Turning over a bottle to find the importer can be a great way to explore new varietals and producers, or make a quick call on what to bring home when you’re riddled with indecision at the bottle shop. In this interview series, we’ll be chatting with importers across the country who have different philosophies, markets, and preferences when it comes to the kinds of wines they welcome into their portfolios. We hope that getting to know them leads you to a few new favorites!
Despite being one of the most recognizable names in the importing business, Skurnik Wines & Spirits got its start by working with just a few boutique California wineries. Founded by brothers Michael and Harmon Skurnik in 1987, the New York City-based company remains a family affair to date; in fact, both founders still taste and approve every item that makes it into the portfolio, ensuring that each is qualified to bear the Skurnik logo on the back.
With a portfolio of over 500 wineries and distillers that spans from absinthe to Amarone, it’s unsurprisingly challenging to pin down what makes a Skurnik bottle. We talked with second-generation family member and vice president David Skurnik, who has been working at the company since 2009, about the future of the business and what to expect from the Skurnik label.
What is your importing philosophy?
We believe in representing producers who make wines, spirits, and sake that are the best and most truthful expressions of their identity as a maker. Our portfolio consists of volume and craft, value and luxury, crowd-pleasing and quirky. Quality always comes first here, and we believe balance in farming, production, and strategy is the key to quality.
What kinds of wines and winemakers excite you, and why?
We are excited about wines that reflect a sense of place. We represent a broad selection of wines so that any consumer can find a great bottle that fits their occasion or style, and we believe that the most caring grape growers make the best wines. The winemakers that excite us are consistent and reliable, making delicious wines year after year that we know we can always count on.
How does a winery end up in the Skurnik portfolio?
Tasting always comes first. It is our goal to ensure that every product that sports the Skurnik logo is as close to a guarantee of quality as possible. To that end, Skurnik family members personally taste and approve every producer that joins our portfolio. Over 30 years of experience has shown that we are confident in our ability to select good fits for our book. If we like the wines, then we dig into the details. We only take on a brand if we are confident that it will succeed.
Who is your target drinker, and how has that target evolved?
We have a comprehensive portfolio, so I don’t know that we have a specific target drinker as a company. For example, The Pinot Project, Vigneti del Sole, and Mount Riley appeal to those looking for wines that overdeliver for the price. In terms of the evolution of wine drinkers, a good example is our grower Champagne portfolio, as people learn more about Champagne and expand their minds beyond the name brands and also come around to the idea that Champagne is wine for all occasions. In recent years, we have expanded our selection of spirits, canned wine, and other RTDs as demand for those continues to rise. For those who are intrigued by the natural wine movement, we have a nice collection of minimalist and sustainable wines, which are balanced and delicious for anyone to enjoy.
We understand that there is a whole universe of wine and spirit drinkers out there and however they’ve come to discover and enjoy these beverages, we want them to know that we are here to help them find their next great bottle.
What’s been the biggest surprise for you as an importer?
The adaptation and growth of alternative vessels for wine. From wine on tap to cans and a resurgence of quality bag-in-box options, wine is becoming accessible to more people in ways that help the environment. We represent the Gotham Project in New York, where they have been a trailblazer for wine on tap, using all stainless steel kegs, which saves a ton of waste every year.
For someone who’s trying to understand the role an importer plays in the wine business, how would you best explain what you do?
Our role is to find quality wine, spirits, and sake around the world and bring it to the consumer’s doorstep while also providing information and education about these great producers. There is a lot of wine out there, and we taste many, many bottles to narrow down and find what we believe should make the cut for our portfolio. Once we make those selections, we coordinate and collaborate with our partners to get it here, and through important relationships with our valued retail and restaurant customers, into your glass.
5 Wines to Try From Skurnik Wines & Spirits
Raúl Pérez in Galicia, Spain is one of the world’s most visionary winemakers. He makes delicious, balanced, terroir-driven wines from an up-and-coming wine region and also has his fingerprints in Rias Baixas and Ribeira Sacra. This wine is a great value as well, just over $20 per bottle on a retail shelf, and can be a door opener to a grape called Mencia for anyone who enjoys a great Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir.
Johannes Selbach has been a part of our portfolio for decades and his wines are a great example of the versatility of German Riesling. We are very proud of our portfolio of German wines, which run the spectrum from dry to sweet and can play for most any occasion. I chose this cuvée because I know the names of German Riesling bottles can be intimidating, but let’s break it down a little bit. This Riesling comes from the village of Zelting and the vineyard is Schlossberg. This is a delicious wine with bright acidity and just enough sweetness to balance it all out.
The wines of Andrea and Chris Mullineux in the Swartland region of South Africa show the possibilities of this part of the world, which we are proud to represent. The Syrah echoes the great vineyards of the Northern Rhone, with its chewy, spicy fruit profile.
Cédric Moussé is another great winemaker who is doing wondrous things in Champagne. This wine is an homage to his great-grandfather, who started the winery in the late 1800s. Their focus is on the third famous grape of Champagne, Pinot Meunier, as well as their farming. Cédric practices organic viticulture, using cover crops, zero pesticides, and minimal doses of heavy metals like copper. The wines have a strawberry essence to them which is extremely pleasant for any occasion.
The main goal of The Pinot Project is to deliver a big bang for your buck. It’s balanced, drinkable, and delicious with bright red fruit, good acidity, and fine tannins. We source The Pinot Project from winemakers that we’ve known for many years, and taste the final blend from each vintage before bottling. This is a great bottle for under $15 retail and now comes in cans as well. A wine for the palate, the pocket, and the people.