TNs: Jamie Kutch Visits The OC For Dinner

JAMIE KUTCH VISITS THE OC FOR DINNER - Luciana’s In Dana Point (South OC) (3/15/2014)

Was thrilled to finally arrange a dinner with Jamie, a winemaker who I had been unsuccessful visiting in the past due to schedules that would not jive. However, this time with some ahead planning, we were able to get Jamie down from the Bay Area, then put a handful of Berserkers and their wives around the table and taste Jamie’s wines.

Jamie and I had talked about how to structure the dinner, the best way to showcase the wines in accomplishing some insightful ‘compare and contrast’. To do that, Jamie elected to flight the wines blind, first with 2013 composite barrel samples, then arrayed by vintage using 2010, 2011 and 2012 to match the food. Within the first several flights, we simply compared and contrasted the McDougall Ranch and Falstaff sites, which are the two current vintage designated pinots that he is making. After those flights, we ended with a larger flight of Sonoma Coast, again 2010-2013. This was the largest flight, the ending flight, and so it was a way to see the assembled, non-designated plots in action (which I believe are Campbell Ranch and Sonoma Stage vineyards).

Where I land on these wines and on Jamie’s style is a clear link to my own palate and preferences. Specifically the use of whole cluster and the spicy, complex notes these add. Then, the acidity and red fruit components of pinot noir, both aspects of what I find in all of Jamie’s wines, some more/some less, based on which bottling is in focus. Oak? Low oak and as Jamie is starting to experiment, quite low on oak. And finally, low alcohols, which is a bit of a lightning rod of discussion in some circles. I’m 48 now, my body is more sensitive to alcohol and more broadly, I don’t enjoy the wines of higher glycerine and dark fruit as I did several years ago. In my view, Jamie has figured out a way through his pick decision and winemaking style to put all of these core elements into the bottle, which squarely aligns with the wines I now buy and enjoy.

My notes below will attest to this alignment and once again, I have latched onto a new Kutch wine, the 2012 Falstaff, akin to the 2010 McDougall from last year. Both of these wines are of high caliber and class, what for me represents the best of what CA pinot noir can and is doing. I’m listing the 2012 Falstaff on my WOTY list now, for me it’s that good.

As to the food, you’ll find the basics below. We did the dinner in the wine room at Luciana’s in Dana Point, our first dinner here so far and they did a terrific job. The service was focused and attentive, the food was well-flighted and timed. If anything, the portions were too large so we’ll ask them next time to pull back on these so I don’t have to be rolled out on a dolly to the car!

To all who joined us last night, I hope you’ll add some notes below. To Jamie, thanks for coming down and sharing your craft, really enjoyed the wines and validating how these fit into my profile of pinot noir.
Bubbly with Arugula Salad

  • 1996 Pol Roger Champagne Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Brut - France, Champagne
    Poured from mag. This was beautifully balanced champagne. Green apple, some creaminess in the finish. Terrific acidity, with a drying, leesy finish with some mineral. I wish I could drink this kind of bubbly regularly.

2013 McDougall and Falstaff barrel sample composites with Antipasti

  • 2013 Kutch Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Note–barrel sample composite. Poured blind next to the same vintage of barrel sample Falstaff. Rose petal nose, black raspberry, burly with lots of depth, spicy and good acidity. Shows the depth and grip of what young McDougall does. We won’t see this wine finally blended and released until latter 2015 but this is an early note to form some perspective.l
  • 2013 Kutch Pinot Noir Falstaff Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Note–barrel sample composite. FWIW, the alcohol on this wine is just a touch under11.8%, per the testing Jamie had done on the wine. And this kind of wine makes it hard to advance an argument that wine cannot be expressive, beautiful at this kind of alc %. Crushed rock aromatic and cracked spice, likely what the stems are helping to provide. Delicate cherry, red fruits and red apple. Not sure of the release date on this wine but I would guess, based on how it showed against the 2013 McDougall barrel sample that is slated for later 2015, this one could go sooner. Beautiful, and to steal Jim Dietz’s comment about this wine (who was seated across from me), this wine could be bottled and released now, a credit to how well made and composed it already shows.

