11 Buyers, 1 Store, 8000 Wines

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

On 9:38 AM by The Bloggers @ 67 Wine   No comments

Interviewed by Ben Wood | Twitter: @7stringben

Yesterday I was privileged to attend a wonderful wine event in New York City. Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants held their occasional import portfolio tasting. This event is host to about 40 or 50 producers and presents around 200-250 wines. I was quite honored that Mr. Lynch and his staff allowed me a few minutes to interview one of my hero’s in the wine business.

Kermit’s bio and story are quite well covered in other publications, as are his wine preferences and tastes. He imports several of my very, very, favorite wines, including the wines from Leon Barral in Faugères, Lapierre in Morgon, Comte Abbatucci in Corsica; as well as the quite famous wines from Brunier at Vieux Télégraphe in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Kermit Lynch at his NYC Importers' Tasting
My video interview ran about 15 minutes. We’ve split it into Parts (I and II) to keep the posts more manageable for our readers. The full video will appear in Part II.


67 Wine: Kermit, Thanks for agreeing to meet with me. You’ve been involved for a long time…

Kermit: 40 years, 40 years this year!

67 Wine: Wow! What keeps you excited, passionate, and interested? Doing this and not something else? 

Kermit: Well, I’m doing something else, I make CDs, you know. I’m just coming out with the fourth and working on the fifth.

67 Wine: Fourth! My lord!

Kermit: So that’s sort of enriched my life because, yeah, for a long time music was sort of, I put it away and so it’s fun to get back to it.  In wine, two things that really turn me on about wine now – one is my wine cellar. Wines I’ve imported I’ve been putting aside; in the early days of course it would be one bottle of something, ‘cause I started out broke! 

67 Wine: Right, sure.

Kermit: I started out with money borrowed from my girlfriend. So it was rough. Then it got to where I would be able to put away two or three of the ones I really liked. Finally I put a case of Coche Dury away one year, you know! It was like that. And now, it’s under my house and I have that pleasure of going down and… It’s like, you know, wines for me I always compare them to people. It’s like a friend with certain characteristics. I’m not much into berries and cherries, grapefruit rind, and all these weird things that people find, that I don’t! To me they’re like humanized, in my mind. So it’s like visiting an old friend and seeing what’s going on. How’s he aging and stuff like that. 

67 Wine: Cool, that’s actually really cool. I mean, I think, as a retailer I work in a retail store right, as well as make music. So for me it’s neat to hear the somebody as important to the wine industry in the U.S. has a big cellar and collects like that – that’s exciting. 

Kermit: Everybody thinks it’s big, I don’t.

67 Wine: Well, no, there can always be more. Believe me, I wish I had more room for wine in my life, you know to fit it in my place! Cool!

Kermit: Ok, The other thing is still… uh, that thrill of discovery in something new, that keeps me me going. 

67 Wine: Yeah, sure.

Kermit: In fact, over the years, I’ve been very good at delegating authority to my employees, and so today I do what keeps me excited and that’s about it. You know. And, uh, that’s what keeps me excited… finding new wines. 

67 Wine: Cool.

Kermit: Especially in places where they’re not expected to be found. That’s driven me from the beginning. I was going to Burgundy and you know, your comparing the Grand Crus with the 1er Crus and all that. Jacques Seysses told me about his trip were he tasted a Joguet Chinon, I you know, canceled my flight and went to Chinon. Wow, wow. Nobody knows about this. The Chinon people I visited had never seen an importer! 

67 Wine: Right sure.

Kermit: There’s that thrill of, like a you know  . . . (laughs)

67 Wine: I know that lately in New York that’s been very successful with Abbatucci. Abbatucci has caught on in a big way in NY, we carry some, I know a couple of other stores really carry it. He is a great guy and the wines are really exciting, and they’re pretty new to your portfolio if I’m not mistaken?

Kermit: This is the second year.

67 Wine: Second year, yeah, yeah. So that’s kind of cool, and it leads directly into question number two which is… We will do them out of order, but ok. What’s the next big wine area you see? If you can reveal such proprietary… 

Kermit: Well, if I have any success it will be Corsica. But see, you all are late because the French wine review 4 months ago said “The most exciting wine area in France today is Corsica” and you Americans are all . . .”huh, Corsica is that… where is that?” Sardinian wines are all over the place, Sicilian wines are all over the place, because they are politically part of Italy and Corsica is politically part of France. Corsica is not French.

67 Wine: Right.

Kermit: My growers are Abbatucci, Maestracci, Leccia, Arena.

67 Wine: I have to tell you that I had Arena… 

Kermit: I can’t get them on an Italian wine list. It just kind of blows my mind.

