Living the Dream

August 13, 2010 § 8 Comments

Friends from San Francisco drove up yesterday afternoon, and with their hearts set on wine tasting, I did some digging to see if there was an off-the-beaten path winery we could visit. I found the family-owned Freeman Winery, just outside of Sebastopol on the way to Bodega Bay, whose pinot noirs had garnered acclaim and whose story intrigued me: a wife-husband team (she Japanese, he white – you can see already why I could relate) that were living their wine-making dream.

After driving down a bumpy country road and pulling into a small gravel drive presided over by a red barn, we met Akiko Freeman, half of the pair behind the winery. She led us into their wine cave, dug out under a grove of redwood trees, for tastings directly from a couple of barrels plus their 2008 Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs.

Freeman Winery wine cave

The wines were lovely. I’m just not the type of person to come up with descriptions such as “supple and graceful with the delicate aftertaste of rose petal” (which is actually how one of the Freeman Pinots was described by Wine Spectator). But the Chardonnay was made in the French style (not heavily oaked, not buttery, but fresh and clean – my preference) and the word that came to mind when sampling the Keefer Ranch and Akiko Cuvee’s Pinots was simply: pretty. Very, very pretty. Pretty enough that we bought a case to take home.

Wine tasting

Akiko and her husband, Ken’s, story enchanted me. They both grew up with a love of wine and food, she in Tokyo and he in New York, and upon moving to California, they began drinking a lot of wine and dreaming seriously about starting their own winery. They searched for three years for the perfect spot to produce the type of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs they enjoyed, and twenty years after it was seeded, the dream became reality. They bought a parcel of land from an engineer living on the property in a 1970s kit house who had no interest in cultivating its wine potential and rebuilt everything: the 1970s house gave way to a modern, glass-windowed home nestled in the trees; the decrepit barn was renovated; and when friends said, “This would be a perfect spot for a wine cave,” that too was built. He’s kept his day job as a banker in San Francisco while she’s switched from Italian Renaissance art history to being the assistant wine maker. It doesn’t sound like an easy life, per se — Akiko started working at 4 that morning — but it sounds like they’re doing what they love.

In 2002, their first year, they produced 500 cases, which sold out quickly, so they thought, huh, we may actually be able to do this. Now they produce 4000 cases of well-regarded wine that’s sold primarily to their mailing list and also in some of the top restaurants around the world.

Freeman Winery land: livin

We also met Craig Strehlow, owner of Keefer Ranch in the Russian River Valley, who grows grapes for wineries such as Kosta-Browne and Siduri. The arc of his life was similar to Akiko and Ken’s: his parents bought the ranch when he was younger, he went away to college and into tech in Silicon Valley, but then decided to move with his wife back to the countryside. His passion now is farming grapes, and he invited us to tour the ranch. I definitely want to take him up on that offer!

My husband and I dream about one day having a house in wine country where I can take this “living local” lifestyle a few steps further. I want fruit trees and a plot to grow vegetables — maybe even cherry tomatoes (one can dream, right?). I’d love to keep a goat for dairy, pigs for luscious meat and bacon and chickens, some for eggs and some for roasting in a salt crust (though I’d have to do serious crash courses in animal husbandry, goat milking and pig and chicken slaughtering, as I have done exactly zero of the above).

Hearing how Akiko, Ken and Craig’s dreams and lives wound their way together into one reality showed me that though it may be long and circuitous, there is a path to living the life you desire.

You know, just:

(Go ahead. Click on it. There’s nothing like seeing Steve Perry belting it out in leopard print.)

What are your dreams?

P.S. If you love a great pinot noir, you really should try Freeman’s:

Freeman Winery, 707.823-6937. www.freemanwinery.com

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