SEEKING WHERE OTHERS AREN’T | Kermit Lynch at his wine store in Berkeley, Calif.

MORE THAN 20 YEARS AGO, Kermit Lynch wrote what may be the best book on the wine business. Equal parts professional insight and Henry James-inspired travelogue, “Adventures on the Wine Route” was not only much praised but has never been out of print.

Mr. Lynch’s take on all this? “I made a huge mistake commercially; I wrote a book explaining what I do,” he said over a late-morning glass of Muscadet at Balthazar restaurant in New York. It was a classic Kermit Lynch remark: a bit wry, a bit curmudgeonly and a bit true as well.

Oenofile: The Best of Lynch

Mr. Lynch has been a Berkeley, Calif.-based wine retailer and wine importer for 40 years. (In California, unlike most other states, it’s possible to be both.) And while Mr. Lynch has a lot more competition than he did when he started out (including a few importers who have written books as well), a bottle of wine bearing the Kermit Lynch name is practically a quality guarantee.

Although he once imported wines from all over the world, Mr. Lynch now focuses entirely on small, family-owned estates in Italy and France. “You can’t really dig too deeply if you try to cover the world,” said Mr. Lynch, who estimates that he imports the wines of around 150 producers, and is always looking for more. For every 100 producers he visits, Mr. Lynch might add a single one to his portfolio. His most recent addition was the Sicilian winery Riofavara.

 

Erin Kunkel for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Lynch’s shop

He first tasted a Riofavara wine over a lunch in Sicily with chef Alice Waters and Aubert de Villaine, the proprietor of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. (Mr. Lynch discovered one of his most important producers, Domaine Tempier, in the company of Ms. Waters many years ago at her restaurant Chez Panisse.) The Riofavara wines have been an immediate success, Mr. Lynch said. A little-known Sicilian wine would never have taken off so quickly years ago, he added, but today “people are willing to taste and judge.”