Wine making can be grueling, intensive and tricky work, however, that did not stop 11-year-old Cruz Bilbro from wanting to make his own barrel of grenache when he was 8 years old for a benefit auction for the New Orleans based Emeril Lagasse Foundation.
Bilbro, whose father Jake is a fourth generation winemaker and runs Limerick Lane Winery in Healdsburg, created the wine from their estate grapes for the organization, which aims to raise funds for culinary, nutrition and arts education in schools.
While his wine has raised $432,500 in auction sales so far, the young vintner is hoping to soon reach his goal of $500,000.
“We feel humbled and elated,” Jake said of the amount they’ve raised so far.
Bilbro and Lagasse first met when the foundation came to Sonoma County after the 2017 wildfires to deliver checks for fire relief, said Brian Kish, president of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation.
While the nonprofit namely raises money for educational purposes the group decided to raise funds for those affected by the fires.
“Jake told us how Cruz really wanted to make his own wine but Jake had said if you do, then you have to do it not-for-profit,” Kish said.
Lagasse then said he’d partner with Bilbro and their partnership was born.
“Emeril was motivated and Cruz wanted to help the cause,” Kish said.
Kish added that Jake also told Bilbro that if he wanted to make his own wine then he’d have to commit to the process from grape to crush to bottle.
That meant picking the grapes, blending the fruit, bottling and boxing and even driving the forklift.
“We didn’t let him drive the tractor though because his feet couldn’t reach the pedals,” Jake said.
When the wine was bottled and completed Bilbro called it “Too’s Barbor 2016 Grenache” for the name he called himself when he could not say “Cruz Bilbro.”
Jake said Bilbro chose to make a grenache because that was the only type of grape given to him.
“We have a 30-acre vineyard planted in 1910,” Jake explained, and while the vines are really old they produce a lot of high quality grapes.
Jake described the wine as a rich textured, red-fruited style of grenache that’s hearty but vibrant.
The wine is 6% syrah and 94% grenache.
Jake said the most challenging part of the process was probably Bilbro having to listen to him and holding him back sometimes, such as with the tractor driving.
Jake said as a father the most rewarding aspect of the process was getting to go to New Orleans with Bilbro and see how their fundraising dollars were being spent at inner city schools.
Bilbro said the best part about the process though was getting to participate in each step.
“I had probably the most fun watching the whole process from picking the grapes to putting it in the bottle,” Bilbro said.
He said he also got to keep the first $100 of the proceeds that Lagasse himself gave Bilbro.
Kish recalled Bilbro’s ear-to-ear smile that day when Lagasse handed him the $100 bill.
“For him to believe in Cruz was a real honor,” Jake said of Lagasse.
Kish added, “I think it is pretty amazing what dedication and a barrel of wine can do. It made a huge difference.”
Now inspired by their older brother, Bilbro’s younger siblings are getting involved with winemaking and Jake said all the wine they make will also go toward charitable causes.
“My son lives to be in this vineyard and winery and now he gets to do the first pick of the year,” Jake said.