Carl Kanowsky: New but experienced Sonoma wine

Our guide, Andy Tester, in the Limerick Lane Vineyard. Courtesy photo

I was talking to Adam Lee (you know, the transplanted Texan who makes those yummy Pinots), discussing an upcoming trip to Sonoma. I asked him if he could recommend any new wineries to visit. Without a pause, “You’ve gotta see Jake Bilbro at Limerick Lane.” Adam provided an introduction, and Jake scheduled a tasting at his estate. (Unfortunately, he was not able to join us, but he placed us in the capable hands of Andy Tester.)

Jake hails from a lineage of wine makers. His dad, Chris, has owned and operated Marietta Cellars for decades, gathering acclaim along the way for his winemaking prowess, like what Robert Parker said about him twenty-six years ago, “Chris Bilbro continues to release knock-out red wines that are among California’s most exciting offerings.”

So, Jake (along with his brother, Scot, who now runs Marietta) learned the trade from the ground up at a young age from a master. Then, in 2011, Jake got an opportunity to make his own mark in the wine world.

Mike Collins, owner of Sonoma’s Collins Vineyard for over thirty years, wanted to sell his landmark and historic thirty acres to someone with an appreciation for what the property offered. He knew Jake from selling Collins’ fruit to Marietta for years. In 2009, then, he asked Jake if he wanted to buy it.

Jake scouted for a bank ready to take a risk on this young entrepreneur. The search took two years (he should have asked me – I could’ve hooked him up with Bank of Santa Clarita), but was eventually successful. Thus, in 2011, Jake took possession of a large, lovely vineyard.

One of the remaining decades-old vines at Limerick Lane Vineyard. Courtesy photo

Immediately, Jake was faced with a crisis. One week after buying the winery and most of the fruit harvested, the rains began and lashed Jake’s new property for three long weeks. Normally, heavy rain after the grapes have been picked is no big deal.

Not so at Limerick Lane. You see, the holding tank for the harvested fruit was out in the middle of the vines, exposed to the elements. How’s that for a little surprise for the new owner? He couldn’t drain the tank in the deluge; he couldn’t open the top to let the carbon dioxide escape from the fermenting fruit. There was the real possibility that this harvest was ruined. But Jake handled it like a pro, using dry ice to keep everything cool and allow for a longer and chillier fermentation period than usual. It turns out that vintage was excellent.

After touring the vineyard and seeing vines that were planted during World War II, we went inside and tasted.

Adam Lee nailed it – this is excellent stuff. The 2017 Rose (a blend of Syrah and Grenache) sported a lovely salmon blush and offered crisp, refreshing tastes.

Known for Zinfandel, we sampled two. The 2015 Russian River Estate features notes of pepper and leather with almost a meaty bouquet. Very powerful but well balanced with good acidity. The 1910 Block Zinfandel is otherworldly. An inviting aroma of fruit and pepper, the wine is smooth and mellow with tremendous structure. Probably my favorite of all wines tasted.

We finished with two Rhone wines, another of Jake’s strengths. The 2015 Hail Mary, a velvety Syrah, is reminiscent of chocolate barrels. The 2015 Headpruned Block Syrah is a miniscule production of only 100 cases. It’s the product of the oldest vines. Unlike the Hail Mary, which uses stems in the fermentation, this is stem-free. A full-bodied wine with aging potential.

If this has generated a desire to sample some Limerick Lane, you don’t have to travel to Sonoma to do so. On August 16th, Jake himself will be pouring his finest at Salt Creek Grille to benefit the Boys & Girls Club. We’ll have more info for you soon, but take the lead from Robert Parker, “If you haven’t caught onto the magic that is emerging from Limerick Lane, it’s about time.”

© Carl J. Kanowsky
May 23, 2018

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