Freestone and Sonoma Coast Vineyards: New Releases

Sonoma CoastFreestone Vineyards and Sonoma Coast Vineyards are two of California’s top producers of cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The reviews that follow are based on Mike Potashnik’s visit to Freestone Vineyards earlier in the year and subsequent tastings with Don Winkler at our offices in Mclean, VA.

The area known as the true Sonoma Coast is characterized by cool temperatures, shallow sand and clay soils, a long growing season, and very low yields. Cold fog from Bodega Bay brings cool night temperatures in the 40’s. The growing conditions are challenging, what with cool spring temperatures, heavy fog, abundant deer and gophers, and harvests that are later than Napa’s Cabernet Sauvignon. On the other hand, marginal growing conditions can translate to superb wines, a situation common to most the world’s premium wine regions.

Freestone Vineyards

Freestone Vineyards is a large scale, joint investment by Joseph Phelps and several partners that began in 1999 and has involved the acquisition of three vineyards totaling 187 acres (82 planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) in the area of Freestone. It is located on the western edge of Russian River Valley some 5-8 miles from the Pacific Coast. A state-of-the-art winery was completed in time for the 2007 harvest. The project has had to overcome many challenges from gophers to weather conditions, but is now in operation and producing some excellent wines.

The visit to Freestone was hosted by winemaker, Theresa Heredia, who supervises Pinot Noir and Chardonnay production. Theresa has a background in biochemistry, viticulture, and enology and winemaking experience at Saintsbury and in Burgundy. A walk through the new winery shows how Freestone has adopted the widely accepted Burgundian minimalist techniques for producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The winery includes four temperature-controlled barrel rooms used for storing wines at different stages of production.

The following are my tasting notes and rating of the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs tasted during my visit. Wines tasted out of barrel are not rated, as they are not technically finished wines.

Freestone Vineyards 2006 Fogdog Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($40) 89

The Fog Dog Chardonnay is a blend of estate and independent grower fruit. Barrel fermented in 60% new and 40% one to two year old French barriques, it is medium lemon in color and offers lovely aromas of melon, pear, apricot and toasty oak. On the palate it displays good acidity with minerals and flinty notes on the finish. This is a wine that’s easy to enjoy.

Freestone Vineyards 2006 Ovation Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($60) 90

OvationThe Ovation Chardonnay is also sourced from estate fruit and other independent growers. More refined and elegant than the Fogdog, it is also barrel fermented with native yeast and aged in 70% new French oak barrels for 12-15 months. It displays lovely aromas of yeast and oak, pear and melon with notes of minerality and a rich leesy mouth feel from the battonage.

Freestone Vineyards 2006 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($75) 91

This 100% estate-grown Chardonnay is my favorite of the trio. It displays considerable complexity and richness. Aged for 15 months in 70% new and 30% one to two year old French oak barrels, it has a lovely bright lemon color with perfectly integrated aromas and flavors of pear, fig, melon, minerals and toast. It is perfectly balanced and elegant on the palate with good acidity and a long lasting finish. Superb!

Freestone Chardonnay Pastorale Vineyard (2007 barrel sample)

This Chardonnay is sourced from the vineyard that surrounds the winery some eight miles inland from the ocean. Produced in large 300-500 liter Burgundian casks, at the time of tasting it revealed intriguing petrol-like smoke and toast aromas with sweet melon flavors that went on and on. We look forward to tasting this wine again after bottling.

Freestone Vineyards 2006 Fogdog Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($40) 88

The Fogdog is a blend of three estate-grown vineyards and is aged for 12 months in 40% new and 60% two to three-year old barriques. Medium ruby colored, it reveals aromas and flavors of spicy red and black fruit with notes of black tea and citrus, gripping tannins and a pleasant finish.

Freestone Vineyards 2006 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($75) 92

Freestone Sonoma Coast Pinot NoirThis lovely Pinot Noir is produced from grapes from Freestone estate and Quarter Moon Vineyards using whole berries and 40% stems. It displays a medium dark ruby color with pure plum fruit aromas and baking spice. Aged for 15 months in 55% new and 45% two to three-year old barriques, it reveals a soft round and silky textured palate with rich and complex fruit flavors and some minerality. A beautifully structured wine that will age well over the next 7 to 10 years.

Freestone 2007 Pinot Noir Pastorale Vineyard (2007 barrel sample)

The Pastorale Vineyard Pinot Noir, vinified with 100% whole clusters, exhibits a medium dark ruby color with scents of lavender and red plum which carry over to the palate. Aged in 50-60% lightly toasted new barrels, it shows a soft texture and purity of red fruit flavors on the palate. It has great length with a dash of herbs on the finish which goes on and on. To be bottled in April and placed on the market in September. This wine shows great promise.

