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?
BGR: Yes, I lived in France for six years, did harvest there, and then I did California and South Africa at the same time. I was coming to California every year to work during harvest. My first was 2004 in the Russian River and I fell in love with Sonoma. I said OK, I have the opportunity to choose [where I go], and I really want to work in Sonoma. I started looking at high quality, very detail-oriented wineries that could handle someone obsessive like I am, can handle that I am picky, always wanting to obtain perfection. Lynmar was presented to me, I applied to be assistant winemaker 2009. I became the head winemaker later that year.
SI: Winemaking has traditionally been a male-dominated field, but we're seeing more and more women winemakers. Your take on it?
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BGR: It used to be all male-dominated I think because everything starts from the vineyard, and it's hard work. It is really hard on your body. One of the things I did was work in vineyards in France. There, you have to do everything physically to be respected: tend the vineyards, pick grapes, rack your own wine. I really tried to be someone who could do everything. I'd tell my boss to treat me like a man. But I think now we are seeing more female names as people start hearing about us.
SI: When you're not up in the middle of the night working, and you actually get to enjoy your wines, how do you go about pairing them with whatever you're cooking?
BGR: I love to cook. Obviously I have a pretty big French influence. I like a lot to do French and Italian and Mediterranean and Latin America food -- it's very diverse, what I do. The cooking you do is going to determine what kind of wine you drink. When you are cooking, you are already getting those aroma profiles and flavors, so then you pick the wine based on that. So we see that we have in the fridge some pasta, or salmon, then you pick the bottle once you know that. But sometimes when I have a really good bottle of wine I want to try, I will choose the wine first, then the food that works with it, that doesn't conflict with its flavors. I will try to honor the wine with a specific type of food.