Sam Bilbro and Idlewild Wine | A singular, extraordinary experience of Piedmont in California

Its not every day you get to speak to somebody who has made Wine Enthusiasts 40 Under 40. It’s a real honor, but speaking to Sam Bilbro of Idlewild Wines the accolades just seem to go out the window. Yes, this is a man very much deserving of the accolades, but this is a man who is not pursuant of them. 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. It is a unique and extraordinary experience of Piedmont in California. He's given Californian wine a fresh perspective, a delicious, refreshing, quaffable fresh perspective.

 Unique, extraordinary, passionate. Not driven by money but by nature and devotion. Sam Bilbro is creating something different worth discovering in California. Photo Credit Erik Castro.

Unique, extraordinary, passionate. Not driven by money but by nature and devotion. Sam Bilbro is creating something different worth discovering in California. Photo Credit Erik Castro.

When we spoke to Sam I mentioned something that I always found to be incredibly beautiful about wine. When we have that glass of wine, we get to enjoy for a moment something that somebody has devoted his or her life to. To my surprise he agreed and realized that he was doing exactly that all along. Its him and one other person working on the wine, he listens to David Bowie while he sits amongst his barrels of wine after a full day of work, taking stock as the spectacular quietly ferments in each barrel. You have to ask, how did it all begin?

It was an oh shit moment, not an a-ha moment

Sam had to leave Mendocino County to find himself. Much like his brothers before him he mentioned to his dad that there must be something else out there in the world that made sense. He had to explore it, see what it could offer, and then make his way. So he did. But on his adventures he came across a wine, a Barbaresco to be precise, that made him feel he knew what he had to do all along. It was not just Barbaresco, or the Nebbiolo grape, but a love for everything Piedmontese that made was going to become a north star that would guide his adventure into going alone. So he began to look for places to make Piedmontese wine.

It was more like an “oh shit” moment rather than an “a-ha” moment. That Barbaresco changed everything and helped me discover my romance with wine. I think what everyone does in the wine world has its own sense of romance. My dad as definitely always had his. I think that Barbaresco just showed me the love and draw that I had not realized before. 

Realizing that wine was about so much more than just working your ass off in the vineyard or in the cellar, a shift in Sam's heart set him along the path to finding his way back home. He knew that wine was in his blood. Wine became a life source that was steering him home. While he explored a number of locations to start his own thing, he was always getting pulled home to Healdsburg, California. There was just something about the place that made sense. It was not just a good enough place to grow these wines, but a fantastic place to bring them to life.

It’s a different culture, where rustic meets refined

It would be so easy for Sam to do what every other winemaker in California does, make Pinot Noir and/or Cabernet Sauvignon then rake in the big bucks. Where is the fun in that? Sam discussed something his dad had taught him that has since become something of a proverb, "Do you follow your heart, or the market?" If he were following the market then Sam would be turning a deaf ear to everything his father had taught him, abandoning a family spirit that you see throughout his and his brothers' wines. You have to be passionate, and you have to make your wines with passion. Piedmont was his passion; their wines were his passion.

There is just something about Piedmont that makes these wines so brilliant. The region is host to a cosmopolitan culture where rustic meets the refined. A place that is home to the Italian Alps, nestled between France and Switzerland, and features gentle hillsides as much as expansive wine fields. Much like parts of California, it’s a place where life is full of contrasts that upon further inspection turn out to compliment each other. Its in this environment that so many grapes have grown and evolved together to reflect the culture, to offer something for every meal, for ever moment, and every occasion. There is no other offering in the wine world that manages to hit every note, and hit it hard. 

 As rare as gold, Nebbiolo is not something you find readily in California, indeed in the US. But this wine is exceptional, making us think twice about what California can produce, and what we desire in life.

As rare as gold, Nebbiolo is not something you find readily in California, indeed in the US. But this wine is exceptional, making us think twice about what California can produce, and what we desire in life.

This is what Sam Bilbro is bringing to the New World. Not just a flair for Piedmontese wine but a real reflection of its culture that integrates so seamlessly into Californian lifestyles. Its relaxed, but shows a refined taste. Wine is about passion and devotion, while leaving pretense far behind. 

When we explore, we have so much more fun!

If you just focus on doing what you love, sooner or later people will pay attention. Sam is evidence of that, but you still have to encourage people to explore. After all, wine is one of those things where you just have more fun by exploring, and many of the people who will try wines from Idlewild may never have tried a Cortese before, or a Dolcetto. 

It is a barrier for a lot of wine drinkers who are very content sitting inside their bubbles of what they think California wine is, or should be. All Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and of course Cabernet Sauvignon. But if we can just pierce that bubble a little bit you can find something incredible, not just gems off the beaten path, but real treasures that will soon become your favorites. You will find it is a lot easier to fall in love with a wine you never knew before when you know that the person who made this wine made it with passion, that they are doing this with love. 

Combine unique wines with a unique life that is dedicated to wine and you have something truly exceptional. The world, indeed the universe, smiles on the vineyards, the people, and the wine. It comes as no surprise that Sam Bilbro and his Idlewild Wines are garnering the attention that they do. Its deserved, and you'll love these wines because they deserve your attention.