67 Wine: No, but you can get them on a French wine list. I had it at Le Bernandin… and it was unbelievable.

Kermit: It’s a political decision not to do it. It doesn’t have anything to do with the wines of the taste of the wines. It’s ok, don’t get carried away. . . anyway, Corsica that’s my answer.

67 Wine: So, Corsica, that’s the answer to that – beautiful.

Kermit: There are certain terroirs there like Patrimonio, with decomposed oyster shell, just like Chablis. You can walk in the vineyard and pick up a fossil of oyster there. And so they plant Vermentino in that and they plant Nielluccio, a descendent of Sangiovese. And you are getting a Vermentino like you’ve never tasted before. It’s a Vermentino that if they let it do it’s malolactic you would compare it not to the little, lovely wines that I drink all the time, from Sardinia for example or along Italian coast. You’re going to compare it to a Chablis or a white Burgundy, you know, without the oak.  

67 Wine: Right, they are beautiful wines. I’ve been very impressed. Ok, So, that brings us to question number three which is: This idea of natural wine. And the term “natural wine” and what you think about that? And I know, for me I work in New York right. We are lead by the fearless miss Alice Feiring here. We have a common definition among the industry people, the younger particularly industry people, who have a passion for those wines. And we all have sort of an understood definition. This is not the case nationwide, much less world wide, for sure. So I’m aware of that. So I’m curious what you think about that terminology and marketing stuff of that… and?

Kermit: Well, . . ok. I have a lot to say about it, but I’ll try to make it short because we don’t have much time. I’m the first one who brought in the wines of Jules Chauvet

67 Wine: Right. 

Kermit: The no sulfur. You know, the others are disciples…

67 Wine: Right, yeah absolutely.

Kermit: Imported that wine. But I… I lose points with all of these people because I’m not dogmatic. And I’m not a true believer in anything! People call me, “Oh, he’s a nut about filtration, he only imports non-filtered wines…”. 

67 Wine: That’s not true! I know it’s not true.

Kermit: It’s not true. If I find a great filtered wine I’m going to buy it. I’m not dogmatic. Now, I’ve… for somehow I’ve lost my place on these… We’ve got a “natural wine” list and there’s no Kermit Lynch wines. I find that really bizarre.

67 Wine: Yeah, it’s really bizarre.

Kermit: Really bizarre. And it must be because I’m not dogmatic. They think I’ve sold out, because I do import wines that are made with sulfur. I’ll tell you, I did that consciously because it might need a little sulfur if you want a correct wine. I was at a restaurant the other night, and I went through the list. It was one of those so-called “natural wine” lists. There were four growers on there that I imported during the history of my business. I gave each one of them up because I couldn’t sell those wines. I tried for three, four years. I finally would give them up because this one’s exploding; this is full of brettanomyces. This is… You know, they’re not… You need a little! You just do a little bit of so2. Like I do at Les Pallières, you know, my wine.

67 Wine: Right, right. (Les Pallières is a property in the Gigondas AOC in the Rhone Valley where Kermit is one of the owners).

Kermit: You can’t smell it, you can’t detect it. It’s not dangerous. Your wine is stable enough to drink.

67 Wine: Or to ship! Importantly as well.

Kermit: Well, the shipping . . . a lot of those natural winemakers . . Like Lapierre used to say this, I love him, “Keep this wine under 12 degrees centigrade.” 

67 Wine: How do you do that? 

Kermit: What are you talking about? How do you get it anywhere? Even buy it from him and put it in your car and get it home – it’s going to get more than 12 degrees. Let’s get serious about this, you know?

67 Wine: No, that’s totally true.

Kermit: We’re going to sell it in Alaska.

67 Wine: Right, but you got to get it there first!

Kermit: (Laughing) We’re going to vinify and sell it in Alaska. . . . I need people to realize that when people say I import Lapierre . . That word import has nothing to do with what I did with Lapierre. He and I worked together for 15 years trying to arrive at a no sulfur wine that was stable. And we experimented. I would show up at his place and he would have 10 wines out there. This we aged for 3 months in a barrel, put it in a foudre. This we didn’t bottle until one year after the harvest, this one after eight months. We were trying, we worked on it with our nose, we compared. These people are talking philosophy. Let ‘em believe what they want. Go ahead. They haven’t compared. The same wine where this is done, where that is done. Where you have one gram of sulfur to see what that does. They haven’t done that. It’s just something in their head. I don’t care! Give me two glasses and let me compare and then I’ll talk.

67 Wine: Right. And then you have a choice of which wine tasted better, which wine is more fun to drink. Yeah, absolutely. Cool. That’s great.

Kermit: My dad’s a preacher. I got sick of that stuff. Have faith, have faith. No! I want to swallow the damn wine and enjoy it.

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