Q+A with Actress and Winemaker Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore
Photo by Blake Bronstad

Since starring in the blockbuster film E.T. at age 7, Drew Barrymore has packed many careers into one life. She’s still an actress, but now also runs a film production company, a cosmetics and eyewear line and recently authored an autobiography. Oh, and she’s also into wine.

Barrymore entered the wine business in 2011, first with selections from Northern Italy and since 2013 with offerings from Monterey County on California’s Central Coast. Her Pinot Grigio is labeled under the Barrymore brand, which features the crest of her grandfather, legendary actor John Barrymore, set into a Shepard Fairey design. The Pinot Noir is part of the Jackson Family Wines-owned Carmel Road brand, labeled as “Drew’s Blend.” A forthcoming rosé, scheduled to be released this summer, will also be under the Barrymore brand, and more wines are planned in the years to come.

What started you on the path to commercial winemaking?

It was just a serendipitous opportunity. My [film production company] partner Chris Miller happened to know this family in Italy, and I was absolutely in love with their product. But after a few years of going back and forth to Italy, which was a wonderful experience and really important learning curve, we moved it to California because we really wanted to do something a little closer to home.

I’m so hands-on and personally involved in every aspect. We came to meet with the Jackson Family Wines team, which is such a well-oiled machine and from an amazing winemaking legacy. We were all creatively on the same page of being prolific and making lots of different [grape] varietals.

I love going across the country and meeting with the sales team and really hearing what people with their feet on the ground have to say—what’s working, what’s not selling, and I love conveying our story to them.

What is that story?

Our motto is “from our family to yours.” I didn’t really grow up with any family—my family was my girlfriends and friends. Family is whomever you sit down with at the table and have a really lovely moment with. That’s something to really appreciate and realize that it is a blessing and a moment you need to put in your memory banks as something very near and dear to you.

Would you consider yourself a wine expert?

I’m a producer, a winemaker now, but I’m not an oenophile. I know when people hear my Valley Girl accent, they probably cringe. But when they speak to me at length, they find I’m someone who is really passionate. There is a lot of joy in it for me. It’s a blessing to do this. This has been one of the [most fun] jobs I’ve ever had in my life.

“I know when people hear my Valley Girl accent, they probably cringe. But when they speak to me at length, they find I’m someone who is really passionate. There is a lot of joy in [wine] for me.”

Is winemaking at all like acting?

I come from a storytelling background, so what you’re trying to do is convey a feeling, a time, a place and a tone and an emotion and an intention. For me, I just like happy, empowering positive things. It’s why I love flowers and hearts—there’s just nothing negative about them. You actually can’t find negative things in them. They can barely be misconstrued.

Wine is a similar thing. It’s a journey, and it’s beautiful, and it’s romantic, and it has history and worldly lessons and learning.

With the cosmetics, it helps a woman feel at her very best, and the messaging of that smile is better than any lipstick. All the films I made were funny and happy and some were more independent and reflective. I just don’t really like dour, dark, depressing things. I know they’re around and we all have to face them in our lives and in the world, but I would rather focus on and promote the good stuff.

You’ve been a world-famous actress since probably before you can even remember. Was wine part of your childhood at all?

Definitely not. My father carried a bottle of Tequila in his back pocket, Jose Cuervo. He was an interesting cat.

But I fell in love with wine by drinking it with my girlfriends on Sunday afternoons and Wednesday evenings. It was almost always Pinot Grigio, which is why I felt really passionate about entering winemaking with Pinto Grigio, first in Italy and now in California. I thought that it’s best to do what you know.

I’ve also always loved rosés. My girlfriends and I like chilled, easy-drinking wine that you can have one to two or two to three glasses of, and it’s not so heavy.

Then in my 20s and early 30s, I started falling in love with red wine. It was a very different thing, and not what I would sit around drinking with my girlfriends. That was the beginning of my studies in different regions and varietals. My tastes evolved.

