With so many wineries in California, it’s incredibly important for new producers to find an angle or niche that sets them apart from the rest. Enter Sam Bilbro, a California native who makes soulful wines under the label Idlewild Wines. His focus is primarily wines made from Piedmontese grapes, such as Nebbiolo, Cortese, Arneis, Barbera, and Dolcetto. In a sea of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, these Italian-inspired wines are a breath of fresh air.
I first learned about Idlewild while tasting with their distributor last year. I was looking for interesting California whites and they showed me Idlewild’s 2013 Arneis. I was taken aback by how different it was – rich and broad on the palate, floral and aromatic on the nose, and balanced with a nice fresh finish. I introduced this wine to the Winelandia wine club last spring.
Just last week I had a rare opportunity to visit Sam’s new production facility (sorry kids, it’s not open to the public) – a warehouse in Geyserville which used to be home to a mushroom farm. Sam informed me that the facility provides the perfect environment to make wine – cold, damp, and smack-dab in the middle of wine country. He is the first person to produce wine in the facility, which means that it’s unlikely commercial yeasts have set up shop in the building. This is important for winemakers like Sam who utilize “ambient”, “indigenous”, or “native” yeast fermentations, as commercial yeasts tend to be a lot stronger than native yeasts and can take over un-inoculated fermentations.
We tasted through a lovely lineup of Sam’s new releases, including his Arneis, The Bee (a muscat-based white blend), The Flower (a rosé blend), “The Bird” (a red blend), Barbera, and Nebbiolo. All of the wines seemed to follow a theme – bright, joyful, high-toned, aromatic, and varietally correct. Never before have I had a Nebbiolo from California that tasted like a proper Nebbiolo. I walked away from the tasting feeling invigorated and inspired; these are the kinds of wines that excite me.
While we don’t have any Idlewild wines in the shop at the moment, we will be picking some up very soon. Keep an eye out in the Winelandia online store for these fantastic wines. If you just can’t wait, you can buy them directly from the Idlewild Wines website.