Imagine what residents thought upon hearing that a big Napa winery was coming to Freestone. Oh boy, here come the industrial vineyards. This is a little hamlet at the start of the Bohemian Highway, once probably home to more sheep than people, where all the news of the town can be heard while having a coffee at the bakery on Saturday morning. So wisely, Joseph Phelps Vineyards took nearly 10 years to ease into the scene. In 1999, they broke ground on an 80-acre biodynamically farmed vineyard overlooking Freestone, opening a gravity-flow winery in time for the 2007 crush. Phelps seems to have done right by West County.
Newly opened, the tasting room is in a building that formerly housed, going back a few years, the woolens store Pastorale. As yet there is no sign; however, it's the only business on the road. The casual, airy space is furnished in a whitewashed country French theme. Knickknackery is at a bare minimum; the small collection of fleecewear is no doubt a boon to unprepared tourists headed for what they imagine is the sun-drenched Pacific Coast. Visitors are encouraged to sit down at long tables and even have a picnic; at the copper-topped bar, it's easy to move through a short tasting list, a nice feature for beach-trippers with the curvy coast highway ahead of them. They'll want to linger over each sip.
As a good-neighbor gesture, Freestone offers free tasting for locals through June, and 20 percent off most wine purchases. Fittingly, Freestone's Fogdog label is named for a nautical term denoting a bright spot that breaks through the fog. Fogdog 2005 Chardonnay ($40) greets the nose with a thin haze of heavy toast, like woodsmoke drifting across the field on a cool spring burn day. Caramel and butter herald a crisp palate, lightly sweet like wet, blonde hay.
The 2006 Ovation Chardonnay's ($60) muted tropical fruit is brightened by a pinpoint sweet spot, tart walnut and a lemon drop finish. The burgundy-hued (can we still say "burgundy"?) Freestone 2005 Pinot Noir ($75) is imbued with black cherries, dark wood and clove. That Pinot is powerful, but I like the Fogdog 2005 Pinot Noir ($40) better. The dark fruit is more lively—strawberries crossed with plums, with accents of split redwood, cedar, earth and a substantial, velvety texture. As we've seen with neighbor Marimar Torres' Doña Margarita vineyard, there are some gorgeous wines coming off this slope. Now, if they could just get a flock of sheep back up there to biodynamically graze the green hills.
Freestone Vineyards, 12747 El Camino Bodega, Freestone. Open Friday–Monday, 10am to 4pm (but warm to closing-time callers). Tasting fee $10–$20, complimentary to locals through June. 707.874.1010.