Back in the 1990s, naysayers said it was impossible to grow good-tasting wine organically and without sulfites. But the Frey family in Mendocino County, CA, proved them all wrong. Today, Frey Vineyards grows its own organic grapes and turns them into certified organic wines that have won national and international awards. And it takes sustainable farming and winemaking one step further, offering certified biodynamic wines as well.
The Frey story starts in the early 1970s, when Paul Sr. and Beba Frey began growing their own food on their property, located in the striking slopes of California’s Redwood Valley. To make a little extra cash, they grew extra grapes to sell to a nearby winery.
After that winery won a gold medal for a wine produced from their grapes, the couple decided to get into winemaking themselves, and their children and grandchildren came along for the ride.
It was their son Jonathan who urged them to create organic, sulfite-free wines from the start. Sulfites are a synthetic food additive that is often used in wines to maintain stability, extend shelf life, combat vineyard pests, and prevent unwanted caramel flavors and browning. Sulfites can cause headaches and allergic reactions in some people.
“Going organic for the sake of our land and our planet’s future was the right thing to do at the time and even more so today,” says Paul Frey, Jr., now the president and winemaker at Frey Vineyards. “Organic wine production leaves out the tons of chemicals [used in conventional winemaking], keeping them from being dumped on our lands and entering our streams.”
|Paul Frey Jr., president and winemaker at Frey Vineyards, tends to the family’s organic vineyards.|
Shortly after the family launched Frey Vineyards in 1984, they approached the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) about certifying their wines as organic. However, the Freys were so ahead of their time that the USDA didn’t even have a definition of what organic wine was. So it wasn’t until 2002 that Frey Vineyards could legally put the term “certified organic wine” on its labels.
Prior to 2002, “we were limited to saying ‘made with organic grapes, no sulfites added,’” says Paul’s niece and assistant winemaker, Eliza Frey.
Today, the organic label, which appears on all Frey wines, is more common and indicates that the wine is made from organically grown grapes and contains no sulfites.
While waiting for organic standards to catch up to their vineyard, the Freys decided to take their commitment to green values one step further by certifying their farm as biodynamic. Biodynamics is the approach of creating a diversified and balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility from within the farm itself. The winery achieved biodynamic certification in 1996.
“Our special line of biodynamic wines are not only certified organic, but also made with the extra care and steps required under biodynamic standards, such as cycling compost back to the vineyards to increase soil fertility, and putting an emphasis on the vineyard as being part of a farm and the local ecosystem,” says Paul Frey, Jr.