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Hot 20 2009 Reader's Choice: Jamie Kutch, Winemaker

Self-described “wine geek” Jamie Kutch left a career as a stock trader in 2005 to pursue his dream. Four years later, his Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs are on the menu at Gary Danko, French Laundry and Michael Mina.

Kutch’s success story combines destiny, determination and luck in the form of love. Growing up on Long Island, Kutch was always into hobbies: first tap dancing, then magic, then DJing. But success was first found on Wall Street, where he worked as a NASDAQ trader while cultivating his latest passion, wine. “I was closely following the progress of Pinot online, and when wine consumption in America surpassed beer around 2004, I decided to go for it,” says Kutch.

Hot 20 2009: Katie Brown, Top-Ranked Climber

Photography by Ben Moon.

Accomplishment is nothing new for Katie Brown. She began sport climbing in Kentucky at the age of 13, and today is heralded as one of the world’s best, achieving in 14 years more than many climbers do during their entire careers. This includes winning the X Games and a climbing World Cup. She’s also completed an onsight (free-climbing without knowledge of the route) of the northwest face of Yosemite’s Half Dome, and, along with climber Lynn Hill, the first female free ascent of the Leaning Tower.

Hot 20 2009: Sabrina and Eunice Moyle of Hello!Lucky

Photography by John Lee.

In the age of Tweets and IM, sending a handwritten note—via snail mail no less—seems archaic. But everything sisters Eunice and Sabrina Moyle create at their letterpress stationery shop, Hello!Lucky, is based on deliberate and painstakingly precise actions that take time.

Hot 20 2009: Gina Bianchini, Co-Founder of Ning

Photography by John Lee.

In many ways it was the diversity of the Bay Area itself that inspired Gina Bianchini to launch Ning.com, the social platform for the world’s interests and passions. Ning, which means peaceful in Mandarin Chinese, houses more than 1.5 million networks, with 4,500 new ones (and counting) created every day around varying topics—ranging from Twilight fanatics (183,000 members) to the Indian Premier Cricket League (713,000 members). Ning is on fire, and not just because tech-gossip blog Valleywag dubbed Bianchini a “Web 2.0 hottie;” new network creation accelerated 26 percent in July to 30 million registered users.

Hot 20 2009: Author Stephen Elliott

Photography by Anön.

A recent entry from writer Stephen Elliott’s Twitter page: “Interning at McSweeney’s today and then heading to a porn shoot.” An illuminative morsel, to say the least. The Mission resident does not, in fact, intern at the Valencia Street publishing house; he merely bleeds its free Wi-Fi.

Hot 20 2009: The Dodos

Photograhpy by Anön.

Watching the Dodos multitask onstage is enough to make you sweat. “We love having to accomplish so much with so little,” says guitarist-vocalist Meric Long. If we’re not physically putting out, then I feel like we’re not really playing.” Long always intended to start a band, but performed solo until the right person came along. “I had a clear idea of what I wanted—a drummer who was willing to play a bit unconventionally.” When Logan Kroeber entered the picture in 2005, the Dodos were born.

Hot 20 2009: James Syhabout, Chef-Owner of Commis

Photography by John Lee.

Chef James Syhabout’s timing is spot-on. Just as the recession has people questioning fine-dining, he’s redefined it with Commis, his tiny three-month-old restaurant set in his native Oakland. Commis’ food is four-star exquisite, but the prix-fixe menu stops at three courses. There are neither tablecloths nor pretensions. The open kitchen’s counter allows patrons to sit within feet of Syhabout and his small team, as they meticulously prepare California-fresh dishes that are rooted in classic technique, such as smoked sardines with green-tomato confit in rhubarb juice, or roasted chicken paired with porcinis emulsified with foie gras.

Hot 20 2009: The Brooklyn Circus

Photography by John Lee

For Gabriel Garcia, the East Coast-West Coast rivalry is a nonissue. “We’re really here to invite West Coasters to come see a certain piece of New York,” says Garcia, co-director of the Brooklyn Circus BKc Brand and owner of the Brooklyn Circus SF, which opened its flagship clothing store on Fillmore last year.

Hot 20 2009: The Mad Men, Andrew O’Dell and PJ Pereira

Photography Erik Almås

The scene couldn’t have been more Jerry Maguire: Two ad executives are sitting across from each other with their laptops in a Starbucks, their temporary office, the day after leaving prestigious corporate positions to start a new kind of firm—one that makes the consumer the priority. Both are thinking, "Oh, my God, what have we done?" But cliché or not, within weeks of that meeting, PJ Pereira and Andrew O’Dell had landed Lego as the first client of their namesake firm.

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