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Toast to International Ties: Freeman Wines Featured at State Department

On Thursday, April 11, 2024, we had the honor of presenting our wines during a luncheon at the State Department, hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris to celebrate the visit of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan. Esteemed attendees included Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

Featured wines were the 2022 Ryo-Fu West Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and the 2021 Akiko's Cuvee West Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, both of which paired exquisitely with the seasonal menu, enhancing the culinary experience.

This prestigious event was not only a profound honor but also a testament to the deep cultural ties between the United States and Japan. We are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to such a significant occasion and look forward to fostering further connections through our shared appreciation for fine wine.

Historic Award for Akiko Freeman: The Green & White Medal for Agricultural Excellence

Akiko Freeman was recently honored with the Green & White Medal for Agricultural Excellence, becoming the first woman ever to receive this prestigious accolade. The ceremony, held at the Japanese Consul General’s residence in Los Angeles, recognized her for being the first Japanese winemaker with a wine served at the White House and her transformative approach to organic farming. Shinkichki Koyama, who presented the award, said of Akiko, “She worked very hard to achieve the best growing conditions on the property — irrigation, ensuring that the soil was well-drained and well-oxygenated — all with the long-term vision to produce better grapes under organic farming protocols.” Her efforts have significantly contributed to the agriculture sector, reinforcing Japan-USA relations. This milestone achievement underscores Akiko's pioneering role in the field.

Historic Award for Akiko Freeman: The Green & White Medal for Agricultural Excellence

The White House

We are honored that the White House featured our Ryo-fu Chardonnay at a recent State Dinner welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the United States. 

Akiko Freeman

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.” 


"Akiko Dreams of Pinot" Finalist in Wine Spectator's Video Contest cover
Wine Spectator
"Akiko Dreams of Pinot" Finalist in Wine Spectator's Video Contest

For our 2023 video contest, our finalists shared their tales about their love of wine—what it means to them, how they enjoy it, celebrate it and even commit their lives to it. (A big thank you to every entrant for sending us their stories, from the heartfelt to the humorous.) Get ready to laugh, recognize a bit of yourself and be inspired!

2nd Place: Akiko Dreams of Pinot

The story of Akiko Freeman’s journey from Japanese exchange student to West Sonoma Coast winemaker. Akiko learned the art of Kodo from her grandmother and uses that experience to translate the message of the vineyard through the expressive wines she makes.

Freeman Vineyard & Winery Announces Three Additions to the Winery Team cover
Wine Business
Freeman Vineyard & Winery Announces Three Additions to the Winery Team

SEBASTOPOL, Calif., (Sept. 25, 2023) Freeman Vineyard & Winery owners Akiko and Ken Freeman announce the addition of three new members to the winery’s staff. They are:

  • Kevin Hinchman, Brand Director
  • Dar Cluster, Director of Hospitality
  • Eiji Akaboshi, Associate Winemaker

“Bringing Kevin, Dar and Eiji into the family gives us a world-class team to represent and match the caliber of our wines,” says proprietor Ken Freeman. “We are welcoming many more visitors to the winery than we have in the past and our sales continue to increase at a steady pace. With this strategic expansion to our team we’ll be able to continue to provide hands-on attention to our winemaking while making our visitor experience even better.”

Adds Winemaker Akiko Freeman, “We’ve taken great pride in our ability to grow our business organically over the years.  Finding the right fit is important, because we’ll be able to transition with the times quite easily.”

Kevin Hinchman, Brand Manager

Kevin Hinchman Hinchman’s responsibility as Brand Manager encompasses just about every aspect of the winery. He works with Ken Freeman in the national distribution arena, sets pricing, and serves as the face of Freeman Vineyard & Winery when Ken and Akiko are unable to attend events in far-away markets. 

Based in Napa, the longtime wine pro has held key regional and national sales positions with TOR Wines, Cliff Lede Vineyards, and Patz & Hall. 

Dar Cluster, Director of Hospitality

Dar Cluster, the winery’s new Director of Hospitality was Operations Manager at Flowers Winery before joining Freeman. The Monte Rio resident oversees winery visits, charity and corporate events, and wine club functions. 

“I was already a member of the Freeman wine club, so when a tasting room position opened up here, it was a perfect blend of my passion for the wine business and my passion for Freeman wines. Visitors here appreciate our low-key approach. We talk one-on-one about the wines, the amazing setting, and about the people. We have conversations with our visitors, not lectures or sales pitches.” 

Eiji Akaboshi, Associate Winemaker

Eiji Akaboshi Akaboshi comes to Freeman as Associate Winemaker after working at Peju Winery, Green & Red Vineyards, and Rombauer Vineyards in Napa Valley, as well as Medlock Ames in Alexander Valley.

Since graduating with a master’s degree in enology from Fresno State, Akaboshi has had what he calls “a circuitous career,” in which he’s “seen everything, done everything, and worked all over, learning all I could about winemaking and the wine industry.”  When he first tasted Freeman wines a decade ago, he adds, “I loved Akiko’s wines and their elegant style, and I’d always wanted to work with Sonoma Pinot Noir. Now it’s like I’m fulfilling my dreams.”

