Jake Bilbro is only the third owner in Limerick Lane Cellars’ 106-year history.
Under his direction, the 2012 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley (94 points/$32) was named the No. 12 wine among Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 Wines of 2015. And now, the winery has become synonymous, vintage to vintage, with extraordinary zinfandel and syrah blends.
The history of Limerick Lane is defined by people who believed in its potential and became stewards of the land that sits in a small unique microclimate, south of the town of Healdsburg.
The Del Fava family were the original owners and planted the first vineyards in 1910. They farmed and managed the vines for over 60 years before selling, in the mid-1970s, to the Collins brothers, Michael and Tom.
For the next 35 years, they assumed stewardship of the property, adding new vineyards and investing in the existing ones. In 2009, determined to not let the land fall into uncaring corporate hands, Collins sought out a new caretaker and found Jake, who was raised among his family’s vineyards. His father, Chris, started Marietta Cellars in 1978.
The Limerick Lane Estate totals 30 acres of vines, separated into 14 blocks, extending from the hillside vineyard due west of the winery to the Chalk Hill appellation that begins a few hundred yards to the east.
These old vines that produce high quality fruit are planted to southern and eastern exposure in soil that contains layers of clay and rock. During the growing season, the nights are still cold in this part of the Russian River Valley appellation and the vines sit within the fogline. While the cold and fog preserves that vibrant acidity in the wines, the consistently warm afternoons add a restrained intensity to the flavors.
I appreciate that the vines are field blended, with zinfandel planted side by side with old world varietals like mourvedre, syrah, alicante bouschet and petite sirah. They are together from the initial budding, through fermentation, barrel and bottle aging and on the palate
Starting with the 2011 vintage, Jake, his wife Alexa and brother Scott have taken Limerick Lane to a higher level. Since the 2015 Wine Spectator recognition of their 2012 zinfandel, they have produced, with each vintage, about 4,000 cases of critically acclaimed blends.
Host Andy Tester guided me through some of Limerick Lanes’s current releases and library wines beginning with the 2018 Rosé ($28), a purposeful blend of three traditional Rhone varietals: syrah, grenache and mourvedre Recently bottled, it is still tight but expressing floral notes in the bouquet, flavors that were both austere and fully present with a mineral element on the finish. Highly recommended.
In 2011, the stress of dealing simultaneously with a closing escrow, an overwhelming harvest and a broken destemmer resulted in Bilbro throwing caution to the wind with a new blend, a Hail Mary if you will.
As with previous vintages, I was drawn to the rich texture and soft mouthful of the 2015 Hail Mary ($60), a luscious blend of 98 percent syrah and 2 percent grenache, from Limerick Lanes’ Rhone program.
A descendant of the renown 2012 vintage, the flagship 2016 Estate Zinfandel Russian River Valley ($42), awarded 93 points by Wine Spectator, is actually a field blend of zinfandel, peloursin, négrette, syrah, petite sirah and carignan. Acid driven and opulent, this vintage seamlessly adds spice and mineral notes to balance the dark berry flavors.
The 2014 1910 Block Zinfandel ($68) pays homage to the first planting and is yet another wine that is field blended, harvested together and co-fermented. This vintage is robust and concentrated, layered with the flavors of stone fruits, blueberries and spice.
The zinfandel grape seems to strive when stressed in poor, rocky soil and the 2014 Rocky Knoll Zinfandel ($60), located at the fogline, survives the worst soil and develops the smallest clusters. The lush zinfandel is blended with mourvedre and petite sirah, giving it solid structure.
The varietals can vary each vintage with their cuvee, determined only by the most compelling fruit. The 2016 1023 Red ($72) boasting many ratings in the mid- nineties, blends 52 percent zinfandel, 45 percent syrah and 3 percent grenache to achieve concerted rich berry flavors and herbal notes throughout a long, soft finish.
Limerick Lane wines are primarily distributed through a direct allocation list that can be accessed on their website.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a guest columnist.
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