by Andrew Chalk
The California wine region of Paso Robles is producing better wines year by year and one reason is that new wineries are sprouting up all over it. One such newcomer is Fulldraw Vineyard, which produced its first vintage in 2016, and this week came to Dallas to offer new and existing customers tastings of their wines. Much more detail is below, but if you want to try their wine order from the web site as they focus on direct-to-consumer sales.
FROM THE WIRES…
Since the first vintage in 2016, Fulldraw Vineyard has emerged as a leading family grower and producer of Rhône varietal wines in Paso Robles. Located on the west side of the Paso Robles Willow Creek District AVA/Templeton Gap area on California’s Central Coast, Fulldraw is owned by husband-and-wife team Connor and Rebecca McMahon, whose 100-acre limestone-laden vineyard site sits in one of the best wine neighborhoods in the region. Here, the duo has harnessed agriculture, ambition, art and family values, dedicating their lives to the sustainable cultivation of Rhône varieties and to raising their young family amongst the estate’s rolling vineyards.
In archery, the term fulldraw refers to the point in a shot when the archer has fully drawn the bow to its maximum point with tension, balance and precision as one aims for the target. For the McMahons, this sense of focus and determination inspires the way they approach every aspect of life and work. Only the most attentive care and intention goes into the wine that Fulldraw produces, from the use of organic and regenerative farming practices to working with site-specific clonal selections, small yields, gentle handling and meticulous blending, capturing the distinctive characteristics of the estate in each bottle. The Fulldraw wines are the couple’s personal reflection of beauty and ambition from vine to bottle, with each bottle showcasing artwork captured by Rebecca McMahon or inspired by personal friends and family. Fulldraw’s Grenache has attracted the attention of some of California’s most esteemed producers, such as TOR Wines and Vice Versa Wines from the Napa Valley, among a handful of other top producers in the Paso Robles region including Riise Wines, Herman Story Wines and LEVO Wine. Fulldraw’s highly sought-after wines are a definitive reflection of the McMahons’ uncompromising pursuit of excellence.
Connor and Rebecca are supported in the cellar, market and tasting room by Assistant Winemaker Gary Irvin, who is key to the winery’s success and vision and considers Fulldraw his extended home.
For winemaker and owner Connor McMahon, the Fulldraw story first took root thousands of miles away from Paso Robles, amongst the corn fields and pig farms surrounding his hometown of Fairfield, Iowa. Growing up, Connor spent weekends with his family fly fishing and bird hunting—activities of patience and precision that would train him well as a winemaker.
A fly-fishing trip to Colorado turned Connor on to grower-producer wines when he and his father discovered a local wine shop, The Catherine Store. Not yet of legal drinking age but exposed to collectible wine through his father’s cellar, Connor possessed an uncommon passion and interest in wine that amazed owner Rhonda Black, who offered him a job once he turned 21.
During his last two summer breaks from college, Connor worked at The Catherine Store, developing his love for Rhône varietal wines from both Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Paso Robles. Connor knew that to follow his passion, he’d need to leave the Midwest, and in 2011, he relocated to Paso Robles for an internship under Eric Jensen at Booker Vineyards, just as the boutique winery movement hit the region.
At Booker, Connor’s Midwestern work ethic prevailed, and he spent long days learning by doing, working in the vineyard, in the cellar and in the tasting room. Once harvest ended, he joined the team fulltime. In 2012, Eric heard that the neighboring vineyard was for sale and suggested to Connor that he should find a way to buy it if he planned to stay in Paso Robles long-term. Connor sold his property in Iowa to afford the land. That same year, he met his future wife Rebecca, a Paso Robles native, who was finishing her viticulture and enology degree at University of California, Davis.
Connor continued his work at Booker for a total of six years, rising to the role of assistant winemaker and vineyard manager while farming and rehabilitating the vineyard next door. The 2016 vintage marked a pivotal moment for Connor, as he decided to leave Booker to launch Fulldraw, producing three wines: Chopping Block, Honey Bunny and Hard Point.
