artisan highlight: akiko freeman of freeman winery

Part of a series highlighting different artists, artisans, and creators who create work for a more beautiful space and life.

The greatest perk of living in wine country is discovering boutique wineries and meeting the individuals who devote their lives to refining their craft, especially when it comes to wine. My good friend recommended Freeman Winery in Sebastapol, at the edge of the Sonoma Coast, noting that the winemaker of her favorite winery was a Japanese woman named Akiko Freeman.

Maison and I at Freeman Winery

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, beneath a canopy of vines wrapping the pergola, I had the great privilege of meeting and tasting with Akiko. It was one of the more magical experiences I’ve had in a tasting, learning both of how Freeman Winery came to be and her unique take on creating artisanal Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietals.

Akiko wasn’t formally trained in winemaking — she actually studied Italian Renaissance art history! — but always had an affinity for wine as it was a great passion of her grandfather’s. She moved to New York from Tokyo and fortuitously met her husband, Ken Freeman, who loved the same varietals of wine as well. They eventually moved to the West Coast, purchased land and started Freeman Vineyard & Winery in 2001. Though Akiko came into the business with no experience, she devoted herself to learning from a renowned winemaker and began creating beautifully nuanced Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines that are both balanced and refined.

Mais & I with Akiko Freeman

She reiterated that, as glamorous as it all sounds, it’s one of the most challenging jobs she’s ever had physically, mentally, and emotionally as there are so many facets to the business that must always be in sync to achieve the perfected finished product. Akiko said the first harvest was an eye opening experience into the realities of winemaking. I can hardly imagine all of the uncontrollable factors that have to be considered, such as weather, natural disasters, damaged vines, viruses etc. that make a direct impact on the yield and quality every season. Not to mention, the amount of time spent waiting.

Facing the barn, which was original to the grounds
Dad & daughter moments

We loved everything we tasted (seriously!) but our favorites were the Ryo-Fu Chardonnay and the Gloria Estate Pinot Noir. Though we aren’t connoisseurs by any means, we greatly appreciated the subtle qualities of each that we tasted. Akiko brings a softly feminine and balanced palate to her wines that I particularly enjoyed. Her Japanese culture has definitely influenced her winemaking practices and considerations even for how they would pair with food.

Akiko and Ken’s private collection
Mais and I in the cave that was built to naturally control the climate and store the French Oak barrels

Listening to Akiko’s sentiments felt familiar as I’ve pivoted careers many times, not to mention all of the different life transitions that have taken place leading up to my path now. Her diligence and persistence to learn, create, and strive for the best season after season was inspiring to say the least.

It was also a great reminder that if you have an unwavering desire to pursue something that brings joy and light to those around you, it should be pursued and shared with the world regardless of your education (or lack thereof). With enough discipline, diligence, patience and enthusiasm, you can make life that much more of a beautiful experience.

Freeman wines are primarily accessible via their wine club, but if you’re in Sonoma you definitely want to make sure you book a tasting appointment in advance. Thanks to Akiko and the team at Freeman Winery for the incredibly lovely time!


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