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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Tasting With: Jamie Kutch, Kutch Wines, Sonoma, California

Jamie Kutch doesn’t put the name of his winery on the door. In an industrial winemaking facility just outside of the Sonoma town square, Kutch is waiting for Pinot Noir grapes to arrive. Instead I walk through the door. And while he anxiously waits for fruit to be delivered on this 2013 harvest, we talk, sample his Pinot Noir, drink fresh pressed juice, and I ponder these distinctly different, hard-to-classify Pinots from Sonoma. Jamie believes in whole cluster pressing his fruit, gravity feeding it, and using one-ton stainless steel fermenters which enable him to “crush, and sub crush” different lots and vineyard blocks. Kutch picks his fruit earlier than most people, therefore his wines lack the traditional bright cherry and raspberry flavors and end up being lower in alcohol, but they retain a pragmatic acidity, something lacking in many red wines. "We pride ourselves in not being trained at Davis," he says half joking. Well, sure. The old joke is that if you want to learn how to clean and maintain wine equipment, go to Davis. If you want to learn winemaking, go somewhere else.

At a mere 2,500 cases he firmly desires to produce “true coastal Pinot from Sonoma,” and Kutch sincerely believes that the cooler and rougher coastal vineyards are where the future of Pinot Noir lay, at least from Sonoma. Some might argue that Russian River Valley is ground central for Pinot, and many of the coastal offerings don’t really show all that well: they lean towards simpler fruit. But sitting down with Kutch and sampling wines in bottle, and wines in barrel, the animal that is his coastal Pinot Noir is a different animal altogether, a near mythical beast that lumbers through the backwoods, both surprising and intriguing you with it’s exclusive characteristics. His Pinot Noirs are not fine-tuned elegant expressions of Pinot. That’s not a criticism. They are burly, but balanced, aggressive but informal, and like his 2011 McDougall (at 13.6% alcohol, $59) all about rich fruit; intense and viscous, but effortless - almost like the best red fruit compote you’ve ever had. “I want my wines to age,” he tells me, a steely-eyed determination resonating from his face. He’s not doing this for show, and certainly his wines are not in the mainstream. They are compelling. They are not safe. They defy convention. KUTCH WINES

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