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Kermit Lynch Celebrates 40 Years of Bringing Great Wine to Bay Area

Kermit Lynch Retail Shop

Kermit Lynch's Retail Shop in Berkeley

Because man cannot live on domestic wine alone (not even those of us lucky enough to live in the Bay Area) God has given us The Importer. As the ultimate gatekeeper, the importer is responsible for deciding which wine — from the hundreds of thousands produced around the world — end up in your local retail shop and ultimately on your dinner table. This month, Kermit Lynch, one of the very finest importers of French and Italian wines to the US, is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the day he unpacked his first case of wine in his Berkeley storefront.

Known for his careful, on-the-ground sourcing of wines from, as he puts it, “great talents from previously unheralded wine regions,” Mr. Lynch began his business in the 1970s, when his friend and neighbor Alice Waters was busy defining a simple and fresh style of cuisine that would eventually become synonymous with California. The wines that Lynch imported, which were made very naturally and reflected the place they came from, went well with Ms. Waters’ revolutionary cuisine — both in philosophy and as practical pairings. In his book Secrets of the Sommeliers, writer Jordan Mackay calls Kermit Lynch “The original and the best, offering minimally manipulated, terroir-focused, and, when possible, organic wines…. The wines always have a distinct personality, whether it is a twenty-dollar bottle or a five-hundred-dollar bottle.”

Lynch, who has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation and has written two books (Adventures on the Wine Route and Inspiring Thirst), has developed a loyal following among consumers and professionals alike, who trust his wines to the point that they will purchase a Kermit Lynch import even if they don’t know anything else about it. “When I see that the wine is from Kermit Lynch, even if I’ve never heard of it before, I take it seriously,” says San Francisco-based sommelier Rajat Parr in Secrets of the Sommeliers.

While Lynch imports are available at retail stores throughout the city, why not celebrate the anniversary by hitting up the mother ship? You’ll feel like a kid in a candy shop (or well, an adult in a wine store). And while you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to visit nearby Bartavelle Coffee & Wine Bar; the space, which previously housed Alice Waters’ Café Fanny, is now operated by long-time Berkeley resident (and a former Lynch employee), Suzanne Drexhage. Ms. Drexhage, along with Christopher Lee from Chez Panisse, will be in conversation with Lynch at the store on October 27 from 11 am to 4 pm, but we’re told the event is already attracting quite a crowd, so go at your own risk — or just go any other day when you’ll actually be able to move around the store.