CONTINUING our interview
with Harmon Skurnik of
of Michael Skurnik Wines
(Click here to return to previous page)
Part 7: How can you
taste so many wines in a day and not lose perspective?
APJ: Lets move on to another question. You say you might taste a
hundred wines in a day. How the heck do you do it?
HS: We dont do that every day. In the office, we try to taste 6 or 7
wines at the end of the day. Especially on Friday, when a lot of our
employees are at the office.
APJ: That sounds like fun!
HS: Yes, well, the culture here is very laid back. Were a young
company and we love what we do. So were popping bottles every day
but its strictly for tasting!
A hundred wines in a day is a rare thing. But
when youre traveling to France or Italy, you have a lot of decisions to
make in a short period of time. Youve got 4 to 10 days in each country.
APJ: So how do you keep your perspective when youre doing that?
HS: Its kind of an acquired thing. Up to a point, it can actually
help to be tasting so many wines. There are a lot of comparisons you can make
in your mind.
But sometimes its extremely difficult,
particularly when youre tasting young, hard vintages.
I remember tasting 93 red Burgundies out of
the barrel. After visiting a couple of cellars, your gums are just shot.
You just cannot taste another thing. And when that happens, you simply
have to stop working.
APJ: So it depends on the vintage?
HS: Yes, vintages with high acidity are just very hard to taste young.
Like 1993 Burgundy. And '96 Burgundy is the same way.
Part 8: The direct
shipping controversy. Where do you stand?
APJ: The direct shipping controversy. How do you feel about it
and how is it affecting your relationships with the cult wineries who
depend on their mailing lists?
HS: It doesnt really affect our relationship.
You know, I think people assume that
wholesalers are all of one mind and all against direct shipping.
A lot of people assume that we fall into that
camp. But we dont. And one of the reasons we have such a good
relationship with our small, family-run suppliers is that we support their
right to ship directly. We know that its part of their business.
Some of these wineries make only 500 cases a
year. If they didnt have direct shipping, they wouldnt be able to do
what they do.
On the other hand, its a very sticky issue.
Because our customers especially our retail customers feel theyre
being bypassed by direct shipping. So its a difficult issue that we
have to deal with all the time.
APJ: How would you solve it if you were king?
HS: I think a good answer might be to permit it for small, family-run
wineries. Because theyre the ones who need it to survive.
APJ: So if that were allowed, why would they bother with you at all?
HS: Restaurants, for one thing. From the very beginning, weve always
strived to be the importer and wholesaler who appeals to New York
Weve been able to build good relationships
with many of these restaurants. That lets us to place wines on the wine
lists of the best restaurants in town. And the cult wineries who ship to
their mailing lists still want to be on these wine lists.
I can understand why some of the big
wholesalers see it as a threat. If someday all wine were available
direct to anyone, at the click of a button on the Internet
bypassing the importers and wholesalers entirely then the whole system
would be threatened. But I dont see it going that far.
APJ: Actually, I dont either. I dont think direct distribution
is as efficient a channel for wine as a lot of people think it is. For
small producers of very high-end wines, yes. But for lower-priced stuff,
the shipping costs alone would kill you.
HS: Exactly. Once you get to a certain size, it becomes an inefficient
way to distribute your wines.
Part 9: Skurnik goes
national with Terry Theise. How?
APJ: Lets talk about how you guys are growing. You recently struck
an exclusive agreement to distribute Terry Theises selections all over
America. Personally, Im impressed, because I love what Terrys been
doing for German and Austrian wine and now Champagne.
But how did it come about? And how are you
handling it? Your customer relationships are mostly in New Jersey and New
York, right? And now youve got this national account...
HS: Heres how it happened. Weve been representing Terry locally
for the last 6 years or so. And weve been very successful in marketing
the Terry Theise name and his fabulous selections.
In fact, Id venture to say weve been way
more successful than the rest of the country.
APJ: What was your secret?
HS: Terry! Hes a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy in my books. And he
and Michael and I just hit it off from day one. Hes young, hes into
rock and roll like we are, hes loose, hes irreverent you read
his catalog and thats him.
