Robert Louis Stevenson has said “Wine is bottled poetry.” But after a unique, wine-centric dinner last night at Healdsburg’s Valette, I think this quote is more apt: “Wine is bottled passion.”

A trio of friends decided – over beer mind you – to create a dinner that would showcase their Sonoma County brands and the passion behind them. The trio? Mark McWilliams of Arista, Jake Bilbro of Limerick Lane, and Jesse Katz of Devil Proof and Aperture.

Their buddy Dustin Valette was happy to create an eight-course meal to pair with their wines, as well offer his restaurant as backdrop for the hedonistic, four-hour dinner. This dinner was a test pilot of sorts. The vintners want to take it on the road before long and offer it in different cities, as well as host it at Valette’s once a year. It will no doubt be a hot seller because these young men know their craft.


And here is the 4 hour menu

Daryl Groom of Groom Wines and mentor extraordinaire, introduced the trio and talked about his delight in encouraging each.

Groom also talked about how unique Sonoma County turf is in the world of winemaking because it can accommodate a multitude of varietals. By example, the dinner rollout itself highlighted seven — chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, grenache, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and malbec.

Through the course of the dinner – with highlights of Maine Lobster, Foie Gras, Kobe New York Steak and Lamb – we heard from the impassioned trio.

They told us about their craft, their excitement in creating quality, their family-oriented ventures and their Sonoma County roots.

Jake Bilbro of Limerick Lane summed up his bottled passion when he said: “The vineyards are so unique. Like an onion, when you layer in the site, on top of that layer in the age of the vine, and we’re talking about 100-year old vines, on top of that layer in the field blend, it’s like drinking history … there are so many factors. You can’t say what’s France’s version or Italy’s version. It just gets my blood going.”



For the wine geeks who want a detailed look at the wines we tasted, here’s the roll-out:

Arista, 2014 Banfield Vineyard Chardonnay

Arista, 2014 Two Birds Vineyard Pinot Noir

Limerick Lane, 2013 Russian River Estate, Syrah/Grenache

Limerick Lane, 2013 Russian River Estate 1910 Block Zinfandel

Aperture, 2013 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Devil Proof, 2013 Farrow Ranch Alexander Valley Malbec

Bottled poetry can’t begin to describe these wines. There is no way to be spare, concise or brief when describing them. You need free-flowing language and lots of it. You need run-on sentences and a string of adjectives.

I’ve reviewed wine for 16 years, and I’ve had the opportunity to taste plenty of cult cabs, rock star pinots and ridiculously good zinfandels. These wines are some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Yes, these young men know their craft: They know how to bottle passion.

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