Because You Might Be Dead Next Year: Drinking A 1995 Clos des Amis Cabernet for Cabernet Day 2021

“Because I was dead last year.”  That’s what Bruce Freeman said when he brought out and opened a 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon from the cold room at his winery, Clos des Amis, located on South Mountain in Santa Paula, Ventura County, California, on Cabernet Day 2021.

Bruce Freeman

What he said is true: during the 2019 harvest, two years ago, Bruce was very sick. Near the end of harvest, he wasdiagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. He still has Stage 4 cancer. In October 2019, they gave him a few months to live. In November 2019 he was accepted into an experimental treatment program at Cedars Sinai which if successful would give him an extension on life. 

By all accounts, by 2020, he was dead. I can testify, however, he is alive and well today, Cabernet Day 2021, enjoying and sharing with me Cabernet Sauvignon he made in 1996, 2013, 2016, and 2018 from fruit grown in Ventura County, Santa Barbara County, and San Luis Obispo County.  

However, that does not deny the terrible truth that Bruce has cancer. 

So to celebrate that he’s alive — as well as in appreciation of the help I’ve given him during this time– Bruce broke out a bottle from his second vintage, 1995. It was a bottle I’d seen sitting on the shelf in the cold room and wondered about. It was clearly very special, and I’m not surprised to learn that this is likely the last bottle of this wine on the planet. Gretel got goosebumps when she saw what he intended to open. I stuttered and stammered. 


What was I doing in 1995?

What were YOU doing in 1995? 

In 1995, I was just getting back into wine, and I was discovering the wines of Adam Tolmach at The Ojai Vineyard as part of my newspaper column, Art Predator. We had trade at an Ojai restaurant, Nora’s, and I’d have dinner and a glass of wine sometimes when I was dropping off my floppy disk with my column or in Ojai doing research for an article. Bruce worked with Adam at The Ojai Vineyard for 10 years where he honed his craft; read more about that here.

Twenty six years later I’m proud to consider myself a cellar rat, and I’ve learned a few things from Bruce since I started helping out back in January 2019 which I’ve been writing about monthly ever since; read last month’s lessons and find links to the series here.

Unless you’re a cellar rat or a wanna be cellar rat, you may not know that most wineries have a number of side projects going on — various experiments, small lots, and miscellany shenanigans as many as can be accommodated in the space available.

Bruce Freeman’s current winemaking facility is about the size of a typical three car garage. And it’s packed.  But there’s often room for a side project or an experiment. Before that, he was making wine in his actual garage– like many aspiring winemakers do.

Originally the idea behind this post was to compare Sandy and Gretel’s Paso Robles Cabernet one barrel experiment with Bruce’s commercial bottling. But Bruce’s was buried so he brought out other wines for this story. Then at home, looking for a cabernet to pair with tonight’s rib eye steak, I found a bottle. Heaven!

2018 South Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Casa Grande Vineyard, Paso Robles 
SRP watch for the release of this wine in a few months 
sample for my review 

For Clos des Amis, Bruce Freeman makes wine from Ventura County fruit only. When he wants to make a wine from grapes outside of Ventura County, he now does so under the South Mountain label.

Color: Ruby

Aroma: Cherry

Palate: More cherry with herbal notes, cherry snuff. 

Pairing: Spectacular with a ribeye steak topped with blue cheese. Worked really well with the umami of the grilled eggplant as well as the bruschetta. That little bit of leftover cheesy mushroom risotto was another winner. 

More details to come…


2018 Sangret Paso Robles Reserve Vintage  
ABV 13.8%
SRP not for sale
sample for my review  

Gretel and Sandy wanted to make a Cabernet Sauvignon, so they bought a bin of westside fruit from the Casa Grande vineyard owned by Ed Casa Grande. The name SanGret combines their names.

Color: Deep ruby, dense, unfined and unfiltered. 

Aroma: Cherry, cherry cola, loamy, earthy, dusty 

Palate: Flavor of earth, dusty grapes, plenty fruit, lots of cherry, cassis on the finish, mineral dry, clearly from Paso Robles.  

2016 Cabernet Syrah Ventura County
SRP not for sale 
sample for my review 

Small lot, not commercial, experimental 

Color: Garnet, unfined, unfiltered 

Aroma: Blue fruit, cherry, plum, earth, Dr Pepper  

Palate:  plenty of fruit tart blueberry and cherry

2016 Camarillo Cab

2013 Cab Cam 
SRP not for sale 
sample for my review

This was an experiments to see how a cabernet from this area in Camarillo  might come out as a commercial wine or whether it’s better just to make jam, or make their own wine. Not all grapes make the cut for a wine, and it can be a real heart breaker for the small grower. These vines had a short life because the HOA where the vineyard was planted stipulates native plans– which Cabernet Sauvignon is not.

Important to plan one’s launch into the romantic grape growing world carefully because when reality hits it hurts reminds Bruce…leading to a conversation that is not public…

Color: garnet 

Aroma: potpouri, rose petals, cherry 

Palate: cherry, smooth, minerals, 

Clos des Amis winemaker Bruce Freeman with a wine from his second vintage

1995 Clos des Amis Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Barbara County
SRP not for sale 
sample for my review 

“Chateau Ave Noveau” was home to Bruce’s second vintage following a 1994 Syrah Bien Nacido.

“Brooks Painter taught me how to make the Syrah,” says Bruce, “I did this on my own. I’d take samples up to Adam over the years and he’d suggest what I might want to do.” 

Trial by fire, he says. Bruce would take a sample up to Adam and ask “what’d you think and he wouldn’t say much so you had to interpret what he had to say.”

To make the labels, he used an AB Dick off set press. He spent all night, to get 300 good labels, then stamped on letter press die cut. Registration on that is a little bit off, he admits; it’s not easy to do the two colors, red and black.

Bruce bottled this wine on Valentine’s Day, the label proclaims; it also states where it was bottled — that part of San Buenaventura known as the garden valley…

Bruce couldn’t remember where in Santa Barbara County the fruit came from but suspects it was via Adam: “I’d guess Bill? Bruce McGuire SB Winery LaFonde.” 

Color:  Garnet, cola on the rim

Aroma: Green and black Pepper on the nose,  cherry, cherry cola

Palate: Plenty of structure, tannins, tart cherry fruit, acidity, as it opens more mint/herbal/fennel, clean mint not the finish  

Pairing: Stories of time past… don’t distract your palate or the experience with food! 

back of the bottle 2016 Cabernet


2 thoughts on “Because You Might Be Dead Next Year: Drinking A 1995 Clos des Amis Cabernet for Cabernet Day 2021

Please Comment! I'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s