Frey Vineyards – A History of America's First Organic Winery
Paul Sr. and Beba Frey grew up a few blocks apart in the gritty New York City of the 1930's and 40's. Paul relished his summer escapes to the Poconos Mountains, Pennsylvania. And Beba found bliss each summer on a Catskill Mountains dairy farm (see photo above). Each vowed to escape the city permanently. They later met and married in medical school. While their family grew, they longed for a life closer to nature and finally settled down in Northern California in the early 1960's on their ranch in Redwood Valley, Mendocino County. The 12 children grew up instilled with love and respect for the natural environment, and picked up gardening, farming, and agricultural skills, as their parents had dreamed. Paul Sr. and Beba rounded out their children’s education by schooling them in the sciences, history, literature, classical arts and music, as well as appreciation for world cuisines paired with wine.
In the late 1960's, Paul and Beba and the older kids planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Gray Riesling
on the ranch's old pastureland and sold the fruit to nearby wineries. A decade later, brothers Jonathan and Matthew realized the vineyards' potential when a Cabernet Sauvignon grown by Frey's grapes won a gold medal for a Santa Cruz winery. Frey Vineyards was bonded the next year, in 1980, and soon after became the first organic winery in U.S.
The eldest brother Jonathan and his wife Katrina studied organic agriculture under the tutorship of Alan Chadwick, a green-thumb guru of the California 70's. At the winery's inception, Jonathan introduced high integrity organic practices that are still in place today. Brother Matthew, learned the mechanical and technical skills of the wine business when working at nearby wineries. A final touch to the new winery's credo was that the wine would be made not only from organically grown grapes, but without any added sulfites. In the late 1980's, Paul Frey Jr. returned from the University of California at Santa Cruz to help perfect the techniques for making wine without the synthetic sulfite preservative, and is today our main winemaker. In 1996, Luke Frey spearheaded the conversion of our estate vineyards to biodynamic cultivation, making Frey Vineyards the first producer of certified Demeter Biodynamic wines in North America.
We are pleased that many local wineries and grape growers have become certified organic and biodynamic as well, for the health of our common environment as well as our customers. Today, a third of all organic grapes in California are grown in Mendocino County, and 15 wineries making wines from organically grown grapes are located here – more than any county in the U.S. The trend of organic grape growing is rapidly spreading in Napa and Sonoma Counties, and across the U.S. Frey Vineyards is the largest of the very few wineries to have taken on the challenge of producing a true organic wine, made with no added sulfites – a practice that is now tradition for our family.
Today, more than 30 years since the founding of Frey Vineyards, many of the 12 children and spouses work for the family business. As organic food production is reaching new heights in the U.S., we hope the trend never stops, benefiting taste buds, planet, and the future generations.