Country of Origin: USA
Chris Bilbro, Photo by Craig Lee for SFGate Chronicle
Location: Geyserville, Sonoma County
People: Chris Bilbro, Owner | Chris & Son Scot Bilbro, Winemakers
Marietta Cellars is located just outside the little town of Geyserville in one of California’s premiere wine growing regions, Sonoma County. Owner and winemaker Chris Bilbro founded the winery in 1978 in a rented cow barn in the Dry Creek Valley. Marietta Cellars is named after Chris’ great aunt; Marietta was a tough Italian immigrant who was known for always having a stock pot on the stove, a bountiful garden, and a plentiful table. Not having any children of her own, she took Chris under her wing and taught him how to cook by hand and taste which is a direct correlation to Chris’ winemaking style.
Since his first release in 1978, Chris’s greatest accomplishment and passion has been his four sons. His second greatest accomplishment has been his ability to produce a product of incredible consistency both in quality and price with relatively complete anonymity. The wines of Marietta Cellars are a personification of Chris Bilbro, his outlook on life, and general lifestyle. No wine is complete on its own; pleasurable pursuits such as cooking, fishing, hunting, gardening, and entertaining add balance to wine, as they do to life. And, to this day, no wine gets bottled without Chris’s approval and no vineyard row goes more than a week without Chris riding his ATV through it.Despite Chris’ immense presence and personality, Marietta Cellars has become a true family affair. Handling the majority of the day to day operations are Chris’s three eldest sons, Jake, Scot, and Sam. Brothers by blood and best friends by choice, they are dedicated to the dream that Chris started in 1978.
About Chris Bilbro: Chris Bilbro puts his life into his wine. As a child, growing up in his great aunt Marietta’s kitchen and garden, Chris learned to make the most with very little. While the presentation was simple, the food was always hearty and handmade, the portions plentiful, and flavors exceptional. This standard still holds true today. Chris’s winery in many ways emulates the style of Marietta’s kitchen: just as Marietta wasn’t afraid of garlic and rosemary, Chris isn’t afraid of full and ripe flavors in his wines.
Any chance he gets, Chris is outside. Whether it is at his ranch in Yorkville hunting mushrooms and wild boar, abalone diving in the Pacific, salmon fishing in Alaska, or pheasant hunting in Montana, Chris is equally passionate about his outdoor activities as he is about his winemaking. Constantly restocking his freezers, Chris can provide a wild game cuisine to suit any of his wines, along with fresh vegetables from his garden, on a moment’s notice. With no formal training in winemaking, Chris found mentors in wine as well as in life through old Italians the likes of Vic Berrizzi and Frank Pastori. Chris developed his style and “cut his teeth” making sausage with Vic, picking olives with Frank, and gardening and cooking with Marietta.
For Chris, winemaking is by no means a job and far more than just a passion. It is his lifestyle, his tradition, and his love. With three grand kids and three of his four boys already working for him, don’t be surprised in a few years to hear that Chris has stepped back a bit from Marietta Cellars and is living on a remote ridge top in Mendocino County making homemade wine for his friends, tending his garden, cutting wood for his wood stove, and cooking the same meals for his grand kids as his great aunt did for him many years before.