Katrina Frey never expected to call California home. After the Michigan native’s apprenticeship there with renowned master gardener Alan Chadwick in 1976, she planned to practice her newfound skills at a Vermont nursery. But one day, in a potato field, she met another apprentice—the man who would become her husband—and she hasn’t left Mendocino County since. “I am thankful every day to be here,” Frey enthuses into her cell phone from her garden in Redwood Valley.
Frey and her husband Jonathan intended to be truck farmers back at the ranch helmed by Jonathan’s parents. However, it was a time “when the local farmers’ market in Ukiah attracted just 10 people,” she recalls. Instead, the duo focused on fruit growing on the ranch’s small vineyards, becoming the country’s first organic winery in 1980. “There were certified organic vineyards at the time,” Frey points out, but “no one mentioned it on their label.”
From Sauvignon Blanc to Sangiovese, Frey Vineyards is known for its quality as well as its groundbreaking winemaking techniques, including shunning sulfites. In 1996, it became the first producer of certified Demeter Biodynamic wines in North America. Undoubtedly inspired by the winery’s pioneering initiatives, there are currently more organic grapes grown in Mendocino County than anywhere else in the country.
For Frey, championing the organic wine movement is just one way of making an impact on the environment. Her grassroots efforts were instrumental in leading Mendocino to become the nation’s first GMO-free county. When she first settled in California, Frey imagined walking into a grocery store with a section devoted to organic foods, but she “could never have envisioned the scale of today’s organic impact.” Freywine.com