It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, and I made reservations for wine tastings with a friend throughout the day. We finished at our first stop and had some time to kill before our next appointment. We pulled into Freedom Cellars on Highway 290 just east of Sandy Road. We were greeted by two friendly yellow dogs and a spanning view of the hill country. The large lab, named Turner, and Maks, the small terrier mix, could not have been more excited they had visitors.
This property was originally opened as Tejas Winery and Vineyards. The land was part of a larger 300-acre cattle ranch. This particular 12.9 acres went up for resell last year, which included the caretaker’s home for the original farmstead, and the 2,400 square-foot winery building built by Tejas.
In stepped Ray Franscioni, a third-generation farmer in Monterey County, California. Ray’s grandfather immigrated from Switzerland in the late 1800s and settled along the Salinas River in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The family began farming to feed their fair cows. With the richness of the soil and mild weather conditions, it didn’t take long for them to plant other crops, including wine grapes. Over the past 20 years, the family has gained a reputation for cultivating high-quality grapes in the region.
About a decade ago, Ray committed to crafting his own wines from the family’s grapes. He started a label, which he named Puma Road Winery as a nod to the home he grew up in. In 2014, the nearby Pessagno Winery suffered the loss of its founder and Ray purchased the label and property. This allowed an increase in production and multiple tasting room locations. Today, with tasting rooms in Salinas, Gonzales, and Monterey, the two labels, Puma Road Winery and Pessagno Winery reflect the different styles of the various vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands, Paicines, and Monterey County.
Ray recognized that outside of California, most of their wines are sold to Texans. Ray’s friend, Ron Moore, had been working in wine in the Sierra Foothills of California when he made the jump to Texas in 2019. After working with Bending Branch Vineyards and Hilmy Cellars, Ron started helping Ray look for property in Texas and they settled on the Tejas land. In addition to the winery property, Ray also invested in a cold storage warehouse in Stonewall to further solidify his commitment to the Texas wine industry.
The existing winery facility underwent just a few additions and was opened in October as the Freedom Cellars tasting room. There is a fee for tastings, and you have the choice of five wines from a selection of ten bottles produced by Puma Road and Pessagno Winery. There are no plans to produce wines in the building, so the large, open space will offer comfortable seating where guests can relax with their wine. The winemaker, Olivier Rousset, will continue to make the California wines there and ship them to Texas for the tasting room. A total of 20,000 cases of wine are available across the two labels.
For those diehard Texas wine enthusiasts, don’t let the California wines scare you away. Plans are underway to add Texas wines to their portfolio. A local winemaker has been chosen, and 100% Texas wines for the Freedom Cellars label will be coming in the future.
Plans are underway to plant just a few acres of the property for an estate bottling. The wine club is just getting underway, and members choose their wines from a commitment of 3, 6, or 12-bottle memberships. Quarterly allocations will be complete with pickup parties. Foods for the parties will have a decidedly Texas slant with bar-b-que making frequent appearances. The tasting room is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and walk-ins are welcome the rest of the week.
The tasting fee is waived with the purchase of a bottle of wine. Of particular note, I enjoyed the Puma Road 2014 Blanc de Noirs bubbly and the Pessagno 2017 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir.
Since many of our local wineries require reservations in advance, this is a fantastic stop if you don’t want to be restricted by a tight schedule. If you are looking for a casual tasting with a never-ending view, add Freedom Cellars to your list. And keep checking back because new wines will rotate in…and Texas will be on the menu in the future.
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