Consistently Wonderful Red Wines At Great Prices & A Great American Success Story!
In a world of many over-hyped, over extracted, and over-priced California red wines, there are a few exceptions that stand out like beacons on a foggy night. One is Marietta Cellars. The history of Marietta Cellars goes back nearly 40 years. It is a true American success story that merits the attention of every red wine drinker who wants to drink really good honest wines at honest prices. Now in the hands of the second generation, Marietta Cellars was founded by Chris Bilbro in 1978. Chris was inspired by his aunt Marietta hence the origin of the name. This family link carries through the history of Marietta Cellars right up to today. I was introduced to Chris way back when. My old friend Mike Mork, whom I knew in the investment business world in Los Angeles in the seventies and early eighties, moved to Healdsburg, started a business, and met Chris. They became fast friends. From the very beginning, Chris worked tirelessly searching for grapes (and particularly those from old vines), making wine, marketing the wine and, later, buying vineyards. Starting with the Old Vine Red, the wines were made in a traditional way. Generally, they were made with different grapes blended to make the most consistent, accessible and balanced wine possible. And, value to the consumer was always a primary consideration. Here is how that is manifest: We have always kept a low profile in order to concentrate on what we love most: making wine. In order to stay streamlined and focused, we sell only through distributors and do not have a tasting room.
Today there are some 70 distributors spread over 49 states making Marietta Cellars wines very accessible. But, if you need help to find the wines in your area, you can email Marietta at firstname.lastname@example.org and and they will direct you to the nearest retailer.
In recent years Chris’s sons, Jake and Scot, have taken over most of the responsibilities. However, Chris, while “retired”, is still actively involved. Here is how the early history is described by Chris’s sons, Jake and Scot:
The foundation of Marietta Cellars has always been family. It started half a century ago at Great Aunt Marietta’s table where Dad learned about simple, good cooking, hard work and honesty. We feel blessed to be carrying on those traditions, working alongside each other, making decisions together, and going through every day as brothers. But we’re just as proud of making wines that matter to you and your family. Wines with a place at your table.
Sometimes you have to trust your gut. Dad first worked in hospital administration where the bureaucracy literally burned a hole in his stomach. Shook to the core, he walked away from a life that didn’t fit and began making wine with his young family in a rented cow barn outside Healdsburg. Every decision he made was determined by what felt right. No rules, just the values of honesty and fairness passed down from his family. That same approach encourages us to break the mold and make unique wines in an alternative fashion.
And, here is how Jake and Scot, representing the second generation, again describe the history and the tradition that they will follow:
Dad taught us what matters. He is a tireless, big-hearted, and humble man. He made wine by feel and instinct. Following those ideals is what allows us to carry on his tradition of blending great wines and selling them at fair prices. At Marietta Cellars our wines are honest, generous, satisfying, and dependable. Just like our Dad.
The winery has grown significantly over the years. Here is the history of the vineyard acquisitions:
Geyserville, CA: Alexander Valley, Sonoma County
Purchased in 1990 from Viola Angeli
35 acres of river land and hillside terraced vineyards
Zinfandel, Cabernet, Petite Sirah
Viola’s house is now our main office and Chris still lives on the property
Yorkville Highlands, CA: Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County
Purchased in 1999
30 acres planted at 1500 ft. elevation, perched on a south-
Planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah
Coastal influence with hot days
Surrounded by land overrun with deer, wild pigs, wild mushrooms, and oak trees
Produces dark, concentrated, intense wines
Hopland, CA: Mendocino Hill, Mendocino County
Purchased in 2005
90 acres of hillside plantings on rich red soil
Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet and SyrahBeautiful soil and rolling benchlands combine to produce superior quality fruit
Hopland, CA: McDowell Valley Vineyards, Mendocino County
Purchased in 2012
80% of the plantable acreage in this unique appellation
Property has blocks of grapes dating back to last century
McDowell is renown for Rhone varietals with unique Syrah and Grenache plantings
With the recent acquisition of the 270 acre McDowell Vineyard in Mendocino, the company now owns and farms some 425 acres of vineyard. The McDowell Vineyard has a lot of old vines which will allow the company to bottle, for the first time, varietal wines using fruit from old vines. This should make a great complement to the blended wines.
This is how the family describes the evolution:
Marietta Cellars has grown from 4,000 to 100,000 cases of wine by purchasing high quality fruit from local friends and farmers. By nourishing those relationships we’ve managed to acquire some of those same vineyards that we have been working with for years. In the case of Geyserville, our father worked the land and gained the trust of Viola before he purchased it. The McDowell Vineyard relationship would never have happened if not for a freshly caught abalone. We’ve always relied on friendships, community and personal connections. The results are in every bottle of Marietta Cellars wine.
Recently I visited with Chris Bilbo at Limerick Lane Winery in Healdsburg. In 2011 Marietta acquired Limerick Lane and it is now being run by the family. Here is the history of Limerick Lane:
Limerick Lane is a thirty acre estate located in the north east corner of the Russian River Appellation just south of the town of Healdsburg. The estate was first planted to grapes in 1910 by the Del Fava family and the original homestead where Mario Del Fava was born…. In the mid 70’s, 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. 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 as well.
