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Friday, December 12, 2008

World-Class Winery - Freestone Vineyards

World-Class Winery comes to the Bohemian Highway

Many great winemakers have for some years been producing world-class wines from vineyards surrounding the hills of the Bohemian Highway near Freestone and Occidental including Cobb Wines, Paul Mathew, Sonoma Coast Vineyards, and Bohemian Vineyards to name but a few, but Freestone Vineyards is the first to open a winery and guest center off the Bohemian Highway allowing us to taste, right here, at home.

In 1999, Joe Phelps (owner and founder of the prestigious Joseph Phelps winery in Napa), with his son Bill, purchased 80 acres of pinot noir and 20 acres of chardonnay in Freestone, California. With a commitment to sustaining the integrity of the environment, the new Freestone Vineyards winery was built into the hillside to reduce both its volume and footprint. The winery employs organic and biodynamic farming methods. The state-of-the-art three story facility uses the force of gravity to move wine from fermenters to barrels, avoiding pumps that adjust temperature and quality also using less energy to produce wine. The wines are unfined, unfiltered, and the goal is to create wines representative of the rugged coastal region where Freestone is located, I think they have succeeded, right from their first vintage.

Freestone Vineyards wines are not widely available yet, not in restaurants or even boutique wine stores (I don’t carry them at Sophie’s Cellars yet…). I did have the good fortune to taste a selection from the Freestone Vineyard’s first releases. After tasting the rosé of pinot noir, the chardonnay and the pinot noirs, I really felt that all of the wines were exceptional in quality. However, the Freestone Vineyards Pinot Noir stood out as a superbly elegant-styled, though slightly spicy food wine. The Fogdog Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are relatively inexpensive for quality pinot noir and chardonnay (retailing $35-$40 at the Guest Center). The Freestone Pinot Noir retails at $75 and garnered 90pts from Wine Spectator. The Freestone Vineyards Guest Center is another wonderful reason to explore our Bohemian Highway joining Freestone, Occidental and Monte Rio, the beauty of which is being discovered by tourists, or, of course, known by locals as the quick way down to San Francisco once Santa Rosa grinds to a halt. The footprint for visitors to Freestone Vineyards is kept minimal as the winery is private and there are no public tours, but Freestone wines may be tasted at the renovated Guest Center facility located at the corner of Bodega Highway and Bohemian Highways in Freestone, currently open for visitors Friday, Saturday & Sunday from 11:00 am – 5:00 pm. No appointment is necessary. Groups of six or more are encouraged to call ahead ( Check out for more information on The Bohemian Highway.

Wine for Thanksgiving Dinner
It is that time of year again, and I am so often asked to pick wines for Thanksgiving Dinner. It’s a particularly fun time for me as Sophie’s Cellars is only closed on Wednesday, with the exception of Thanksgiving when we close both Wednesday and Thursday… I’m travelling to the Bay Area and am most definitely bringing with me my Harvest Moon Dry Gewurztraminer from 2007 (Russian River Valley), retailing at $24.99 and Ventana Riesling 2007 from Monterey, retailing at $11.99. Both are a perfect complement to a turkey dinner surrounded by the rich accoutrements found at so many T-day dinners. The Riesling, with a demi-sec (light sweet) works well with many spicy foods too. If you’re not sure what is being served, try taking a versatile pinot noir to dinner such as David Noyes Pinot Noir from Sonoma County (retailing at $24.99), it is subtle and complex, with aromas of black cherry, cinnamon and clove. The palate is filled with earthy forest floor and wild mushroom flavors and finishes with toasted oak. It’s a versatile pinot noir - a delicious sipper or a pairing for poultry, fish and some grilled meat dishes. If you’re heading out of Sonoma County, our local wines are always a crowd pleaser.

John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, The Sonoma Wine & Cheese Market in Monte Rio, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open 11am – 7pm, closed only on Wednesdays.