I’ve just finished rereading Kermit Lynch’s ‘Adventures on the Wine Route’, which has stayed fresh despite the intervening decades. The mentions of Frank Schoonmaker got me thinking about origins and inspirations, and the debt we (as KOT Selections and individually) owe pioneers like him and Kermit. I was fortunate enough to have lived in England, where I started drinking wine, and North California, where Kermit Lynch still has his eponymous shop.
In London, it was always an educational experience attending a tasting at La Vigneronne, then owned and run by Liz and Mike Berry. Their passionate curiosity was infectious, and there was always an interesting bottle (or more) to be purchased. They now run Vins Fins de la Crau in Provence, and while we have not visited, it is on the agenda for our next trip. A few other merchants made a similar impact: Yapp Brothers, also run by the founders back then; Raeburn Fine Wines in Edinburgh, with a distinctive, deep Burgundy list; and even Oddbins, now a pale shadow of its former swaggering self. Restaurants like RSJ, with its extensive coverage of the Loire, and well-stocked Oxford college cellars meant that it was possible to explore as widely and deeply as one wished, often for a pittance.
Fine wines were more expensive in California, of course, but the wine merchants were equally good: the aforementioned Kermit Lynch, Bill Mayer’s Age of Riesling, and Oliver McCrum, amongst others. On trips to New York, Chambers Street Wines, which opened months before 9/11 (and is still going strong), was an obligatory stop, while meals with Joe Dressner, wine importer extraordinaire, were always entertaining.
While in no way an exhaustive list, each of these wine importers and merchants have made it easier for me, and probably many others, to enter the wine trade. Whenever I drink a wine which they also import and sell, I am grateful that they dared to blaze the trail first.