So we saw a fabulous marketing opportunity
waiting to happen. As you implied earlier, German wines have been
unbearably tough for people to figure out. But we saw we could market
Terry Theise the man. And tell people to look for his name on the back
label. And that worked. We sold thousands and thousands of cases of his
wine in our local market alone.
APJ: Okay. But its a big move from local to national. What made
you guys and Terry think it could work?
HS: His previous national importer was a big, liquor-based outfit.
Milton Kronheim. Not really a fine wine company.
And they were just doing the paperwork. Terry
was pretty much his own one-man-show. He did the actual sales to retailers
around the country.
APJ: So he was doing all the legwork, anyway.
HS: Oh, yeah. He was writing all those catalogs, doing all the sales,
going around and pressing the flesh. Doing all the work. One guy.
And think about it. I mean you ask how
could we do it, but imagine one man doing it all. How could
he possibly take full advantage of his fantastic portfolio?
Over the years, we talked about this. We told
Terry, hey, we could bring a lot more to the party. If you align yourself
with some fine wine people, you can really take it to another level.
APJ: When did he finally say yes?
HS: It was last year that he decided to leave Kronheim and join us.
And we then had the daunting task of doing all
the registrations and documents all the things that had to be done to
sell in 50 states. It was really a daunting task to get things up and
But we went out and hired some great people.
Weve dedicated some people full time to the Terry Theise portfolio. And
we couldnt be happier with the way things are going.
Part 10: A Revolution
APJ: Whats new and exciting in the Terry Theise portfolio?
HS: Hes most famous for the German wines, of course.
But the Austrian wines are starting to find a
market, particularly in restaurants, because the wines are mainly dry, as
opposed to German wines, which tend to be sweet.
APJ: And the Champagnes?
HS: Its just explosive...
APJ: To coin a phrase! Sorry, go on...
HS: Well, Terry only got into the Champagnes two years ago. But
interest is already huge. You might say its because were heading
into the millennium, but I think theres more going on...
APJ: I think I first tasted his Champagnes two years ago. And I was
HS: The exciting thing about it is that were asking people to
recognize small growers. In a category thats dominated by big
You know, outfits like Moet-Hennessy-Louis
Vuitton are selling the grand marques. And theres an analogy here to
what Burgundy used to be.
APJ: I never thought about it that way, but youre right...
HS: Yeah, think about it. In the 1970s, Burgundy was dominated by
negociants. Drouhin. Bouchard. In the 60s and 70s, small growers
sold all their wines to the big negociants. That was their only market.
And its been the same in Champagne, up
until recently. You only sell to the big marques. Let them blend giant
vats of Champagne and make a very consistent product.
But now, in Burgundy, its small growers who
get all the great ratings. Its small growers that the collectors are
clamoring for. Theres a market for small, family-run operations, whose
wines reflect their particular site.
And why cant that happen to Champagne?
Certainly , in Terrys portfolio, each
Champagne is very different. Each reflects the terroir of its particular
region. And the character of that particular winemaker. And the varieties
of grapes grown in that particular vineyard.
Its exactly what we look for in all the
other wines we cover. And to top it all off, Terrys Champagnes are
being sold at lower prices than the grand marques. Thats pretty
rare these days...
APJ Gotta love that! But are they really better than the grand
HS: You could argue either way. But certainly, theyre more
distinctive and more reflective of their terroir. And finally, people are
really responding to it.
APJ Was there resistance at first?
HS: Two years ago, you couldnt talk to people about grower
Champagnes. People would ask us, "But how am I going to sell
And wed say, "Why is this category any
different from Puligny-Montrachet or Clos de la Roche? Youve got all
these different growers there. Youre happy with that. So why sell only
Moet and Bollinger?"
Weve really been pushing that and its
really exploded this year. The millennium hasnt hurt. But I think weve
really created a category here.
APJ: So where can our readers get these Champagnes?
HS: Theyre pretty widely available all over the country. Theres
big market for them in New York, Chicago. A huge market for them in both
Northern and Southern California.
APJ: And if my retailer doesnt carry them?
HS: Tell them to call our office. [NOTE: See the end of this interview
for how to inquire about Skurnik wines, and where to get them.]
APJ: Which ones do you like the best? I know thats like asking a
father what kid he likes the best...
