With his unique background in the Fine Arts, Lancaster Winemaker David Drake never saw himself working in the wine industry, but rather, happened upon it and has never looked back.
David was born in Millbrae, California and soon after moved to Alexandria, Virginia where he was raised. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, wine had an early role on his life. As Head of Regulatory Enforcement for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, David’s father introduced him to “wine laws” at a young age. However, perhaps his father’s most interesting impact on David’s exposure to wine was meeting Ernest Gallo, one of the most influential people to the wine industry. David’s father worked with Gallo as a consultant later on. David remembers one day in particular when the whole family was invited to lunch. He recalls, “Ernest was about 90 years old, but was still thinking about the business. He was worried about the burgeoning craft beer industry stealing younger drinkers away from wine. I was a younger beer connoisseur at that time so he had a lot of questions for me about what I like about craft beers.”
In 1992, David made his way back to California to finish college and enjoy the weather and lifestyle that would be afforded to him in Sonoma County. He attended Sonoma State University, graduating with a Fine Arts degree in 1996. Since he was surrounded by some of the best wine in the world and had heard so much about wine during his childhood from his father, he decided to venture into the wine industry through a job at a wine label company. There, he could both utilize his degree and work in the wine industry, an industry that was beginning to peak his interest the more he was exposed to it.
After learning more and more about wine through his work, David decided to apply for jobs in wine production where he could really immerse himself in the industry. In 2000, he started working as a harvest intern at Lancaster Estate and was then hired on full time where he would continue his career for the next 15 years, from intern all the way up to Winemaker. At Lancaster, David has had the opportunity to work with some first-rate winemakers, including David Ramey, from whom he has learned a great deal about making world-class wines. Through his extensive experience in the region, David recognizes the Alexander Valley as a very special appellation. As David puts it, “It is the perfect size. The weather is fantastic and ideal for making Cabernet… and it isn’t Napa.” In fact, he was hooked on Alexander valley Cabs when he first tried the 1997 Estate Cabernet. David continues Lancaster’s tradition of making world-class wine through his personal winemaking philosophy: “In making a great wine, one needs balance. No one part should overtake the wine.”
Over the years, David has come to know Lancaster as very family oriented. When he first started, he enjoyed the rural, rustic, family feeling that Lancaster offered. He and the staff would often sit outside to have lunch along with founder, Ted Simpkins. He brings that same feeling of family and tradition into his work each day.
In addition to his winemaking, until recently, David crafted beer at City Winery in Napa including several wine infused selections. A wine connoisseur, David loves the Lancaster wines, and other favorites include Littorai, and Pinot Noir’s from Anderson Valley. He loves pairing wines with his specialty, grilled rack of lamb. When not working, David enjoys the great outdoors, and maintaining his 1960 VW Bus and old motorcycles. He enjoys road trips on the North Coast of California and Southern Oregon, but he says only Sonoma County can offer him the best of the outdoors where he hikes, canoes, and takes in the fresh air. Most of all, he is grateful he found the rewarding and exciting wine industry.