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The Mind Behind Andis Winery

By Roberto Viernes, Master Sommelier

I am always excited to taste a new wine. That feeling of adventure, potential, anticipation and possible discovery is exhilarating. The potential of finding a treasure-something great-makes me anxious, especially if I taste the wine for the first time together with the owner of the winery. Seated with Andy Friedlander, owner and founder of Andis Wines, was no exception.

Friedlander and his wife Janis Akuna are focused on “doing things that make us different,” he immediately shares. One big difference (in the winemaking world) is that Friedlander is a kama’aina. He has lived and worked in Hawai’i for decades. His decision to establish a winery in Amador County, Calif., would have made others uneasy. Yet Friedlander’s success in commercial real estate came at capable hands well-versed in location and value. (He in fact has lived there part time for the last 10 years.) But why make wine in Amador County instead of Napa, I pondered?

“Napa has changed. It’s like Hollywood, or Las Vegas-corporate,” Friedlander bemoans, adding that the commercial, almost theme- park nature there wasn’t the farming community that he had long envisioned for his own winery.

“In Amador County, you still see a tractor rolling up the main street. It’s still country,” he adds. Yet the most significant statement he makes was thus: In Amador he tastes wine with families, not brands. Amen.

The nonexistent charging of fees for tastings, plus the sense of community over competition made it more convivial than Napa Valley for Friedlander. The kicker was he noticed multiple Napa wineries adding Amador fruit to their own signature wines to give them more guts (Favia, Four Vines and Rosenblum are some examples).

Of course, any old site wouldn’t do for someone with as refined a palate as Friedlander. He began by purchasing a 25-acre parcel replete with old vine Zinfandel across a rolling hill with the perfect combination of exposure, clay and sandy loam. In the winery, he has one of the few sorting tables in Amador County where only the best fruit is allowed to pass the rigorous 12-person team.

Since it’s no secret that great wines need a great wine-maker, Friedlander hired Mark McKenna to helm the operation followed by Marco Capelli (of Capelli Ranch and formerly of Swanson) as “an insurance policy.”

Citing Rosenblum Zinfandel and Mollydooker Shiraz as some of his favorites, Friedlander loves big and bold wines. Breaking conformity yet again, he first pours me a glass of his 2010 Andis Bill Dillian Vineyard Semillon. This wonderfully aromatic wine (with old vine grapes from fifth-generation farmers the Dillian family, whom Friedlander calls “inspiring”) shows hints of mineral with fresh white and yellow fruits, laced with a geranium-like floral component. It is zesty and has a note of sweetness that makes it an awesome pair with Hawaii Regional Cuisine. We shared some sautéed prawns with herbs, which proved a heavenly pairing.

With thunderous occasion Friedlander unveils his 2008 Andis Zinfandel, a juicy beast with lavender, anise, jam, flowers, geranium and a thick, coating texture. It is big but not over-the-top. He follows it up with what he admits could be a signature wine: the 2008 Andis Reserve Petite Syrah. My palate was promptly inundated with aromas and flavors of sweet currants, blackberries, plums and-a reoccurring theme-this hint of flowers. Drank alongside a perfectly done steak, I ask about said floral component.

“That’s Amador County,” he succinctly retorts.

Friedlander also produces Primitivo, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Barbera. As these wines are only in their second vintages at Andis, you can taste the awesome potential that eminates from both the area, as well as Andis. Clearly, this is something that Friedlander has a vision for; one that he’s intent on fulfilling.

www.andiswines.com