If you've been lucky enough to try a bottle of Lynmar Pinot Noir (or Chardonnay and Rosé), or hang out on their tasting room patio -- where $10 gets you a Robb Report-worthy luxury retreat and tastings, perhaps the best deal in the Russian River Valley -- you already know what all the awards fuss is about.
What you might not know (neither did we) is much about their 31-year-old winemaker, Bibiana González Rave, who joined Lynmar last year. She grew up in Colombia, not exactly a grape-friendly country, never having seen a vineyard (or speaking a word of French) until she moved to France to study. There she received a Technician of Viticulture and Oenology diploma in Angoulême, followed by a Diploma of Oenology from the University of Bordeaux. Several years spent working at small wineries in Burgundy followed, as did a trip to the Russian River Valley. There was a thesis on berry fertilization and a third language mastered (English, with a thick accent) somewhere in there. Right now all she cares about is harvest.
If you need a little follow-your-gut inspiration (González Rave stumbled upon a pretty remarkable DNA pedigree) or simply a kick in the rear to jump start your workday (she had been up since 3:30 a.m. when we spoke), turn the page.
Squid Ink: We have to start with heat, as it was 113 degrees in L.A. earlier this week, though it's been a cool summer here. What's the weather been like in Sonoma?
Bibiana González Rave: Yesterday we reached 100, but it's only the second day of the year it's been this hot. Today we had a great picking. And it's still night when we pick. It's actually been a very cold year, very exceptional, I think it may be, but you never know. With the weather like this, you can pick at very good Brix, to not have too high alcohol and with the aromas and maturity you want.
SI: How did you get into winemaking?
BGR: I kind of always knew I wanted to make wine, there was something there since I was 14. I am Columbian, but there are not vineyards in Columbia, so I never had seen a vineyard until I went to France later to study. But I felt for some reason I must. Sometimes in life I think you just know what you need to do. And something interesting, I got a DNA test two years ago that tells you where your DNA comes from 1,000 years ago. They say it is very rare your DNA comes from one single specific region, because we are all from many places. Being Columbian, I have always thought I was American Indian blended with Spanish. But that test said I was 100% from France... an area outside Paris. My family never knew we had French roots.
SI: That's pretty amazing. You literally had winemaking in your genes. At the risk of being too general, what's your winemaking philosophy?
BGR: So, yes. For example something that is very important for me, and is very much my French training, is being at the vineyard and really knowing what kind of grapes you have. Today, I was up at 3:30 in the morning. What we do is go to see that the best grapes are in the bins and there are not leaves in there. We also check on the fullness of the bins -- we don't want more than 70% grapes in each bin or we lose juice because they get crushed by their own weight. That is very important. It requires two extra people to do these kinds of things, it is much more expensive for the winery and the growers, but you need these extra people.
SI: Sort of like the difference between a chain restaurant cook and a chef who takes the time to work with farmers and shop at a farmers market?
BGR: Yes, that's a very good metaphor. During the entire year we work closely with growers, we buy from only two or three vineyards. We work with them, we talk about everything we want, we measure the PH [of the grapes], we taste the berries, we look at the color they can extract. So every day you put in your mind what you will be doing with those grapes eventually. That's something you can do at a small winery. I really spend a lot of time at the vineyards, I put a lot of time and thought into the grapes before I even start making the wine. I'm sort of obsessive with details.
SI: Why did you leave France for the Russian River Valley?