HoW A pRescient Guide to OLd WORLd Wines inFluenced GeneRAtions.
Thirty years ago a small independent publisher called North Point Press, best known for championing literary cult writers like James Salter, Beryl Markham, and Evan S. Connell, issued Adventures on the Wine Route, the memoir of a wine importer named Kermit Lynch. North Point went out of business a few years later, but Lynch’s book—now published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux—has continued to enthrall readers and wine lovers. Its appeal is in part a testament to the vivacity of the writing—it’s a great travel book, a chronicle of Lynch’s peregrinations through rural France packed with vivid anecdotes and tart observations.
It also conveys a sense of discovery as Lynch educates his own palate and finds buried treasures in the chilly cellars of Burgundy, the Rhône, and the Loire. But there is an undertone that might be described as fiercely elegiac, as he documents and laments disappearing traditions of la vieille France and deplores the onslaughts of modernity. Thirty years on, however, he says some of his pessimism may have been misplaced. The values he espoused then, when he seemed like a voice in the wilderness, have been adopted by a new generation of winemakers and drinkers.
By Lynch’s own description he was a Berkeley hippie when he first became interested in wine. A musician and a writer for the Berkeley Barb, he borrowed $5,000 in 1972 to open a tiny wine store next to an Indian-Mexican restaurant. Alice Waters, who had just opened Chez Panisse, was one of his early customers. At the time the wine business was in a slump. California was still producing bulk wines with faux-French names, and the American market for French wines was largely restricted to the top growths of Bordeaux. Lynch created a niche by visiting the less celebrated regions of France and Italy and importing distinctive regional wines, then proselytizing from his Berkeley storefront.
“I felt like Columbus discovering the New World,” he says of his first encounter with Charles Joguet of Chinon—a description that was equally applicable to subsequent discoveries, like Henri Jayer and Gérard Chave and Vieux Télégraphe. “Imagine you walk into a cellar no one has ever heard of,” he said to me recently, “and you have a glass of Raveneau or Coche [dury] or de Montille or
cult FAvorItE From top: Kermit lynch in France; the travelogue that introduced many Americans to French wine; a 1964 Gigondas from Domaine les pallières.