This is Limerick Lane today: Limerick Lane Cellars is a family-owned, 30-acre estate winery producing cool climate old-vine Zinfandels, Syrah and Rhone blends in the Russian River Valley. At Limerick Lane Cellars we strive to produce wines noted not only for their exceptional balance and elegance, but wines with an undeniable sense of history and place.
Read on. My tasting notes on the current releases from Marietta Cellars and Limerick Lane follow. I think you will find new friends with wines that you will love that are easy to drink and easy on your pocket book!
Marietta Cellars Wine Tasting Notes – Current Releases
Old Vine Red Lot Number 62
This is the first wine Marietta made back in 1980 which was designated Lot Number 1. It is Marietta’s modern version of an old world table wine. There are 2 lots released each year. The production is around 70,000 cases. Typically it is made with Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Carignane with smaller amounts of other varietals also added.
With a deep color the wine has a lovely berry spice perfume with briary nuances. It is rounded with lots of supple fruit accented by faint hint of spice and herbs. Balanced with well integrated flavors, this is a gorgeous wine that speaks to what a “table wine” should be in terms of quality, flavor, and price – Highly Recommended. $14 Best Buy
Armé Lot Number 1
This is Marietta’s proprietary Bordeaux blend. It is named for Chris’s uncle, Armé, who lived worked, and fished in all the areas where Marietta sources its grapes. The wine is usually blended with wines from 3 or 4 vintages. The current release is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec which is typical. The production is 5,000 cases.
Dark in color the wine has a deep perfume with hints of spice, cassis, and plum. It is beautifully balanced with lots of spice tinged supple fruit. Flavorful and very accessible, this is a gorgeous wine of class and breed that drinks well now and should keep for many years – Outstanding. $24
Christo Lot Number 2
This is the second bottling for this wine. It is named for Chris and is mostly made from old vines fruit. Te production of this bottling is 3,000 cases. Here is how the origin of the wine is described: Our dad has a long history of honoring those he loves through wine. Now we’re able to do the same for him with a new blend in his favorite Rhone style. Christo, as Marietta called him, captures our father’s closeness to the earth, strength, enormity of heart, and unfailing gentleness. Comprised of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Viognier, this blend is only possible because of who our father is, and what he has taught us.
Dark in color with a deep spice tinged blackberry perfume this wine has a lot going for it. Layers of fruit exhibit blackberry and spice with cedary floral nuances. There is a soft underlying tannin that is well integrated and the wine is flavorful and rich with lots of character and depth. Drink now or keep for years, this is another excellent value – Outstanding. $21
2011 Angeli Cuvée
This wine was first made in 1993. This is how it is described:
Having known our dad since he was a boy, Viola Angeli sold him the ranch where our winery now sits. Viola lived in her house until she passed away 14 years later. This wine honors her. Angeli Cuvée is a proprietary blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and a small amount of Syrah, made from our highest quality Sonoma County fruit….
Made with 95% Zinfandel this 2011 is very impressive. Dark in color with a deep perfume showing exotic fruit with blackberry and floral spice undertones, the wine is very rich and concentrated, but maintains a great sense of balance. Supple and lush with layers of fruit showing an exotic tinge, this is a unique and delicious wine – Outstanding. $32
Limerick Lane Wine Tasting Notes – Current Releases
Below are note on 2 current releases from Limerick Lane. There are several other smaller production bottlings that are now mostly sold out. In total Limerick Lane makes 8 different wines with a total annual production of around 3000 cases. All wines are made from estate grown fruit. And, unlike Marietta, they have a tasting room. The tasting room is located among their estate vineyards in the Northeast corner of the Russian River Valley about three miles from downtown Healdsburg. To visit, learn more about Limerick Lane, or purchase wines click here  to visit the website.
2012 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Estate
This wine is a field blend of mostly Zinfandel grapes estate grown on vines dating back to 1910. The production is 1500 cases.
With a deep color this wine has a lovely berry perfume with floral, briary, spice nuances. Impressively rich and fruity with a soft, supple, rounded quality there is a nice underlying crispness that gives the wine lift on the finish. This is very forward and lovely to drink now for the fruit, flavor, and balance – Outstanding. $32
2012 Limerick Lane Syrah Grenache Blend
This wine is a blend of 66% Syrah and 44% Grenache. There were 480 cases produced.
With a deep color the wine has a gorgeous plummy perfume tinged with spice. Forward and intensely fruity, there is a myriad of black fruits with cedar and spice nuances and a soft underlying tannin. This is a wine that should evolve beautifully with time – Outstanding. $36
So there you have it. I think you will agree that this is quite a story – Marietta Cellars and Limerick Lane. And, Chris and his family give a very honest appraisal of what they do which is reflected in the quality and consistency of the wines. If you are not familiar with these wines, you owe it to yourself to give them a try. Honest red wines, natural and not manipulated, at honest prices. This is a winning combination. Again, if you need help finding the Marietta wines in your area, email Marietta Cellars at email@example.com  for the nearest retailer. And, to visit Limerick Lane go to http://www.limericklanewines.com /.