On a historical note, Akaboshi is the great-great-grandson of winemaker Nagasawa Kanae, a Japanese native who emigrated to Sonoma County in the 1800s and became known as the “Wine King of California.” By the turn of the 19th century, he ran one of the state’s largest and most influential wineries at Fountain Grove Winery in Santa Rosa. Eiji takes a lot of pride in carrying on the family wine tradition, despite the gap of five generations.  

Wine Business
Freeman Winery Visit Interview

Convey what the soil and grapes went through with a bottle of wine...

If you drive through the thick fog covering Golden Gate Bridge, blue skies and sunshine greet you like it was all a dream.  Drive 50 more miles north on highway 101, and you will find Freeman Winery, the ‘Little Bourgogne’ in the small city of Sebastopol, Sonoma County. There was some traffic with everyone driving home from work, but it was bearable thanks to my rental Tesla’s Autosteer option.

The founders of Freeman Winery, Ken and Akiko Freeman, met through a hurricane, both figuratively and literally. With the recommendation of her principal at the all-girls Catholic highschool in Japan, Akiko decided to go as an exchange student to Manhattanville College, a sister school in the U.S. The name misled Akiko to believe that the college was located in NYC (it had been, when it was founded), but when the taxi she rode from the airport dropped her off 30 miles away in Purchase, Westchester County, she was taken by surprise.  One day, a huge hurricane hit the State of NY (and other parts of the U.S.), causing a power outage in the area, including Akiko’s dorm.  Sitting around with nothing to do in her dark room, Akiko was invited to go to something called a ‘keg party’, which was being held by her friend’s boyfriend and his friends.  For her first party in the United States, Akiko dressed to the nines like Audrey Hepburn would in the movies. She would only find out what a keg party was after arriving there.  Meanwhile Ken, who had been sailing a yacht with his friends in the Atlantic, had to take shelter during the hurricane and went to the same keg party held by his friends.  He found Akiko, elegantly dressed and beautiful, standing out amidst the rowdy college crowd of the keg party.  It was love at first sight, and the rest is history, as they say.  They continued their long distance relationship until they got married in San Francisco, and in 2001, acquired the winery here and started making wine.  Ken’s day job is in finance and Akiko majored in art history of the Italian Renaissance, earning a master’s degree in Stanford.  They originally hired a professional winemaker for the wines from 2001 to 2009, during which Akiko worked next to him as an apprentice doing every task imaginable, however meager or difficult.  One day in 2009, the winemaker, who is a good friend to the founders to this day, told Akiko that ‘now you are able to make wine completely on your own’, and left, putting Akiko in charge of everything.  Ken and Akiko subsequently sold their house in San Francisco and built their estate in the winery to live there, and Akiko has been a full-time winemaker ever since.

“As a winemaker, I think of myself as a translator of nature. Wine is a story of what happened in nature during that year.  A bottle of wine contains the entire tale of whether the weather was hot or cold, if it was windy, whether it was rainy or there was a draught, if there was plenty of sunshine, what the soil and grapes had to go through. I try to translate nature’s story as truthfully possible, as it was.” (Akiko)

“To convey the story as it actually happened, we interfere as little as possible.  A minimalistic approach.” (Ken)

They planted pinot noir clones flown directly from the Bourgogne area in France in the vineyard named after the hurricane that helped them meet, Gloria Estate Vineyard.  They grew the sensitive and delicate-skinned grapes with great care, using organic and biodynamic farming methods.  The Sonoma area where Gloria Estate is located, had traditionally grown apple trees, until large grocery chains started taking over the U.S.  The type of apples produced here were very delicious, but had a very short shelf life leading to their dismissal by the large supermarkets.  As a result almost all of the apple orchards were replaced by vineyards.  I found out during this interview that apple farming is notorious for using a lot of pesticides and other chemicals, and it takes about 7 years for the soils to detoxify and become free from their effects.  Freeman Winery has another vineyard in Russian River Valley called KR Ranch.  Among Freeman’s Pinot Noirs KR Ranch and Akiko’s Cuvee are my favorite.  Both are minty, herby and very elegant.  A light touch of French oak lends flavor yet keeps the daintiness intact.  It is like it was made just for me, usually having a bit difficulty with other strong character U.S. wines.  Closing my eyes and taking a sip, I listen to the story of nature as translated by Akiko, very earnest and clear, of the strong and bright sun in contrast with the coolness brought by the hills, the sea winds from the Pacific, the life story of the wine grown with love and care in Freeman Winery.  When I open my eyes, I am already there.

Freeman Vineyard picks up inspiration from Burgundy cover
Freeman Vineyard picks up inspiration from Burgundy

The vineyards at the Freeman Winery in Sebastopol, Calif. are seen on February 2nd, 2019.

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.


Friends of Freeman: Drink Well & Do Good

Join the Friends of Freeman where passion for cool-climate fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay meets philanthropy. As a member, you'll enjoy exclusive benefits such as special events and curated wine allocations. Your participation also supports a 5% donation to important causes, including local nonprofits.

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