Kermit Lynch Brands
Although he always enjoyed visiting vineyards and attending tastings, Giuseppe Maria “Giugi” Sesti did not initially choose a career in wine. Instead, his Venetian upbringing inspired him to study music, art, and astronomy, the last of which became his profession. He met his future wife in North Wales while writing his first book on this topic, and in 1975 Giugi and Sarah moved their family to Tuscany, where they bought the abandoned ruins of the hamlet and castle of Argiano, slowly clearing the land and restoring the buildings to create the breathtaking estate we see there today. Giugi was now a father of four, vice-director of a local Baroque opera festival, and actively writing books on astronomy, but he miraculously found spare time to visit local wineries and help his neighbors in the vineyards and cellar. His passion for wine grew along with his experience, and in 1991 he planted his own vineyards on the slopes around the castle. The children helped pick and stomp grapes from the earliest age, and though they, too, pursued international studies in various fields, they always managed to come home for the harvest. In 1999 the couple’s only daughter, Elisa, joined the estate full time, and today she is an active partner in all aspects of the vineyard management and winemaking.
While helping out at neighboring estates Giugi observed that simplicity and careful attention were the most important factors in producing great wines, while chemical intervention skewed their delicate balance; so he determined to make entirely natural wines right from the start. He even took a pioneering extra step by applying his prodigious knowledge of the moon’s influence on living things to his vineyard management and winemaking. Today the family continues this thoroughly eco-friendly philosophy (although no official certification currently meets their personal standards), and Elisa’s primary concern is the materia prima, or raw material, that goes into the wine. The Sesti lineup includes a white Sauvignon and a Sangiovese Rosato born directly of necessity, since the family wanted something light and cooling to drink under the hot summer sun; they were forced to increase production when visiting friends and clients tried these wines and started placing orders. But their basic trio—the Brunello, Brunello Riserva “Phenomena,” and Rosso di Montalcino—provides traditional expressions of the appellation, robust and powerful yet refreshing, with great aging potential in the Brunellos.
One cannot think of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the most celebrated cru of the southern Rhône, without thinking of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. The Brunier family is legendary in its own right, having been rooted to the enigmatic plateau known as La Crau for over one hundred years. The wines of Vieux Télégraphe evoke the concept of terroir in its purest form: they reflect their dramatic climate, the rough terrain that defines the soil, their full sun exposure at a higher altitude, the typicity of the varietals with an emphasis on Grenache, and of course, the influence of their caretakers, the Brunier family. For many, La Crau is Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s grandest cru.
The Bruniers’ story begins in 1898 with Hippolyte Brunier. A modest farmer who lived off the land, Hippolyte kept less than a hectare of vines to make his own wines. His small vineyard was at one of the highest points in between Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Bédarrides, a stony plateau called La Crau. The elevation of this terrain had prompted the construction of a communication tower in the late 18th century to transmit telegraph messages between Marseille and Paris.
The wines of V.T. are classic, displaying strength, rusticity, earthiness, and tremendous longevity. The final assemblage consists solely of old-vine fruit from La Crau, imparting incredible depth, concentration, and a filtered-through-stones minerality that provides excellent freshness. The greatness of the domaine is just as much a tribute to the Bruniers as it is to La Crau—they have the ability to make great wine even in difficult vintages.
The grapes from the younger vines—still over twenty years old—make up V.T.’s second label, “Télégramme.” The concept was born after the ill-fated 2002 vintage, when flooding around harvest led the Bruniers to downgrade “La Crau” due to the torrid conditions. The resulting wine, dubbed “Télégramme,” saw significant success, prompting Daniel and Frédéric to produce the cuvée yearly from fruit they deem not worthy of the “La Crau” label. The elegance and velvety texture make “Télégramme” easy to appreciate in its youth, with rich, generous, red fruit, uncharacteristic freshness, and beautifully integrated tannins. Its finesse and drinkability make it theChâteauneuf-du-Pape for restaurant lists and for wine lovers who do not have a cellar for aging.
The late, great Maestro del Veneto, Giuseppe Quintarelli, succeeded in establishing his mythical and legendary estate during an amazing sixty-year career. All of the tradition, love, heart, and soul of crafting one of the world’s finest wines continue at the Quintarelli home and winery in the hills north of Verona. Giuseppe’s daughter Fiorenza, his son-in-law Giampaolo, and his grandsons Francesco and Lorenzo are all keeping a close watch over the family’s legacy.
