Situated in Geyserville, just a little to the north of Sonoma’s cool kids and the Napa Valley’s rich kids, Marietta is one of a very rare breed left in California’s wine scene – a family owned and run property that puts value for money at the centre of everything they do. The result is that their wines, and particularly ‘Old Vine Red’, are held in the highest esteem by restaurateurs, sommeliers, wine drinkers and wine critics from across the entire spectrum. When both Robert Parker and Jon Bonné are among your biggest cheerleaders, then you must be doing something right.
What exactly the Bilbro family are doing is pretty simple. Since Chris founded the winery in 1978, his objective was to produce the best ‘Tuesday night wine’ he possibly could. This involves sustainably farming old vineyards, many of which are varieties like Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane and other grapes that were historically used to slake the thirst of Italian immigrant families (like the Bilbro family are). Native yeast fermentations take place in concrete tanks after being passed through an old vertical press (reclaimed from Silver Oak down the road), after which the wines age in a combination of French and American oak barrels, a very small percentage of which are ever new.
The only feature of the Marietta wines that could be considered as ‘innovative’ (or ‘revolutionary’, even) is their commitment to non-vintage blends - producing wines like this was commonplace back in the day, but is now assumed to imply low-quality bulk wine. The reason that Champagne has always avoided any such negative connotations is because they set out deliberately to produce wine in this fashion (rather than chucking all the random off-cuts into a tank), and this is absolutely the case at Marietta. Chirs, and now his son Scot, are experts in putting together multi-vintage blends that maintain a consistent house style and offer incredible complexity and drinking pleasure for their price tag. Old Vine Red – a Zinfandel-driven fruity but deliciously savoury, old school wine - has long been considered the proof that this approach to winemaking can be a great success when you know what you are doing. After establishing a reputation for the mastery of non-vintage blends, the Bilbros have now added two more wines to the portfolio, made in the same fashion - ‘Christo’ is a Rhône inspired blend of Syrah, Grenache and Petite Syrah, and ‘Armé’ is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
All three wines give the drinker a glimpse into what Californian wine used to be – rustic and generous, sun-kissed but fresh and balanced, each holding true to the blend of varieties that they are crafted from and offering wonderful value for money. Roll on Tuesday!