Lessons From Lunch With Winemaker Kermit Lynch
Kermit Lynch is one of the most influential figures in the world of wine. Since his retail shop in Berkeley opened in 1972, Lynch has become the country's foremost importer of French and Italian wines. Even if you have no idea who he is, your wine-drinking habits have likely been affected by his influence.
Twenty-five years ago, Lynch poured his knowledge and passion into a book, Adventures on the Wine Route, which became gospel to many wine lovers who bought into Lynch's strong belief in terroir, in wine with a sense of place, and his passion for the wines of France.
This year, the book has been reissued as a 25th anniversary edition, with a fascinating epilogue that talks about all that's happened in the quarter century since the original release. Lynch was in Los Angeles this week to promote the book, and I was lucky enough to have some time with him over lunch, along with a few other writers. Lynch is one of those men who overflows with knowledge and humor. Here are just a few of the lessons gleaned from spending a few hours with him.
4. "It's a myth that you can't afford to age wines."
"I wish someone would interview me about this," Lynch said. "So many people say, 'I'd love to put some wines away to age, but I don't have the money for those types of wines.' You don't need to be buying expensive wines to age!" He contends that there are plenty of very affordable wines (as in, under $20) that would absolutely benefit from aging. When asked how to know which wines to age, Lynch said "Ask your wine seller -- no one expects you to know these things. You wouldn't start filling your own cavities either."
3. Temperature-controlled wine transport is far more complex that it seems.
One of Lynch's great legacies is temperature-controlled transport for imported wines -- he was the first wine importer to use refrigerated containers. But introducing refrigerated shipping containers is only half the battle. Despite incurring the extra cost of refrigerated trucks to pick up the wines from the winemakers, that expense could easily go to waste. "The refrigeration makes so much noise, the truckers turn it off because they don't want to hear it."
2. Atheistic gospel music is a thing.
Lynch has long been a musician as well as an importer and winemaker, and the album he's working on right now is what he calls "atheistic gospel music," gospel with lyrics like "ain't no God up in heaven, ain't no devil down in hell." His album also addresses questions like, is there sex in heaven? There will also be a reggae version of On Broadway.
1. "Let's say it bluntly: 'Natural wine' has no meaning."
Lynch has always been a proponent of wines that, when appropriate, use natural yeasts, are unfiltered and express their terroir without a lot of artificial interference. And yet, he's frustrated with the term "natural wine," citing the fact that it has no real parameters. He also feels that many wines calling themselves "natural" use it to get away with what are essentially flaws in the wine.
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