When Sam and Jessica Bilbro decided to make their own wine in 2012, they set out to find some of the most distinctive and unusual vineyards in the North Coast, traditional California varieties be damned. The couple, an organic farmer and a winemaker (respectively) by trade, bravely, with two kids in tow, went where few have gone before.
Venturing into Mendocino’s McDowell Valley at the southeast end of the vast county, they discovered a ranch where a rare variety of Grenache has been growing for over 100 years.
Grenache Gris, a pink-hued grape that yields white juice, is related to the more common red grape Grenache, widely planted in the Southern Rhone (and increasingly in California's Santa Barbara county). Because Grenache is so prone to genetic mutation, the dry-farmed vines of the Gibson Ranch may be producing grapes that are completely unique in the world.
Obviously, one would be obliged to make a wine just as special.
At first glance, the wine is a rosé, thanks to the light pink color of the skins. But it tastes like something else — fruity but savory too; fresh but biscuity. With no real tradition for dealing with Grenache Gris — it is most commonly blended with other grapes — the Bilbros took a chance and made a wine that may not be quite like anything you have tasted .
The first five days at the winery, the grapes were gassed with Co2, allowing each individual berry to ferment inside its own skins. Known as carbonic maceration, it’s a common practice in Beaujolais and creates distinctive fruity aromas that can border on watermelon Jolly Rancher. But the Bilbros saved the wine from going too far into Candyland by foot treading the grapes and allowing the juice to ferment with the skins for three more days. A few months sur lie in neutral oak added texture and complexity.
It’s a lovely, lively little wine worthy of summertime sipping certainly, but also very versatile on the table.