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Stash of old Kermit Lynch newsletters highlights hike in wine prices

Stash of old Kermit Lynch newsletters highlights hike in wine prices
A stash of old Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant newsletters highlights the hike in wine prices over the years. (S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times)
A stash of old Kermit Lynch newsletters from the early ‘80s points out just how much wine prices have gone up in the intervening years. For those who don't know Lynch, he was one of the first wine importers who went to France (and later Italy) to search out true artisan producers — the kinds of winemakers that big importers overlooked because they produced so few bottles or their wines weren't very known.
Lynch uncovered some great stuff. Many of his winemakers went on to cult status. And some of them left him for other importers. He still has an incredible lineup of winemakers and if his wines were the only wines you had to drink in the world, you'd be immensely happy.

Lynch later went on to write Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France,” which celebrated its 25th anniversary with a new edition two years ago. For his service to French culture and wine, the French government awarded him the Légion d’Honneur, quite an honor for someone who started out in the business because it involved travel — and, as he likes to say, because the post office wouldn't hire him.

In these decades-old newsletters it's interesting to see the beginnings of Lynch's style as a wine writer, but even more so, the entries on various wines reveal in the breathtaking change in wine prices over the years. Over the course of three decades or more, prices go up, of course. But 10 times in some cases? The quantity of wines from some of these producers is minuscule. And the surge in interest and knowledge about wine is such that Lynch's greatest finds are in high demand. You could say that they were undervalued at the beginning and as that has changed, prices have gone up.

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The 1979 single vineyard Barolo "Colonello" from the late, great barolista Aldo Conterno was going for just $12.50 a bottle in 1984. Today, the 2009 from the estate is about $120. The Vietti Barolo "Rocche" from the great 1978 vintage was $9.95, a figure that could just about break your heart considering that the current release of this great vineyard now sells for $150 or more.

The 1980 Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru "Valmur" sold for $12.50 a bottle in 1982: today, that grand cru is about $285 on release and almost impossible to get your hands on. Raveneau's 1979 Chablis Premier Cru "Montée de Tonnerre" was $14.95 in 1981. Now the 2011 is $165.

Rosé prices haven't risen that precipitously. Consider Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, for years virtually the house wine at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Right now it's selling for $40 and more a bottle, the most expensive rosé in the appellation. But in 1983, it was $6.95, which even then was somewhat high for a rosé from Provence and actually the same price as the Domaine Tempier Bandol rouge went for then.

Those of us who were just getting into wine then might regret not swooping up cases of the 1980 Mas de Daumas Gassac, featured in the same newsletter for just $4.95 a bottle or $53.46 per case. Quite the deal for a wine Lynch describes as "what we call an organic wine — no chemical fertilizers or herbicides are employed in the vineyard" and from the enologist Emile Peynaud "who also counsels Chateau Margaux and Lafite in matters of vinification."

As with many of his best finds, Lynch had picked up the Languedoc estate before it became famous. Thirty-five years later, the 2011 costs about 10 times the 1980, going for anywhere from $45 to $67.

If you want to learn the stories behind these wines and how an aspiring blues singer and leather crafter fell into the wine business back in the early ‘70s and created Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, read Lynch’s highly entertaining book Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France,” first published in 1988. The labels he signed up then weren’t famous Bordeaux or Burgundies, but wines from small producers and sometimes little-known appellations. Who knew about Bandol way back then? Or took Beaujolais seriously? Lynch did.

Follow @sirenevirbila for more on food and wine.

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