I still remember the first time I tasted Sam Bilbro's Idlewild Wines. It was a cold and rainy day in Healdsburg, and Lynn and I found ourselves in an industrial park on the outskirts of the city. We knocked on the door, it opened, and there stood Sam in his "production facility." It was about the size of a mechanic's garage. We promptly started tasting his wines, and I immediately knew these were the best interpretations of Italian varieties being made by anyone outside of Italy.
If that Bilbro name sounds familiar, it's because Sam's father Chris Bilbro started Marietta Cellars, his brother Scott know runs that operation, and his other brother Jake manages Limerick Lane. Not only are the Bilbro boys some of the nicest guys in the business, they also make really, really good wines. Sam is kind of the wayward son, choosing to focus his energies on growing and making Piedmontese varieties in California. Bold move for sure, but his hard work and perseverance have paid off. His 2021 Flora and Fauna White and Red recently garnered some high praise from Antonio Galloni of Vinous Media.
Up first and utterly charming in every sense of the word is Sam's Idlewild Flora and Fauna White, a blend of Arneis, Muscat Canelli, Cortese, Erbaluce, and Favorita. Grapes come from two North Coast sites: Fox Hill in Mendocino and Lost Hills Ranch in the Yorkville Highlands. Sam makes an intuitive choice on when to pick the grapes "when the core of the wine’s pieces overlay into a balance of bright acidity with emerging tones of aromatic depth." He timed it perfectly in 2021!
1. 2021 Idlewild Flora and Fauna White
93 points Yours Truly, 92 points Antonio Galloni - Vinous Media
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I love aromatic whites that manage to maintain dryness and crisp acidity, and this wine does that effortlessly. Fruit comes from the Fox Hill Vineyard, planted by the wonderfully eccentric Lowell Stone in the late-1980's, and this site provides the wine with its aromatic richness. The balance of grapes come from Lost Hills Ranch, a site that Sam's dad Chris planted in 2001 and that Sam now manages. This site gives the wine its vibrancy and brightness.
Mr. Galloni loved this wine just as much as I did. "The 2021 White Flora and Fauna is a rich, heady blend of 40% Arneis, 30% Muscat Canelli, 10% Cortese, 10% Favorita and 10% Erbaluce. Apricot, ginger, spice and dried flowers are all amplified in this gorgeous, super-expressive white from Idlewild. The 2021 is atypically rich, but superb." Great description, I have nothing to add!
Equally compelling is Sam's Flora and Fauna Red, a Barbera-led blend that also includes Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Grignolino, and Freisa. Fruit also comes from Fox Hill and Lost Hills, but there is also a sprinkling of grapes from Idlewild's newly owned (and yet unnamed) site in the Russian River Valley.
2. 2021 Idlewild Flora and Fauna Red
93 points Yours Truly, 93 points Antonio Galloni - Vinous Media
ORDER NOW in our online store.
In Bilbro's words, "Fox Hill lends depth, Lost Hills balances with vibrancy and bright aromatics, and the Russian River site gives a core of fresh fruit and spice. In the end, Mendocino is on display with high and low tones and a very pleasant rusticity while Russian River Valley fills in the gaps to make the wine cohesive." Let me translate that for you -- this stuff is delicious! I consider myself a true aficionado of Piedmont reds, and this does serious justice to its Italian brethren.
Not to be lazy, but Galloni summed this one up just as well as he did the the white, so I'll save myself some time. "The 2021 Red Flora and Fauna is fabulous. This is the first vintage that includes significant portions of Grignolino and Freisa in the blend. Bright and punchy, with terrific energy, the 2021 is absolutely gorgeous. Dark red cherry, rose petal, mint, blood orange and spice all race across the palate. This vibrant, mid-weight Piedmontese red blend is absolutely irresistible." That man has got a way with words, but you have to earn his praise, and Sam Bilbro obviously did just that.
I don't know what else to say other than buy some of each. Both wines are exciting and delicious, and Sam's vision is one that I truly admire. I can only hope that more wineries and vignerons take a lesson from him to push the boundaries of what can be made in California. Bravo!
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