It is impossible to speak about Quintarelli without superlatives. The name itself stands for so much: the family, the wines, a style, a tradition, a way of doing things. After all the time, effort, patience, and care that go into the making of a bottle of Quintarelli, it truly does mean so much more than wine. Giuseppe, fondly known as “Bepi” to those closest to him, was a perfectionist in every way. From the beautiful handwritten labels, to the best possible quality cork, to the exquisite wine in the bottles, the Quintarelli name is a stamp of authenticity and the ultimate indication of an artisanal, handmade, uncompromising wine of the highest quality.
Nothing is ever hurried at Quintarelli. The wines take their time and are given the time they need. In the still, quiet calm of the family cellars above the town of Negrar, along the winding via del Cerè, deep in the Valpolicella zone, the wine from the family’s hillside vineyards ages patiently and gracefully in large casks until it is ready. Every release is a masterpiece, a testament to time, tradition, skill, and passion, the creations of a master artisan. You can’t really compare these wines to any other in the region, or anywhere else in the world. They really are in a class and a category all their own.
Multiple passages through the vineyards produce a myriad of wines, many produced using the appassimento technique whereby the grapes are dried on rush mats before being pressed and made into wine. From the delicious and seductive Bianco Secco, to the benchmark Valpolicella that created a revolution in the thinking about what it was possible to produce in this region, to the Rosso del Bepi and Amarones produced according to the quality of the harvest, to the otherworldly Recioto and the exceedingly rare Bandito, the sheer artistry and depth of the range is truly exceptional. A bottle of Quintarelli never disappoints!
Castagnoli is a small estate in Castellina in Chianti on the western edge of the Chianti Classico DOCG. This estate possesses a striking terroir, one of Chianti’s most beautiful. Steep terraces are carved out of a western facing amphitheatre below the winery. The soil is highly decomposed and flaky galestro schist. The Sangiovese vines are pruned and trellised like Syrah of the northern Rhône, with one wooden stake per vine. There are several small micro-terroirs that are vinified separately and ultimately blended into the estate’s three wines: Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, or IGT Toscana Rosso “Salita.” Salita is a single parcel of higher-altitude terraces with southern exposition. The name “Salita” refers to the sun-baked nature of the section of the vineyard.
Owner Alfred Schefenacker is the driving force behind this tiny estate with amazing potential. He is intent on restoring and developing it into one of the finest estates in Chianti. The Castagnoli terrenois one of cool climate, high altitude Sangiovese (vines are planted higher than 1000 feet above sea level) but one with a lot of lower-end depth and concentration. High-toned aromatics including blood orange are on display, a medium-full bodied frame with smoked meat, black olive and rosemary to complement the red fruits, solid acidity and tannin. It is a unique style in Chianti born of a unique terroir, and it possesses a cool elegance that makes it immediately drinkable and very pleasurable though it will age well.
Strangely enough, Kermit came upon the Meyer-Fonné wines for the first time at his home down in Provence. He was tasting with Daniel Ravier, the winemaker at Domaine Tempier, and the two were blown away at the first, dazzling sip; now that we’ve all gotten to know the domaine, we understand why. Félix Meyer is a rising star in Alsace and has an evident instinct for his craft. He is the third generation in his family to be making wine since his grandfather founded the domaine in the late 19th century. Since taking over in 1992, Félix has already left his own mark, modernizing equipment in the winery, developing export sales, and now expanding the family’s holdings in many of Alsace’s great vineyard sites, including several grand crus.
It’s all about the details at Meyer-Fonné, with an emphasis on tradition and respect for terroir. The winery and family home is in the village of Katzenthal, known for its distinctive granite soils. Meyer is a master at the art of blending and astutely applies this skill in mixing the wine from various parcels into complex, balanced cuvées. He also believes in raising his wines on fine lees in large, older foudres, as was the tradition in Alsace. All of Meyer’s bottlings are characterized by stunning aromatics and a signature backbone of minerality and nerve. Racy and elegant, his wines are difficult to resist young but have all the right qualities for the cellar. For aromatic and textural seductiveness, no one in Alsace can top Meyer-Fonné.
In 1900 a Frenchman named Pierre Tintero set out for Piedmont in search of work. He found an opportunity to do odd jobs at a small estate where widow Rosina Cortese was struggling to handle all the work herself. Pierre, called “Pietrin” by the locals, quickly became a vital part of the estate and also fell in love with the widow, whom he married two years later. The couple continued to work the vines together and bottled their own Dolcetto for the first time just as war fell in 1914. Years later their grandson would find a stash of this vintage hidden within the walls of the cellar, certainly a precaution against ransacking troops who passed through the area.
