This is a very interesting pair of young men, whose combined talents come together seamlessly, creating a respectful symbiosis in the wine cellar at River Road Family Vineyards and Winery… All of this while they tend to winemaking.

I’m really impressed by this very successful combination of talents.

[Photos credited to Jose Diaz]

Joe Freeman began his winemaking career in 1997, when he started working for Associated Vintage Group, in Graton. This provided a wide exposure to many aspects of wine production. Once he moved on, he continued to gain tremendous experience with the likes of Martini and Prati, Taft Street Winery, and many top Sonoma County winemakers who were making their wines at Taft Street.

Then in 2004, Joe Freeman was hired as the winemaker for River Road Family Vineyards and Winery, where he has remained since. In that same year, Joe met Ed Morris, a cooper with ReCoop. They instantly liked each other, and Ed mentioned to Joe that he was beginning to develop an interest in changing careers, from barrel making to wine making.

That dream became a reality in 2009 when Ed was hired as a crew member, to work in the cellar at River Road Family Vineyards and Winery. Next, Ed became Joe Freeman’s assistant winemaker. Joe’s knowledge of the outstanding grapes grown at the winery and exceptional grape vineyard purchases presented a great foundation. This, combined with Ed’s background as a craftsman with an impressive eye for detail and quality ingredients and his understanding for barrel making processes, helps this energetic duo to bring everything together as a very skilled winemaking team.

Joe and Ed recognize each other as “makers.” Joe appreciates the knowledge that Ed gained while working closely with very the talented winemaker clients of ReCoop. Joe values the palate that Ed developed as a result of those experiences. The both agree with and understand the stylistic goals of River Road Family Vineyards and Winery. Their palates are in synch. It’s not unusual when they taste 10 or 12 different wines, they hone in on one or two that they both enjoy; and have, over the years, developed a language of their own to communicate what they taste.

They’re scientific and like to experiment. When Ed was coopering, he’d sometimes pull the heads from barrels and ferment the wine in these small open-top fermenters. With the 2011 vintage of Old Vine Zinfandel, they de-stemmed the fruit straight into 60-gallon barrels, where the wine stayed for fermentation. This incorporated wood into the wine at an even earlier stage than usual. Ed learned this process while working with very high-end winemakers, during his time as a cooper.

They both agree that the flavors of the wine should be highlighted over blatant oak flavors; and, believe that the wine’s flavors are elevated best by early contact with wood. Sometimes, they even realized the potential of putting certain wines into barrels during fermentation.

They decide on the barrels they’ll use before harvest, in order to make the best decisions for that particular vintage. They decipher the best value barrels for their programs, with Ed knowing if the product is up to the winery’s quality standards. At times, they move some wines into multiple barrels during the process, in order to impart different qualities. If there’s too much wood in the wine, they’ll rack it out of the barrels and put it in older barrels for a while.

  • For Chardonnay, they prefer American and French oak. The American oak delivers sweet, spicy aromatics of maple and vanilla, and the French oak delivers texture, structure, and richness in order to elevate the wine.
  • For Zinfandel, they prefer American oak for its spicy nose.
  • For Pinot Noir, they usually use French oak.

This is a video of them stirring lees with new equipment, making their jobs more fascinating.

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