California Sustainable Winery Lynmar Estate Also Grows Food for Cancer and AIDS Patients

© Lynmar Estate Winery. View of Sonoma from Lynmar's Bliss House.

Tucked away in the picturesque valley of Sonoma County--just 50 miles north of San Francisco--is Lynmar Estate, a sustainable vineyard and winery, and almost virtual Garden of Eden.

The estate has 40-something acres of grape vines, nine of which are over 40 years old, while the remainder of the ranch is a wooly mix of ornamental and edible fruits and vegetables, which literally grow up together side-by-side. The produce is given to a local charity where high school students prepare healthy, whole-food meals for cancer and AIDS patients.

© Jaymi Heimbuch via Flickr. The main ornamental and vegetable garden.

Part of the Russian River Valley AVA, the property was purchased by Lynn Fritz in 1980 and primarily used as a vacation property.

However, with each visit, Fritz would rehabilitate the property by adding trees, grape vines and shrubs, slowly transforming it from "a pasture to a vineyard with lush gardens, and native plants and trees." But it wasn't until the early 90s that Lynmar itself began producing and selling wine. The wine was well received, so in 2008, Lynn and his wife Aniysa moved in, making the 100-acre ranch their permanent home.

Pinot Trendsetter

The estate, which has 17 different blocks, such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah, is under the influence of three separate ecosystems. Maritime winds keep the fog at bay early in the morning, allowing east-facing slopes to receive morning sunshine and even regulating temperatures throughout the ranch.

The breeze also dries out the vineyard's canopy, reducing mold and mildew. By afternoon, winds from the Petaluma Gap make their way onto the property, cooling down the sun-bathed grapes and even preserving them. This ranch also benefits from an uncommonly long growing season, which is most noticeable when enjoying the wine.

© Jaymi Heimbuch via Flickr

If you like Pinot Noir, this winery--declared "the best place for Pinot in Sonoma County" by Wine Spectator--is for you!

Lynmar Estate was growing Pinot in Sonoma pretty much before anyone else. Oh, and way before it was the "cool" thing to do. It's been on the property since the 1970s!

Their 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is a particular favorite of mine. The wine is filled with black fruit and vanilla bean, yet stays fresh and easily drinkable with notes of eucalyptus and mint. With just a hint of pepper, this wine is perfect for almost any meal, or on its own. You can order it online for $40 along with many of their other current releases.

Low-Energy, Gravity Flow Winery

All of Lynmar's wines are processed using gravity flow, and you can taste it. This production format not only saves on energy but this method of winemaking is very, very gentle. The lack of mechanics and agitation help preserve a wine's more delicate notes.

This trait is most evident in their Chardonnay, a varietal which is usually overworked and way too oaky. But Lynmar's 2009 Laguna Ridge Chardonnay is quite the opposite. With notes of peach, apple and citrus, the wine is fresh and floral, as if it is blossoming in your wine glass right before your very eyes (and nose). Available online for $20.

© Jaymi Heimbuch via Flickr. Gardens near the estate tasting room.

But perhaps the best place to enjoy Lynmar wine is actually on the estate, surrounded by the organic gardens, a botanical utopia.

On-Site Seed Vault

Eytan Navah, Lynmar's head gardener, explains:

You’ll see we got a lot of different things growing together. Nothing is in blocks, like a block of broccoli here, a block of chard there, etc. We’re not doing any kind of monoculture farming. We’ve created an ecosystem where we’re planting lots of different flowers along with our edible plants, creating more of a harmonious environment for the plants, and for the creatures that are living in this ecosystem.

© Jaymi Heimbuch via Flickr. Head gardener Eytan Navah.

Tomatoes, tomatillos, leeks, fennel, carrots, lettuces, and red kale are just some of the crops you'll find growing at Lynmar.

Eytan says they pay close attention to crop rotation so that the same vegetables are not always planted in the same beds over and over again. They even have their own seed vault (it's really just an old barn) for when they "identify plants that do well in this particular landscape." The vault currently hosts over 100 different types of seeds.

© Jaymi Heimbuch via Flickr. A few different seeds from the estate seed vault.

This isn't some vanity garden. The crops are used in the tasting room's kitchen by Chef David Frakes, who prepares food and wine pairings for visitors to enjoy.

Leftover crops make their way to a local charity called the Ceres Project, which teaches high school students how to prepare meals using whole foods. The meals are then delivered to people in need or those seeking medical treatment for such diseases as cancer or AIDS.

Eco-Curious

Just like with the vegetable gardens, hedgerows are used throughout the vineyard as a haven for beneficials. Here pollinators, insects, birds and butterflies can all be found, keeping unwanted pests at bay. They also provide a barrier to dust and pollution from the nearby road. The hedgerows are comprised mostly of endemic drought-resistant plants which greatly reduces their need for water.

For pests not frightened off by the birds and bees, owl boxes have also been installed. A few cats also roam the property much to the gopher population's dismay. Legumes along with crops like vetch, peas, wild oats, and barley are used as cover crop and then tilled right back into the soil.

© Lynmar Estate Winery. Vineyard manager Jason Saling.

Sailing says of their organic past:

We’ve been experimenting with organic since 1996 and making sure that we’re doing it well…getting the same quality for all our grapes and hopefully Lynmar expands to make the whole property organic one day.

And while only a few of the vineyard blocks are grown organically (not certified), the whole ranch is sustainably farmed. You can tell by the native weeds left to grow in-between the vines. Currently, the organic blocks are being used as eco-laboratories for developing best practices.

Vineyard Manager Jason Saling says it best, "We’re farming the soil and the vines are our end product." And it shows, the wines are simply amazing.

Come for the wines but stay for the gardens. You'll be glad you did.

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Tags: California | Green Wine Guide | Wine

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