Kermit Lynch is one of the most well-known and earliest importers of French wines into the US. He is also the author of Adventures on the Wine Route which was recently re-released. The original, along with David Darlington’s The Heartbreak Grape was one of the first American wine biographies of the business’s ‘new wave’. Less known is that he has released 4 albums. I recently caught up with Kermit to pick his brain.
Looking at things as they are now externally, if you began your ‘wine road’ today, how would it differ from when you actually did it?
In the beginning I was almost alone exploring small, family-owned domains in France and Italy. Today I have countless competitors. Finding producers that are not already imported is more difficult now, especially for popular wines like Sancerre.
How do you view your influence upon the US ‘palate’ as per the spate of high-quality/low-volume/minimal supplier branding, specialist importers following in your wake?
I’d like to think that I had something to do with it. I’d like to think that finally the oaky inky monster has some competition. And I think that if the small farmers who work for achieving the highest quality can fine markets and thrive, we’ll all be better off.
Have US palates shifted since you began selling wine and, if so, how?
In the epilogue to the new edition of ‘Adventures On The Wine Route’, I discuss the way the American taste has changed. We went through a period when the fad was for monster-sized wines that had a strong taste of oak. Now ‘natural wines’ are hip, and size doesn’t seem as important.
Why did you wait over 20 years to release a new edition of the book?
The 25th anniversary edition was the idea of the publisher Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. That was good for my pride, to see the book considered a classic and still relevant.
Looking back on the selections you’ve made for KL Imports, which do you wish you’d included earlier than you did or missed and wished you hadn’t?
In the 1970s, I passed up the opportunity to import Bruno Giacosa’s wine. That still hurts my pride.
Which producer you’ve selected is the one who most greatly exceeded your sales expectations in the long-term?
When I began importing the Sancerre of Hippolyte Reverdy, I told him I’d need about fifty cases a year. Now I could sell their entire production four or five times over.
What is the future course of the KL businesses?
I’ll maintain the same standards I always have. In Dixon Brooke, who now runs the company with me, I’ve found a real gem. I trust him completely, and he is now doing the buying with me. My son just got out of Cornell, and he’s now begun working with me. He speaks French and Italian, he tastes well. I hope he sticks to it, because it’s a great job and I’ve loved working in the métier. It would be hard to name a job more pleasant and fulfilling.
What is the future of Corsican wine in the US market?
I don’t really think much about markets, and have no idea about the future of anything.
Aside from forays into Alsace and Alto Adige, which fit neatly into your self-imposed focus of first France and then Italy, you’ve steered clear of working with Germanic wines of all kinds anniversary edition was the idea of the publisher Farrar, despite their rapid rise in quality. Why?
For around thirty years I’ve been number one or two in terms of quantity of Alsatian wines imported into the US. Today I import four domaines from Alsace: Ostertag, Kuentz-Bas, Meyer-Fonne, and Boxler. The cream of the crop. I have steered clear of German wines because there’s so much to do in Italy and France, and I can’t do everywhere, so I don’t try.
What must a sommelier wishing to enter the importer sales business know before attempting the transition?
When you’re a sommelier, the sales people come to you and kiss your ass. As an importer, you’ve got to go out, knock on doors, and try to get your wines sold. Huge difference.
How has your involvement in listening and performing music impacted your appreciation of wine?
No impact at all, however I always take some of my wines to the recording sessions in Nashville, and those players might be impacted a little bit when they accompany me.