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Ten Year Vertical of Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

The history of Freeman Vineyard & Winery had its origins in a happenstance meeting between Ken and Akiko. After college, Ken was a crew member aboard a yacht sailing to the Caribbean, but Hurricane Gloria forced the crew ashore in Larchmont, New York, close to Ken’s hometown. Ken decided to join a party in town thrown by a good friend where he met Akiko. She had only recently arrived from Japan, and as Japanese tradition would dictate, she was dressed formally in a Chanel dress, a striking contrast to the other revelers clothed in jeans and tee shirts. Ken was smitten and after introductory formalities, the two eagerly shared their passion for fine wine, especially Pinot Noir. She had grown up in Japan around wine as her father was a wine enthusiast who often shared special bottles with his family. The date of their meeting, September 28, 1985, is engraved on the keystone at the Freeman winery’s entrance.

The Freemans launched their winery in 2001 after acquiring a small Russian River Valley winemaking facility and property in Sebastopol on a redwood-covered hillside. Beforehand, they had explored more than 300 vineyards looking to establish an estate program of their own and enlist grower partners. They preferred cool climate wines, and in particular, wines crafted in an eloquent style that were quite approachable upon release, but had enough structure to allow extended development over the long term. The Freemans winemaking goal can be summarized in two words: balance and refinement.

The Freemans enlisted the winemaking expertise of veteran Ed Kurtzman who made the Freeman wines through several initial vintages, working closely with Akiko as a mentor, and eventually becoming a consultant to Akiko as she has gradually assumed the winemaking duties. Ed worked in wine retail and wholesaling before enrolling in the enology program at California State University at Fresno. After graduation, he honed his winemaking skills during stints at Bernardus, Chalone, Fort Ross and Testarossa, before settling in with current winemaking jobs with August West, Roar, Sandler Wine, Mansfield-Dunne, Freeman, and assorted other consulting positions. As one of California’s most accomplished Pinot Noir winemakers, Ed proved to be an invaluable adviser to Akiko and Freeman winery in developing the visionary style of Freeman wines. Akiko is currently aided by assistant winemaker Mitchell Masotti, a graduate of California State University at Fresno.

Freeman produces just under 5,000 cases of Pinot Noir, Rosé, and Chardonnay. Grapes are sourced from multiple noted vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. The offerings include a Pinot Noir Rosé in some vintages, appellation-designated Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast, a vineyard-designated Pinot Noir from Keefer Ranch, a reserve Sonoma Coast bottling known as “Akiko’s Cuvée,” and a Chardonnay labeled “Ryo-Fu,” which means “Cool Breeze” in Japanese. The 7-acre Freeman Estate Vineyard adjacent the winery will produce a vineyard-designated Pinot Noir for the first time from the 2012 vintage. This vineyard is planted to several clones: 115, 667, 777, “828,” Mt. Eden, Swan, Calera and Pommard.

Ken and Akiko are very active, hosting tastings at their winery, participating in many Pinot Noir festivals and wine dinners nationwide. They travel extensively and entertain Ken’s banking clients (he is a San Francisco-based investment banker) in their modern home adjacent the winery as well as abroad. Ken was Chairman of the Board of the West Sonoma Coast Vintners this past year and directed the wildly successful West of West Wine Festival held recently in Sebastopol and earlier this year in New York City.

Freeman wines are distributed throughout the United States to select retailers and fine restaurants, and several hundred cases are sent to Japan each year. The mailing list is the best way to insure acquisition of the wines. The winery is not open to the public, but tasting can be arranged by appointment (707823-6937). Visit the website at

Each year since the inaugural 2002 vintage, the Freemans have released an Akiko’s Cuvée. Winemaker Akiko and consulting winemaker Ed taste each barrel of Pinot Noir from a given vintage in the cellar and choose their favorites. Wines from each person’s favorite barrels are then put together in a blend (or cuvée), and both blends are then tasted blind, so that no one knows who’s barrel selections are in which blend. For ten years in a row, Akiko’s blend has been everyone’s choice. The blend of vineyard sources will vary from year to year. On August 2, I had the distinct pleasure of tasting a ten year vertical of Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir at the winery’s cave with Ken, Ed, Akiko and Mitchell.

The wines were simply put, impressive. The earlier vintages had aged beautifully and the most recent vintages were very approachable. This last feature is the rub since many wine lovers will not be able to keep their hands off these wines upon release and therefore not experience the nuances that develop over time in the bottle. The style was consistent, yet the wines reflected vintage differences. Each wine displayed an appealing elegance, a moderate and balanced tannic structure, and crisp fruit expression. Finesse was featured over fruit heaviness, especially evident in the more recent vintages. I found that the most striking aromatic vibrancy and purity began to appear with the 2005 vintage wine. My tasting notes follow. When it comes to older Pinot Noir, there is no absolute rating, only a snapshot in time, but the wines were scored to reflect some current judgment.

The wines are vinified using a 5-day cold soak, fermentation in open-top bins, punched down by hand one to three times per day, with free run sent directly to barrel and press wine settled and barreled separately.

