Oregon Wine Press Blog

Clinching Lynch

David Lynch

OWP scores Q&A with famous wine expert, writer, restaurateur

Sommelier and author David Lynch has added a new title to his ever-expanding résumé: restaurateur. St. Vincent is his first venture, and while the restaurant and shop will feature great wines from all over the world, Italy remains his first love. His award-winning book, “Vino Italiano” (Clarkson-Potter; 2002) remains the reference of choice for Italian wine aficionados. Lynch is also the contributing wine editor at Bon Appétit, where his “Wine Insider” column appears regularly.

Lynch, most recently, the wine director of San Francisco’s Michelin-starred Quince and its more casual sibling, Cotogna, was featured on the cover of San Francisco Magazine in August 2011 as the magazine’s “Wine Director of the Year.”

Prior to relocating to California in 2009, Lynch was the longtime wine director, then general manager, of New York’s famed Babbo Ristorante — the flagship restaurant of Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich’s B&B Hospitality Group. During his tenure, he expanded Babbo’s wine program into one of the nation’s best, winning a 2004 James Beard Restaurant Award for Outstanding Wine Service.

It was Lynch’s collaboration with Bastianich on “Vino Italiano” that led to his joining the team at Babbo; previously he had been a magazine writer and a senior editor at Wine & Spirits magazine, where he won a James Beard Journalism Award for his writing.

Having remained an active journalist throughout his restaurant career, Lynch’s writing has appeared not only in Bon Appétit, but also GQ, Food & Wine and many other publications. His second book with Bastianich, “Vino Italiano Buying Guide,” was revised and re-released in 2008, the same year he released the satirical “Wine Snob’s Dictionary” — co-authored with Vanity Fair scribe David Kamp and published by Broadway Books.

David and his wife, Josie Peltz, have a six-year-old son, Ellis. They live in San Anselmo, Calif.

OWP: How did you first become interested in wine?

DL: I went to college with Joe Bastianich [whose mom is Lidia Bastianich of PBS fame], and I think it was junior year when we went to his parents’ restaurant, Felidia, in NYC. We were a bunch of shaggy-haired punks in one of the great fine-dining restaurants of its era. I definitely had an inkling for the finer things before then, but that dinner was revelatory. I started writing for food publications not too long after college and started getting into wine. Coming out of college, I wanted to be a writer. I never would have imagined then that I would make wine a career, much as I was enjoying it.

OWP: As the master of ceremonies for this year’s IPNC, you must appreciate Pinot Noir. In your opinion, do you like Oregon’s version compared to California’s?

DL: I think Oregon Pinots bring out the savory side of the grape more effectively than their California counterparts. The smoke, the earth, the leather. California is still more about exuberant fruit, which is not a criticism. In general, I’m encountering more and more American Pinots that capture the most elusive feature of the grape: the energy. There’s less flab, more nerve, whether you’re talking Oregon or California.

OWP: Some Oregon wineries make Italian-style wines. Have you tried any from the Beaver State? If so, what is your general impression?

DL: Again, I’ll generalize here and use the blanket “American” tag: I think U.S. producers are way more successful at white Italian varieties (Vermentino is at the top of my list) than red. But there’s probably an Oregon-Italian one out there that will blow my mind. I haven’t tasted many. Up until now, and I’ll be happy to be proved wrong, the two greatest Italian reds — Nebbiolo and Sangiovese — have yet to find their voice in America.

OWP: How do wine attitudes (price, styles) differ on the East Coast compared to the West?

DL: West Coasters are cheaper. But also more experimental, and more curious.

OWP: What has owning a restaurant taught you about wine?

DL: Owning a restaurant — i.e. having to cover a payroll every two weeks — exposes you to the un-romantic side of wine. It’s sacrilege in our current Instagram-y wine environment to think of wine as a “commodity,” but it is. I can’t carry the amount of inventory I’d like to — and we’re a wine destination, mind you — because it can really kill cash flow. Every wine purchase has to count.

The parallel is in the kitchen: My chef might spend a minute admiring the gorgeous halibut he just received, but what’s going to take over almost immediately is the need to get as many portions out of that fish as possible. No waste! The analog on the wine side is that I need to treat wine as a foodstuff — exalt it, yes, but don’t forget it is a food product that can’t just sit around gathering dust. It has to be utilized, with minimal waste.

OWP: If you could own a winery anywhere in the world, where would it be? Which varietal(s) would you champion? What would you call the winery?

DL: It would be in Piedmont, Italy, in the Barolo zone, ideally in the commune of La Morra. I’d do a Barbera and a Barolo, and I’d name it for the vineyard site or some physical feature of the place. We’d spend every summer there as a family. It would never make a cent, and I wouldn’t care.

More realistically, I fantasize about selling my house in Marin and buying a small farmstead in the Sierra Foothills. Hank Beckmeyer of La Clarine Farm could tell me what to do, and I’d make a little wine and have a crazy garden and still be able to get down to SF to check in on my one-restaurant empire. That could actually happen.

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