From the North Shore to Napa: A Story of Love …

Editor’s note: Market House on the Square in downtown Lake Forest will host a wine tasting on Wed., Feb. 6, featuring Friedeman Wines, a winery with Lake Forest roots. (For reservation information, please scroll to the bottom of this article.)

Brooks and Jessica Friedeman.

By Jenny Quill, GazeboNews reporter

If you’ve ever dreamed of dropping everything (well, almost everything) to pursue your true passion … well, you’re going to enjoy this story about Jessica and Brooks Friedeman, two self-described “North Shore kids” who found love in friendship and followed their hearts to open a winery in Napa, Calif.

Jessica and Brooks met in the eighth grade at Lake Forest Country Day School. Jessica’s family had just moved to Lake Bluff from Houston, TX, while Brooks had lived in Lake Forest since the age of 3. The two were friends for years, with Jessica attending Lake Forest High School and Brooks enrolled at Lake Forest Academy, before they started dating during their junior year of college. They married in 2011.

Both Jessica and Brooks’ parents still reside in Lake Bluff and Lake Forest, respectively, so most of the couple’s holidays are spent visiting with friends and family here in their old stomping grounds. The winery is, in fact, something of a family business, with Brooks’ father in charge of all of the winery’s Chicago sales and his mother tasked with whipping up the recipes for the winery’s pairing blog. GazeboNews recently caught up with the couple to chat about how a couple of “North Shore kids” got their start in Napa.

What prompted the relocation to Napa?
We had been living in downtown Chicago since we were married, and had been traveling to Napa or Sonoma several times per year, and kept saying ‘some day.’ We knew it was one of the few places in the world that allowed us to think and talk more freely—we both were instantly comfortable with the place, people, and culture. And nowhere holds more of our best memories. We now live about 25 miles south of Napa in Pleasant Hill, CA. (Brooks works in the renewable energy business, and California is the epicenter of the industry, and Jessica works for a healthcare information technology/analytics company with clients across the country and thus can do her job remotely). … So we went for it.

What inspired you to start your own winery?
Neither of us have a winemaking background. We have simply spent the better part of the last decade spending all of our time and money learning wine and establishing relationships with winemakers and growers, which have been hugely valuable. So, yes, we suppose a hobby gone wild is what has happened! We are admittedly taking it day by day, figuring out the plan, and just making sure we are making the best wines we can. We certainly didn’t grow up like many in Napa— living and breathing wine—nor are we formally trained. But more importantly, wine has become ingrained in our lives. We knew we wanted to be part of the wine world, but we also knew that wine is not an easy or cheap—and it’s actually rather risky—business to get into. While it’s true that it was a matter of only a few months before ideas were transformed into business plans, a winery was constructed, and custom crush arrangements were executed. In actuality, that was made possible by lessons learned via our careers in entirely different sectors, our ability to roll up our sleeves and try anything once, our respect for the craft of winemaking, and, most importantly, the fact we feel blessed to be sharing in this together. We want to do this right, even if that means giving up the majority of our free time and working on top of demanding day jobs!

Brooks working in the vineyard.

So you’re learning and growing as winemakers every day–what were some of your biggest challenges when you first started out? What have you learned about the business and about yourselves through the process?
Indeed, we are learning everyday, and that’s the fun of it! Wine has been part of cultures for thousands of years – and yet the world is still learning. There truly is an eternal learning process inherent in wine and we love that “every discovery prompts a question and every swirl presents an opportunity” (to quote our website). We feel blessed to share this dream and we are demonstrating that we are a good duo, playing off each other’s strengths in ways that are so different than the routine everyday. But better stated, please read this blog post by Jessica.