2011 McDougall and Falstaff with Veal Ravioli

  • 2011 Kutch Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Tasted blind. Black cherry, black raspberry, red apple, tight and spicy. Loads of acid and stuffing and based on my notes, this will need more time or big aeration. I have 4 of these in my cellar and based on what I am now learning to appreciate about the McDougall plot, these will live a long time.
  • 2011 Kutch Pinot Noir Falstaff Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Tasted blind. There is a distinct fresh berry character to this wine’s aromatic and palate. A mix of blackberry and raspberry, fresh picked, framed by a good core of acid. Reminds me a lot of an organic 4 red fruits jam I buy locally–its bright red, purity of flavor, just fruit. This seemed to be drinking pretty well now, as opposed to the 2011 McDougall that is pretty coiled up. These two wines side by side show how terroir really comes through based on vineyard location. Drink window? As I said, now seems fine but there is enough acid here to not rush. Given the small amount of this wine made in 2011, I have just one bottle so I’ll drink it over the next few years.

Intermezzo of Mixed Berry Sorbet

2010 McDougall and Falstaff with Grilled Salmon

  • 2010 Kutch Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    This was my CA pinot of the year in 2013. When we poured this last night, it was blind but I knew it was one of two wines. Yet, the wine’s quality and pedigree was easy for me to spot and by now, this wine has reached a special place for me as it shows with class each time I have it. Such great balance with a spicy, hard cherry candy quality. Simply pure, dynamite.
  • 2010 Kutch Pinot Noir Falstaff Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Tasted blind. It’s hard to have a fair fight when I tasted next to this wine the other Kutch 2010, the McDougall. That wine I hold in such high regard and see it as one of the best pinot noirs I have drank in some time. So to measure this Falstaff against that wine, it’s a little skewed. Here there is the same fresh berry note that I found in the 2011 Falstaff, yet the overall tone of the fruit here in this 2010 comes off one dimnesional to me, lighter bodied. The acidity is nice, present in all of Jamie’s wines over the entire evening, but this Falstaff just seems a little riper and less complex for me.

2012 McDougall and Falstaff with Chicken Marsala

  • 2012 Kutch Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Tasted blind, next to the 2012 Falstaff, that nearly felled me from my chair at the table! So, much like the unfair fight of the 2010 flight, where the McDougall crushed the Falstaff, the opposite occurs here in the 2012, where the Falstaff crushed the McDougall. The 2012 McDougall at this point in its life shows tannic and backward, with a dark core of intense cherry fruit and iron-like quality. Minerally. What we’ll have to see on this wine is how it starts to uncoil and at what age. I’ll be a buyer when it’s ultimately released but with the knowledge of the wine last evening, will be sure to give it not only a large dose of air, but also time in the cellar. FWIW, I believe this is the only wine of the evening that Jamie decanted prior to flying down for the dinner so even with that aearation, it reflects the long life this will have ahead of it.
  • 2012 Kutch Pinot Noir Falstaff Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Tasted blind. Well, like with the recent 2012 Fogline Sun Chase pinot I drank and had one of those ‘aha’ moments, here too is another one of those aha wines, the best wine I have tasted now in 2014. This was poured next to the 2012 McDougall, both blind. The only bias I had going into this flight was that of seeing the favorable comments on this 2012 when poured last month during Falltacular. I’ll credit Brig campbell, who pulled this needle out of the Falltacular pinot haystack when he went through all of the 2012s that were poured that day, and with Brig missing the dinner last night when I tasted this wine, I would have enjoyed seeing him react to this wine again. As to what I found last night in the glass, beautiful spicy strawberry with blue fruit tones. It’s accessible yet the acid is beauitfully punctuated here, even a little crunch in texture. Where it excels is that the fruit is beyond the red fruit, jammier quality that I found in the 2010 and to extent in the 2011. In this 2012, I find a wine with exellent acidity, terrific fruit, outstanding. Early WOTY candidate and I plan to now buy more while it is still available. I’ll drink a other 1-2 bottles over the rest of this year and see how it fares.

