Every wine has a story behind it. Some are better than others. Every wine has a dream behind it. Some are bigger than others.
While some people are content to drink wine their entire lives, and never once feel the urge to make it, there are those wine lovers who yearn for something more than they get out of even the best bottles. This is the story of a guy whose enthusiasm for wine got the best of him, and whose passion for his dreams got under the skin of some people who couldn’t help but show him how to turn those dreams into reality.
I had to dig for a while, but eventually I found it. A post made on the eRobertParker bulletin boards almost exactly four years ago, September 3, 2005, by a young investment banker named Jamie Kutch, entitled: “My entire life is changed – I am moving from NYC to California to make Pinot Noir.”
That’s the power of this web site. I would have never thought it was possible 2 years ago. I was out of work, surfing the board when I stumbled upon Andrew Vingiello who worked on Wall Street like me but on the West Coast. I shot him an email and he quickly replied and mentioned how he worked on Wall Street by day and was mentoring under Brian Loring and making his first batch of Pinot Noir by night. We hit it off immediately. I followed his progress on the board and once his wine was ready to sample, Andrew sent me a barrel sample to NYC along with one of Brian Loring’s wines. WOW – my eyes lit up… I thought, these guys are so cool to be sending me samples of their wine.
About a week later our local New Yorker tasting group planned on having a California Pinot Noir tasting. I thought what a better time to bring the bottle of Andrew’s wine and the bottle of Brian’ s wine. Well, both wines ROCKED and we all agreed that they were delicious California Pinot’s. Andrew was thrilled by the news. All this time while following Andrew’s progress I kept thinking to myself, if Andrew is doing this, why can’t I? He is living my dream!!! I continued to send Private Messages to Andrew and Brian over the coming year and they both kept saying, “Jamie – you should come out at harvest, get your hands dirty, you would love it.” Brian offered to help me any way he could as he had a rolodex of relationships.
The desire was strong but how could I leave my family, friends and what would my girlfriend of 8 years say? I never really thought it was even remotely possible and never even talked to my girlfriend about it. That was until I met Michael Browne.
Some months after the barrel sample, I landed a job with a large investment Bank. It was such a drag. The business is so cut throat. Everyone is out for numero uno. The board was my outlet, my escape to my dream. I would post by day and offline by night and it became addictive. My love and passion for wine was growing inside me. One afternoon I was emailing with fellow board member Steve Elzer. We were working on trading some wine. He offered up a few bottles of Kosta Browne Kanzler Vineyard to me. He mentioned that the wine was KILLER!! I quickly did a search on the Board , CellarTracker, and Wine-Searcher looking for more information. What I found were some MONSTER notes from palates I respected including Paul Galli (who said it was one of his favorite wines of the year), Zen Zinns, Steve Rigisich (who picked it as his #2 favorite Pinot in 2004), Gregg Greenbaum, Steffen Pelz, Paul Homchick, & Ray DeAngelo all who had great things to say. I immediately ordered a few bottles along with my local Pinot drinking friend Kris Green. A few days later when I opened the bottles I was BLOWN AWAY!!!
I couldn’t wait to post my tasting note . I awarded the wine with 95 points and called it the best California Pinot I had ever tasted. Later that day, I went so far as to calling Dan Kosta on his cell phone, (which was listed on their web site) to praise him and thank him for making such a KILLER wine. He was SUPER flattered and appreciative.
About one week later, I saw on the board that Kosta Browne was releasing one of their blended wines called 4 barrels. It was very small in allocation and for a List of Designates only. I knew I needed some of that wine. I wrote a long email to Michael Browne asking if he could spare just 1 single bottle for me. That same day he wrote me back saying he could accommodate me and that it would come from his own private stash as it was so small and all allocated already!!! I was thrilled. These Pinot guys are the greatest I thought once again. I wrote him thanking him and mentioned how envious I was that he was living my dream. He wrote back almost a two page email and this is what part of it said:
“My advice is GO FOR YOUR DREAMS if it is at all possible, otherwise you might regret it for the rest of your life. A man once told me “the biggest regrets in life are not things that you did but things that you did not do”. I think he was a wise man.” As for living the dream, it is pretty cool to work with something that you are passionate about. Lots of hard work involved but it is well worth it. My advice if you think this is your calling: drop everything you are doing and sacrifice a few years to get where you want to be. That is what I did and it is going in a very good direction. Another good example is Andrew at A.P. Vin. He went for it and now it is taking him for a ride”.
