LE.PAN: The small Sonoma winery with Asian ambitions; “We don’t manipulate anything. We just try to grow the best fruit and bring out the best of it. That’s our philosophy.” Reveal more
Harpers Wine & SpiritFreeman Wines Featured in UK's Harpers Wine & Spirit:
New West Sonoma Coast AVA to highlight ‘best Pinot Noir’ in USA
By Andrew Catchpole
With the official rubber-stamping of a new West Sonoma Coast AVA just weeks away, its vintners have been in London promoting what they describe as “California’s Cote d’Or”.
The new AVA currently includes 23 wineries spread over three coastal ridges to the west of Russian River, with around 1,000 collective acres primarily planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in elevated, cool climate sites.
The reference to Burgundy’s ‘golden slopes’, where many of the most famous names in France are concentrated, was intended to emphasise the focus on terroir and small production shared by the producers that have been drawn to this marginal viticultural region.
“This is, in theory, where the best Pinot Noir and to a degree Chardonnay comes from in the US – and as [the vineyards] need to be at a certain height on ridges, most of the area that can be planted is planted – it’s tough, with low yields, so it keeps big players out,” Ken Freeman of Freeman Vineyard & Winery told Harpers at a masterclass on the wines at 67 Pall Mall in London.
The origins of the AVA trace back to 2011, when six wineries – Peay, Redcar, Freeman, Joseph Phelps, Littorai and Failla - formed a group “in response to confusion about Sonoma Coast”.
They were driven by the common idea to better define a quality sub-region within that rambling AVA and “better promote” what is going on among the West Sonoma Coast wineries.
With soil studies and tastings undertaken to back up the proposed region with science, the growing group filed for a new AVA in 2015.
“Such a vast area really questions what an appellation is,” said Andy Peay of Peay Vineyards, referring to the broad Sonoma Coast AVA.
“So we are trying to define what is unique about what is going on in West Sonoma Coast - we have certain things in common, cool climate, elevation up to 1,000ft, cooling morning fog, the ocean also cools, so we are cool climate maritime, which results in more balanced ripening for Pinot Noir, longer hang time and more phenolic ripeness in the skins,” he added.
Freeman explained that with the AVA “technically approved”, further sub-regions with West Sonoma Coast are crystallising out, with a Fort Ross/Seaview AVA already in place, and the northerly Annapolis sub-region, plus Freestone/Occidental in the south, pending official applications once the main AVA officially comes into force in around 90 days time.
With regard to the claim to hold the crown for US Pinot Noir, Freeman smiled and said: “OK, we are all marketers, but we just see that there is a tremendous amount of buyer and sommelier interest, and that they gravitate towards the wines because they love the complexity and the acidity, the elegance, that the climate and soils deliver."
The tasting showed a clear, individual imprint of site that the wines typically revealed, but also an overarching cool climate expression, with that elegance and complexity rooted in the primarily fine sandstone soils found across the West Sonoma Coast ridges.
Wine Enthusiast2016 Gloria Estate Pinot Noir Awarded
96 Points by the Wine Enthusiast &
#8 on the its Top 100 Cellar Selections for 2019
"This gorgeous wine shows an expressive wild cherry aroma and a vibrant and pure black cherry flavor and a firm, fine grained texture for an enticing mouthfeel....96 Points." — Jim Gordon
The New York Times Style Magazine: JapanAll about elegance and delicacy
We are honored to have a feature article on Akiko Freeman and her winemaking in The New York Times Style Magazine Japan. "Akiko's winemaking style is all about elegance and delicacy...I want to make the best use of the characteristics of the land to create a well-balanced wine with good acidity."
where epicureCelebrating Women of Color in Wine
Five Trailblazing Women to Watch
THE CALIFORNIA WINE industry isn't known for its diversity—for decades, most winemakers have had similar backgrounds, and most have been men. In recent years, however, a handful of women of color have taken Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties by storm, blazing new trails for their respective families and for the industry overall. Here are the stories of five remarkable women in the wine industry.
To say Akiko Freeman's family goes way back in Japan would be an understatement. Her family members trace their lineage back 23 generations. She is a cousin of Japan's Empress Michiko and related to the founding Mitsubishi family. She also likely the only female Asian winemaker in the entire United States. Akiko makes the juice at Freeman Winery in Sebastopol and co-owns the winery with her husband, Ken. In her job, she performs tasks that no women in her family have done before. "In Japan, ladies don't usually pick up anything heavier than chopsticks," she quips. "Now I'm doing punch-downs and carrying boxes of wine around the winery." Freeman credits her father and grandfather for her interest in wine; her grandfather loved Bordeaux-style vino and her father liked wines from Burgundy. When asked to describe her style, Akiko says proudly that she tries to imbue her wines with classic Old World-style influences. Consider it her way of paying tribute to the past.
Caviar AffairWesterly Winds
Inside Akiko and Ken Freeman's cool-climate oenophile's paradise.
A COOL BREEZE—RYO FU IN JAPANESE—WAFTS OVER AKIKO AND Ken Freeman’s winery, vineyards, and home in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. They and their grape-growing neighbors in Sebastopol embrace the chilling Pacific winds, which refresh the vines and produce the bracing yet rewarding chardonnays and pinots noirs for which Freeman Vineyard &c Winery is known.
So vital are these breezes that Freeman pays homage with its Ryo-Fu Chardonnay, a multi-vineyard blend. In fact, all the Freeman wines are positively influenced by ocean winds and fog, so much so that each can be counted on to deliver energetic fruit flavors, mouthwatering acidity, vibrant finishes, and overall elegance.
Akiko and Ken started Freeman Vineyard & Winery in 2001. He was raised on the East Coast, she in Tokyo; they met at a party in New York in 1985. Akiko had just arrived in the US, her father having passed on his knowledge of Burgundy-style wines to her. Her love of chardonnay and pinot noir mirrored international businessman Ken’s tastes, and the topic was the launchpad for their romance, marriage, and eventual founding of the winery.
After apprenticing with consulting winemaker Ed Kurtzman, Akiko now produces the wines in the Freeman cave, with a less-is-more hand. Harvesting at just the right moment in the relatively cool conditions preserves the grapes’ natural acidity, and her judicious use of new French-oak barrels for fermentation and aging ensures the wines will have broad palate texture, without the overt toast aromas and flavors that new French oak can impart.
The Freemans balance estate-grown grapes with purchased fruit for their wines. Their first estate vineyard, Gloria, at the winery, is a former apple orchard named for Hurricane Gloria, the storm that led to their party meet-up in 1985. The pinot noir it produces is, well, glorious.
Also in 2007, the couple acquired property near Occidental, a cold, windy, and steep site just five miles from the ocean and surrounded by old redwoods. The vineyard they planted there, in the Sonoma Coast AVA, is named Yu-ki— Japanese for “big tree.” Its pinots are firm, lean, and savory when young, yet blossom beautifully with age.
Also not to miss: Akiko’s Cuvée, a blend of her favorite barrels of pinot noir, and KR Ranch Pinot Noir from the Keefer Ranch Vineyard.
The Freemans are fans of—and investors in—the Single Thread Farm-Restaurant-Inn in Healdsburg, awarded three Michelin stars in 2019 for its eleven-course, Japanese-influenced kaiseki tasting menu. Says Akiko: “We attended a fundraiser for Sonoma Land Trust in 2015, where Kyle Connaughton prepared an amazing meal, using only a campfire. This was two years before Kyle and his wife, Katina, opened Single Thread. We found a group of friends to invest.”
Umami abounds on the Single Thread menu, and Freeman pinots noirs are great mates for the cuisine.