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Gold Medal Wine Club
5330 Debbie Road, Suite 200
Santa Barbara, California 93111
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Welcome to Gold Medal Wine Club. America's Leading Independent Wine Club since 1992. Celebrating 20+ Years!
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McDowell Valley Vineyards - Mendocino County

95-Point rating, Gold Medal and Best of Show - California State Fair

In the southeastern corner of Mendocino County you will find nestled in the rugged Mayacamas Mountains, an area roughly 20,000 acres in size called the McDowell Valley. The McDowell Valley area has a rich and storied history dating back to the late 1800s. A story is told of how a prospector named Paxton McDowell rode into the gold mining town of Hopland in 1880. There he happened to meet a fellow by the name of Fernando Feliz who owned most of the land in that area by way of an old Spanish land grant. The two struck a deal whereby Paxton would pay Feliz 1,200 gold pieces for a section of land defined by how big of a loop Paxton could ride his horse on the property in one days’ time.

Not much was done with the land until his descendants, the Buckman family, started planting grapes just before the turn of the century. The Syrah, Grenache, Carignane and Petite Sirah vines that were planted thrived for decades. During the next fifty years or so, the McDowell land was gradually divided and sold off to others.

Now, fast forward to the 1960s. William and Karen Crawford often piloted their private plane over the McDowell Valley as they were coming and going from their family-owned timber mills and cattle ranches in northern California. They would often marvel at the rugged beauty of the area as they flew overhead. The timber and cattle business was beginning to look a bit shaky so the Crawfords began looking for endeavors in which to diversify. A surging wine industry caught their attention and it was only natural for them to key in on the McDowell Valley area.

By 1970 they had purchased 546 acres containing 330 acres of vineyards—and named their new enterprise, what else—McDowell Valley Vineyards. The Crawfords were now in the grape growing business in a big way.

Tragically, William Crawford died the following year while piloting his plane over mountainous northern California terrain. Karen Crawford kept the dream alive however, and eventually remarried to Richard Keehn. Together, Karen and Richard established McDowell Valley Vineyards as one of the top wine grape producers in Mendocino county. They established the winery side of the business almost a decade later in 1979. Their inaugural bottling was from the 1980 harvest of the winery’s star varietal, Syrah. It met with instant critical success, winning 6 Gold Medals in the 8 competitions at which it was entered

Meanwhile Karen’s son, Bill Crawford, was growing up on the farm and learning the ropes. He had no idea that he would some day be running the show. “I initially wanted to be a veterinarian,” recalls Bill. “My wife, Vicki and I were here to help out for awhile after finishing my undergraduate work and never left!”

The gravitational pull proved to be too much as he progressed through the business from one key position to the next. He attended financial classes at Stanford to help master his responsibilities as company Controller. From there he became Vice President, then Chief Financial Officer, and finally President, in 1988. In 1993, Bill Crawford, combined his role of running the winery with actually producing the wines too.

At that point, Bill, his mother Karen, and his step-dad Richard, collectively decided the winery should focus further on Rhone-style varietals that had grown there since the early 1990s and which had helped establish their winery reputation during the 1980s.

Their decision was prophetic as industry trends during the 1990s have shown a gradual shift away from mainstream wines like Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. As a leader in this change, McDowell Vineyards grows primarily Rhone-type varietals including, Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne, Mourvedre, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese.

Undoubtedly the most noble and well-known of the Rhone varieties is Syrah. It is the definitive flagship wine of McDowell Valley Vineyards. The grapes used are from Syrah vines planted in 1919 and are among the oldest in the country. These deep-rooted vines are producing silky smooth, rich wines with intense, concentrated flavor. “There’s not a lot of magic in winemaking,” says Bill. “The real quality difference among wines is a direct result of the caliber of grapes. We believe the right conditions exist here to make America’s best Syrah.” He may very well have accomplished that feat wit the 1998 Reserve Syrah.