Pietrin and Rosina’s two sons, Giovanni and Carlo, eventually took over the estate and expanded it by purchasing adjacent vineyard plots. Moscato was just a tiny part of their production since it is only practical to produce it in large quantities. It was not until the 1980s that Carlo’s son Elvio began experimenting with the challenging process of frizzante wine production, allowing the family to take advantage of the grape’s special affinity to the local terroir. Elvio has now handed the reins over to the next generation, but he continues to help his son Marco and daughter-in-law Cinzia run the estate.
The commune of Mango is the heart of Moscato country, and 20 of the Tinteros’ 30 hectares are planted to this grape. Their largest parcel is in the Sorì Gramella vineyard, whose full southern exposure and gradient of more than 20% pamper the grapes with many long hours of sunshine. The resulting wine is delightfully fizzy and slightly sweet, an irresistible combination that makes it a universal favorite. Marco also maintains that same spirit in his other wines, which are all fresh, easy, and fun to drink with friends.
One need only speak of Meursault to evoke a myriad of questions regarding the village’s resident icon, Jean-François Coche. He began working in the family vineyards alongside his father, Georges, at the age of fourteen, becoming the third generation of Coches to tend these vines. His marriage to Odile Dury in 1975 added to the family holdings, which lead to the formation of Domaine Coche-Dury. Since then, the enigmatic, modest, Jean-François has only reluctantly accepted the celebrity status of his wines. When asked, he would be most likely say that it is rigor, constant vigilance, and adherence to old-school tradition that makes the wines so special. Jean-François’ heritage seems more closely linked to the studious, farmer-monks that once propagated this area of Burgundy during the Middle Ages than to the stocky Gauls of lore, as his work style is almost hermetical. When Kermit, Coche’s biggest single client, calls for a rendezvous, he is always told, “Only in the evening when I come back from the vines.” Today, his son, Raphaël, has taken the reins with his wife, Charline, and the two continue the family tradition with great reverence.
The Coches farm almost nine hectares of vineyards on minuscule parcels over six communes: Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Auxey-Duresses, Monthelie, and Volnay. Approximately half of their holdings are situated around their hometown of Meursault, with their parcels of Bourgogne surrounding the home and winery. Though they are best known for their Chardonnay, they also bottle six exquisite Pinot Noirs. No clones of any kind are planted—an absolute rarity in Burgundy, where cold, humid winters, spontaneous springtime hail storms, and harvest rains all make farming a challenge. Once in the cellar, vinifications are long and traditional, with extended lees contact. This extra time on the lees prevents oxidation and works in tandem with the terrific freshness his grapes achieve. A good proportion of new wood is used, not to influence the taste of the wine, but rather to extend the cellar-aging potential of these pedigreed wines and to serve as a clean slate for perfect fruit. Coche believes strongly that the white wines of Burgundy should have nerve, and his are never among the ripest or highest in alcohol of his colleagues. It is their vibrant acidity, often hidden in the opulence that helps them to age so successfully and predictably. Though their bottlings are extremely limited, any chance to taste the wines of Coche-Dury promises a rare glimpse into some of the greatest vineyard management and winemaking in the world.
Aubert de Villaine deserves the accolades he receives. He is a reluctant hero, an unlikely trait in a man of such accomplishment, intellect, and inherent sense of noblesse. Heir to one of the most enviable wine legacies of all time, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the young Aubert was more interested in literature and law than wine. After spending time in New York working for an importer of Burgundian wines, he finally returned home in the mid-nineteen sixties to assume his role as co-director of DRC.
In the 1970s, Aubert and his American wife, Pamela, sought less pedigreed pastures to call home. They finally settled in the village of Bouzeron, well-situated between Chassagne-Montrachet, Santenay, Rully, and Mercurey, in the Côte Chalonnaise. However high profile his day job, Aubert still considers himself a vigneron like any other, and Bouzeron’s off-the-beaten-path location left him alone to make his own wines without the demands of upholding an international reputation. The domaine was horribly rundown when the de Villaines took over, but years of studying this unique terroir have made them pioneers in one of the last forgotten enclaves of Burgundy. The monks of the great abbey of Cluny first planted vines here in the twelfth century, leaving a legacy that has endured for centuries. Consequently, the grape varietal that reigns supreme today is the dry, white Aligoté—an unusual celebrity given its work-horse reputation in the middle of Chardonnay country. Bouzeron boasts the best Aligoté in Burgundy, the Aligoté Doré, (instead of the lesser clone, Aligoté Vert) which gives smaller yields to produce wines with more expressive aromatics. Although the grape was overlooked until 1979 when it first earned the appellation Bourgogne Aligoté de Bouzeron, the I.N.A.O. finally upgraded the appellation to A.O.C. Bouzeron in 1997, largely due to Aubert’s advocacy over the years. Aubert’s single vineyard Bourgognes, both in blanc and rouge, are equally outstanding representations of the unlikely pedigree found in this corner of the region.