Twelve years after moving to Paso Robles to pursue his passion for wine, Connor is now considered one of the most talented growers and producers coming out of the region. Determined to continue elevating the Fulldraw estate, Connor is also working to help place Paso Robles on the global wine map.
Though having grown up thousands of miles away, Rebecca is cut from a similar rootstock as Connor that bred a passion for family, work ethic and cultivating something of both substance and beauty. Rebecca is a third-generation Californian and spent her formative years surrounded by her friends’ families who were tied to the wine industry in Paso Robles. She studied both design and viticulture and enology at the University of California, Davis, where she managed to complete her degree in just three years.
Upon graduation, Rebecca became the assistant winemaker at Villa Creek Cellars and found herself deeply inspired by the Cherry family’s commitment to the land through their regenerative agriculture, biodynamic farming and organic practices and eventually handled many of the certification processes. She plans to continue this level of commitment to revitalizing the land at the Fulldraw estate.
In 2016, after three years of working as an assistant winemaker, Rebecca took a sales and marketing position at Field Recordings, where she managed the label’s national distribution, sales, wine club shipments and back-of-house organization.
She and Connor had a plan as partners and spouses to grow a family business in which a division of roles would need to be clearly defined—he would make the wine, and she would run the day-to-day business so there would be room in their lives for their children.
With a keen eye for all things aesthetic and artistic, Rebecca’s utilized her experience in art and graphic design when the couple launched Fulldraw as she developed the branding, design and much of the artwork on each of the bottles. Fulldraw’s expressive labels incorporate cherished family memories into each bottle.
Fulldraw Vineyard endeavors to produce Rhône varietal wines that are full-bodied, aromatic, complex and beautifully balanced, representing the true expression of the vineyard site located in the Paso Robles Willow Creek District AVA. Marine influences from the Pacific Ocean come through the Templeton Gap, creating late afternoon winds and cool evenings that promote even and gradual maturation during the growing season.
Fulldraw Vineyard produces two white wines from the estate. The first is Bamboo ($50), a blend of Grenache and Clairette Blanche; this wine is a tribute to the McMahons’ family friend Roy Palm, who helped cultivate Connor and Rebecca’s love of fly fishing in Colorado. The label is a photo taken by Rebecca of Roy’s handmade bamboo fly rods lying in the snow. The second white wine produced, Drift ($65), is a blend of Clairette Blanche and Grenache Blanc. The label is a painting of a brown trout by Montana artist AD Maddox, inspired by the McMahons’ favorite pastime of drifting along the Colorado River.
Rebecca McMahon makes the brand’s rosé bottling, Sunshower ($35), a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. The label is a print of an oil painting that Rebecca received as an engagement gift from Connor’s father, Tim; today, it resides in the McMahons’ living room.
Fulldraw Vineyard’s wines are 100% estate grown and produced. The most widely available wine, available in wholesale markets, is FD2 ($55), a Rhône blend of Grenache and Syrah. In addition, Fulldraw produces three distinct Rhône varietal wines, including its flagship, Honey Bunny ($90), a blend of Syrah and Mourvedre. California artist Michael Bryan was commissioned to design the label after Connor stumbled upon a similar piece that reminded him of his family’s commitment to serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Recognized for its esteemed Grenache fruit, Fulldraw produces a single-varietal bottling of Grenache, Hard Point ($90). The label for this wine is a print carved by Rebecca, modeled after a bronze sculpture identical to the McMahons’ beloved shorthaired pointer, Yadi. The final wine, Chopping Block ($90), is a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache, that draws on Connor and Rebecca’s love for cooking. The label is a photo taken by Rebecca while Connor was making dinner one night and slammed his cleaver into a chopping block. The image perfectly captures the estate in the background as it appears today.
The Paso Robles Willow Creek District AVA is consistently cooler than the rest of the Paso Robles region because of the marine influences from the Pacific Ocean. The fog and ocean breezes from the nearby coastline are amplified by winds from the adjacent Templeton Gap. As a result of the cooler weather, this region often has a longer growing season than other AVAs in Paso. This appellation experiences large diurnal shifts in temperature, allowing the sugars and phenolics to develop evenly without losing freshness, which winemaker Connor McMahon loves about this site.
When Connor purchased the 100-acre property in 2012, he had an intimate understanding of the land, knowing the limestone-laden (Lopez-Calodo type) vineyard was one of the best in the region for growing Rhône varieties, as the presence of rock forces the vines on the property to dig deep. The 100-acre estate has 45 acres under vine, 16 of which are dedicated to Grenache, 13 to Syrah, 6 to Mourvedre, 3 to Tempranillo, 3 to Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remaining 2 acres devoted to Graciano, Grenache Blanc and Clairette Blanche. The estate consists of 37 different blocks, each planted to varying elevations and exposures, make the site incredibly unique.
For Connor and Rebecca McMahon, who live on the property with their two children, winemaking and grape growing are an integral part of life. High-touch, precision viticultural practices are managed by Connor and the vineyard management team year-round. Throughout the growing season, Connor walks each block multiple times a week, evaluating the needs and health of each vine. Pruning practices at the estate are broken down by variety, as are canopy management and crop yields to assiduously capture the unique terroir. Each spring, flocks of sheep are brought to the estate to mow the planted organic cover crop between the vines, weed and naturally fertilize the vineyard, reducing the need for machinery and increasing the biodiversity of the soils on the estate. Diligent about water use, the team only waters when necessary. Determining when to pick is crucial for Connor and his intimate team, especially as each individual block ripens at different speeds. The Fulldraw team determines picks by even development in the block, only running lab analyses up to a certain point, otherwise, it is all done by taste. Fruit is hand-picked at night and brought to the crush pad at the winery in pristine condition, before being sorted and immediately put into tanks.
Fulldraw aims to create a sustainable and healthy environment for each and every vine in order for the resulting fruit to translate into beautifully balanced wines that fully express the unique characteristics of the property.
Winery and Hospitality Center
In 2016, Connor and Rebecca McMahon began working with renowned Texas-based architect Brian Korte of Clayton Korte to design a state-of-the-art winery facility that opened in early 2020. The production facility was designed with the property’s geographical and climatic conditions in mind, including an open-air fermentation space utilizing the region’s cool evening temperatures to minimize the reliance on utility-provided energy. The design is simple yet modern and includes a covered crush pad and a barrel room.
Expanding the Fulldraw Vineyard campus in a second phase of construction, the new hospitality building is set to break ground in 2023 and will include a variety of tasting experiences. Offerings will include both indoor and outdoor experiences, providing an intimate connection to the surrounding scenic landscape overlooking the Fulldraw estate vineyard. The inspiration for the space comes from the couple’s love for industrial-modern buildings. The second phase of construction will include two low slung, human-scaled structures that will sit on the northern edge of a small plateau, leveraging the vineyard views to the north and west. These parallel structures, consisting of tasting and office spaces, will slide past one another to offset their masses, retaining access to the idyllic vineyard views and daylight. As with the existing winery, the exterior material palate will include painted and weathered steel, burnished concrete masonry bearing walls, and fiber cement cladding for outdoors resilience. While naturally expressive materials such as wood, stone and concrete will be incorporated into the interior, where warmth and human touch become imperative. The new tasting room will pull guests’ attention away from the noise of everyday life to focus on the incredible backdrop and site-reflective flavors of the Fulldraw Vineyard portfolio.
A visit to the Fulldraw estate is like walking into the McMahon family living room. Rebecca, Connor and Gary share in the hosting of wine tastings—something that is truly an intimate and personal experience, as each key member is so essential to the team and its vision. Tastings at Fulldraw take place on the brightly lit second floor overlooking the winery production area and vineyards or on the covered crush pad, depending on the season. Wines are served in flights, poured just prior to guests’ scheduled arrival times. Tastings typically last one hour and must be booked in advance. Each tasting is $40 per person. Reservations can be made by calling the winery at (805) 712-4411 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.