Mitch Kysar doesn’t just admire his collection—he savors every single sip.
Have never met another person with more passion about one thing in life than Mitch Kysar has for Burgundy. Kysar is not only a collector—his passion goes far beyond his own collection. He is the “benign dictator” of a local collection of Burgundy enthusiasts known only as “That’s Burgundy” and travels to Burgundy annually. His passion borders on fanaticism and is infectious to anyone who meets him.
How does one become infected so thoroughly? “I began attending wine tastings in the early ’80s, and soon we had a group we called Wine Kula on Maui,” says Kysar. But at one dinner at David Paul’s Diamond Head Grill in the mid ’90s, [a friend] Gerry Wong was walking around the private dining room pouring a 1962 Vogue Musigny, and I watched as each guy— individually, without hearing the others—tasted it and replied, ‘THAT’S Burgundy!’ And that moment clarified the quest for me. You don’t always find the magic, but when you do, it’s magic!” Th at magic hails from a small swath of earth in Burgundy, France, known as the Cote d’Or. Th is slope of earth originally tilled by the
Cistercian monks from the 12th century has evolved into a patchwork of vineyards today, each having being classified according to the merit of their wine for centuries. At the very top of the pyramid are the Grand Crus. Only 32 vineyards have been given this status among the more than 400 villages within Burgundy. What makes Burgundy so special to Kysar?
“Burgundy is the ultimate luxury wine product,” he says. “By way of comparison, a bottle of 2005 Château Lafite currently sells retail for around $1,500; a 2005 Château Petrus for $4,000 to $5,000—that’s a pretty hefty price for a bottle of top Bordeaux. 2005 Screaming Eagle sells retail around $2,000. A bottle of Romanée-Conti from a great vintage like 2005 is for sale at retail for as much as $20,000, although it can be found at auction for as little as $12,000—a bargain. Château Lafite produces somewhere around 20,000 cases of wine a year. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti might produce 800 cases.”
And this is the level of wine that Kysar and his group feast upon on a regular basis. Looking at the menus from dinners gone by, the names of the wines are what dreams are made of. Some of Kysar’s favorites include “The 1978 DRCs: Romanée-Conti, La Tache, Richebourg, which we syndicated for a dinner at Mariposa,” Kysar reveals. “We shared a 1971 La Tache with the Grand Degustation menu at [Chef] Mavro [in 2001], along with 1993 and 2003, and a 1980 Henri Jayer Echezeaux showed up …”
This rarity factor often drives collectors, but there is more to Burgundy. “Life is greatly enriched by the pleasures of the table: good friends and conversation, fine wine and food prepared with special attention. The right match of wine with a food course heightens the enjoyment of both. After enjoying the learning process—discovery, really—of wines of the world and California, the supreme elegance and luxury of the wines of Burgundy captured my attention,” Kysar shares. “The more you learn about the Burgundy region, producers, traditions, and history, the more there is to enjoy. Spending a week tasting the current vintage from barrel in the cellars with a dozen vignerons—there’s nothing like it.”
And he does this frequently. He has been visiting Burgundy since 1998, taking the time to visit with some of its stars: Domaines Leroy, Romanée-Conti, Dujac, Ponsot, Roumier,
Mugnier, Lafon, Roulot, Leflaive, Sauzet and so many more. And Kysar is a true hedonist. He not only drinks the best, he eats amazing food all the while. He dines at Michelin-starred restaurants so frequently his nickname among his closest wine friends is “Mitchelin.”
And Kysar is quick to add that it is a collective effort that makes That’s Burgundy so special. “When we decided to ‘officially’ be a group, we had the quintessential Hawai`i combination: two Filipinos, two Chinese, two Japanese, two haole. That was 1999. Now the club is quite diverse in every way, the common thread being appreciation of the wines of Burgundy,” he says.
Each of the members have their own collection, some larger than others, all larger than most. “We gather for the opportunity to create wine and dining experiences that are not possible without the synergy of a group; a variety of talents. It’s possible to compare six wines at home, with dinner, but much more enjoyable to do so with a group of friends who can share their thoughts about the wines, their differences, their attributes, etc., and let the chef aspire to create food as wonderful as the wines, and the group to bring wines as magnificent as the food … It’s a perfect storm.”
Kysar also refers to the “collective memory” of the group. Having had so many wines, each person gleans more information from the next and shared memories become an encyclopedia of knowledge within That’s Burgundy. However, as far as Burgundy groups go, That’s Burgundy is merely a youth. The granddaddy of all Burgundy clubs in the world is the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, formed at the Clos de Vougeot in 1934. With about 7,000 members in chapters throughout the world, there is only one active member of the Clos de Vougeot chapter in Hawai`i: Mitch Kysar. The Chapitres held in the cellar at the Clos de Vougeot are six-hour dinners of multiple courses paired with wine, with raucous and bawdy humor and music for 600 guests from around the world. You may have even seen Kysar at one of these dinners, as he was filmed at the event in the movie A Year in Burgundy. Kysar also travels to “La Paulée,” an event that annually alternates between New York City and San Francisco. It is the largest gathering of Burgundy enthusiasts in the U.S. Four hiundred to 500 people spend a weekend enjoying rare vintages of Burgundy and interacting with some 40 producers—a small number of serious aficionados for the whole country, to be sure. Serious is the word as tickets to dinner will cost anywhere from $1500 to $3000 depending on the wines featured.
I have shared innumerable great wines and meals with Mitch and consider him first a friend, but also a mentor and VIP (very inspiring person). His passion for Burgundy still inspires me and everyone around him. His generosity is unbound and his thrill of the chase and desire to find the magic will never be quenched. And that is the mark of a true collector.