The de Villaines farm three appellations within the Côte Chalonaise, namely Bouzeron (Aligoté), Rully (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) and Mercurey (Pinot Noir). Their single-vineyard parcels are stunning examples of what this complex and amazing terroir can yield. Though their wines are quite enjoyable young, their ability to age well is what one might expect from a master such as de Villaine. Much of this is due to both the diversity of his vinestock and his organic and biodynamic methodology in the vineyards, both of which Aubert stands by with great conviction. He also ferments his Mercureys and Rully rouge in wood tanks, a style adopted from DRC.
Pierre de Benoist, Aubert’s nephew, currently directs the domaine, upholding the sense of tradition, excellence, and standards for which it has become so well-known. In 2010, Aubert was awarded Decanter Magazine’s prestigious “Man of the Year” Award, a distinction that, unsurprisingly, the modest Aubert seemed reluctant to accept.
Of all of the domaines we represent, no other serves more as our cornerstone, stands more in the defense of terroir, and is more intricately interwoven with our own history, than that of the iconic Peyraud family of Domaine Tempier. The pages that Kermit has written about them alone rival those of his dear friend, Richard Olney, who wrote the definitive history of the domaine and was the first to introduce Kermit to the family in 1976. Their story might be considered mythic if it were not true.
When Lucie “Lulu” Tempier married Lucien Peyraud in 1936, her father gave them Domaine Tempier, an active farm that had been in the family since 1834, near Le Plan du Castellet, just outside the Mediterranean seaport village of Bandol. Tasting a pre-phylloxera bottle of Domaine Tempier Bandol (a wedding gift from his father-in-law) inspired Lucien to research the terroir of Bandol extensively. Up until that point, old vineyards planted with Mourvèdre had been systematically replanted to higher-yielding varietals. However, more research not only showed its historical roots to the area, but the grape proved to be more resistant to oxidation, producing wines with great aging potential. By 1941, with the assistance of neighboring vignerons, Lucien worked with the I.N.A.O. (Institut National des Appellations d’Origines) to establish Bandol as its own A.O.C. Needless to say, large-scale replanting of Mourvèdre ensued, and Bandol now requires a fifty percent minimum in all reds. Lucien will forever be celebrated as the Godfather of Bandol, but also as the man who revived Mourvèdre to its former glory. Raising deep and structured wines of such refinement and longevity has made Domaine Tempier truly a grand cru de Provence.
Beyond our affection and the enduring bonds of our friendship, objectively the celebrity of Domaine Tempier also lies deep in the soils of Bandol. Variations of clay and limestone soils between the vineyards produce wines that are undeniably world class. Whether it is the cult following they have established through their refreshing, age-worthy rosé (once praised by Robert Parker as the greatest rosé in the world), their Bandol Blanc, or the distinctive cuvées of Bandol rouge, the wines of Domaine Tempier stand as the proud benchmark when talking about Provençal wines. Through their passion, pioneering, and advocacy for Bandol, the Peyrauds have become legendary. We are fortunate to have their wines serve as the flagship of our portfolio, and even more grateful to have the Peyrauds and their extended family as cherished friends. If any wine can be said to have soul, it’s Tempier.
The stunning collection of premier cru and old-vine vineyards held by the two Chevillon brothers would make any Pinot Noir grower jealous. Their innate ability to carefully tend the vines and master the difficult Burgundian conditions provides ripe, healthy clusters of grapes year after year. Taste through the barrels of Chevillon post-harvest and it doesn’t matter what happened the year before, almost as if by miracle, the wines show class and character and each terroir has its distinct idiosyncrasies. It is le vrai Pinot chez Chevillon.
Brothers Bertrand and Denis Chevillon are the fifth generation managers of this property in Nuits- Saint-Georges, which means they work the vines and make the wines. Their father Robert, for whom the domaine is named, is still active as well. Both brothers bring passion, experience, a tireless work ethic, and intensity to their work at the domaine. Tasting through their palate of Nuits- Saint-Georges is a venerable tour of the appellation. Their Passetoutgrain, a blend of Pinot and Gamay, is a worthy introduction and their rare (two barrels made) Nuits-Saint-Georges Blanc made from the “Pinot Gouges” is an exotic treasure that ages just as long as the domaine’s fabled reds. And their Bourgogne Aligoté, Bourgogne Chardonnay and Bourgogne Rouge are grown and vinified with the same care as their premier crus. It shows.