What do you love about wine and wine making?
We love the breadth and possibilities in wine and winemaking. You could line up 30 Pinot Noirs, from good producers, from the same year and zip code and each one will have its own nuances. What we love about this business is that we have an opportunity to share what we love with others. Our “approach” sums it up best: We increasingly noticed, especially living in the city, that wine has become a commodity to many producers, resulting in an uninteresting product, molded to meet a price point and fit a distributor’s dictated profile. Yet during our trips to wine country we were meeting those who truly celebrate the variability of the inputs: the diversity of soils, vines, and grapes that allow for art and science to combine in creation of the perfect bottle. Because these are often small lots and require some legwork, often these grapes don’t make it to bottle – or travel only as far as the local tasting room.

And that’s where we saw how we could translate love into a business: by partnering with some of the top growers and vintners, and by virtue of location and willingness to roll up our sleeves, we are able to bring to our friends, family, and fellow oenophiles complex wines made from grapes sourced from the highest quality vineyards. We live by our promise: “delivering something special – because you don’t view wine as a commodity either.”

Jessica Friedeman harvesting grapes.

Tell us a little bit about your wines and what you hope to accomplish with each?
Our first release (2011 and 2010 vintages) was a line/sub-brand called Dichotomy, which is meant to represent so much about our wines and lives. We try to identify the unfavorable dichotomies that exist within popular varietals, and try to find a middle ground, while making sure that each wine has a nuanced signature. The first two wines released were a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Russian River Valley Chardonnay. We made the first vintage with lots of help and partners, operating under what is called a custom crush agreement. For the 2012 harvest, we are bringing most of the winemaking fully in house.

We are also greatly expanding our offerings: For example, we have a Cabernet Sauvignon in barrels right from one of the finest hillside vineyards in Napa (that we picked, crushed, and fermented ourselves–that’s another story). Consequently, starting with the 2012 releases, there will be wines simply labeled as “Friedeman,” which are distinct from our Dichotomy efforts. Whereas with Dichotomy, we aim for a very balanced profile and do some blending to achieve it, these “Friedeman”-labeled wines will be single vineyard sourced and the most ultimate expression of that vineyard that we can achieve.

What are your future goals and plans for the winery?
Our ultimate goal for the winery is to make world-class wines that go head to head with the finest wines out there. Based on the 2012 barrel samples, that might not be far off. We want to leverage that quality to be able to afford to build our own freestanding winery, with some estate vineyards, instead of our more spread out current approach involving floor space at various wineries throughout the Napa/Sonoma area. Our home base winery is very small, but outfitted with all of the essentials to make world-class wine. We want this to become our family business, and are working hard at it—and our day-jobs—to make that a reality.

Friedeman Wines will be featured at Market House on the Square in downtown Lake Forest on Wed., Feb. 6. What wines do you plan on sharing at the tasting, and why did you choose to hold a tasting at Market House? And is this your first local tasting?
Market House is certainly one of our favorites when we are home, they have established such a reputation in so little time. Their commitment to “local” and “family” made it a natural fit. Their chef is pairing some appetizers with the wines (our Dichotomy Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). This is our first tasting locally, though we have a number of local wine club members.

Where can people purchase and/or drink your wines locally?
We just started marketing commercially in January, so Market House is our flagship. But we expect the list of restaurants and retail stores to grow quickly as we target the North Shore and locations in the city that we have a connection with, whether it was a favorite Friday night hangout/wine bar in the city, or the restaurant we’d frequent on high school dates.

People can watch our website and Facebook page for updates. In the meantime, we are high-touch; each and every order gets a personal response and we want to make it easy. Whether people would like to order via our website at www.friedemanwines.com or just send us a direct email (info@friedemanwines.com).

Any final words of wine wisdom?
We are just North Shore kids who are making a go at it in California, following our dreams, but also working hard and smart so we can build a true business. We hold ourselves to high expectations, but that’s because we have so much respect for the products, inputs, history, and culture of wine. At the end of the day, how amazing will it feel to share a glass with family and friends that we poured a little extra love into? We’ll let you know soon!

Tasting Notes
There are still about 15 spots available for the Friedeman wine tasting. Reservations are required, and can be made by calling Market House at 847-234-8800. The tasting runs from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wed., Feb. 6.

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