Ever since I was a little girl I’ve had a fascination with all things Japanese. In later years this led me to Chiba University for Japanese Business and Society Study Abroad program. There I missed the class on language because I got on the wrong train and ended up riding all the way to Tokyo Disneyland and back. The first thing I did when I got back to Houston was enroll in a language immersion program, planning one day to return as a tourist to visit Kyoto and some of the older parts of Japan more rich in history.
But I didn’t practice my rudimentary language skills and found I only understand enough to eavesdrop in elevators when visiting in Hawaii. That and to tell a certain Sebastobol winemaker what I thought of her Pinot Noir; “O-ee-Shi” which I’d learned as “delicious. ”
Last summer we visited Freeman Winery’s Open House following the Wine Bloggers’ Conference. I admit part of my motivation was reading that the co-owner and assistant winemaker learned about wine from her grandfather. And that she shared the same first name as my study abroad hostess, Akiko.
A passionate connoisseur and devoted student of wine and winemaking, Akiko Freeman is the proprietor, CFO and assistant winemaker. Counting back her family tree 21 generations, Akiko grew up in Tokyo. Her grandfather was one of Japan’s leading academics, and his love for food, wine, literature and art was contagious, imbuing his granddaughter with a lifelong taste for the enigmatic beauty of great Burgundy wines and fine food.
But I also read praise about Freeman’s wines and convinced Joe to skip the vineyard walk at Michel-Schlumberger (where we had recently visited during Russian River Barrel Tasting in March) and head west towards Bodgea Bay instead.
Freeman Vineyard & Winery is nearly hidden, set back from the winding road among the majestic redwoods between Sebastopol and Occidental. Above on the hill by the vineyard, we saw a modern residence under construction. Where we were standing below, was a red barn which housed steel fermentation tanks. And in the side of the hill, large castle-like doors leading to the wine cave, site of the Open House reception hosted by Akiko and Ken Freeman.
Once inside, we found out what all the fuss in the trade press was about. In addition to two lovely Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, were two from Sonoma Coast.
Freeman Vineyard & Winery
2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
The sixth vintage of Freeman’s “flagship wine,” the 2007 Freeman Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir includes fruit from four vineyards in the Sebastopol Hills and Petaluma Gap areas of the Sonoma appellation. Bright garnet in color, the nose reminds us of freshly fallen autumn leaves, dark cherry and a hint of cola. On the palate, we tasted more cherry, red raspberry and earthy mushroom with toasty oak. Pleasant minerality with a medium finish, this is a very nice young wine that possesses plenty of structure for aging.
Says the winemaker, “Our Burgundian-style Pinot Noir is handcrafted in small lots using grapes from some of the region’s most acclaimed cool climate vineyards. Filled with lush flavors and terroir-inspired elegance, we hope you will savor every glass of this rich, unfiltered Pinot Noir.” 14.1% Alcohol by Volume, Freeman’s 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is modestly priced between $42 and $45 retail. Decant it if drinking now, or allow it to mature through 2016.
Freeman Vineyard & Winery
2007 Akiko’s Cuvée Pinot Noir
My favorite of the Freeman wines, Akiko’s Cuvée is a study in diversity, blending fruit from each of the nine Pinot Noir vineyards Freeman uses for its source grapes. And the process for selection appeals to my creative side as well.
Akiko and Ken Freeman, as well as winemaker Ed Kurtzman and assistant winemaker Eric Buffington barrel sample each 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). Following is a blind tasting of each blend — and they call it Akiko’s Cuvée as her blend always ends up the winner!
Elegant and sophisticated, the wine takes a bit of coaxing to open up. Patience rewards with a nose of luscious ripe plums and dark berries with a sassafras twist. The color is a vivid shade of red. Supple on the palate, warm musk complements the deep fruit, with a tingle of cola on the end. Hints of rose petals taper to a lingering finish. Alcohol by Volume is 14.2% Beautiful to decant or cellar through 2016, Akiko’s Cuvée is priced at $54.
Expect more enticing Pinot Noirs with Freeman’s release of its 2008 vintage. Available in fine restaurants in a number of states and internationally, we’re looking forward to seeing Ken & Akiko Freeman’s wines in Texas soon!