Jim Collins is making better choices, or at least that was the topic of his lecture at a recent gathering in the Sheraton Commander in Cambridge.
As winegrower and terroir ambassador for Frei Brothers Reserve (a Gallo-owned business since 1977) in Sonoma County, California, Jim has learned a thing or two over the years.
Coastal vineyards make Sonoma County wines unique, but with Jim’s background as a student at California Polytechnic State University, he’s got the agriculture and economics down. And as a native of California, he’s got a good sense of the climate, landscape and know-how to grow world-class grapes. Growing wine in Texas and Washington only adds to his expertise. Today, he gets to work with the terroir of the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley, utilizing sustainability, a.k.a. making better choices.
What is sustainability, you ask? According to Jim, it’s more difficult that building a biodynamic vineyard. Sustainability is about social, economic and environmental elements working together – better choices. In collaboration with Gallo, Jim has been working on the Frei Brothers sustainability project for a decade. And working in sustainability measures isn’t cheap. The cost to keep a certification in sustainability is $10,000 annually, just to give you an idea of Gallo’s commitment to the project. In fact, on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most sustainable, Frei Brothers Reserve is rated a 4 on the sustainability chart. And Frei is not organic, just so you’re not confused.
Sustainability issues range from reducing carbon emissions from a tractor by switching sulfur to a different chemical, thereby needed to pack the earth less – to using lightweight glass bottles to using recycled materials in packaging.
Now that we learned what sustainability encompasses, it was time for a taste test. Frei Brothers 2009 Sauvignon Blanc proved its power with a strong floral aroma and high acidity, with a taste of zesty melon. You can almost taste the cool of the Russian River.
Next, the 2009 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, lightly oaked, medium acidity with an aroma of honey. Lovely. And then, the 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, which proved to be perfection to my palate.
“We farm sunlight,” says Jim. And mineral content counts. “These wines are very varietally correct,” he adds.
Want proof? Try the 2009 Zinfandel, which is surreal it’s so good, with its earthy balance and smooth finish. Merlot lovers will want to try the 2007 Merlot. This is a well-grown grape, for sure, with good tannin structure. Are you a cabernet lover? The winner of the evening’s tastings went to the 2007 Cabernet from Alexander Valley. It felt a bit chalky mid-palate, but worked its magic in character, aroma and finish.
And finish I did, leaving Cambridge with a great sense of what Frei Brothers Reserve offers, and I can’t wait to get more at the nearest Kappy’s, where Frei Brothers Reserve wines are currently sold.