2020 was a year to forget for many winemakers in California. The growing season saw record heatwaves, uncontrollable wildfires, burned vineyards and smoke taint. Add covid to the equation and it became a write-off for many.
Jamie Kutch, whose wines we have been following for some years now, produced next to no red wine at all; just one Pinot Noir vineyard – McDougall – was picked before the plumes of smoke began to damage the vineyards. The good news is that the Chardonnay escaped, and we have small quantities of the Sonoma and Trout Gulch Chardonnays to offer.
The 2020 Kutch Sonoma Chardonnay is the first vintage of this wine to come exclusively from the Bohan vineyard. Planted in 1972, the roots of the vines run particularly deep on account of the drought years of 1975-1977, which forced the young vines to push down in their search for water to survive. The vineyard has always been dry-farmed, and there is a growing waiting list for the fruit, which Kutch have been purchasing since 2013.
The 2020 Trout Gulch Chardonnay comes from the eponymous vineyard, which was first planted in 1977. Jamie Kutch first started working with Trout Gulch fruit, which is both dry farmed and organic, in 2014. The climate here is exceptionally cool and the harvest often starts as late as October; the 2020 was, luckily, hand-harvested on the 18th September.
These wines have been favourites of ours for some time now. Whilst they speak very much of their specific locations within Sonoma, Kutch's mineral-driven style gives a firm nod in the direction of the Old World. They are very bright, clean, ethereal wines that will reward cellaring but can be enjoyed now, if given some air.
From an own-rooted vineyard planted in 1972, at 1400 ft, 3 miles from the Pacific (it’s Bohan Vineyard), this is fermented in French oak (20% new) and has minimum effective SO2 added. It’s sensational. Taut, fine and lemony with keen acidity, but no feeling of compression. There’s generous crystalline citrus fruit with a fine, spicy structure and a touch of salinity on the finish. Very pure and focused, but offering real complexity at low alcohol. There’s just a faint hint of mineral reduction and everything is in perfect harmony. This would be so hard to place tasted blind. I really love it.
Full bottle 1,412 g. Vineyard located 3.05 miles from the Pacific, planted in 1972, Goldridge and sandy loam soils. Hand-harvested on 31 August. Spontaneous fermentation, whole-bunch pressed and aged in French oak barrels (20% new). A miraculous amount of information is given on the back label! Ten barrels produced. Very pale greenish straw-gold. Lightly reductive nose with some passion fruit and lime aromas. Tight and cool-tasting but with a good depth of ripe fruit. Extremely precise winemaking, This may be Kutch's least expensive Chardonnay but it certainly doesn't taste 'entry level'. Bravo!
13% alcohol. This is from a vineyard planted in 1977, at 600 feet, 3.5 miles from the Pacific. Sandy loam soils. Whole cluster pressing then wild ferment in 11 barrels, two of which are new. Minimal effective sulfites added. This has a vital, mineral, saline nose of taut citrus fruit. The palate is stony and mineral with keen acidity, taut lemon, pear and green apple fruit, and a slight twist of mineral reduction, as well as hints of toast and spice. Taut and expressive, and one for the long haul, I reckon. 96/100
Full bottle 1,414 g. 11 barrels produced. Vineyard planted 1977 on sandy loam at 600 ft 3.5 miles from the Pacific. Hand-harvested 18 September (long after the Sonoma Coast 2020 Chardonnay). Whole-bunch pressed and spontaneous fermentation in French oak barrels (20% new). Lustrous pale green-gold. Richer, broader and arguably a tad more interesting than the Sonoma Coast 2020 bottling. A wine with real texture and drive and with comfortable fruit-acid balance. Crystalline structure and hugely appetising. 2022-2029
The 2020 Trout Gulch Vineyard chardonnay from Jamie Kutch was raised in twenty percent new oak in this vintage and comes in at an even thirteen percent octane. These vines were planted in 1977, so they are now over forty years of age- ancient by contemporary California standards. The wine is young and beautifully precise on both the nose and palate, with the bouquet wafting from the glass in a mix of pear, apple, almond, white soil tones, spring flowers and a deft touch of vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is bright, full-bodied, focused and nascently complex, with a good core, fine balance and grip and a long finish. This is a very nice bottle and a near miracle, given all of the challenges thrown up in the face of winegrowers in California in 2020. I normally like to age Jamie’s chardonnays several years before drinking them, but in 2020, I might be inclined to drink this wine in its relative youth, as one really has no idea how wines from this vintage are going to evolve in bottle. 2022-2030+.