Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 17, 2018
A three-night stop in Paso Robles during sister Gaila's and my June road trip to California was a definite highlight. The town of
about 30,000, located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is nice enough and provided a good base to visit the
mission in San Luis Obispo and the beach near Morro Bay. But they were not our main reason for being there. Our primary reason was family.
For years, we had heard about Oso Libre - a winery and Angus cattle ranch operated by my cousin Jeff’s son Jeffrey, his wife Elizabeth, their daughters Liliana and Isabella, his mother Linda and his stepfather Chris. I hadn’t seen Linda for more than 30 years and Gaila hadn’t seen her for more than 40. We were with Jeffrey and family five years ago, but had never met Chris. So we were looking forward to getting to know their Vines, Wines and Angus operation.
It began with a bang on Friday night as we were treated to a wonderful birthday-party meal at Jeffrey and Elizabeth’s home. It was his 44th birthday, so we celebrated with ice cream cake. Gaila and I had brought photos of our 1975 trip to California, when we met Linda and then 1-year-old Jeffrey. Being Freelands, we took dozens of shots of everyone. It was fitting that Jeffrey has an old camera collection, many of which had belonged to his Grandpa - our Uncle Bob. There was no shortage of reminiscing that night.
The next day, we went to the winery. Jeffrey gave us a tour and explained it began when Linda and Chris purchased 90 acres of undeveloped land in 1996 and turned it into a working ranch. Jeffrey and his family moved to the area in 2007 to help start Oso Libre Winery, which opened in October 2009. The name in Spanish means “free bear,” but was born of a combination of the family names - Freeland and Behr.
We two farm girls were impressed with the sustainable farming practices. They have 77 solar panels on their winery and also obtain energy from wind turbines. Clovers and native grasses are planted in the vineyard, helping reduce soil erosion, providing nutrients to the vines and reducing the use of herbicides, pesticides and tractors. In addition, Olde English Baby-doll sheep, black Angus and free-range chickens work together in such a way as to tend their vine rows while grazing the land. The winery’s website description made me smile:
Thanks to the sheep’s small size and robust character, these remarkable little full-time workers graze our vineyards and are ideal for organic weed abatement, fertilization and soil management. As an adjunct, our free-range chickens are social partners to our sheep and cattle and assist in providing nutrients, fertilization and insect control to our vineyard. These charming allies all help to reduce our dependence on energy consumption and pesticides. When you visit our tasting room, we believe you too will be captivated by their presence and work ethic.
In the 15-acre vineyard, they use an American grapevine root-stock specifically selected for its resistance to pests, preference for
drought-prone soils and tolerance of wet winters. They graft various types of grapes vines - Cabernet Sauvignon, Primitivo, Mourvčdre,
Grenache Blanc and Viognier - onto the root-stock.
The winery is located in the cooler Adelaida region of the Paso Robles area only 10 miles from the coast, but it was warm when we were walking the land with Jeffrey. He told us it wouldn’t be long before the ocean breeze would reach us, cooling things down - and he was right! What had started out as a too-hot day turned into a very pleasant one.
Chris explained the Angus part of the operation. He said the cattle are grass-fed in open pastures and then fed with beer brewers mash, wheat, oats, barley and molasses for 75 to 90 days before they are butchered.
Gaila and I agreed the Angus burgers were the best we’ve ever had, and the wines we tasted were excellent.
The Oso Libre shop was bright and open and filled with items with the logo on them - wine glasses, playing cards, coasters and pens. There was also a selection of T-shirts for adults and kids and “onesies” for babies with “Oso Cute” printed on the front.
A mural by Frank Armitage, their friend and long-time Disney artist, added bright colors to the tasting room. His work was featured in films such as "Sleeping Beauty" and "Jungle Book" and illustrations at the Epcot Center. Chris said Armitage, who also painted murals in their home, created the work as an homage to Edouard Manet’s painting “Picnic in the Park,” with the male figures replaced with bears.
Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) figurines also caught my eye. Linda said their Dia de los Muertos fiesta is one of the winery’s largest celebrations of the year. They have mariachi music and serve tacos, churros, Mexican hot chocolate and pan de muertos (bread of the dead). They also put together an “ofrenda” (offering) with photos of their loved ones and other items so they can honor the memory of their ancestors.
In addition to their for-profit ventures, they also have a charitable foundation, Por Vida - “For Life” - that gives money for cancer research, prevention of child abuse, the humane care of animals and veterans support groups.
It was quite obvious our California family enjoys what they’re doing and the lifestyle they’ve created. And I think it was also obvious that Gaila and I had a great time celebrating with them and learning about their way of life. One might even say our experience was Oso fine!
Left: two customers enjoy glasses of wine in front of Frank Armitage's painting inspired by Manet's "Picnic in the Park." Top-right: Jeffrey in the vineyard. Bottom-right: Linda and Chris enjoying an Angus burger and each other. Over Linda's right shoulder is a sign explaining the "Por Vida" foundation and behind Chris is another announcing two gold medals for the winery's 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.