…Lost Hills is as evocative as its name, with a green-in-spring rolling landscape where sheep had traditionally grazed. Its relative proximity to the Pacific Ocean, less than 20 miles away, makes for a relatively cool climate that Sam likens to Northern Italy.
#37 A light, bright expression of 60% Dolcetto, 35% Barbera and 5% Nebbiolo, this offers tones of wild strawberry and dark cherry, uplifted by tenacious acidity. It changes in the glass to show complexity and verve, with a splash of tannin on the finish.
During the pandemic, Idlewild turned its casual menu of Italian cheese and salumi into much more of an involved, educational pairing with the wines. Yes, it’s a Sonoma County tasting room, but especially with the street seating these days, it passes for something a little more European.
According to Bilbro, Lewandowski and Lucia, some of these grape varieties — such as Cole Ranch’s Jacquere and Lost Hills’ Timorasso — have never before been planted in California. For wine geeks who have fallen for the European versions of these wines, the prospect of these Mendocino Alpine plantings is deeply exciting.
93 Points Piedmontese-inspired owner and winemaker Sam Bilbro, born, raised and based in Sonoma County, picks selectively to make this light, refreshingly complex wine, cofermenting 47% Nebbiolo with 28% Barbera and 25% Dolcetto. It holds its acidity well, balancing it against a backdrop of fruity tangy grapefruit and orange, with a mineral stoniness that’s hard to pin down. Editors’ Choice. —V.B.
2016 Idlewild ‘The Flower, Flora & Fauna Rose’ Rose ($22): This super juicy blend of dolcetto, barbera, and nebbiolo from Mendocino gets better every year. The winery, founded in 2012, focuses on Italian varieties, and this complex pink wine would be great with the salumi you find at the owner’s wine bar.
At one time of year, for one small segment of winemaking, the human touch makes all the difference… Hands, feet, calves, arms up to the elbow, entire limbs even, disappear into tanks filled with fermenting grapes that were only just days ago picked and crushed.
“Bilbro has the rare ability to craft absolutely delicious wines from obscure grapes (in California)… Readers who can find these wines should not miss them, as they are terrific. Carignan – 93 points, Barbera – 92 points.”
“Idlewild focuses on Italian and other less well-known varieties… The best wines in this range are compelling and point to a bright future. Carignan – 91 pts; Dolcetto – 90 pts; Cortese – 89 pts.” (Log-in required for full review)
The accolades have come because Sam is a winemaker who believes that passion for the wine should always be your north star, and his passion for Piedmontese wines is what makes him so unique in such a crowded world.
Idlewild is a welcome addition to downtown Healdsburg: To tourists, it’s a tasting room offering some of Sonoma County’s most unique wines; to locals, it’s a laid-back bar to come for a glass and a snack.
“Sam Bilbro’s family is behind the idiosyncratic Marietta winery in Northern California, so it is not surprising that his own project, Idlewild, would also have the idiosyncratic goal of making wines from northwestern Italian varieties in Mendocino. The Flower is a delightful rosé, made of dolcetto, nebbiolo and barbera. It smells like red fruits, flowers and citrus but is savory, almost salty, and delicious.”
In California’s Sonoma county, the brothers Bilbro—Jake, Scot and Sam—oversee three very different wineries. But they’ve never lost sight of what it means to come together as a family…
And Sam has taken a third path, producing his elegant, Italian-variety Idlewild wines that are now sommelier and insider favorites.
Looking for a place to hang out and grab a drink in downtown Healdsburg? Idlewild is just as much fun of any of the bars in town. The small wine label is based here but sources its fruit from Mendocino County and looks to northern Italy for its inspiration. You’ll find delicate renditions of Arneis, Barbera, Dolcetto and more, offered here alongside hearty platters of cheese and salumi.
2018 Idlewild The Flower Flora and Fauna Rosé ($25)
From Mendocino, this lively, tangy pink wine is a blend of three Italian grape varieties.
Healdsburg, California–based winemaker Sam Bilbro’s lively “house” red is a subtle, aromatic blend of Dolcetto, Barbera, and Nebbiolo that’s superb with a light chill.
“I want to sidewalk chalk the way to Sam Bilbro’s tasting room, just off the plaza in Healdsburg in Sonoma County. I want visitors to find their way there and tease Bilbro about out-hipstering the hipsters. I want him to smile at them. I want him to use the word ‘joy’ fifteen times in two sentences as he talks about these wines, and I want you -visitors- to taste exactly that joy, as I did, in this Cortese and the Dolcetto in particular.”
Join us, and meet the trailblazers who are shaping the future of wine, beer, cider and spirits in America. These winemakers, grape growers, retailers, bartenders, educators and more are redefining the alcohol beverage industry as we know it. With an eye on innovation and an impulse to constantly reach for the horizon, each of these honorees is doing their part to lead the conversation and leave a lasting influence on the world of food and drink for generations to come.
“Sam’s vision, which he is so impressively executing upon today, is to use grapes traditionally grown in the region of Piedmon–to produce intriguing and expressive wines from Northern California. It’s a vision rooted in passion.”
“The usual suspect grapes are included, of course… but you will also find on this list proponents of trousseau gris and grenache gris, carignane and cinsault, crafted by brave pioneers of the unusual, even rare grapes.”
“Proprietor Sam Bilbro has a particular fondness for Italian wines and he does a bang-up job with both cortese and arneis, two white wine varietals found in Piedmont, yet his Vin Gris of Grenache is equally delightful.”
“2014 Dolcetto: a medium bodied red with a refreshing sense of levity… with that zingy, stiff tannin/acid/black cherry thing found in every self-respecting Dolcetto. A wine you can drink all day, and into the night.”
“2014 “Fox Hill Vineyard” Arneis. This wine smells beautifully floral and mineral. In the mouth, flavors of Rainier cherries, white flowers, and wet chalkboard are beautifully balanced and positively gulpable. Outstanding.”
“All of these wines are great choices for the dinner table. Best of all, they won’t break the bank… This is a huge, overachieving wine and probably the best Dolcetto (2014) I have tasted from California. 92 points.”
…the savory, floral Flower, Flora and Fauna from Idlewild in Mendocino, made from nebbiolo, barbera and dolcetto. Pleasing texture, with savory, saline, floral flavors. These 10 wines represent a mere thimbleful of the rosés produced in the United States each year. Obviously, American wine is not immune to the annual flood of bad rosé, but the good stuff is out there if you want it.