Freestone 2007 Pinot Noir Quarter Moon Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($90) 92

The 41-acre Quarter Moon Vineyard is located in the hills west of the winery situated above the fog line on a south-facing slope that exposes it to coastal influences and good sunlight. The wine produced from this vineyard is vinified with 67% whole clusters in open top oak fermenters for about 18 days. Displaying a dark ruby color to the rim, the wine exhibits ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors with notes of black tea and pepper. Over all it appears somewhat more complex that the Pastorale. Like the Pastorale, it is aged in 50-60% lightly toasted new barrels and reveals a lovely soft texture with excellent overall balance and structure and a long finish.

Sonoma Coast Vineyards

Smaller than Freestone Vineyards, Sonoma Coast Vineyards produces high quality handcrafted wines from grapes purchased from the Sonoma Coast AVA. Founded in 2002 by John and Barbara Drady and currently owned by Windsor Vineyards, Sonoma Coast produces small quantities of very fine Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah. Sonoma Coast does not own any of its own vineyards but works closely with a special group of growers. Winemaking at Sonoma Coast Vineyards is under the direction of winemaker Anthony Austin, one of California’s most talented winemakers.

The wines reported here come from the difficult 2005 vintage and an equally challenging 2006 vintage that saw a rainy cool spring, late bloom and very low yields. While the International Wine Review has previously tasted some of Sonoma coast Vineyards’ wines, it is only recently that we had the opportunity to taste the complete portfolio, the results of which are reported below. The wines are distributed nationally by Wilson Daniels (St. Helena, CA) www.wilsondaniels.com and locally in the Washington, DC area by Nice Legs (Sterling, VA) www.nicelegs.biz

Sonoma Coast 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Laguna Vista Vineyards ($24) 90

Mineral laden tropical fruit and floral aromas describes the nose on this rich, California style Sauvignon Blanc that is 50 percent barrel fermented and spends six months sur lies. Except for the notable acidity is quite unlike the stereotypical, pungent New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It is fleshy on the palate with abundant, rich melon fruit and a long, very flavorful, persistent and almost unctuous finish. Winemaker Anthony Austin has hit a home run with this one!

Sonoma Coast 2006 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($47) 92

Chardonnary Sonoma CoastFor a wine fermented in barrel and then left ten months sur lie in 50% new French oak barrels, this Chardonnay exhibits real restraint and elegance that begins with a perfumed nose of honeysuckle and mango. This is followed by a soft yet crisp attack with balanced flavors of vanilla, mango, and a touch of nutmeg and finishes with the brisk acidity of an unoaked wine and the complexity of an oaked one. This is one very, very nice wine that could easily pass for a top flight Meursault.

Sonoma Coast 2005 Pinot Noir Freestone Hills ($62) 87

This medium weight, medium ruby-orange 100% Pinot Noir is fermented 25% whole cluster and aged in 50% new French oak for 21 months. A wet and cold spring followed by violent rainstorms in May led to yields of less than 1 ton per acre. The resulting wine has a nose that is herbal and somewhat rustic in character with a red and black cherry spiced, earthy palate that calls for similarly assertive food.

Sonoma Coast 2006 Pinot Noir Petersen Vineyard ($63) 90

The Petersen Vineyard 100% Pinot Noir is a medium ruby, medium weight wine aged in 50% new French oak for 10 months. It shows aromas of light red berry fruit with a touch of wood and has a smoothly textured, elegant palate with good acidity and flavorful smoky cherry fruit accented by a touch of wood spice. At this youthful stage, it exhibits good tannic grip on the finish. It will be still more appealing with a little more time in bottle.

Sonoma Coast 2005 Syrah Hummingbird Hill Vineyard ($40) 91

Hummingbird Hill is perhaps the coldest part of California where Syrah is grown. This dark ruby, hedonistic wine is aged 21 months in 50% new French oak. A rich, perfumed nose of rich black fruit and charred oak gives way to a lush attack of lovely pure, blackberry and cassis on a full-bodied palate and ends with a rich, long nicely balanced finish. Much improved over the 2003 vintage, which we rated 89.

Sonoma Coast 2005 Balistreri Family Vineyard Freestone View Block ($67) 91

Balistreri Family Vineyard Freestone View BlockA late May severe rainstorm did particular damage to the Freestone Block, resulting in yields between ½ and 1 ton per acre. At fermentation, 30% of the fruit was left whole cluster. After fermentation, the wine was aged 21 months in 50% new French barrels. The wine is medium dark magenta with a nose of beautifully integrated fruit and cedar oak. It’s rich and ripe on a nicely balanced palate, with flavors of black and red fruit, cedar and vanilla. The finish is long and very flavorful with an assertive cedar aftertaste. Although delicious, some Pinot purists may find this wine a bit over the top in its oak treatment. Our recommendation is to cellar this wine for a couple more years and then decant before serving.

Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler, March 2009