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The Source

Interview with Harmon Skurnik
of Michael Skurnik Wines

(November 1999) Want Bryant or Araujo Cabernets? Turley or Martinelli Zinfandel? Marcassin or Peter Michael Chardonnay? How about Spain’s most famous wine, Vega Sicilia? Did you know that one outfit distributes all these cult wines and a whole lot more?

     The company is called Michael Skurnik Wines. And in this interview, we’ll be talking to Harmon Skurnik, who runs the business together with his brother Michael.

Brothers Michael (left) and Harmon Skurnik distribute the cream of California's cult wines, plus other goodies from Europe and the U.S.

     Founded just 12 years ago, the company is probably best known for supplying the top New York eateries with hard-to-find California cult wines. But the Skurnik brothers also import and distribute some of the choicest wines from Europe, Oregon and Washington State, to a clientele of restaurants and retailers throughout New York State and New Jersey.

     Just this year, they announced they’re going national, as exclusive distributors for the legendary German wine-maven Terry Theise.

     Today, Harmon and I talked about how they got started, what new wines are hot and where the bargains are today. We also got into the Terry Theise deal...and yes, you will find out how to get a bottle of Bryant on your table.

     You’ll also get a fascinating look behind the scenes at one of the least-understood parts of the wine business — wholesaling. And find out why the labels on the back of the bottle can be your greatest secret to picking out gems when you’re wine-shopping.

     You may want to read this interview in several sittings, so I’ve broken it up into bite-sized sections. You can read it all the way through or hop to the parts that catch your interest.

     Click on any heading below to jump to that section:

1. Is autumn ‘99 the craziest wine-buying season ever?

2. What exactly do you guys do, anyway?

3. How to pick out good wine even when you don’t know squat

4. What’s so great about small estates?

5. How to get into the wine business

6. You get paid you to do this?

7. How to taste 100 wines a day

8. The direct shipping controversy. Where do you stand?

9. The Skurniks go national with Terry Theise. How?

10. The new revolution in Champagne

11. Where are the values in wine today?

12. Who are the hot new California producers?

REFERENCE SECTION I: "Where can I get all these great wines?"

REFERENCE SECTION II: Highlights of the Skurnik portfolio

Part 1: Is autumn 1999 the craziest wine-buying season ever?

APJ: So what have you been up to lately? Where have you been?

HS: Well, I haven’t been traveling all that much in the last couple of months, because of the pre-millennial craze. Clearly this is the busiest season we’ve had. Ever.

     Friends who aren’t in the business have been asking me, "What’s going on? People buying all this Champagne and stuff. What are they going to do? Drink it all in one night?"

APJ: Well, what is going on?

HS: A lot of it’s millennium hype, no question about it. But there’s also the economy. And real interest in Champagne. Whatever, there’s a buying craze.

APJ: Are you seeing this both from retail stores and restaurants?

HS: Yes, and the restaurants have never been more busy. The economy’s booming, Wall Street’s booming. If you’ve been in New York City lately, you know that trying to get a reservation is really difficult.

     And more people who dine out are drinking wine, especially expensive wine. They have a lot of disposable income. No matter what it costs, people will fork it over.

     So right now, just keeping up with demand is the big challenge.

APJ: What are the hot items?

HS: It depends. I mean, restaurants like Le Cirque and Jean Georges and Lespinasse can never get enough expensive and rare wine.

     But the market in general is expanding and broadening. People who never bought more than a glass of Chardonnay are getting into other stuff. The market is just exploding right now. It’s still got a long way to go in this country, but...

CONTINUED on next page. Click here to go to there...

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