In 1890, Swiss immigrant Andrew Frei purchased the core of what is now Frei Ranch in Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley. The stretch of land was already a vineyard, but he added a winery that produced 20,000 cases of wine annually by 1895. In 1903 he turned operations over to his sons, Walter and Louis, who adopted the name Frei Brothers for the winery.
The winery was purchased by Gallo in the 1970s, and the vineyards are now under the purview of Jim Collins, who puts a premium on sustainability. According to information supplied by the winery, here are some of his initiatives:
· Water Stewardship - They reuse 80% of the water used to operate the winery, which limits the need to draw on local rivers and streams.
· Land Management - For every acre of land Frei Brothers Reserve plants in vineyards, they set aside one acre to be preserved as natural wildlife habitat.
· Energy Consumption – They are exploring new ways to convert plant waste from the harvest (known as “biomass”) into energy so they are less reliant on traditional electricity sources.
· Carbon Emissions – They have heat recovery, water reclaim and a use project in bottling that should reduce the total amount of fossil fuel used to heat hot water by 90% and will lower carbon emissions at Frei Ranch.
· Packing – They are using lighter glass, exploring ways to eliminate plastic from packaging and use virgin paper pulp in their labels.
Frei Brothers likes to say that they "begin by growing the best grapes from the best plots to end up with critically acclaimed wines." Here are some tasting notes on those:
Frei Brothers Reserve 2011 Russian River Valley Chardonnay – this is a plush, seriously oaky wine. It’s also creamy on the palate and shows notes of green apple, butter and toast. For fans of this style, it’s a homerun for about $20.
Frei Brothers Reserve 2012 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc – this is a very classic California Sauv Blanc. It is vivacious with a slightly creamy texture and flavors of tropical fruit. ($17)
Frei Brothers Reserve 2011 Dry Creek Valley Merlot – this wine offers soft baked plums and cooking spices on the nose. It is medium bodied with a nice tannic structure and decent length. ($20)
Frei Brothers Reserve 2011 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel – this is their smallest production wine (6700 cases). It’s a fairly big Zin (about 15% ABV) with a lot of concentrated jammy red-fruit and cedar notes. Good length. ($20)
Frei Brothers Reserve 2011 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – this shows mostly black fruits with a slight hint of wood. It’s definitely more fruity than earthy with medium length, nice finish, excellent acidity and no discernible tannins. ($23)
Frei Brothers Reserve 2011 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – this wine is about dark fruit, tobacco and cedar with smooth tannins and long length. ($23)