Kermit Lynch and Importers Important Role in Developing Regions

A Food And Wine Revolution Begins

Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants was a ground breaking importer of French Wine to the West Coast
Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants was a ground breaking importer of French Wine to the West Coast

This is an adjunct to the Domaine Leon Barral post, the producer that Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants imports and sells both through it’s own shop but as a distributor nationwide. Barral is located in wine backwater of Faugeres, and Lynch has been steadily raising the status of this bio-dynamic producer for the past couple of decades. Today the estate has a significant and loyal following in the United States, thanks to  Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants tireless work to promote it.  It is much easier import wine than to create a demand for it, and this ability to do so has been key to the firm’s continued success. As a retailer who bought from them, I quickly learned that Kermit Lynch’s reputation for importing only the best wines, could alone sell wines off the shelf, just by consumers seeing the importer’s wood cut logo on the strip label. 

Kermit Lynch was a ground-breaking revolutionary in early 1970s, when be began importing many previously unknown French wines into his Berkeley, California wine store. It wasn’t a sure thing, but the fertile intellectual ground of Berkeley allowed the food and wine scene to germinate, and Lynch, along with fellow visionary Alice Waters nurtured fledgling businesses that grew and prospered only a few miles apart.  It was perhaps inevitable they would become friends, along with  noted food writer, the late Richard Olney, who would help spread the word.

For his work importing and promoting small, emerging producers, often from  unheard of French appellations, Lynch has received two James Beard Awards. As much impact as he has made here in the states, he made even a greater impact on winemakers and regions of France that he represented. How much so is revealed by the fact that the French government  Knighted him! Being awarded him truly prestigious medal of “Legion d’Honneur”, illuminates the immense impact his relationship with so many small vignerons has made. He may not have made the wine, but he made it possible for others to make and elevate quality and reputation of their wine.  He has also been influential in directing wineries to make cleaner, more acceptable styled wine for a world-wide stage, ensuring their success, and in many cases creating their legacy. Some of the producers he has been involved with have become iconic and legendary in the industry. They include Vieux Telegraphe, François Raveneau, Coche Dury, August Clape, not forgetting to mention the winery which Kermit Lynch is most closely associated with, in part because of Richard Onley’s book “Lulu’s Provencal Table”, Domaine Tempier.

A new subterranean cellar takes the money of success, something a good importer can help attain.
A new subterranean cellar at Kermit’s producer Leon Barral in Faugeres takes the money of success, something a good importer can help obtain.

It is not simply true to say that Kermit brought these producers into the limelight, because these producers would not become the great winemakers without his promotion, and the money it brought. With his promotion, and their new ability to raise funds for re-investment, allowed them to become producers of great wine. You can see a similar parallel of the Burgundy producers represented by another early importer of French wines, Chateau & Estates. C&E’s producers included Ramonet, Roumier, Grivot, d’Angerville, Niellon and Courcel which were all to become leading estates in Burgundy. It is no accident that Kermit Lynch and Chateau and Estates represented so many top producers while the rest of the area struggled through the 1980’s. It was with the promotion and money these importers provided they could re-invest in their vineyards and cellars. As the quality improved, these up and coming domaines (fields) could raise their prices. It was these producers who had distribution and financial support in the 1980s, which are the ones we consider to be the legendary estates today. Many other producers have caught up qualitatively, but it is these few that came to prominence first that command the most attention, and the highest prices.

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Diary of a Winebuyer

About Me: Thirty years ago, I graduated with a degree in political science from the College of Letters and Science at the University of California at Berkeley. Having grown up at the height of the Cold War, I still have vivid remembrances of being instructed to hide under our elementary school desk, covering our heads. The young, white, female teacher, training us without explanation, to face away from the windows. I suppose it is not all that surprising that I had a particular interest in the realpolitik of international relations. My fascination grew with the discovery that certain conditions almost uniformly exist where all revolutions ferment. Did this mean that the revolutions which had occurred in the first half century were revolutions which had been usurped by Marxists who were in the right place at the right time? Probably. A favorite professor was A. J. Gregor. This was a man who, while rakishly wearing a Gestapo-styled black leather motorcycle jacket, exuded expertise on fascism (which he looked the part) and Marxism. Improbably, he did it with a significant swagger. Then in my last semester, I had the blind luck to take a class on Asian Marxist revolution, and the professor, who just happened to be visiting that year while he worked on some unnamed project, was Chalmers Johnson. In retrospect, I should have known his name, as he was a luminary in the political science community but at that time, I did not. It was a remarkable opportunity to experience the ivory tower, but I seem to remember being anxious to get on with life. After college, I drifted through a few of jobs that were of interest to me. One of my former high school teachers said to me. "If I were in your shoes, I'd get a job as a flight attendant." So in order to be young while I could still afford to, I accepted a job serving chicken or beef at Pan American. With that airline losing money faster than it could sell its routes, I got a job doing cellar work at David Bruce Winery. This was the beginning of my wine career. All during this period, I wrote a still unpublished novel about homegrown terrorists the U.C. Berkeley campus, attempting to use some of what I learned in school, weaving in the Vietnamese political and military strategies of Dau Tranh as professor Johnson had lectured years before. Since the early 1990's, I have been involved in the wine industry, selling fine wine in both the retail and wholesale arenas. I have approached learning about wine, by always challenging myself to question how I know what I think I know? And in an effort to try to find answers I've turned, with varying degrees of success to wine books. Overall, I've not been happy with the quality of most wine writing, finding the authors either to lack any deep knowledge, or unable to move much past what I consider to be superficial information. I recognize that wine writers have to monetize their work, but I believe this has dramatically held back our knowledge and understanding of wine. I have set out to add to our industry's base of knowledge where I can. My first series, 'The Terroir of Burgundy' (which I should probably re-edit and complete some kind of conclusion, but I got involved in this project), can be viewed here. I currently work as a sales and marketing manager for a Burgundy and Bordeaux importer based in Atherton, California.

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