The track record of the Chevillon wines in the cellar is one of the most remarkable aspects of this storied domaine. We regularly have the good fortune to taste back through the past three decades of vintages of all the various premier crus and the wines always more than convincing—they are amongst Burgundy’s very best. In fact, I have often been more disappointed with grand cru bottlings than I am with the top-tier Chevillon premier crus. Indeed, Nuits-Saint-Georges does not officially have any grand cru vineyards, but we are convinced that Cailles, Vaucrains and Les Saint-Georges are firmly grand cru quality. This decision is currently in the hands of the appellation authorities but it is almost better if the status quo doesn’t change–that way we are assured to get grand cru quality at a premier cru price!
Catherine and Didier Champalou both came from vigneronfamilies, yet their mutual sense of independence prompted the couple to brave it on their own right after completing viticultural school in Saumur. Since starting the domaine in 1983, they have not only grown their business, but their label is one of the most highly-acclaimed in the appellation. Vouvray is home to the noble Chenin Blanc, more commonly known as Pineau de la Loire in their part of the world. As widespread as Pineau is, both soil and climate play key roles in the diversity of its incarnations, and a Chenin from California gives one no hint of what the grape is capable of in the right soil.
Farther inland along the Loire, in the region of the Touraine, Vouvray enjoys a warm, continental climate during the summers. Slowly dropping temperatures in autumn make for a long ripening season. Microclimates with high humidity can also bring about the beloved noble rot. The gravel and chalk in the vineyards also play a role absorbing the sun’s rays, lending increased ripeness to this part of the Touraine. The Pineau of Vouvray can be pétillant (sparkling), sec (dry and crisp), demi-sec (off-dry) or in a botrytized state called moelleux. Catherine and Didier make all four styles.
The Champalou family farms twenty-one hectares of vineyards on clay, limestone, and siliceous soils. They embrace sustainable farming while also integrating the use of the lunar calendar more traditionally associated with organic viticulture. The soils in their vineyards are rich, deep, and aerated though regular plowing. Cover crops are planted in between vineyard rows to help with excess water absorption and to encourage microbiotic activity in the soil. The Champalou house style produces wines of great elegance and tenderness, highly aromatic with impeccable balance. No one comes close to copying their distinct style.
Didier and Catherine’s daughter, Céline, has recently joined the domaine after spending her internships in New Zealand, South Africa, Languedoc, Corsica, and Canada. Daughter Virginie lives in London, and is also in the wine business. There is no question that the tradition and quality for which this domaine is known will continue for many years to come.
Hippolyte Reverdy’s family has been making wine in the charming village of Verdigny, a commune of Sancerre in the eastern Loire, for many generations—perhaps as far back as 1600. Traditional in nature, the farm was planted to multiple crops, and the Reverdys raised goats and made small quantities of wine from their own vines for local consumption. It was not until the end of World War II that Hippolyte began increasing his Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir production, selling it to accommodate increasing demands from Paris. Hippolyte and his three sons began bottling small quantities under their own label, although the lion’s share of the grapes was still being sold off to the local cave coopérative. Michel joined his father and brothers in 1971, shortly after finishing high school. Kermit began working with the domaine for the first time in 1983. Shortly after, the passing of Michel’s father and the untimely deaths of his two brothers brought a climate of sadness to the domaine. Michel was left with his mother to bear the burden of loss and to assume the responsibility of running the farm alone. Slowly but surely, Michel has found his own rhythm. After tasting a Sancerre rouge from the domaine, Kermit asked Michel to craft one for him in the traditional demi-muids, and specified that he would like it unfiltered. Once convinced of the quality, Michel expanded the winery to accommodate these new reds. Since then, his rouge is the talk of Sancerre, one of a kind.
Today, Michel farms fourteen hectares of vineyards on his own. Chris Santini, our man in France, writes of Michel, “His dedication is total. He’s one of the few remaining vignerons in France who truly live like a paysan [peasant]. No vacation, no travel, ever. He’s happy just to stay on the farm, working seven days a week, and wanting nothing more and nothing less…[Michel] plans to keep working the land until he physically can’t get himself out to the vines any longer.” In earlier days, Kermit considered the Sancerre blanc very good, with great typicity, although since Michel has taken the reins, Kermit says that Reverdy has since “become the benchmark domaine of our day.”