At the end of the email, Michael said he would help me make my dream a reality if I wanted it. He said he would mentor me in my goal of making 125 cases of wine under my very own label. My dream was about to become reality.
That was about 2 weeks ago. The first step was making sure my girlfriend would join me on this journey. When she agreed, I quit my job in NYC and I am now looking to move out to San Francisco in the coming months. It’s a dream come true and Michael Browne, Brian Loring, and Andrew Vingiello are the ones who are making it all possible. Thanks guys and thanks to this board for driving my passion and making my dream come true. Without the board, I would have never been given this chance.
Keep an eye out for 05 Kutch Pinot Noir in 2 years.
If you ever meet Jamie Kutch, you’ll understand where that “yeoww baby” comes from. The guy is fired up about everything. But then again he has reason to be. He is finally living his dream, and by my measure, pretty darn well.
Two months after he wrote that post on the bulletin board and got 195 encouraging responses, he had 400 people signed up on the mailing list for his first wine, and he was working the 2005 harvest with the guys at Kosta Browne and having that “first day of the rest of your life” kind of moment.
His first wine was sold out before it even got in the bottle, and Jamie hasn’t looked back. Those first 150 cases of Russian River Pinot Noir were essentially a Kosta Browne wine made with Jamie’s effort. That was the year Kosta Browne got anointed by the Wine Spectator, and Michael Browne suddenly got quite busy. So for the 2006 harvest, Jamie was on his own to make his wine the way he wanted.
And the kind of wine he wanted to make had already started to change. In 2006 Jamie began to search for a style that better matched his palate, and over the past few years he has slowly been transforming his wines into something new, something that better resembles Burgundy than California. He’s set to make about 1800 cases of wine in 2009, and his goal is to have every single wine be “in the low 13% alcohol range.” He has also become entirely focused on winemaking based on viticulture, and has leased a vineyard so he can farm it entirely to his own specifications. He’s dropping a lot of fruit, forgoing any irrigation, and harvesting early. He’s fermenting with whole clusters, extracting color and tannin, and generally trying to make wines that are the opposite of much California Pinot Noir.
My notes below are for his 2007 vintage, which are his current releases, and they provide a window into this evolution as a one man winemaking operation. Jamie does nearly everything himself, from hauling the grapes to crush to punchdown to racking. He’s a proponent of native yeast fermentations, never fines or filters, and has taken to aging his wines on the lees for many months. The wines are made at Deerfield Ranch in Kenwood, where Michael Browne was the winemaker for several years as Kosta Browne got started.
It’s been a great pleasure to watch Jamie’s dream come true, and an even greater pleasure to see that in addition to unmistakable passion, they guy has talent, and a vision to make wines of a distinctive style. I can’t wait to taste them.
Full disclosure: I received these wines as press samples.
2007 Kutch Wines Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of dried cherries and cranberry compote. In the mouth it is quite silky, with flavors of cherry, plum, and a hint of farmyard earthiness that lingers at the edges of perception. Score: between 8.5 and 9. $39
2007 Kutch Wines “Kanzler Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
Medium ruby in the glass with a tinge of purple hue, this wine smells of quince paste, raspberry jam, and cranberry juice. In the mouth it is lithe and smooth with delicate raspberry and cherry flavors, and a nice acid balance that lingers through a nice finish. Score: around 9. $48
2007 Kutch Wines “MacDougall Ranch” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine has a bright notes of cranberry and raspberry aromas. In the mouth it is tart and bright with juicy flavors of raspberry, redcurrant, and dried cherries that linger in an impressive finish. Nicely balanced, and opens wonderfully with time. Great aging potential. Score: around 9. $48
WHERE TO BUY?
These wines, in total about 500 cases for the 2007 vintage, are sold only to Jamie’s mailing list, which is full and has a waiting list of some length. But these are the times to get on winery mailing lists, so I encourage you to sign up if you’re interested, and keep an eye out for these wines.