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
Spains 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, well 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 theyre
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.
Youll 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 youre
You may want to read this interview in
several sittings, so Ive 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
1. Is autumn 99 the craziest wine-buying season ever?
2. What exactly do you guys do,
3. How to pick out good wine even when
you dont know squat
4. Whats so great about small
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
10. The new revolution in Champagne
11. Where are the values in wine
12. Who are the hot new California
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 havent been traveling all that much in the last couple
of months, because of the pre-millennial craze. Clearly this is the
busiest season weve had. Ever.
Friends who arent in the business have been asking me, "Whats
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 its millennium hype, no question about it. But theres
also the economy. And real interest in Champagne. Whatever, theres a
APJ: Are you seeing this both from retail stores and restaurants?
HS: Yes, and the restaurants have never been more busy. The economys
booming, Wall Streets booming. If youve 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. Its still got a long way to go in
this country, but...
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