Coals to Newcastle? The Irishman selling French and Italian wines in California

‘Craft beer is great, but there’s a special place reserved for wine at the table’

Graeme Blackmore, originally from Dublin, is a wine merchant in Berkeley, California

Graeme Blackmore, originally from Dublin, is a wine merchant in Berkeley, California

 

The first California Wine Week in Ireland is currently underway (May 5th-12th), with a series of tastings and promotional events to raise the profile of the Golden State’s wines.

Graeme Blackmore, originally from Dublin, works at Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, in Berkeley, California. The shop, import and distribution business was established by the musician and author whose name the company bears, in 1972. Blackmore is director of sales and operations.

Despite being located on the fringes of the US’s most famous wine region, Kermit Lynch sells only French and Italian wines.

How long have you been involved with the wine business?

I started in the wine business auctioning vintage wines at James Adam & Sons on St Stephen’s Green. Then, when I arrived in San Francisco, I continued that work with Butterfield and Butterfield (now Bonham’s). I’ve been with Kermit Lynch for the last 25 years.

Did you study it formally?

The wine business has essentially been my only career. I didn’t study any courses when I began, but my work experience fortunately included extensive tastings and vineyard visits. So that became my education. Today, however, I might recommend a slightly different route.

What is the attraction of the wine business for you?

The connection to nature is the most obvious one for me, and I’m sure my Irish upbringing had something to do with that. For wine especially, being able to see the consequences of changing weather conditions and the efforts of the winemaker reflected in each vintage is especially fascinating.

And, of course, there’s also the unique joy that sharing wine with others brings to life.

What does Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant offer?

We just celebrated our 45th anniversary this year, so it is an exciting time for us. Kermit started the company back in 1972 and was drawn primarily to the smaller family-run domaines of Old World Europe. The focus has always been on promoting wines that reflect their unique sense of place. Today, we are a national import and distribution business with wine growers in France and Italy.

Is it tough selling French and Italian wines exclusively to buyers in America’s best wine region?

Quite the opposite in fact. Whether it is winemakers in the valley, tourists from around the world, or local Bay Area clients, the general level of interest in wine has never been higher. And consequently the demand for the best examples has also soared. So our focus in the business is actually an attraction. Happily, we have a unique selection of wines.

Are there any Californian wines you like?

Any winemaker searching for a sense of freshness – and all that might convey – in their wines, gets my vote. Holus Bolus, Bedrock, Lo-Fi Wines, Broc Cellars and Dragonette Cellars are some to look for. But Ridge Vineyards, Qupe and Au Bon Climat are three wineries that you might find more easily in Ireland.

What is your desert island bottle of wine?

It’s got to be Champagne. It goes with practically everything, or if you’re on an island – nothing at all. Lassalle, Veuve Fourny, Bara, anything Krug ...

Is wine drinking still popular in San Francisco or is craft beer taking over?

Craft beer is great, but there’s a special place reserved for wine at the table, which I don’t see being displaced.

What do you like about living in California?

Beyond the tolerant society aspect that California fosters, it really is a beautiful part of the world and is a very easy place to make home. The traffic ... that’s another thing.

Do you intend to return to Ireland or stay in California?

It’s unlikely my wife Christine (Blackmore) and I would move back. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the kids decided to explore Ireland more. Our son Tristan is 23 and Odessa our daughter is 20.

Is there anything you miss about living in Ireland?

That’s an easy one. I miss the people.

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