Jamie Kutch, California: ”We are well-financed to weather a very long storm”

Jamie Kutch.
Krister Bengtsson
Published 26-March-2020
Interview

”Fortunately, being in agriculture, the impact is minimal to non-existent for vineyard work or winery work. I am free to drive alone, visit vineyards alone and go to the winery alone to check on barrels if I so wish,” says California-based winemaker Jamie Kutch.

How is the situation for you right now?
”It’s been outright terrifying as likely the case throughout the world. We went into lockdown almost a full week, and a half before the city of San Francisco ordered everyone to stay home. My five-year-old son and my wife Kristen are managing and making the best of a scary moment in history.”

”I cancelled a two-week trip to Europe which was set for February 26th. I cancelled two days before and in reflecting back, am so glad I did. That was very early in the news cycle, and I went off a feeling that the risks were just too high to fly.”

How is your daily work affected by corona? Are you still allowed to be out in the vineyards for example?
”Fortunately, being in agriculture, the impact is minimal to non-existent for vineyard work or winery work. I am free to drive alone, visit vineyards alone and go to the winery alone to check on barrels if I so wish. That said, I have felt safer being at home my family and am spending all of my time at home for the moment. I likely will begin feeling more comfortable looking at vineyards and the wines by the end of this week, early next. I had taken this downtime to work with video conferencing app Zoom and have put together a few ’tastings’ which has provided some fun and shift in the way I do business and tastings.”

How is the situation affecting your sales? And now that many restaurants are closed, do people buy in stores or online and drink at home instead?
”At present sales have been decimated and brought down to zero. Here in the US, I release my wines two times a year to direct, mailing list customers. Our first release was in February, which is fortuitous. That said, I depend on restaurant sales all 12 months of the year which have ceased, and also international sales have ceased up as well.”

”While this causes concern, we are well-financed to weather a very long storm. I do plan on sending another email out to my US mailing list customers this week as we have a small stash of Sans Soufre and Rose which likely will sell well.”

Unfortunately some small producers may go out of business as this is already such a difficult business to be in

What measures have you taken to secure the business for the future?
”I cancelled an order for new oak barrels. I have a lot of once used oak from this past vintage that will carry us through the difficult times. I also cut back on some contracts for some fruit to rein down production. Finally, I am giving credence into carrying over the 2019 vintage in barrel and bottling it at 18 months of age. That, of course, would ONLY be done if the structure and integrity of the wine is there, not if the wine is delicate.

”The additional aging will assist in not having such a large inventory load sitting in a warehouse. These are small decisions, but each small decision helps to prevent being financially extended too far.”

What is the general feeling among winemakers in your area right now? What do your friends and colleagues think about the situation?
”I will be honest; I really don’t know. I spoke to Raj Parr today on Facetime, and yet besides him, I haven’t spoken to any winemaker since the current Covid situation erupted.”

What long term effects do you think this crisis will have, both for you personally and for the wine scene in your country in general?
”Unfortunately some small producers may go out of business as this is already such a difficult business to be in. I also believe that land and vineyards will depreciate in value and opportunities will arise. I personally hope to purchase land and plant an estate vineyard if that becomes fruition and am actively looking.”

Are the wine producers getting any support from the government at all?
”Sadly, no. I think making sure golf courses and hotels are supported is more of a priority by our president.”

What do you miss most right now?
”That is easy… eating and drinking at a restaurant and sharing intimate conversations with friends.”

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