As a younger girl, I loved Chianti, because Sangiovese is a great Italian table wine that is delicious with food….Then I fell in love with Malbec and Argentinian and Spanish wines. I got into a much heavier sort of profile. But now, I am back to light—I’m obsessed with Beaujolais. And the St-Émilion region. I’m into France now.

You also directed the wine’s packaging, right?

I also had to figure out the label, so I found my grandfather’s crest and brought it to [renowned artist] Shepard Fairey. I wanted a gentleman’s business card design, which is counterintuitive for Pinot Grigio because it’s so feminine. Most of the people I know who drink Pinot Grigio tend to be ladies. But if the design is more masculine or at least neutral, I thought that maybe it will be something that doesn’t turn off men, or something that you can present as a housewarming gift that’s really classic and clean.

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What’s your favorite part of the winemaking process?

Kris Kato [winemaker at Carmel Road] and I got put together, and it was just kind of a miracle. He and I have the same palate for wine, the same palate for food, so we can really understand each other’s vocabulary. We communicate very well. We’ve really pushed the grapes to interesting places where they almost couldn’t go.

For our Pinot Noir, I was relentless. I really wanted to make a Pinot Noir that was in the same vein of Pinot Neros and Beaujolais that are light and fruit-forward with a nice balance of acid, but lacking in sweetness. That sugar does no favors on my palate, nor in my head the next day.

But I also like the spice and tobacco notes that I fell in love with on those bolder wines that I can’t drink so much anymore. I also love cherry. So we kept pushing and pushing, and we got it to a place where we were really excited about.

And then we trained in on our rosé. I am so excited. It is everything that I wanted to make in a rosé. It’s incredibly peachy and citrusy and really dry, but with lots of apricot and has a beautiful color. I’m so proud of it. I love Kris and his process.

Kris Kato and Drew Barrymore
Kris Kato and Drew Barrymore, photo courtesy Carmel Road

So in addition to being a winemaker, you are a mom, actress, producer and run a cosmetics line. How do you do it all?

I have no idea how to pull this all off. I wrote a book, too, which I always wanted to do, and that surprised me the most, how I wrote 300 pages with two children.

I’m not the most organized person, and my workstations look disastrous. I lose everything. No one wants to give me a passport. No one gives me anything because I lose everything. But the one thing I really try to do, and it’s the only recipe I do when I’m trying to pull everything off, is that I really compartmentalize. Certain hours and days get focused on one thing, and certain hours and days get focused on another thing. That’s the only way I know how to do anything.

Has your celebrity status been a hurdle in getting wine people to take you seriously?

When I first started, absolutely, especially in New York. That’s the toughest market. New York City is the harshest place I’ve ever tried to hock this wine. I definitely felt like I got that treatment, that pat on the head and “sure” kind of attitude.

But I’ve felt a lot of warmth from places like California and Chicago. It’s interesting to see how people are more open-minded and welcoming even if very serious about it. But I also don’t want to be someone who just got into the game to be acting like I know more than they do, and I definitely respect that. I get it. I’m new here.

Have Hollywood’s beverage tastes changed over your career?

I think so. This is more the era of wine than a cocktail. There’s something socially acceptable and so worldly and very traditional about it. Also, you can’t bring someone a cocktail, but you can bring someone a bottle of wine. And that is a meaningful thing. You can have discussions about wine in a way that you cannot about alcohol in general. The craft beer movement has become a really big thing, too, but I still drink Coors Light, so I wouldn’t know anything about the craft beer movement, unfortunately. But wine, I can talk about all year long.

Published on June 2, 2016
Topics: Interviews, Wine Enthusiast Q+A
About the Author
Matt Kettmann
Contributing Editor

Reviews wines from California.

A fifth generation Californian originally from San Jose, Matt Kettmann covers California’s Central Coast and South Coast for the magazine. He is also the senior editor of The Santa Barbara Independent, where he’s worked since 1999, has written for the New York Times, Time Magazine, Wine Spectator, and Smithsonian, and co-founded New Noise Santa Barbara, a music festival.

Email: mkettmann@wineenthusiast.net.

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