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Importer Profile: Kermit Lynch

Getting to know wine importers can help you shop with confidence, wherever you are.

Kermit Lynch at his bottle shop in Berkeley, CA

If you’re lucky enough to have a neighborhood wine shop stocked with great selections, and salespeople whose only incentive to sell you a certain wine is making sure you’re satisfied, then you’re in a pretty good spot. However, many folks find themselves without a shop where it’s easy to form relationships with the people doing the selling, or maybe they’re out of town on a trip, and none of their favorites can be found on the shelves in the town where they’re bunking for a few nights. In either case, it would be good to have some sort of metric to guide buying decisions when a store is stocked with wine that you don’t have direct experience with.

And that’s why getting to know importers is so, so important.

When you find an importer whose methods, procedures, and (most of all) taste you trust, you can shop more confidently, even when you don’t have the best help from staff, or an acquaintance with the store you’re shopping in.

If you’ve found that you like at least four or five songs from a particular band, then you feel pretty good about buying that band’s new record. If you’ve enjoyed every bite of your meal at a restaurant, then it’s a safe bet you’ll probably enjoy their dessert selection. If you’ve enjoyed an author’s first six books, you’ll probably enjoy the 7th. And so on and so forth. Following the same principle, if you can zero in on the sorts of wines a specific importer typically imports, and you find those wines are on the same taste wavelength as yourself, you can confidently buy a new wine you’ve never heard of, as long as that specific importer has his or her back label on the bottle.

And among the many importers we enjoy working with at Cork and Cap, Kermit Lynch holds a special place. It could be reasonably argued that Mr. Lynch single-handedly broadened the American market for French import wines. While mainstays like Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne have been prized by American drinkers since the country’s founding, lesser-known regions like Minervois, Chinon, and Corbierres don’t have the same glittering history. In the early 70s, before smart phones, email, or other means of instantly communicating with customer bases, Kermit traveled to France on his own dime and rolled the dice on wines that he truly believed in, and his customers responded. Pretty soon, his bottle shop in North Berkeley was an import powerhouse with premium producers lined up, hoping that this enthusiast from California would represent their wines in America as well. One of Kermit’s guiding principles is championing wines that undergo minimal (if any) manipulation. A Cab Franc from the cool Loire Valley shouldn’t be big, ripe, and powerful, because that’s not what that grape and that landscape naturally produce. Of the many timeless quotes from his book Adventures on the Wine Route, our favorite is: Rejecting a wine because it is not big enough is like rejecting a book because it is not long enough, or a piece of music because it is not loud enough.

We couldn’t agree more. It’s not that big wines can’t be great wines. Of course they can. But in the same way you wouldn’t reject a plate of beautifully seared diver scallops because they don’t taste like a ribeye, we wouldn’t reject a light-bodied Northern Italian red because it doesn’t taste like Napa Cab. Things should taste like where they come from—otherwise why even bother with variety in the wine world?

Simply put, if you pick up a bottle and see Kermit Lynch’s name on the label,

Steak frites and Bandol at Terra

you can buy it with confidence. He has no incentive at all to bring in mediocre wine. Since Kermit, other Americans have followed in his footsteps with operations based around similar principles: Martine Saunier, Neal Rosenthal, Peter Weygandt, and Robert Chadderdon are just a few. But it’s fair to say that Kermit blazed the trail for the importation of affordable, authentic, and flavorful French wine selected based on the integrity of the producers’ methods, and not on whether an estate name could be leveraged as a luxury brand. We will always have a fun cross-section of Kermit wines here at Cork and Cap, and it will expand, contract, and evolve with the wines’ availability. Stop in when we open (in a few weeks!) and ask us what Kermit Lynch wines we’re currently obsessed with (like Tavel, an appellation with legendary standing as the "rosé of kings"). 

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