Can you share more about your background and what you did prior to working in the wine industry?
I was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. I attended Sacred Heart schools and was taught by Irish Nuns. I went to the US to study for an exchange year at Manhattanville College, and then received a Master in European Art History from Stanford.
As someone who grew up in Japan, did you encounter a lot of wine as a child or young adult? Is that what sparked your interest in winemaking?
My grandfather studied at Oxford in the UK in the 1930’s. He brought back wine drinking to our family in Japan. He loved Bordeaux, and my parents were foodies, and my father loved Burgundy. I was his drinking partner.
What led to your interest in starting a winery with your husband Ken and ultimately you becoming the winemaker?
Starting the winery was Ken’s idea, but then I fell in love with winemaking after I started to help our first winemaker, Ed Kurtzman. I was going to go back to UC Davis for a Viticulture degree, but Ed suggested that I just train under him. After seven years, he said I am ready to take over as winemaker. Ed is still our consulting winemaker and I see him every few weeks.
As a winemaker, you taste (and spit) lots of wine, what wine do you feel bad about spitting because you love it so much?
Old bottles of Burgundy.
Can you share more about the varietals (Pinot Noir & Chardonnay) you produce and what readers should know about Freeman Winery if they’re not familiar already?
West Sonoma is an amazing place to grow grapes. We are fortunate to have two, organically farmed vineyards. West Sonoma is an amazing place to grow grapes. My job is not to mess it up. We use very traditional production techniques, natural yeast, and all of our wines are unfiltered and unfined.
What was one of the biggest mistakes you have made in your winemaking career?
Many years ago, once hired a very bad harvest intern. I now call several employment references before hiring anyone.
What is your favorite after-work drink?
What is your favorite local spot in Sonoma County? In Japan?
We love Handline & K & Bistro both in Sebastopol. Terrapin Creek is also a great spot in Bodega Bay.
In Japan we love Kobe Beef, Sazanka at the Hotel Okura is one of the best spots to enjoy this cuisine.
I know that Freeman Winery has a loyal following in your home country of Japan. Can you share more about the Japanese wine drinkers, what do they enjoy (stylistically the Sonoma Coast, Russian River AVA’s you produce??
Japan is the 5th largest market for Burgundy wine in the world. The Japanese love eating and drinking the best, so we are dealing with a very refined customer.
Tell us something that would surprise people about you?
I am a book worm, if I could, I would spend all day reading.
If you enjoyed this interview with Akiko, learn more about Freeman Winery on my Best Sonoma Coast Wineries post here