2002 Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

600 cases. Sourced from Thomas Road and Meredith Estate vineyards. An ideal vintage with a small but fully ripened crop. Aged 15 months in 57% new French oak barrels. · Fresh, moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. This wine features dark fruits that are very ripe and an underlying earthiness in the aromas and flavors. Scents of blackberry and black plum lead to fresh flavors of dark berry jam and black cherry with a hint of oak in the background. The tannins are very supple creating a silky texture and the finish has some noticeable length and intensity. Drink or hold shortterm. Score: 90

2003 Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

140 cases. 86% Meredith Estate, 7% Thomas Road, and 7% Galante. Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Less aromatic than the 2002 vintage, offering shy aromas of dark cherries and berries and spice. Very flavorful, yet light on its feet, featuring discreetly concentrated flavors of blackberries, Bing cherries and black currants. A stylish wine with an earthy bent, fully integrated tannins, and a touch of heat on the fruitdriven finish. Drink or hold short-term. Score: 89

2004 Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

280 cases. 62% Meredith Estate, 23% Bailey, 8% Thomas Road and 7% Keefer. Aged 11 months in 38% new and 62% 1-year-old French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The wine leads off with earth-kissed aromas of ripe, dark fruits with a hint of spice. Strikingly flavorful on the mid palate with an array of dark red and black stone fruits and berries. Very silky in the mouth with suave fine-grain tannins, bright acidity, and a substantial finish that really hits all the high notes. Drink or hold short-term. Score: 94

2005 Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

375 cases. 44% Keefer Ranch, 20% O’Connor, 18% Thorn Ridge, and 18% Rayhill. Aged 10 months in 35% new, 41% 1-year-old and 24% 2-year-old French oak barrels. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Very aromatic, offering hi-tone scents of Bing cherries black raspberries, and Asian 5-spice. A bigger, more intensely concentrated wine in this vintage, yet has the backbone to balance the fruit. Delicious layers of deeply colored stone fruits and berries with hints of cola and spice. Finishes with impressive richness. Will easily hold another five years. Score: 93

2006 Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

505 cases. 30% Rayhill, 25% Thorn Ridge, 15% Guidici, 7% Connell, 5% Sexton, 5% Bailey, 5% Keefer, 5% O’Connor and 3% Meredith Estate (at least one barrel from each of Freeman’s vineyards included). Aged 10 months in 30% new and 79% seasoned French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. Inviting aromas of fresh dark red cherries and berries with hints of briar, forest floor and vanillin. This wine has an appealing savory riff, adding interest to the middleweight core of dark red cherries and raspberries. The oak is complimentary, the tannins are quite modest, and the finish is juicy and refreshing. Drink or hold mid term. Score: 93

2007 Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

440 cases. 28% Thorn Ridge, 19% Rayhill, 17% Sexton, 15% Morris, 11% Guidici, 4% Horse Ridge, 2% Connell, 2% O’Connor and 2% Keefer. Aged 10 months in 52% new and 48% 1, 2 and 3-year-old French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose lacks fruit, offering instead an herbal oak theme. The fruit core, although nicely ripened and featuring dark red and black cherry fruits, is immersed in oak creating a strong dried herb finishing flavor. The texture is smooth and the tannins are well-balanced. Drink. Score: 87

2008 Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

420 cases. 38% Keefer Ranch, 24% Rayhill, 24% Guidici, 9% Horse Ridge, and 5% Sexton. Aged 11 months in 38% new, 33% 1-year-old, and 29% 2-year-old French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. This wine reflects more Green Valley influence from Keefer Ranch. The aromas jump out of the glass with swirling, offering enticing notes of fresh cherries and crushed wild raspberries with a touch of spice. Impressive mid palate presence of an array of dark red fruits that are vivid and juicy. Like chewing on iced cherries. The oak is beautifully integrated, the tannins are well-mannered, the acidity is bright, and the finish is delightful. A lip-smacker. Drink or hold long term. Score: 95

2009 Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

312 cases. 41% Guidici, 29% Sexton, 12% Rayhill, 6% Thorn Ridge, 6% Bacigalupi, and 6% Spring Hill. Aged 11 months in 41% new, 35% 1-year-old and 24% 2-year-old French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The bright aromas of black cherries, spice and seasoned oak leap from the glass. Racy, discreetly concentrated dark red fruits are complimented by a savory herb and citrus underpinning. This enjoyable wine displays an impressive balance of fruit, acidity and supple tannins and offers an intensely fruited yet refreshing finish. Drink or hold long term. Score: 94

2010 Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

325 cases. 23% O’Connor, 18% Campbell, 14% Connell, 14% Thorn Ridge, 9% Gunsalus, 9% Rayhill, 5% Sexton, 4% Bacigalupi, and 4% Harmony Lane. Aged 11 months in 27% new, 27% 1-year-old and 46% 2-year-old French oak barrels. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Very lovely aromas of Bing cherry pie filling, baking spices, and a hint of oak. This exceptional wine has it all: a soft, silky texture, vivid cherry and raspberry fruit expression, very suave tannins, uplifting acidity, beautifully married oak, and overall, an appealing delicacy. A thing of beauty. Drink or hold long term. Score: 95

2011 Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

350 cases. 23% Sexton, 18% Campbell, 18% La Cruz, 11% Rayhill, 6% Thorn Ridge, 6% Jones, 6% Keefer, 6% Harmony Lane, and 6% O’Connor. · Modest reddish-purple color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of darker fruits with hints of oak spice and rose petals. Dances on the lean side, but still quite flavorful, featuring both red and black berry notes finishing with focus and purpose. Will need more time to integrate the vanilla-infused oak and fully express itself. The characteristic finesse showed by the Akiko’s Cuvée wines is apparent. An impressive effort in this difficult vintage. Drink or hold mid term. Score: 91

2012 Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Barrel sample. “First fully ripe vintage since 2003,” according to Ed. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Very fruity nose featuring well-ripened black cherries, black raspberries and plum reduction sauce. Probably the purest fruited nose of all the wines tasted here. The fruit flavors echo the nose, and show impressive richness, maturity and grip on the mid palate. There is plenty of spice to add interest. The finish just sails along. Needs time to fully show what it has but this should turn out to be an extraordinary wine. A Lolita that will easily last 15 years. Score: NR

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