2010-2013 Sonoma Coast with Rack of Lamb

  • 2010 Kutch Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Tasted blind. This reminds me some of the McDougall, even though I do not believe that any McD made it into this blend. Bright red cherry, spicy finish, actually really spicy, with red fruits and a good punctuation from the stems, along with red apple.
  • 2011 Kutch Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Tasted blind. And tasted alongside the SC’s 2010, 2012 and a barrel sample of the 2013, also that were blind. Of all 4 vintages, this 2011 is the king of the four. Juicy, some herbal from the stems, bright cherry, soil/loam, and with great, brisk acid. For my palate, I knew this wine was a crusher when it was first released, and in fact, this was one of those strong leaders from the vintage that caused me to make many comments in rebuttal to the many who were saying 2011 wasn’t a great year. Yes, it was a hard year for many winemakers but tasting wines like this, or wines from Anthill, you can see how damn good the vintage was to some, and to a wine like this Kutch 2011. I have three of these left in the cellar, and it will be a joy to watch them evolve over the next several years. Excellent.
  • 2012 Kutch Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Tasted blind. Like with the 2012 McDougall, this SC is tannic and intense, with a dark core and iron. Rocky and youuthful–this will need time so don’t rush it.
  • 2013 Kutch Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Note–barrel sample composite. Tasted this from shiner next to the sibling 2010, 2011 and 2012 SC bottlings. This 2013 was juicy, with a little menthol from the stems, stony with black cherry and raspberry.

Switchback Petite with Flourless Chocolate Cake

  • 2007 Switchback Ridge Petite Sirah Peterson Family Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Is it wrong to drink Switchback at 11AM? It simply cannot be! While not my norm to drink at 11AM, I did open this in advance of a dinner later this evening where it will be the closing wine with a chocolate dessert. Having been open now about 30 mins, I don’t smell any heat or prune yet, although it does a bloody note on the aromatic. The palate? Lots of cocoa, dark chocolate, some chalk and dark berry, with some acid lingering in the finish underneath the fruit markers. With 8 hours to slow ox, we’ll see how this does tonight but I offer this intro note for those who may have a bottle they need to open in a pinch and pour…it’s fairly closed, restrained with this little amount of air…then at dinner, while I love this producer and consistently buy the wines, this vintage is too big for me. Listed on the bottle at 16.8% and even with some chill, it shows, especially when the wine warms up. Has the dark fruit and petite core I enjoy but the wine’s alcohol was too prominent aromatically for me last night. I only had about 1.5 ozs, given we had to spread the pours and this was about as much as I wanted. I don’t have any more of the 2007 and that’s ok.

Posted from CellarTracker

Great write up Frank. As a holder of all these wines, your notes are greatly appreciated.

Dale, you bet. We owe it to each other to advance the discussion around great wines and the people behind them, like Jamie and the winemaker folks we follow here. It also provides a forum to respectfully advance past the singular critical voices that drive the industry.

Very cool. Makes me even happier that I joined Jamie’s list. Too bad I was so late to the game.

I have been following Jamie’s wines from almost the beginning, and I can subjectively say they have been getting better and better with each vintage. You will not be disappointed.

Nice lineup, would have been a fun night.

Jamie is a great guy with a fantastic palate, who makes some of the best New World pinot around…

Frank, gracias por las notas de cata. Nice insight into current and future drinking windows. I’ll have to cross half the world and participate in your event one day…

Frank - thanks for the thoughtful notes and write up. Very insightful and a great resource for those of us on Jamie’s list.

Question - any sense for relative drinking windows across the vintages? Seems like 2012 is a vintage to hold.

Great notes Frankie!

Sounds like a great wine dinner. I have yet to get hold of Jamie in person on his own turf, never mind down here.

Great effort!

Regarding your comments on the 2012 Falstaff as WOTY candidate, I agree. Below is my note from a month before. Incredible wine.

  • 2012 Kutch Pinot Noir Falstaff Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (2/23/2014)
    Falltacular 2014 (FMIII in the OC): Back up the truck on this wine. Top 5 for me and probably WOTN and serious candidate for WOTY. Slightly darker than a few of the previous 2012 tasted before this wine. Purple hue radiates. Nose has the combination of wood chips and earthy quality. Palate is excellent with the dark fruit mingled with a chalky limestone note. Long finish. No problem throwing 96 points at this one.

