploring art & wine during a trip to Sonoma or Napa can be a winning combination.  But I may opt for keeping those worlds separate:  I’ve generally found (with a few exceptions) that the more elaborate the tasting room, the lower the quality of the wine itself.  That being said, this general rule of thumb probably won’t hold me back from checking out the Ansel Adams gallery at Mumm next time I’m in Napa.

Bottom line:  when I pick a tasting room to visit, I try figure out if I’m going (a) for the setting (i.e., vineyard views); (b) for the frills (art, sculptures, architecture, picnic area.) or (c) for the wine itself.   Any of the above are good reasons to make it a destination, but knowing what you want out of the visit will allow you to appropriately set expectations.

[Oh, and–ps– its also fun just to stumble into a place you’ve never heard of without expectations.  Leads to some very happy surprises and a chance to find some random gems!]

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JC Cellars Tasting Room (Oakland)

JC Cellars logoRight now you’re scratching your head.  Wine?  In Oakland? Seriously?

Seriously.  JC Cellars has been pumping out 90+ point wines for many years, sourcing from some pretty interesting vineyards, and doing it all a short BART ride from SF.  And one of their wines (2005 JC Cellars The Imposter (Red Blend)) made it into Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of the Year in 2007.

Started by Jeff Cohn, the former wine maker at Rosenblum, JC Cellars sources grapes from some really expressive vineyards from all around California.  Jeff has a pretty broad portfolio, but he focuses mainly on rhone varietals.  His syrahs are among my favorites, and he has some fantastic red blends (which I refer to as Jeff’s Mad Scientist blends).  Because of the broad portfolio, a tasting at JC Cellars is always a great experience — you’ll invariably have something you’ve never tried before.

Before you go, you should be prepared:  don’t expect some elegant Sonoma or Napa tasting room.  This is a warehouse. But what it may lack in ambiance, it makes up for in an engaging and knowledgeable staff.  Over the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of having Angela, Brian, and Sabrina behind the bar, and they’re just fantastic people.  And as a kicker: more often than not, Jeff will be there doing his thing.

Another reason to support this winery:  Jeff is a great guy.  He has fun with his wines, and his enthusiasm is infectious.  He’s tremendously approachable and warm–and he makes some killer wines to boot.

I’m in the JC Cellars Wine Club, so doesn’t make much sense for me to write down what I’ve bought.  But here’s a list of some of my favorites of their current releases:

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Sojourn Wine Cellars (Sonoma)

Sojourn Cellars tasting roomJust off the main square in the City of Sonoma, I stumbled upon a little bungalow that houses the Sojourn Cellars tasting room.  Sojourn’s 2007 Sonoma Coast Gaps Crown Pinot Noir had received great ratings from Wine Spectator, and I had no idea they had a tasting room in Sonoma.

Although tastings are by appointment only, I walked in randomly, and it so happened that they had a spot available.  I’m really happy they could squeeze me in, as Sojourn has created a very comfortable and different tasting room experience.  First, they limit the number of people, meaning more time for questions.  Second, they sit you down at a long table, and pour out four of their pinots side-by-side, giving you a perfect chance to taste most f the wines in their  portfolio.  And they topped that off by pouring a few of their Cabs (which were tasty, but drank a bit more like a zin than a cab).  Finally, one of their assistant wine makers hosted the tasting, and deftly answered questions about the winery and the vineyards they source from.

Knowledgeable staff, laid back setting, and tasty 90+point wines — what’s there not to love about that combination?

Rating:  4/5

What I bought: