Depth was going to be an issue.
Connor McMahon, a Fairfield, Iowa, native, had sold his farm in the Hawkeye state to use the proceeds as a down payment for 100 acres in Paso Robles, California, where the planting of the vineyard didn’t go according to plan.
The limestone slab that makes up the soil of the Templeton Gap and Willow Creek District AVA forced McMahon to call an audible when the Fulldraw vineyard was planted. A decision that paid off, as the 45 vineyard acres McMahon planted make distinct, flavorful wines under his Fulldraw label and for other winemakers to whom he sells fruit.
“There are certain blocks that look like the surface of the moon,” McMahon said. “It’s just a white-dust landscape. At one of our favorite blocks, a massive excavator was punching holes when we were planting the vineyard. It had 24-inch shanks, and hit a hard pan of limestone, and could only get 18 inches down. So we crossed our fingers and planted at that depth.
“Right before harvest, the vines look like they are going to die,” he said. “But when you pull that fruit, your mind is blown. There’s no way something this good should be coming from here. It’s got concentrated color and flavors, but a bright, underlying acidity. From the front-palate to the finish, the acidity is laser focused.”
A small-town Iowa kid was exposed to wine by his father and friends. Because there’s not a hot restaurant scene, families did their cooking at home, and wine was always part of dinner gatherings with friends.
On a summer-break, fly-fishing trip to Colorado, he’d visit the Catherine Store, a local wine shop in western Colorado that furthered his curiosity. When owner Rhonda Black offered him a job when he turned 21, McMahon had his first foray into wine. Two summer breaks were spent selling wine in Colorado. He learned how to talk about wine, and what it took to get customers interested.
After that, he interned at Booker under the tutelage of owner and winemaker Eric Jensen.
“Things snowballed real quick,” McMahon said. “If you are trying to start and create something yourself, it’s important to work your way up and see every single part of the business. I did barrel washing, tank washing; you name it. Now when I look at our team, and ask them to do something, I can relate to the task.
“I’m not formally trained in winemaking,” he said. “In college (at Iowa State), I studied beer, football and girls. But I did manage to turn a vice into a career. Eric Jensen from the ground floor up helped me understand the wine industry, winemaking and farming at a very high level.”
Eventually, he became assistant winemaker at Booker until one day Jensen was offered the adjacent property. It wasn’t land Jensen wanted, but he suggested McMahon should look into it further.
“Fulldraw is immediately adjacent to Booker, so I saw what fruit could do,” McMahon said. “But, land prices in Iowa and California are just a little different. So, I jumped in at a young age. I tend to jump in head first and sort it out on the way down.”
The first goal was to get the vineyard operational. McMahon sold fruit to Booker and to Scott Hawley, the winemaker and founder of Torrin, who actually lived a short ride down the road behind the Booker tasting room.
In 2016, the harvest was big enough to sell 50% to his buyers, and hold 50% for production.
Fulldraw, an homage to his passion for archery and the outdoors, was started with 10 tons of grapes and 550 cases. It was a busy time for McMahon.
“My wife, Rebecca, and I just got married in the spring of 2016,” McMahon said. “Our first fruit came in the fall of 2016. It was full-throttle excitement. I was nervous and scared, but, overall, there was so much excitement, I could cut it with a spoon.”
His wife, who studied wine at the University of California, Davis, and was an assistant winemaker at Villa Creek and worked in sales and marketing at Field Recordings, handles the stunning artwork on the Fulldraw labels, which are all inspired by their family interests. She runs the day-to-day business at Fulldraw, while Connor has focused on the winemaking.
“We are really just getting our feet under us,” McMahon said. “We started in 2016. In 2018, we started selling wine. We’ve only had the winery since 2020, and we are in the infantile stages. We hope the construction of a tasting room can start soon. We had to get the barrel room and production facility built first. It’s been more exciting than anything. We’re creating a road map as we go along, and it’s exciting to get to the next step and the next stop.”
Fulldraw Hard Point 2019 ($90): “Grenache is the variety that drove me to wine,” McMahon said. This medium- to full-bodied 100% grenache had pure red fruits, raspberry and cherry, to go along with a hint of eucalyptus and mint on the finish with chalky tannins.
Fulldraw Chopping Block 2019 ($90): The blend is always Syrah dominant; according to McMahon, this one is 52% syrah, 31% mourvedre and 17% grenache. McMahon said it’s his “favorite style of wine from Paso.” It had black cherry, leather and Herbs de Provence on the nose. There was a juicy mouthfeel, a full body and grippy tannins on the finish. Blackberry fruit flavors and a grilled meat note.
Fulldraw Hunny Bunny 2019 ($90): Darker fruit and deep red-meat aromas on the nose, sweet black cherry, blackberry, blue berry flavors, with blackberry compote, graphite and chalky-feeling tannins on the finish. McMahon’s secret ingredient here is mourvedre; he said it “takes away from the wine being brooding, it softens it and brightens it up.”
Fulldraw FD 2 2018 ($55): The future of Fulldraw, planted in 2015. The younger vines produced fruit that was too good to pass along. McMahon decided to make an “entry level wine” that should see wider distribution. Make no mistake though, it’s not an afterthought. Darker than the others; bold black fruit, plum and blackberry with some mint on the nose. Full-bodied, black cherry, blackberry and plum fruit flavors. Big, chalky tannins frame the fruit.
• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.