Legendary wine importer Kermit Lynch hits L.A. for book signings and tastings

FO.Lynch.1.0513.bc.G¿¿¿Kermit Lynch sniffs a red wine during a wine tasting at The Wine Country in Signal Hill.
(BC¥Bob Carey / Los Angeles Times)

Famed Berkeley wine importer Kermit Lynch is making the rounds in southern California starting next weekend to promote the 25th anniversary edition of “Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France.” The book, first published in 1988, is required reading for anybody interested in wine, particularly French wine, and the natural wine movement, which Lynch, in a way, helped jump-start some 30 years ago.

When he first got into wine, back in the early ‘70s, he up and went to France and found some wines. “Because the post office didn’t hire me,” he says, laughing. 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.

He not only imported the wines, he sold them at the small retail shop he’d opened in 1972. That shop quickly became a draw for everyone involved in Berkeley’s food revolution. The Bandol rosé from Domaine Tempier practically became the house wine at Chez Panisse. And every trip to Europe he brought back more intriguing wines — Barolo from Piedmont, steely Chablis and earthy Chinon, whites from Cassis and later sturdy reds from Corsica or Sardinia. He has a special fondness for wines of the Rhone — Hermitage, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Cornas, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise. And yes, he did add some Burgundies to his portfolio.


He could write a mean newsletter, too, which introduced the wines and the characters behind them — and was and is much more useful and interesting than the points or endless string of adjectives wine critics were beginning to bestow. Lynch’s wife, photographer Gail Skoff, photographed the cellars and the makers in glorious black-and-white and some of those photos were blown up huge on the shop’s walls.

In his 35 years in the business, Lynch has received the “Légion d’Honneur” from the French government and some pretty impressive reviews for “Adventures on the Wine Route” in its first edition. For this new one, he’s added an epilogue to bring readers up to date with changes in the wine scene — and with the histories of the winemakers and estates in the book, some of it happy, some of it sad.

I love the first sentence of Richard Olney’s preface to the 1988 edition: “Kermit Lynch, when we first met some 12 years ago, described himself to me as a recently defected hippie.” Olney, who lived in Provence, had never met one. “I soon came to realize that Kermit was merely an old-fashioned bohemian who happened to possess a remarkable nose and palate.”

I had to ask him, would you do it all over again? “My god, yes! I thank my lucky stars,” he said in a telephone conversation. “And I didn’t get into wine until I was 30. In my personal life, there’s a dividing line. Before I got into wine, I was pretty blue and after, pretty happy. I believe wine is good for one’s health because pleasure is good for one’s health.”

When you get a copy of the book, don’t forget to check out page 267 with a list of Kermit Lynch’s 25 most memorable wines. I’m looking down that list and seeing names like Aldo Conterno, Quintarelli, Raveneau, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Domaine Tempier, Jean-Louis Chave, Henri Jayer and Coche-Dury — all remarkable producers, many of which Lynch imported.

Don’t miss a chance to meet Lynch and taste some of his wines. Here follows a listing of events with Kermit Lynch planned for later this week:

Saturday: Book signing and wine tasting at the Wine Country in Signal Hill, (310) 479-3731, Sample some of Kermit Lynch’s finest selections, including Vieux Télégraphe, Domaine Tempier and more. $25 per person.

Sunday: Book signing and tasting of six Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant wines served with light passed appetizers at Upstairs 2 (the bistro above the Wine House) in West L.A. Click here to purchase tickets or call (310) 479-3731. Price of $35 includes wine tasting, passed light appetizers and a signed copy of “Adventures on the Wine Route” 25th Anniversary Edition.

Monday: Book signing and tasting of three Kermit Lynch imports served with farmhouse cheeses, olives and Heirloom LA breads at Silverlake Wine in Los Angeles, (323) 662-9024, $12 per person. Also, the Heirloom LA catering food truck will be parked out front, serving a menu rooted in the farm-to-table cuisine of Chez Panisse. Reservation not required.

Tuesday, Dec. 10: Book signing and tasting of three Kermit Lynch imports served with farmhouse cheeses, olives and Heirloom LA breads at Everson Royce in Pasadena, (626) 765-9334, $15 per person. Also, the Heirloom LA catering food truck will be parked out front. Reservation not required.


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