On the Trail

Straightforward Sonoma

Mari Keilman

Sonoma County has and will always continue to have a special place in my heart. This bucolic region of narrow valleys and rolling hills has always resonated with a sense of home for me—a sense of family, a sense of feeling secure and being welcomed into a community full of camaraderie, brotherly (and sisterly) love and mutual support. I could never pinpoint why Sonoma elicited this feeling of home until I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with the Bilbro brothers, and that feeling manifested itself over an afternoon spent with some food on the grill, great wine in our glass and stories being shared. Spending the day meeting the Bilbro brothers, Jake, Scot, and Sam, felt like an afternoon of hanging out with old friends I had known for ages. There was no pretense, no sibling rivalry, no one-upping each other. Each one of the brothers will tell you that they’re the best of friends and it shows; not only in their friendship and love for one another, but in their support and respect for each others’ wines.

The foundation of the Bilbro Bros growing empire is Marietta Cellars. Started in 1978 by their father Chris Bilbro, Marietta Cellars is the nucleus of all the family endeavors. While all of the brothers have had their hands in making wines there at one time or another, Marietta is currently Scot’s winery to lead. Scot has his hands full, however, because not only does Marietta Cellars do everything in house, from farming over 300 estate acre to producing and bottling all their own wine, Scot must also oversee the extensive blending process. Marietta Cellars produces non-vintage red blends, meaning that they chose a non-conventional approach to focus on a consistent style, and while non-vintage wines have sometimes become synonymous with lower quality, that is exactly the opposite with the Marietta wines. Scot and the Bilbro boys have been able to keep their wines pure, honest and unadulterated. While the non-vintage Marietta Cellars “Old Vine Red Lot #65” California Red Blend is their trademark wine, the real highlight of their blending skills is the non-vintage Marietta “Armé Lot #3” Sonoma-Mendocino Counties Bordeaux Blend. The Armé Lot #3 is classically aromatic with notes of licorice, black currant, cherry, violet, sweet earth and savory herb. The multi-vintage influence is evident in the full-body, crowd pleasing palate and the multi-dimensional finish that is chock full of cocoa spice. Don’t be fooled by the price, this wine over-delivers and then some!

Sam’s venture, Idlewild Wines, may appear to be the most alternative out of the three, but don’t call it hipster. Idlewild focuses primarily on Italian varietals from high-elevation vineyards in Mendocino County. While Sam has a grassroots, natural approach to his wines, there are no gimmicks or trends here; his wines are a pure, honest expression of Italian varietals that resonate with a sense of place. His straightforward, old world approach results in wines with both balance and beauty. The 2016 Idlewild “The Flower - Flora & Fauna” Mendocino County Rosé is mind-blowing. Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Barbera are all co-fermented for this savory, yet vibrant rosé that has that fresh wild berry and sweet tangerine palate that is essential in every rosé, while finishing with an astonishing savory spice element that elevates it from a simple porch pounder, to one that requires a whole meal made around it.  

Limerick Lane is home to the eldest brother Jake Bilbro and his world class Zinfandel and Rhone Blends. Jake has an honest, down home sensibility to him and it shows through in his wines. There is no pretense in his wines and how he chooses to make them. What you see is what you get—and what you get is great wine. He makes small production, estate, single appellation wines that just happen to be highly rated, but that is not why he does what he does. The 2014 Limerick Lane Russian River Valley Syrah-Grenache is an ode to Jake’s laid-back approach. The Syrah-Grenache blend isn’t obscured with fancy winemaking or obnoxious use of new oak. Instead, this Rhone Blend is indicative of the historic, yet unique terroir that this vineyard embodies. Expressive aromatics of cedar, pink peppercorn, black cherries, and blackberries along with a vibrant lift on the palate are a direct response to the cold foggy mornings, but the luscious, seamless texture is a nod to the warm Healdsburg afternoons. A bottle of this is definitely getting tucked away in my cellar!

While all three brothers have their own distinct wineries and how they choose to make their wines, they all end up at the same place. Inspired from their Dad, yet achieved through different practices, the Bilbro brothers pursue to create wines that reverberate a sense of family and place; thoughtful, straightforward, and honest wines.

-Mari Keilman