Posted from CellarTracker

Rich, it depends, based on the plot. For me, it seems the McDougall is expressing the most ageworthy quality, what Jamie would say is the “sunshine” of that plot which gives it the dark, headier quality (except say in 2010, when it seems to be accessible now). Yet, if I think about 2012, both the McDougall and the SC last night seemed structured and built to age, while the Falstaff was just a beauty, showing much less of the heady, burly quality.

I’d say overall the 2010s are quite accessible, the 2011’s will last quite well and we’ll see yet on the 2013s.

As a continuing thought, I dig what Paul said above. I sat next to Jamie last night and basically traveled the flights with him and I’m jazzed up thinking about pinot having dialogued with him and heard his thoughts on what pinot is, the learning curve, and to Paul’s point, Jamie’s palate perspective. I appreciated his insights about the wines and how he sees pinot noir. Enlightening and motivating to me, for sure.

I promise (publicly) that I will add notes, but it’s a busy time at home/work, so I’ll catch up later. Although what more do you need when you have a set of notes from FMIII?

This elite group of CA pinots are as close in style to Jamie’s source of inspiration, and we all know where that is without using the “B” word, which Jamie indicated he avoids, as I’ve found. They still have that energetic CA fruit to some degree, Jamie indicated he embraces, but without the weight or density which always seems betray even the most determined efforts at producing old world pinot in our sunny state. Jamie is one of the very few who are on the right track.

As to FMIII: at each of these events, especially during the lead-up, I always note to myself how lucky I am to have access to this group of wine friends in the OC, and particularly Frank. Although it’s become de rigueur to attend an event conceived and organized by FMIII about once a quarter, I don’t take my inclusions at any of them for granted. Simply put, I feel lucky. What those who simply read the reports and notes on WB don’t see is how seamlessly these events progress, and how effortless he seems to plan them. As someone who recently organized a similar event, I can tell you the amount of detail and thought is significant to organize a winemaker visit, and his efforts are appreciated by us all. Frank make it look like chewing gum. Once again with feeling…thank you Frank!

Most importantly, thanks to Jamie for coming to OC to share his wines, philosophies, and assorted personal/humorous stories. If you want to find domestic wines of site, terroir, place, balance, or whatever term is used to describe wines with an old-world inspiration, this is a producer that you should seek out. He left a job behind (a genuine finance job, by the way) learned to make wine from the ground up, and has allowed his style to evolve to fit his vision, and seems to have worked his ass off. If what’s in the bottle is truly the final arbiter, than based on what was poured from the bottles last night, Jamie has succeeded.

We need more 9-10 page threads on the successes and struggles of people like Jamie.

Shit, I could have typed up the damn notes in the time it took to write this, but I wanted to thank and give credit to Jamie and Frank.

Oh, and Luciana’s in Dana Point came through for us and provided a 7-course meal which paired surprisingly well with most of the flights. Let’s just say nobody went home hungry. Also, who doesn’t love them some live accordion!

Thank you for the notes. Kutch and Ceritas are my fave CA PNs. [cheers.gif]

I was a lucky recipient of an invite to another one of “FMIII” tasting extravaganzas in Dana Point last night and to meet and taste with Jamie Kutch and his lovely pinots. Not much more can be said after Franks very accurate assessment above but I will chime in a bit.

Jamie Kutch is a very engaging, devoted, passionate winemaker it seems and was fun to taste through his wines over a well planned dinner. He had some very educational stories to share about his vision and passion - great pinot noir grown in the cooler climes of California. His palate clearly is based around the wines of the Cote de Or and like he said, he’s not trying to “replicate Burgundy wines” just trying to make wines parallel with his own palate.
There are some videos on his website - that show where his vineyard sources are (via google flyover) which are in pretty spectacular locations, especially the McDougall vineyard. Hard to envision anything but a billygoat getting to this site!

Here is an abbreviated recap/addition to Franks notes above-

1996 Pol Roger Champagne Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Brut - This was spectacular with restrained fruit, slight oxidation, yeasty notes - could drink this daily and be very happy. My only note was LOVE IT!!

