What's the big smoke about?

We at Winegardner’s Wines have had a 17+ year love affair with the Kermit Lynch portfolio. In fact, we have tried, in every way possible to model our business after his. Natural wines, wines that express terroir or place, wines that show vintage character, wines that express an individual winemaker’s aesthetic vision, wines protected from dangerous temperatures, and wines that represent splendid values. Wow. What more can we say?

Well, if he had been only an importer, Mr. Lynch would have left a significant legacy. With little company, he traveled the back roads of France, seeking esoteric producers whose wines were fresh, delicious and unaffected by the industrialization shaping the post-World War II wine industry.

You’ll often hear this nugget of wine-buying advice: turn the wine bottle around, and shop by the back of the label instead of the front. What’s so important that’s on the back of the label? The importer’s name. If you discover that there’s a wine you like, chances are you might like other wines in that importer’s collection. Remember the importer’s name, and you have a shortcut to knowing something about many unfamiliar bottles in your local shop. One name to look out for: Kermit Lynch. Back in 1972, Lynch opened a retail shop in Berkeley, and began importing wines from France and Italy. Today, his wines are represent some of the best values out there.

Kermit Lynch “essentials” for someone who wants to get a taste of Kermit’s point of view, values in wine, and producers he loves….would include some of his “best bargains.” Chateau Ducasse, Cahors rouge, Loire reds from Joguet and Breton, Cotes du Rhone, and Macon Blanc.

Mr. Lynch was not merely a merchant and an importer but an author as well. He began in the 1970s by writing descriptions of his inventory and sending them out to customers — “little propaganda pieces,” he called them. They were really much more than that, for Mr. Lynch never engaged in the sort of contrived tasting notes that often pass for wine writing today. Instead, he wrote of the joy and pleasures of consuming good wine, of the winemakers he met and the places he visited. He provided characters, context and travelogue, and even recipes. In 2004, many of these pieces were gathered into a book, appropriately called “Inspiring Thirst” (Ten Speed Press). It’s the commercial companion piece to “Adventures on the Wine Route,” which, even after 20 years, remains one of the finest American books on wine. **See your sales rep for information on how to obtain a copy (a must read for any serious wine lover). We also highly recommend signing up for Kermit’s FREE monthly newsletter. A fun read!

Today, Mr. Lynch still travels the back roads, though he has more company. Once, he struggled to persuade his discoveries to sell their wines in the United States. “These days it’s more about finding who doesn’t already have an importer,” he said. That has taken him beyond the more familiar regions, into Languedoc and Cahors, to Irouléguy in the French Basque country and to Corsica. The wines are distinctive, fresh and alive, all with a clear sense of place.

Mr. Lynch spends half his time in Provence, where he and his wife, the photographer Gail Skoff, and their two children have a house not far from Domaine Tempier, the Bandol estate where he spent many formative hours with the Peyraud family. He counts the late Lucien Peyraud, the guiding spirit of Tempier, along with Richard Olney, the late food writer who introduced him to the Peyrauds, as his two primary influences. “There was a guy on each of my shoulders when I went around looking for wines,” he said. “One was Lucien, and one was Richard, and I asked myself: ‘Would I serve this to Lucien? Would I serve this to Richard?’”

Mr. Lynch is also now a winemaker himself. In 1998 he joined with the Brunier family of Vieux Télégraphe to buy Domaine les Pallières in Gigondas, which makes big, chunky reds scented with black olives and herbs. “They say, ‘Oh, he only likes light wines,’ but sometimes you want big wines,” he said. “Finesse does not mean little.”

Side note:
In 2006, The French Republic awarded Kermit the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. This high honor was created in 1802 by Napoleon primarily for military achievements, of which Kermit has none, but a small percentage are awarded for cultural accomplishments. In the world of food and wine, Kermit joins Julia Child, Robert Mondavi and Robert Parker.

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