Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Freeman Wines Star at WOPN Dinner
Sure, there's that old idea about someone being born with a silver spoon in his mouth (it's probably a him, c'mon). But how about having a happy spoon in your mouth, one filled with golden Osetra caviar? I mean, what other kind of spoon could it be? And what if I told you that's just course one? Forget about a life of stereotypical privilege, just sign me up for the The Art of Japanese Cuisine and Freeman Winery Pinot Noir, with Guest Chef Ken Tominaga, at the World of Pinot Noir this Friday at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara.
While many people are (wisely) perfectly happy just hitting one or both of the two grand tastings WOPN (pronounce it like you mean it) holds every year--fantastic ballrooms full of the best pinot you can have in a three hour period in the world--the evening events take on a decidedly even more exploratory and opulent edge, and the Freeman dinner is exhibit A. Freeman can boast sheets of 90+ scores for its Sonoma pinots and chardonnays, from vineyards getting closer and closer to the Pacific (Freeman--along with Peay, Littorai, Red Car, Freestone and Failla--is also one of the six founding members of the West Sonoma Coast Vintners, fantastic wineries all.)
I recently got to ask Ken Freeman, who runs the operation with his wife, winemaker Akiko, "Freeman was cold climate before cold climate was cool, in a way. What drew you to make such wines?" And he said, "After coming back from living in Asia in 1997 we joined the mailing list of Littorai, Flowers etc. We loved the acidity and complexity of the grapes coming from this high elevation, foggy region."
While Freeman Vineyards & Winery was founded in 2001, it took some time to pick the perfect spot for their own estate wines, so they sourced from some of the best, like Heintz (a long-time spot for stellar Williams Selyem chardonnays) and Keefer Ranch. Now, I asked, what do they get from growing their own fruit in the Gloria and Yu-Ki Vineyards they own? "We were and are so fortunate to be able to source fruit and work with these leading growers," Freeman explained, "but we were able to purchase two amazing vineyard sites, and select and plant the clones that we really wanted to work with, and farm the vineyard exactly how we wanted." You can go to their website to see a detailed maps of clones and a discussion of drainage, row design, etc.
That kind of pride, and yeah, sure, geekery (in the best, you taste it in the bottle sense), is well-earned. "We have been coming to WOPN for 15 years and have also looked forward to the road trip south and the seeing existing customers along with meeting new potential customers," Freeman remarked. "We have also found the audience of pinot noir lovers to be passionate, informed and wanting to learn more. This is a real honor for our wines to be featured at a dinner."
That five-course dinner closes with a beef-eater's dream, Schmitz Ranch 28-day Prime Dry Aged Ribeye with Squash Puree, Mushrooms, Black Truffles, Baby Kale, and Au Poivre Sauce, paired with 2014 Akiko’s Cuvee (which scored 94 points in Wine Enthusiast). I asked about how the menu was developed--food first? wine first? a bit of both? "Chef Ken is very familiar with our elegant and balanced style of wines, and we are very familiar with many of his dishes so this was an easy pairing," Freeman pointed out. "I am especially excited about his Uni and Hokkaido scallop risotto." (Now that he mentions it, I am too.)
Just as the wine/food pairing for this elegant, extravagant meal seem to happen easily, choosing Tominaga was also a match made in culinary heaven. (Tominaga is so good, Michael Mina eats at his restaurant.) "Ken and his wife Emiko are close friends, so it was so nice of him and his team to drive all the way down to prepare this dinner," Freeman says. "Ken also owns and works at Hana in Sonoma on the weekends and we get to see him on a regular basis."
We're all going to be sad we don't get to see him regularly, after he spoils us on Friday.