10, 11, 12, 13 Sonoma Coast - 2011 was the clear winner tonight. Has beautiful red fruit, acidity, herby and earthy notes all in great balance. Seems to be drinking well now compared to the others. Glad to have a small stash of these.

2010 McDougall - earthy, subtle fruit, nice balance

2010 Falstaff - Cola, little heat (which is surprising given that this is such a cool growing site)

2011 McDougall - Much darker in color and tight, tight, tight. Was able to coax some darker fruits and spice with time in glass. Loaded with structure for sure.

2011 Falstaff - This one seemed ready to go and was very nice on the lighter side of pinot. Beat out the McDougall in this flight but only because of the timing. More of a red fruit spectrum for me and very soft. I likey.

2012 McDougall - Again shut down hard, but clearly from a sunnier vineyard. A bit of heat shows, clearly not ready for primetime.

2012 Falstaff - Beautiful pinot, drinking well now. Light bodied and translucent, spicy and earthy on nose, subtle red fruits on palate with good acidity and nice earthy aftertaste. Can drink now or hold I would say.

Barrel samples -

2013 McDougall - soapy nose, raspberry palate and again darker than its counterpart.

2013 Falstaff - tight nose and palate but seemed to open up with the antipasti course. Very low alcohol - 11.2%

2007 Switchbach Ridge Petite Sirah - I reserve judgement on this wine (Jamie DID NOT make this wine!)

Overall a great night of wine, friendship, accordion music and gustatory overindulgence - the servings were huge and just kept coming and coming, finally had to start using the dump bucket for my plate! Thanks again to Frank and Jamie for coming together and sharing the experience.

It was great to finally get down and visit the OC and both meet and spend time with so many wonderful and passionate wine lovers. Thank you Frank for setting up a wonderful dinner. It felt like Déjà vu when I lived in NY and put on many similar dinners. I am incredibly grateful and look forward to the opportunity to present and share many more wines to come.


Great notes and descriptions.
At times, I think it would be nicer to live closer to the OC.

My order just arrived this morning and, after reading the tasting notes above, I am particularly eager to try the 2012 Falstaff.

It was a terrific event, orchestrated to perfection by Frank, and Jamie was incredibly engaging, passionate and thoughtful in his remarks about the wines and about his journey.

I have tasting notes that I’ll put onto CT and this thread hopefully later today, but I wanted to join the chorus in advance while I have a moment here.

The Orange County wine scene is really flourishing these days, thanks in large part to how Frank and Todd have woven us in together. Good times.

I somehow missed Jamie’s last release (I’m missing a lot of releases now that wine is spilling out the front door and my neighbors are threatening to have me categorized as a general nuisance).

Way to cheer a guy up. [wink.gif]

Awesome notes, chief, and very glad that Jamie was able to come down to meet with you and the gang.

My note from FallTacular—I had thought you’d tasted it there, but I guess not!

"2012 Kutch Falstaff Vineyard Pinot Noir

Shows lots of potential already, with all manner of hinted baking spices, red berries and plum. The structure is there, a just-bridled acidity but fine purity of red and black raspberry fruit. Fine bones indeed."

I have been quite thrilled with how Jamie has developed his winemaking and he has time and again counselled patience with the McDougalls, something which I have done my best to follow. I had the 09 at New Year’s Eve:

"2009 Kutch McDougall Vineyard Pinot Noir

I’m very glad I paid attention and was obedient when Jamie told me to leave these sleep for a bit. This has a very satisfying precision to a delightful multifacetedness. A mix of red and dark berries, light spices and cocoa dust on the nuzzie leads to an entry of very fresh black raspberry, dark strawberry and blackberry, but with some iron and earth tones too (maybe from whole cluster?). And then a velvety feel takes over in the midpalate, and at the back it finishes with baking spices, plum pudding, a tiny hit of sweet cayenne and barest touch of cola. It keeps me “glued to the monitor” through the whole show. Bravo."

I do have plans to do a full McDougall vertical in a couple of years. And, just as a bit of fun someday with Jamie, I do still have one bottle of the opening 05 vintage. :slight_smile: I also always like hearing when barrel samples taste like they could be bottled and go out the door right then and there.

a bientot, j’espere. I think I’ll have to take one of mine to John and Dani when I next see 'em.