Sebastopol, California. Home turf of Tom Waits, the Gravenstein apple, Slow Foodist Altarboys and raisers of heirloom goats. Also prime territory for insanely complex pinot noirs. The sun’s out. There’s a light breeze. Bordering the patio are parterres growing kale, fava beans, herbs, berries. Warblers scout the Tuscan rosemary for bugs and red-tailed hawks ride the updraft in circles over the Laguna de Santa Rosa, a huge system of wetlands and oak woodlands that feed the Russian River and contain a highly complex and diverse ecosystem.
Lynn Fritz, one of the estate’s proprietors, asks the chef to please bring us some more popcorn.
Okay: the popcorn is, really, astonishingly good. There is chervil salt and blood orange gastrique and estate olive oil involved and it’s about the best pairing imaginable with a cold Russian River chardonnay on a warm afternoon, especially if that chard happens to have a jazzy little bluenote of blood orange on the finish, which this one does, along with enough oak to provide a well-crafted vessel for the fruit and alluvial notes but nowhere near enough to get in its way. Fritz sits back in his chair, basking in the limpid light (which has jazzy little bluenotes provided by finches and song sparrows and very fat, very happy honeybees who have clearly not gotten the memo about their species being in decline). For a minute time stops, though the bustle continues across Lynmar’s beautiful patio as more people are seated for lunch.
Good winemakers listen. So do sophisticated tasters. We call that having a good palate and it is akin to someone having the kind of “good ear” that can tell when a singer is a quarter tone sharp or knows you grew up on Long Island because of the way you say “coffee” even if you’ve lived in Tennessee for 40 years.
But you probably can’t nail someone for their Long Island accent if you have never been to, or met a single person from, Long Island. You probably can’t identify the exotic, fruity-floral aroma in your Gewurtztraminer as “lychee” if you’ve never tasted a lychee. You can still enjoy the Gewurtztraminer, obviously, but our experience of wine, and of most other things in life, deepens with exposure and with really taking the time to become intimate with things.
Lynn and Anisya Fritz have internalized this in a very special way. Lynmar is more than a winery. It’s their home. They make several absolutely beautiful chardonnays and pinot noirs here, and they do it with a totally onsite, totally full-time team. I mean soup-to-nuts. They don’t have transient vineyard workers; the land is farmed by permanent employees. These wines are sold directly to consumers – they are not distributed. No middle man. You won’t find Lynmar wines at BevMo – and that might seem like an eccentric move for a man whose first career was in international logistics. But Lynn Fritz isn’t interested in distributors. He wants a totally different kind of estate wine experience. And that includes letting the public come to them.
And by the way, the public does. Enthusiastically and purely by word of mouth. And why not? Chef David Frakes is a lot more than a popcorn genius – he’s a garden-to-table acolyte with serious chops, and serves picnic lunches on the gorgeous patio Wednesdays through Sundays from May to October. Most of the ingredients come from the abundant onsite kitchen plots – what doesn’t is handcrafted by farmers and producers in the near vicinity. The lunch I had there was one of those divine meetings of utter simplicity and deceptive complexity – look, it was a sandwich, a salad and a couple of cookies, but nothing about it was as mundane as that sounds. Everything fit together gorgeously – seamless details, flavors that echoed back and forth among the courses and kept up a lively discourse with several different wines. There is nothing like a salad that was growing in the ground an hour ago, or a hint of rosemary in a shortbread cookie that you’re eating while watching birds perch on the exact bush that supplied those leaves.
All this might sound like a sort of exclusive experience – the funny thing is, it’s quite the opposite. This is not Trader Joe’s grade wine. Their production run is small, just 12,000 cases total, and bottles run about $70.00 apiece. And, while you can certainly buy it from wherever you are, via their website, and this kid recommends that you give that a try, you don’t truly get the full experience without logging a couple of hours on that stellar patio of theirs.
Lovely wine. Exceptional food. To-die-for setting. And zero snob factor. Not many wineries can pull off all of those at once, and the secret seems to be finding the heart of luxury and abundance in keeping things simple.
Whether you’re a foodie, a vino-phile, a birder, a garden geek or, like me, all of the above, this place is special. It radiates an upscale yet homey, happily industrious energy that will inspire you. If your travel plans take you to Sonoma County, put these guys on your list. They will make sure you are on theirs.
Lynmar Estate – 3909 Frei Rd, Sebastopol, CA 95472 (707) 829-3374