The following is a press release composed by Suzanne Pletcher
A Sunday morning, May 7, nature walk with foresters, naturalists and birders to Frey family conservation land in Tomki will mark the first time the 187-acre property is opened to the public by the Inland Mendocino County Land Trust.
=The walk across a meadow and into a creek and woodland habitat of mature fir and redwoods will be held from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. with an optional picnic lunch after the hike. The walk is suitable for most fitness levels. Besides learning about the flora and fauna of the area, attendees will learn its history and how parts of the conservation easement are recovering from the 2017 wildfires that tore through Tomki.
“This first conservation easement of the IMCLT was inspired by the threat of a commercial timber harvest which would have decimated old-growth redwood and fir neighboring the Frey vineyards,” said IMCLT Executive Director Alan Nicholson. “The Freys took the burden of uniting the local community to raise funds to purchase the property and save it.”
The ordeal to save the woodland began in 2000 when a speculator filed a logging plan on the parcel adjacent to the Freys. The Freys and neighbors persevered over 14 years through one challenge after another until the property was purchased, the conservation easement established, and the woodland permanently protected.
“It was not easy,” said Jonathan Frey. “But because we subdivided a portion of the property to help raise money to purchase it, some of my family were able to purchase their own land here.”
The Inland Mendocino County Land Trust was established in 1998 under the initial leadership of local public lands pioneer Phyllis Curtis. The Frey conservation easement was IMCLT’s first project, and Curtis and her board managed the legal aspects and established the deed in 2002.
Four generations of the Frey family have lived at the Tomki property since Jonathan’s parents bought 95 acres in 1961 and raised 12 sons and daughters there. Grapes were planted in 1966 to improve the value of the land. Over the years, the Freys purchased additional vineyard land and established Frey Vineyards Winery, one of Mendocino County’s earliest wineries and the first in the nation to produce organic wines.
As a young student, Jonathan studied horticulture with Alan Chadwick, the inspiring horticulturist and university professor who pioneered organic gardening and farming in North America. Jonathan learned organic and biodynamic gardening at Chadwick’s Round Valley Garden Project in Covelo. It was there that he met his wife, Katrina.
The couple returned to his parents’ Tomki property in 1978, planted a market garden and began making wine from the small vineyard his parents had maintained. The winery was bonded in 1980. The original fermentation tanks were repurposed from the dairy operation at the state hospital in Talmage when it closed.
Over the years, the Freys purchased land and vineyards from neighbors and farmers in Potter and Redwood Valleys. Today, about half the winery work force is still made up of some of the Frey siblings, along with their descendants and families, and the entire staff manages 365 acres of organic vineyards and other small diversified farms, purchases grapes from other vineyards, and operates the winery.
Just a year after the Freys paid off the land and recorded the final subdivision, disaster struck. The 2017 Redwood Complex Wildfire tore through the Frey property, destroying the bottling line, barn, and much of the winery equipment. Parts of the conservation easement lands were burned, but the deeper canyons were relatively untouched. The Freys have slowly recovered and will open a new bottling plant and tasting room this summer on West Road in Redwood Valley.
Although the Frey conservation easement was IMCLT’s first, it was not the last. The land trust now manages or is in the process of acquiring an additional four properties, including the Phyllis Curtis homestead outside Ukiah. Landowners interested in conserving their property are encouraged to contact IMCLT at https://www.imclandtrust.org/
“Land trusts are important because they preserve land in perpetuity according to the landowner’s vision,” said Nicholson. “Phyllis’s vision for IMCLT was—because Mendocino County is on the periphery of San Francisco metropolitan sprawl—to preserve a sense of rural Mendocino County for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. We’re proud to work alongside the Freys to offer this nature walk on conservation land so the public can visit and learn.”
Registration for the nature walk is a $20 tax deductible donation to IMCLT with optional $10 lunch afterward. To register, visit: www.imclandtrust.org/events