Sam Bilbro, owner-winemaker of Idlewild Wines in Geyserville, Calif., has always worn multiple hats. But during last month’s Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, he took on two additional roles — that of writer and editor.
“It was a new exercise for me,” says Bilbro, who penned daily dispatches about the October wildfire on his winery’s Instagram page, incorporating content from fellow winemaking colleagues. That on-the-ground reporting answered the question that many outside the Golden State were asking: Was all of Sonoma’s wine country burning?
As first responders contained the blaze and evacuees returned, Bilbro — having lived through the devastating wildfires of the last two years — was intent on reassuring friends and visitors that Sonoma’s wine community was safe and open for business. (In the end, just under 7 percent of the county burned, much of that in the rural area between Sonoma and Napa.) Bilbro marvels at how neighbors helped neighbors. “It was still scary, but we’re all figuring out how to deal. It’s motivation to stay positive.”
That optimism, especially in the face of what feels like an alarming ‘new normal,’ is heartening. Thankfully, Bilbro is one of many North Coast winemakers whose intrepid determination shows up in their wines.
Winemaker Kenny Likitprakong established Hobo Wine Company in 2002 on a wing and a prayer (in other words, no millionaire investors). Today, he works with the region’s premier grape growers and farms leased vines to craft a diverse array of soulful wines. One of his many labels, Camp Wines, highlights delicious values to be had in Sonoma County. Bedrock Wine Company’s Morgan Twain-Peterson, who earned a Master of Wine in 2017, has long showcased fruit from California’s heritage vineyards, planted in the late 19th century. Not surprisingly, Twain-Peterson’s entry-level zinfandel is stunning, punching well above its price point.
As you prepare for your Thanksgiving feast, opt for pours that embody California resilience. “We’ve risked our livelihoods for this place,” says Bilbro. “We need to tell people how much we love it and believe in it.”
Camp Wines Sonoma County Chardonnay 2018 Refreshing scents of apples, stone fruit, and sweet butter lead to a mouthful of pleasing acidity, lime skin zest, salt, and gently tropical notes. Grapes, sourced from multiple vineyards, are whole-cluster pressed, co-fermented in stainless steel, then spend several weeks in neutral oak. 12.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). Around $18. At Pemberton Farms, Cambridge, 617-491-2244; Craft & Cru, Milton, 617-322-1162.
Bedrock Wine Co. Old Vine Zinfandel 2017 This masterfully crafted bottle reaffirms the staying power of “Zin,” a favorite since California’s Gold Rush. This French oak-aged red is beguilingly robust, full of dark fruit, spicy leafiness, and accompanied by satisfying acidity and tannins. 14.4 percent ABV. $25 to low $30s. Wine & Cheese Cask, Somerville, 617-623-8656; The Urban Grape, South End, 857-250-2509.
Idlewild Wines, Flora & Fauna Red Wine 2018 Crafted from Mendocino-grown barbera, dolcetto, and nebbiolo, this lithe red, which spends a few months in neutral oak, is delightfully versatile. Scents of cherry and red berry lead to a juicy palate (enhanced by a whisper of carbonic maceration) along with appetizing tannins and herbal spice. 13.4 percent ABV. Around $25. The Spirited Gourmet, Belmont, 617-489-9463; Mayhew Wine Shop, Fort Point, 857-239-9366.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at email@example.com