HS: Well, yes, we appreciate the nuances of each. But Ill say the
portfolio mainly focuses on Blanc de Blanc producers.
You might want to try Pierre Gimmonet he
produces absolutely stunning wines and in fact he just came out with a
special release of older vintages. Back to 73.
APJ: Whats his village?
HS: Cuis. In the Blanc de Blanc area.
You might also try Larmandier-Bernier in
Vertus. Or Pierre Peters in Mesnil. Those are just three...
Part 11: Which
wine-growing areas offer the best value today?
APJ: Let me ask you now, where in the world are the values today?
HS: Certainly not California! The prices of California wines have just
In fact, as California prices rise, there are
so many European areas that look more and more like incredible values. And
some arent all that brand new.
In France, Id head south for red wine. In
the Southern Rhone, you can still get excellent estate-bottled Cotes du
Rhone for under fifteen bucks. We represent Clos du Mont Olivet, for
example. He makes Chateauneuf du Pape and he makes a Cotes du Rhone for
under $15 thats just fantastic.
Of course, Languedoc-Roussillon is getting a
lot of press lately. They still have a long way to go and you have to be
selective, but there are some producers making stunning wines. Domaine de
LAigueliere, for example.
Or white wines from the Loire. Sancerres,
Muscadets, Vouvrays. The prices havent gone up in years.
Or red again, if you like Cabernet Franc
youve got some really good Chinons and Bourgeuils from certain
APJ: Who in particular for the Loire reds?
HS: For Chinons, try Olga Raffault. Now, the Loire is a northerly
climate, so you dont have great vintages every year. But now you have
vintages like 1996 and 97 where the wines just got super-ripe and theyre
We also sell a lot of Sancerre Rouge from
Domaine Vacheron. He makes fabulous white and red both. But he actually
makes more red than he makes white. Its made from Pinot Noir and its
APJ: What about Alsace?
HS: I think its undervalued as a category. Okay, maybe not
Zind-Humbrecht, where the qualitys great but the prices are insane. But
we represent a winery called Paul Blanck...
APJ: Ive tasted his stuff. Really good...
HS: Terrifically crafted wines. And very well priced.
APJ: Good turkey wines, too.
HS: What do you like with Turkey, Gewurz?
APJ: Yes, I think it goes well.
HS: We sell thousands of cases of his wines. Gewurztraminer, Riesling,
Pinot Blanc. All very well priced. Under $20. And the Pinot Blanc is what,
APJ: Where else should I look for value?
HS: Italy. Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo or Barbaresco are not exactly
cheap, but theyre truly great wines for a lot less than some of these
cult Cabernets are going for.
And there are lesser-known regions throughout
Italy that give good value...
APJ: For example?
HS: In Tuscany, a region called Morellino di Scansano. The wines are 100%
Sangiovese. Like a baby Brunello for ten bucks a bottle.
Or Chianti! Chianti is completely undervalued
area. The Wine Spectator just came out with a big article about the 1997
Chianti vintage being great, which it is. And so is 95.
But Chianti Classico still suffers from the
image of the straw flask. And Chianti Classico from a great producer is a
great buy. From Montegrossi or Palazzino or Le Cinciole.
APJ: What about Spain?
HS: Spain is getting a lot of attention as the next great region for
value, and I cant disagree. Our portfolio isnt all that focused
right now on Spains best value areas. But that may change.
We do have a terrific portfolio of the top
Spanish producers in the established areas. Like Ribera del Duero and
Rioja. And nobody can touch our portfolio from Priorat.
APJ: What should I look for from Priorat?
HS: This isnt a value region, but Alvaro Palacios is leading the
region. Hes making incredible, Pomerol-like wines.
APJ: What varieties is he using?
HS: Mainly Garnacha, Cabernet and Merlot. Also look for Clos Mogador.
And Clos Martinet. And the new one thats getting a lot of press is Cims
Theres a revolution going on in Priorat. At
the turn of the century, it was a huge wine-growing region and
basically, all the vineyards were pulled out. And Palacios and others went
there and restored the region.
Three other producers were involved too.
Palacios got the most press because he rediscovered the old vineyard of LErmita.
But this wine goes for about $300 a bottle at auction. Not cheap!
APJ: What about Ribera del Duero?
