Joe Freeman said he decided to become a winemaker because he’s an experimenter by nature.
Freeman is behind our wine-of-the-week winner, the River Road Vineyards 2014 Sonoma County Chardonnay at $14.
This is a tropical chardonnay that charms. It’s layered with notes of apple, pineapple, pear and lemon. This wine is lightly toasted and has a creamy texture, but it manages to be balanced. This breezy chardonnay may be just a touch sweet, but it’s ridiculously good for the price.
“Chardonnay is due for a revival,” Freeman said. “It’s an amazing grape that produces wine of extraordinary diversity. The days of overblown, monochromatic chardonnays with lots of blatant oak are nearing an end. There is a chardonnay for every taste.”
Freeman said the most challenging part of making chardonnay is determining the right approach to take with each clone and vineyard site.
“It may take a few years to feel out the grapes’ true nature, and balance may elude us for a while,” he said. “Eventually we find the right fermentation techniques and the right blend for each vineyard. If we didn’t produce as diverse a mix of chardonnays at River Road (from unoaked through 100% barrel fermentation), we would struggle to find the correct techniques for some vineyard sites.”
Freeman, 45, has been the winemaker at River Road Family Vineyards and Winery since 2003, and now The Rubin Family of Wines, since 2011. He graduated from the University of Minnesota, College of Agricultural Sciences in 1995 with a BS in Science in Agriculture.
“My awareness of the flavor potential of the grape and attention to the details that highlight those characters makes me a good chardonnay winemaker,” he said.
Tasting with naysayers is one of Freeman’s favorite pastimes.
“It is always gratifying to taste through several chardonnays with someone who doesn’t like chardonnay, and then see them purchase a bottle because they’ve found one they love.”
The Sebastopol winery makes a wide variety of chardonnay, but Freeman said the Sonoma County blend is intended to be a lightly oaked wine with core flavors of Gravenstein apple, lemon, cinnamon, ginger and light toastiness.
“It’s the perfect apple pie,” he said. “There is a hint of sweetness, but balanced by the great Sonoma County acidity.”
To create the best wine, Freeman said he’s painstakingly choosy.
“We intentionally source grapes from a number of appellations in Sonoma County to provide the ripe apple fruit that forms the core, as well as melon, lemon and tropical notes to add interest,” he said. “The range of harvest dates, soils and temperatures gives this wine a broad spectrum of flavor.”