Connor McMahon was plowing through college in rural Iowa when his father poured him a glass of wine. Maybe at age 20 it wasn’t his first alcoholic beverage, but this was his first wine — and not just any wine. It was Chateau Beaucastel, one of the greatest wines in Chateauneuf du Pape.
McMahon was hooked. He took a summer job for a wine retailer during his last two summers of college. One day the owner suggested they taste some Rhone wines together. He doubted anything could live up to Chateau Beaucastel, but he was willing to indulge his boss. The wines were from Paso Robles and McMahon was hooked again — on Rhone varietals made in Paso Robles.
“The density and complexity are what I fell in love with,” he said.
McMahon moved to Paso Robles in 2011 and for six years worked at Booker, a historic producer whose grenache and syrahs were legendary. While there he bought 100 acres adjacent to Booker and sold the grapes to Booker who bottled the wine with McMahon’s label: Fulldraw.
“Fulldraw” is an archery term that defines the point when the archer has fully drawn his bow.
“Growing up in Iowa we had to find different was to get competitive with friends,” McMahon said. “We shot bow semi-competitively. It was an individual challenge much like wine.”
His crush on Rhone wine came full circle in 2016 when he launched his own brand with the release of three wines under the Fulldraw label. He lives on the property with his wife, Rebecca, and their two children.
We’ve had a lot of grenache, syrah and mourvedre from Paso Robles, but few have impressed us as much as those from Fulldraw in the Willow Creek District AVA.
The limestone soil and maritime influence in The Templeton Gap of west side Paso Robles are ideal for McMahon’s dream grapes. The harvest season’s diurnal shift in temperatures range from 45 degrees at night to as much as 100 during the day. Late afternoon winds from the Pacific Ocean allow the grapes to recover from heat stress and retain their natural acidity.
When we noted his grenache is much different than the simple versions we have tasted from the region, McMahon laughed.
“We don’t make wimpy grenache,” he said.
Indeed, the 2019 Hard Point Grenache ($90) was firm, delicious and age worthy. Chateau Beaucastel, take note.
McMahon is focused on quality and his prices show that. He reduces clusters per vine and as a result gets just three tons of fruit per acre. That’s the key to making these wines so intense.
“I want a ‘wow’ factor and I want a wine that can be cellared for 12 years,” he said.
His annual production is just 2,000 cases and most of the wine is sold through his website. FD2 and Chopping Block are available nationally. The others are available on Fulldraw’s website.
Fulldraw FD2 2018 ($55). There is more in this bottle than just the appeal of a very attractive label. A delicious but sturdy blend of 60% grenache and 40% syrah, it reminded us of many wines we have recently enjoyed from the Rhone Valley. Fresh and juicy strawberry and raspberry flavors burst from the grenache component while the syrah comes behind with body and texture. It has instant appeal but the fine tannins indicate it will get even better with age.
Fulldraw Chopping Block 2019 ($90). The artwork for this label was inspired by a cleaver nestled firmly in a chopping block, a mainstay in the couple’s kitchen. Heaven knows what they are making that requires a cleaver, but it is a beautiful label and an even better wine. A blend of syrah, grenache and mouvedre, it has lively, intense dark and red fruit character with fine tannins and a long finish.
This is an exciting, tasty blend of 80% clairette blanche and 20% grenache blanc. Clairette blanche is an ancient grape widely planted in southern France. You might not recognize it because it is often blended, but here it is the star of this terrific wine. McMahon said he was blown away with clairette after tasting it while honeymooning in Chateauneuf du Pape.
National Wine Day recently passed with indication that Americans will be drinking anything but.
Data is consistently showing consumption is on the decline, not just in the United States but in France, the epicenter for wine production. Red wine consumption in France plunged by 32% over the last decade. Particularly hit hard was the 18-to-35 age group.
The decline was attributed to less consumption of red meat and an increase in households with single parents who did not want to drink alone — reasons that seem odd to us. More likely, people are turning to alternative beverages.
The trend has compelled growers to rip up vines. In just Bordeaux, producers are suggesting a reduction of 10% and they want the French government to compensate them at a rate of more than $10,000 per acre. They also want to destroy unsold stock to push up prices.
The only region seeing growth is Burgundy, which is because wine producers had to reach into their stocks to make up for production dampened by 2021 frost.
In the United States, wine sales are flat and in some categories it is declining — certainly not according to our personal consumption.
Macan Clasico Rioja 2018 ($60). A collaboration between Rothschild and Vega Sicilia, this approachable tempranillo shows off fresh red and dark fruit flavors and moderate tannins. It needs to be decanted to reveal the many nuances.
Villa Robles Mistral Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 ($25). This tasty chardonnay from southern Monterey has a creamy mouthfeel and notes of apples and mango with a hint of vanilla.
MacRostie Nightwing Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 ($48). This nicely textured, single-vineyard chardonnay has citrus aromas and flavors with hints of vanilla and mango. The producer’s 2020 Sonoma Coast chardonnay ($28) is also delightful with its big acidity and apple and pear notes.
Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have been writing a weekly, syndicated wine column since 1985. See their blog at moreaboutwine.com. They can be reached at email@example.com.