HS: Well, Vega Sicilia of course. We represent that wine and its the
most legendary estate.
But Mauro is really coming along now. Its
owned and run by the previous winemaker of Vega Sicilia, Mariano Garcia.
He got fired from Vega Sicilia, because he was involved in this other
estate. So now hes full time on it.
Mauro is an estate to watch. The wines are
just incredible, especially the 1996. And the prices are nowhere near Vega
Part 12: Who are the
hot new California producers?
APJ: One last topic. California may not be value-land, but its
certainly hot! Whos new and exciting?
HS: One is Dashe cellars. Michael Dashe used to be one of the
winemakers at Ridge. His Zins are amazing.
APJ: Where is he operating?
HS: Currently hes using the same Alameda facility that Rosenblum
uses. Its near San Francisco.
APJ: What about Cab?
HS: Jones Family vineyard is the hot new Cabernet for now. And there a
couple of others. Emilios Terrace and Long Meadow Ranch...
Long Meadow Ranch. Is that the one up on Mt. St. Helena that Cathy
Corison is involved with?
HS: Yes, she makes the wine and helped design the winery too. And she
makes her own wines there as well. The owners name is Ted Hall. Stunning
APJ: Whats the story about Emilios
HS: Its owned by Phil Schlein. A New York executive originally. He
moved out many years ago and I believe he used to sell the fruit from this
He hired Joe Carafo, whos an excellent
winemaker. Joe makes wine for his own Cafaro label and Oakville Ranch as
well. And now hes making this. The first vintage for Emilios Terrace
is 1996 and its terrific.
APJ: Anyone else?
HS: Karl Lawrence.
APJ: Thanks. I think thats a wrap and Ill let you go now. Thank
you so much Harmon!
REFERENCE SECTION I:
"Where can I get all these great wines?"
If you want to have a bottle of Turley or Bryant tonight...
First of all, please understand that Michael Skurnik
strictly a wholesale operation and doesnt sell wines to individual
That being said, theres still a way to get your hearts desire.
Make reservations at one of the restaurants they supply, have a great meal
and order your wine off the list.
Sure, you may pay more this way than you would if you had the good
fortune to be at the top of a cult winery mailing list. But you may wind
up paying less than you would at an auction. And, of course, youll
have a memorable dining experience.
Following is a partial list of the restaurants supplied by the Skurniks.
Obviously, if youre after a specific wine with your meal, you should
verify ahead that its on the list. So you may want to speak with the
sommelier when making your ressies. Alternately, you can click
here to email Harmon
Skurnik directly. Tell him the wine youre looking for and hell
recommend restaurants that carry it.
Restaurants that carry Michael Skurnik Wines
21 Club 21 West 52nd Street New York NY 212-265-1900
Aureole 34 East 61st Street New York NY 212-319-1660
Ben Bensons 123 West 52nd Street New York NY 212-581-8888
Bernards Inn 27 Mine Brook Road Bernardsville NJ 908-766-0002
Bouley Bakery 120 West Broadway New York NY 212-964-2525
Box Tree 250 East 49th Street New York NY 212-758-8320
Cafe Boulud 20 East 76th Street New York NY 212-772-1800
Chanterelle 2 Harrison Street New York NY 212-966-6065
Crabtrees Kittle House 11 Kittle Road Chappaqua NY
Doris & Eds 348 Shore Drive Highlands NJ 732-872-1565
Four Seasons 99 East 52nd Street New York NY 212-754-9468
Frog & The Peach 29 Dennis Street New Brunswick NJ 732-846-3216
Gotham Bar & Grill 12 East 12th Street New York NY 212-620-8176
