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From the Archives

15th Anniversary

by Kermit Lynch

Jean-François Coche
Jean-François Coche

Fifteen years is not much; the Chaves at Hermitage have been in the wine business for 506 years. But fifteen is more than I counted on in October 1972 when I opened my shop with thirty cases of wine for sale. Business hours: three afternoons per week.
I did not begin by importing my own selections, but I had dreams of going to the source, traveling through the vineyards, the great bottles, the little old winemakers. . .
The first time I did buy directly I went to an Italian grower near Martinez, California. After a couple of visits to taste and buy his Zinfandel, he invited me to lunch. Now I’m getting down to it, I thought, real winery cooking and some old treasures from his private cellar. And he did have a way with a tuna fish sandwich. He poured himself half a glass of red from an unlabelled bottle. I figured we were going to play Guess the Vintage. He passed the bottle to me, then he grabbed a pitcher and filled his wineglass the rest of the way to the top with a murky brown liquid. He pushed the pitcher across the table to me.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Iced tea,” he replied.

Passing quickly from the ridiculous to the sublime, my first brochure was a pre-arrival offer of 1971 Burgundies. Bonnes-Mares was $122 per case, Nuits-St.-Georges $103, Corton $190, Beaune $72, Mercurey $54. Customers still come in from time to time to discuss how those 1971s are evolving.
Burgundy was my first love, and it is only recently that the press has decided to turn me into a “Rhône” specialist, or even an “obscure wine” specialist. We import thirty Burgundy domaines, more by far than from any other region. Our French headquarters is in Burgundy. If forced to pick a region, I still consider us Burgundy specialists.
Only thirty domaines in fifteen years, an average of two per year. I like to think they have been rigorously selected. I do believe in our list: Raveneau, Jayer, Chevillon, Coche-Dury, Jobard, Ballot-Millot, Colin, Maume, Lejeune, Ponsot, Michelot, etc. And this year we added another: Domaine Lassarat for Pouilly Fuissé and St. Véran. Stay tuned.

—October 1987

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