Akiko’s Cuvée Pinot Noir

Each vintage since our inaugural 2002, Freeman has released an Akiko’s Cuvée. Akiko Freeman and her winemaking staff taste each barrel of Pinot in the winery from that vintage and choose their favorites. Then, each person’s top barrels are  put together in a blend (or cuvée), and we subsequently taste each of the samples  blind, so that no one knows whose favorite barrels are in which blend. We call this Akiko’s Cuvée since her blend almost always wins this blind tasting.

The four vineyards from where Freeman sourced Pinot Noir in 2019 are represented  in the Akiko’s Cuvée. The largest percentage of the blend comes from Freeman’s  Yu-ki Estate, near Occidental. The two Swiss clones, 2A Wadenswil and 23 Mariafeld along with two of the Dijon clones, 114 and 828, are the ones Akiko selected from Yu-ki. Freeman’s other estate vineyard, Gloria, made up the next highest portion of the Cuvée. The Swan and Calera blocks from right next to the winery were the preferred clones for the 2019 Akiko’s. KR Ranch and the Pratt Vineyard combined for the remaining third of the 2019 Akiko’s Cuvée. We’ve been working with clones 777 and 23 from KR (formerly known as Keefer) since  2004. Jim Pratt’s 2A clone has been a favorite of Akiko’s since we first started working with that site in 2005.

After the dream-come-true vintage of 2018, 2019 was an almost identical year. There was quite a bit of rainfall in the very cool winter of 2019. This led to a late budbreak, similar in timing to 2018. The growing season was perfect, with our typical pattern of warm, sunny afternoons followed by cool and foggy evenings and mornings. It was a Pinot Noir year for sure.

The 2019 Akiko’s Cuvée is the darkest wine of the vintage for Freeman. There’s so much going on with the aromas of this wine, it takes hours in a decanter or in the glass to decipher all the complexities. There’s the fruit forward notes of  Gloria and KR, with deep berry, plums and floral scents. Then there are the more  earth-driven aspects, like fresh herbs, forest floor and cola that come from Yu-ki  and Pratt. On the palate, you’ll find the elegant mouthfeel we have come to expect  from Akiko’s Cuvée. The balance between fruit and acidity is perfect. Enjoy this from 2022 through 2032.

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95 points
96 points


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.

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  • 37% Yu-ki Estate
  • 31% Gloria Estate
  • 16% KR Ranch
  • 16% Pratt
Barrel Aging
11 months in French oak:
  • 20% new
  • 15% one-year-old
  • 25% two-year-old
  • 30% three-year-old
  • 10% neutral
July 2020
5-day cold soak in open top fermenters, hand punched down 1 to 3 times per day, free run sent directly to barrel, press wine settled and barreled separately
  • 750 ml: 418 cases
  • 1.5 L: 22 cases


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