Making great vino is the goal of winemaking couple Andy Friedlander and Janis Akuna, whose company, Andis Wines, is toasting Hawai‘i residents with a special membership offer.
Within the Sierra Foothills (between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe) Amador County sits Andis Wines, a spectacular winery that distributes high-quality, affordable bottles to more than 30 states — including Hawai‘i. (To learn about the upcoming pickup event, see story on page 16.)
At the helm is the husband-and-wife team of Andy Friedlander and Janis Akuna, whose love of wine and business acumen have uncorked a bouquet of sweet success.
Andis Wines makes 12-14 different varieties a year — usually four white and seven to eight reds — and its location in the Sierra Foothills is often viewed as kismet by the couple.
“What we didn’t know at the time, but have since found out, is that it’s the perfect region to grow all kinds of grapes,” says Akuna.
She adds that grape varietals grow in certain regions better than others. Close to the coast, the wet area of Napa, for example, produces mainly cabernets and chardonnays. But in the drier, hotter area of the Sierra Foothills, the climate mimics that of Southern France, Northern Spain and Italy. This means more variety — way more. For whites, there are Semillon, Vermentino and Sauvignon Blanc, and reds range from Barbera and Grenache to even some Cabernet. And that’s just touching the surface.
Andis Wines makes sure there’s something for everyone — as long as one is 21 or older, of course — and has its main Andis label for more sophisticated palates that can distinguish individual varietals, as well as Painted Fields, which features a lot of blends with wider appeal.
In addition to the flavor and body of the wines are touching stories showcasing the thought that goes into making each bottle. As one example, Andis Wines’ “Semillon, Bill Dillian Vineyard” tells the story of its namesake, Dillian, who was about to start the painstaking work of tearing up his vineyard to plant something more profitable because he couldn’t sell his Semillon fruit. Instead, Andis Wines partnered with him and produced a stellar Semillon that has notes of citrus and oak and a touch of lemon meringue.
“We do things that are not necessarily to make money, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do,” says Friedlander. “We saved a vineyard that was planted in 1974, and it’s still producing beautiful fruit today. Those are the kinds of stories I love.”
That’s not to say that the “Semillon, Bill Dillian Vineyard” isn’t successful, because it truly is. It was listed as one of the 20 hidden wine gems in the world, and for good reason.
“I asked one of our team members, ‘Once we make the wine and bottle it in December, how long will it take us to sell it?’ He said probably three years. We sold out in six months,” recalls Friedlander. “Now, we’ve been able to pay more for his fruit, and his name is on the bottle.”
According to Friedlander, this particular Semillon pairs well with fish, eggs, quiches or chicken with a white sauce — and those wanting to try a sample can head to Ruth’s Chris Steak House at Waterfront Plaza to try it. (The Honolulu eatery also features some of Andis Wines’ reds, which pair well with steaks, and Fujioka’s Wine in Market City also carries Andis.)
Then, there’s the “Painted Fields Curse of Knowledge” Bordeaux-blend red wine, whose name pays homage to the winery’s journey.
“When we go around the country trying to introduce Andis Wines, people tell us they used to deal with Amador County, and they make subpar wine,” explains Friedlander. “They were cursed of what they used to know about Amador County. People are stuck with that curse, the curse of knowledge.”
Rather than stick to the status quo, Andis Wines honed in on its quality, opting to adopt a business model that would give full control of the entire process. While many wine labels buy grapes to bottle and sell, others buy wine in bulk and slap a label on it. Andis Wines does neither of those.
“We went the more traditional way,” explains Akuna. “We farm the land, pick the grapes and make the wine at our winery. We felt we could have better control on quality of the grapes and production process, the quality of the wine and how it’s made.”
Further expanding on the area of quality was the decision to hire world-renowned consulting winemaker Philippe Melka of top-rated Atelier Melka.
“He said he liked what he saw, he liked our production facility and agreed to be our consultant,” says Akuna.
“At this point, most of our wines are rated 90-plus by many reviewers, like Wine Enthusiast, Taste magazine, even Wine Spectator.”
While Andis Wines shines in its oenophile offerings, it also does much behind the scenes in the realm of sustainability. Instead of spraying its vines with chemical nitrogen, for example, Akuna opted to plant organic peas and clover plants, which naturally enrich the soil with nitrogen (a much-loved substance for wine vines). Yellow mustard plants adorn the landscape, but it’s purely for aesthetic purposes — unlike at Napa vineyards, which sometimes utilize the petite flowering foliage to control the nematode population.
“We don’t have nematodes,” Akuna says. “I just wanted (the yellow mustard) because it’s pretty.”
The focus on doing good for the Earth while simultaneously solidifying itself as one of the leading producers of fine wine in the Sierra Foothills started from the very beginning, all the way back to when they built the winery in 2010.
“We wanted to make it green,” Akuna explains. “We wanted everything to be environmentally friendly.”
That meant starting from the ground up and constructing its winery with an east-west orientation to minimize summer sun exposure from the sides, as well as installing a south-slanting roof with photovoltaic panels — both of which help with conserving energy.
One other green initiative is within the vineyard itself.
“We have 25 acres and took about 5 acres for the buildings. Our vineyards are dry-farmed,” she continues.
Dry-farming reduces the need for irrigation — Mother Nature waters it from below — which means no wasted water. Furthermore, Andis Wines composts its branches, as well as the lees (leftover skins, seeds, etc. after being pressed), putting all those nutrients back into the soil.
If all of this seems technical, it is, and stems from the knowledge Akuna obtained while earning her winemaking certification from UC Davis.
“A lot of what I’ve learned is farming. I didn’t realize I was going to be a farmer, but here I am,” she adds with a laugh.
At the end of the day, though, what it all comes down to is personal preference, and Andis Wines is there to help longtime oenophiles or newcomers to the wine industry find their next favorite.
“What you like and what you don’t like, that’s all that matters,” says Friedlander. “That’s the key to drinking wine. You have to know what you like.”
For more information, visit andiswines.com.
Join the Club!
Club Andis is exceedingly popular on the mainland and has just as huge a following in the islands. The benefits of joining the club from afar are many — no initiation fee, the ability to drop out anytime, free shipping and discounts on fantastic wines, etc. — and there’s still time to sign up and place an order before the July pickup in Honolulu (by appointment only). Tiers include four-, sixand 12-bottle options, and the choice is up to the member: all red, all white, or mix and match.
“You can pick what’s in your shipment,” assures co-founder Janis Akuna.
Prior to COVID,Andis Wines would host its Hawai‘i club members in-person three times a year with fun parties, during which wine insiders could pick up their bottles and enjoy the company of other oenophiles.
“With COVID, we haven’t done it again, but we’re looking at a possible one this November and are always open to new club members,” shares co-founder Andy Friedlander.
To sign up and place an order for the July shipment, call the winery at 209-245-6177 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.