Stock market got you down? Looking for a career alternative? That was native New Yorker Jamie Kutch's reality in 2005 when he packed it all in for a chance to make wine in Sonoma County, California.
A former NASDAQ trader for Merrill Lynch, Kutch got laid off in May of 2004. Out of work, he began to contemplate what he wanted out of life and, like so many before him, moved west with dreams of California sunshine and success... in the wine industry. A self-professed "wine geek," Kutch was perusing chat rooms when he sent Michael Browne -- a California Pinot rockstar -- a note of praise. Simply stated, it said: "You're living my dream." Once intent on a career in architecture, Kutch's note resonated for Browne, and he offered to mentor Kutch.
On March 9th, 2005, Kutch decided to announce his decision to heed the call of the grape on Robert Parker's chat board. Provocative, huh? Even he couldn't have predicted the response. More than 1,000 people weighed in on his choice and the buzz on Kutch Wines began to swell. After convincing his long-time girlfriend to come along for the ride, Kutch arrived in San Francisco sans vineyard, or a formal wine education. Requests for future wine started hitting immediately and the best part was he had not yet released a single bottle!
2005 wound up being a big year for Kutch. It not only marked a radical change of life; it also marked Kutch's first vintage, six barrels (a mere 151 cases) of Russian River Pinot Noir that was called "wonderful" by Wine Spectator and garnered a score of 93. Not bad for a Wall Street rookie producing his first vintage.
Five years later, Kutch is a full-time wine maker. This harvest, I had the pleasure of seeing him in action at Robert Rex's Deerfield Ranch winery where he works ungodly hours lovingly tending to his Pinot Noirs. Using a thief, he pulled cask samples of his wine. He explained how he would mix barrels of wine from different vineyards to produce Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley blends. He went on to share wines from vineyards like Falstaff, Savoy, and McDougall which would stand on their own and be bottled to become vineyard designates. Kutch's pride was evident. One of many fish in a big pond, he's making a solid name for himself and he knows it. He's giddy about "juice," as he calls it, carrying rare bottles in a refrigerated sack to dinners all over the Bay Area. He hangs with folks like Rajat Parr, one of the top sommeliers in the country, and Jordan Mackay, author and journalist for the New York Times and others. He's accessible and usually shows up to dinner in the jeans and t-shirt he's been wearing to stomp bins of pinot back in Glen Ellen.
"I'm an ex-New Yorker -- I'm pushy, and I don't care what people think," Kutch says. And he shouldn't, for his success has been earned. Kutch Wines has a waitlist for this year's 2009 vintage, even though he's producing 2,100 cases. Kutch Wines are only available off the mailing list or at restaurants such as 11 Madison Park, Gary Danko, French Laundry, and Michael Mina. Not bad for a newbie. In the next few years, Kutch hopes to secure his own vineyard and release more than just Pinot. The subject of a recently completed documentary by filmmaker Stefan Sargent titled Pinot: Escape from Wall Street, Kutch seems to have more success headed his way. As for Parker? Well, even he's impressed.
Oh, and lest we forget the woman behind the man. That very gal that jumped in to stomp grapes ala Lucille Ball when Kutch was hoping for a miracle is now is his wife (and biggest fan). Looks like quitting the market just might be the ticket after all.
First-Time Insider's Tip:
Join the mailing list and order the McDougall Ranch Vineyard ($48).