By: Sarah Covey | K&L Staff Member
Limerick Lane Cellars was on the top of my list for our recent K&L staff road trip to Sonoma. I had met current owner Jake Bilbro and his brother Scot (the winemaker) at an industry event in San Francisco earlier in the year. Not only were the wines delicious, but I found Jake to be a very friendly, genuine person. Over his homemade grilled sausages, Jake talked about how lucky he feels every day to be in his position. A man in his 30s with a young family, owning a winery and the surrounding land with a legacy to pass on to his children - it is a dream he never in a million years thought he would be able to achieve. I was inspired to learn more about this special place and the folks behind these intriguing wines.
A Little History
Limerick Lane Cellars is not a new name on the wine scene. Located just south of downtown Healdsburg, in the Russian River Valley appellation, the property was planted to grapes by the Del Fava family in 1910. Mario Del Fava, born in 1920, farmed grapes and prunes there until the 1970s when the estate was sold to the Collins family. “Brothers Mike and Tom Collins brought incredible passion and enthusiasm to the property selling the grapes as vineyard designates to several well known local wineries including De Loach, Chateau Souverain, Ravenswood, Davis Bynum and Gary Farrell," notes the Limerick Lane website. "The quality of the wines and reputation of the iconic Collins Vineyard quickly established Limerick Lane as a premier site for growing Zinfandel and Rhone varieties in Sonoma County. In 1986, the first estate wines were produced under the Limerick Lane label. The subsequent quality of the wines produced solidified Limerick Lane’s reputation as one of Sonoma County’s premier producers.”
Jake and his wife Alexis bought the house across the street from Limerick Lane in 2007. As is common in the Sonoma grape growing and winemaking community, Jake started helping Mike Collins with the harvest and in the cellars once he moved in across the street. Jake grew up in the wine business. His father is the owner of Marietta Cellars, where brother Scot is the assistant winemaker. In 2009, ready for the next chapter and unwilling to hang a “for sale sign” or sell it to the highest paying corporation, Mike gave Jake and his young family the opportunity of a lifetime. He approached Jake and asked him if he would like to buy Limerick Lane Cellars and the Collins Vineyard. Jake jumped at the chance, and Scot signed on as winemaker (in addition to making wine at Marietta Cellars) soon thereafter.
With approximately 5 acres of the original vines planted in 1910 still in production today, it is the great pleasure and goal of Jake and his family to produce wines that live up to the 100 year heritage that preceded them. With the amazing fruit that the Collins Vineyard can produce, they are able to create wines that are noted not only for their exceptional balance and elegance, but wines with a sense of history and place as well. Vines planted in 1934 produce the grapes for the Limerick Lane "Block 1934-Estate" Russian River Valley Zinfandel; vines planted in 1970 provide the grapes for the Limerick Lane "Block 1970-Estate" Russian River Valley Zinfandel. The estate is also planted to both head-pruned and trellised Syrah, which in the future will be bottled separately as blocks, too. Right now their Limerick Lane Estate Russian River Valley Syrah is a blend of both, and is simply delicious! There is also old vine Furmint, which Jake told me he discovered in the old ledgers that used to be on the French Laundry’s late harvest dessert wine list! The Furmint is currently one of the varietals blended into their Cuvee Blanc, along with Sauvignon Blanc and Roussanne.
Understandably, Jake is as deeply connected to the land as he is to the wines. He is intimately familiar with each vine on the property, and his eldest son, Cruz, can identify each block by name and varietal. As Jake loved to do with his father, Cruz likes to ride the tractor and uses his shovel (with its real steel handle) to dig holes all around the vineyards!
The day we visited, Jake tasted us through the 2010 Pinot Noir from the estate, the 2010 Sonoma County Zinfandel, which has 1910, 1934 and 1970 blended in with sourced fruit, the 2010 Russian River Zinfandel, the 2010 Dry Creek Zinfandel, the 2010 Head-Pruned Syrah, the 2010 Trellis Block Syrah, and the famous "1023" Blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Grenache from the estate. 1023 is the address for the winery on Limerick Lane. It was my personal favorite, and one that I can only get at the winery!
The wines of Limerick Lane are thoughtfully made, layered, nuanced and interesting. They are not the smack-you-in-the-face Zinfandels, Pinots, and Syrahs that so often come thumping out of the Valley over the hill from Sonoma. They are special wines expressive of land and vine, crafted by good-hearted, dedicated people who, along with the other young winemakers in Sonoma, are helping to reclaim history and revitalize the local industry. I highly recommend all of these wines.
And, if you want a calm, welcoming, warm tasting experience the next time you are in Sonoma, head to Limerick Lane. It is peaceful, quiet, and the wines are spectacular.
Tell them we sent you.
Sarah C. Covey, WSET Certified
Wine Sales Professional
K&L Wine Merchants, Redwood City, CA, USA