Gramercy Tavern 42 East 20th Street New York NY 212-477-1025
Harrys of Hanover Sq 1 Hanover Square New York NY 212-425-3412
Hudson River Club 90 West Street New York NY 212-786-1500
Jean Georges 1 Central Park West New York NY 212-299-3900
Le Bernardin 155 West 51st Street New York NY 212-489-1515
Le Cirque 455 Madison Avenue New York NY 212-303-7788
Lobster Club 24 East 80th Street New York NY 212-249-6500
March 405 East 58th Street New York NY 212-754-6272
Mercer Kitchen 147 Mercer Street New York NY 212-966-5454
Michaels 24 West 55th Street New York NY 212-767-0555
Mirabelle 404 North Country Road St. James NY 516-584-5999
Montrachet 239 West Broadway New York NY 212-219-2998
Oceana 55 East 54th Street New York NY 212-759-5941
Patroon 160 East 46th Street New York NY 212-883-7373
Picholine 35 West 64th Street New York NY 212-724-8585
Restaurant Daniel 60 East 65th Street New York NY 212-288-0033
Russian Tea Room 150 West 57th Street New York NY 212-265-0947
Ryland Inn Box 284, Route 22 West Whitehouse NJ 908-534-4011
Savoy 70 Prince Street New York NY 212-219-8570
Sparks Steak 210 East 46th Street New York NY 212-687-4855
Lespinasse 2 East 55th Street New York NY 212-753-4500
Stage Left 5 Livingston Avenue New Brunswick NJ 732-828-4444
Tribeca Grill 375 Greenwich Street New York NY 212-941-3910
Union Square Cafe 19-21 E. 16th Street New York NY 212-989-3510
Verbena 54 Irving Place New York NY 212-260-5454
Veritas 43 East 20th Street New York NY 212-353-3700
Xaviars 506 Piermont Avenue Piermont NY 914-359-7007
Zoe 90 Prince Street New York NY 212-966-0644
REFERENCE SECTION II:
Key wineries in the Skurnik Portfolio
CALIFORNIA, OREGON OR WASHINGTON:
Bryant, Araujo, Marcassin, Turley, Martinelli, Peter Michael, Etude,
Selene, Talbott, Bonny Doon, Barnett, Rabbit Ridge, Corison, Cafaro,
Staglin Family, von Strasser, Karl Lawrence, Jones Family, Mueller, Emilios
Terrace, Long Meadow Ranch, Edmunds St. John, Lava Cap, Green & Red,
Rockland, Paul Hobbs, Hendry, Domaine Serene, Cristom, Woodward Canyon.
Burgundy: Groffier, Anne Gros, Engel, Sauzet, Mongeard-Mugneret,
Ponsot, Gouges, Frederic Magnien, Maurice Ecard, Dauvissat, Boyer-Martenot.
Other French wines:
Beaucastel, Clos du Mt Olivet, Clape, Graillot, Blanck, Egly-Ouriet
(Champagne), Weinbach, Bourillons-Dorleans (Vouvray), Durdilly
(Beaujolais), Mas de Gourgonnier (Provence), LAiguilliere (Montpeyroux,
Languedoc), Peyre Rose
ITALY (Note that 98% of these are Marc de Grazia Selections):
Piedmont: Altare, Scavino, Sandrone, Clerico, Moccagatta, La
Spinetta, A. Rocca, Seghesio, Manzone, Corino
Brunello: Ciacci Piccolomini, Pertimali (Livio Sassetti), Siro
Pacenti, Mocali, Uccelliera, Gorelli, Enzo Tiezzi
Chianti: Palazzino, Montegrossi, San Giusto, Le Cinciole
Other Tuscan: Dei (Vino Nobile), Filomusi Guelfi (Montepulciano dAbruzzo),
I Botri (Morellino di Scansano)
Friuli: Vie di Romans, Polencic
Veneto: Gini (Soave)
Ribera del Duero: Vega Sicilia, Alion, Mauro, Hacienda Monasterio
Rioja: La Rioja Alta, Baron de Ona
Priorat: Alvaro Palacios, Cims de Porrera, Clos Mogador, Clos
Sherry: Emilio Lustau
Muller-Catoir, Lingenfelder, Selbach-Oster, Donnhoff, Willi Schaefer,
Merkelbach, Kurt Darting, JJ Christoffel
Nigl, Brundlmayer, Hirsch, Nikolaihof
TERRY THEISES PORTFOLIO OF ESTATE-BOTTLED GROWER CHAMPAGNE:
Gimmonet, Pierre Peters, Fleury, Margaine, Gaston Chiquet, Billiot,
Chartogne-Taillet, Larmandier-Bernier, Geoffroy.
Quinta do Vesuvio
For more information about Michael Skurnik fine wines, click
here to email Harmon Skurnik.
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