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
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.
EpicureThe accidental winemaker
Akiko Freeman from Freeman Winery wowed everyone with her discerning palate, which is how she found herself making Burgundian-style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California.
Growing lip in Japan, Akiko Freeman can t remember when she first became her father’s “drinking buddy”, but as her sibling didn't drink the task fell onto her. He had spent time in England where he fell in love with wines, and in particular Burgundy. Akiko modestly recounts that she became adept at identifying flavours in wine, and developed a keen sense of nosing and tasting.
Serendipity in a storm
Arriving in New York in 1985 to start university. Akiko made a cultural faux pas at her first party - she was * dressed to kill“ In a formal Chanel dress and heels for a basement keg party. Ken, who was supposed to be sailing to the Caribbean post-college, bad been forced ashore by Hurricane Gloria and was invited to the same party. He couldn’t help but notice the striking Japanese newcomer, and they bonded over their mutual passion lor wine. That date is commemorated on the keystone at Freeman Winery, and Gloria is the name of their estate vineyard.
The winery was set up in 20f)t after the Freemans had moved back to the States from Singapore and decided to pursue a vision of winemaking that they cherished - cold climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. in a sophisticated, balanced and elegant style. Having looked at over 300 vineyard sites, they decided on the Russian River A VA, working with esteemed growers like Keefer and Heintz.
Ken interjects, "We had to kiss a lot of frogs before we found the right partners.” Their first eight-acre Gloria Estate Vineyard was established in 2006, planted with six blocks of Pinot Noir clones Swan, Pommard, 115, Marl ini and Calera: followed by the 14-acre Yu Ki Estate Vineyard in 2007 in Sonoma Coast.
Freeman Winery’s first winemaker Fd Kurtzman is a renowned Pinot Noir specialist, and helped the couple to establish Hie early picked. Burgundian style that they were looking for. Akiko started out assisting Ed but soon discovered she enjoyed making the wines - and also living in Sonoma. Ed also gauged that Akiko had a flair for the industry, and nudged her over the years towards taking over. After eight years of commuting between San Francisco and the winery, the Freemans built their own home adjacent to the winery in 2009, just before Akiko took over the winemaking reins completely in 2010.
In a tradition started in 2002. Ed, Akiko and Ken have a 'friendly competition' to bottle their preferred blend. The 2002 was based on the vintage of 22 Sonoma coast barrels, so each of them chose about seven barrels to create their Pinot Noir expression. Akiko won. and thus the Akiko's Cuvée Pinot Noir was born. She's won every year since, 15 years running, with her uncanny palate pinpointing an elusive layering of flavours and umami. As Ken says with a touch of pride. "Akiko's selection bits every taste bud, it's a party in the mouth."
Critics arid fans agree, and the winery's total production of 6.000 cases is snapped up very quickly via mailing list. While Akiko was content to make just one white wine, Ryo-fu, demand was so high for their style of lightly naked and elegant Chardonnay. that Ken has finally convinced her to make another. Hawk Hill chardonnay which will be available from the 2017 vintage. 'Tor Chardonnay, the barrel can add elegance, but like makeup, you just need a little," Akiko describes. Her keen sensibilities and informed palate have yet to be proven wrong.
GLORIA ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2016
RYO-FU CHARDONNAY 2016
AKIKO’S CUVÉE PINOT NOIR 2016
San Francisco ChronicleFreeman Vineyard picks up inspiration from Burgundy
Ken and Akiko Freeman started Freeman Vineyard and Winery in 2001 after being inspired by the fine wines of Burgundy.
With two estate vineyards, Gloria and Yu-ki, the Freemans devote themselves to cool-climate, coastal Pinot Noir, working with other sites within the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley to produce five unique Pinots, as well as one Chardonnay from Hawk Hill Vineyard nearby. Everything is made in small quantities with the utmost attention.
Tokyo native Akiko makes the wines, having apprenticed alongside consulting winemaker Ed Kurtzman since the winery’s inception.
Ken has been actively involved in the West Sonoma Coast Vintners, which has applied for a new appellation to be formed, incorporating vineyards like his that lie within a certain proximity of the Pacific Ocean.
Visits ($30) are held in the wine caves and are by appointment from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. They’re private and intimate and, in addition to tasting the wines, visitors will have the chance to experience the Freeman’s small-lot winery and Gloria Vineyard next door.
WHAT TO TRY: The two estate Pinot Noirs are well worth trying side-by-side if possible. The Gloria is from a hillside spot once planted to apples that the Freemans named after its original owner. Yu-ki, from a high-elevation site above Occidental that is surrounded by redwoods, is spicy and sublime. Akiko’s Cuvée is a selection of the best barrels each year.
INSIDE INFO: From Freeman it would be a shame not to head just a tiny bit farther to Freestone’s Wild Flour Bread Bakery for brick-oven breads, scones, fougasse, flatbreads and sticky buns.