Wednesday May 26, 2021
bumps in the road
I was a relatively young man of 45 when we moved to the Central Coast in December of 2004. The kids were 10, 8, and 3. Fifteen years have passed since the birth of kukkula, and it’s hard to believe how profound the changes have been in that time.
We bought our 80-acre property which comprised of 75 acres of walnuts, 1 acre of Cabernet Sauvignon, and a few acres of rusted out cars, tractors, and miscellaneous odds & ends deemed too good to throw out by the previous owner.
The first year was spent cleaning up the debris, fixing the fence line, planning the design of our new home and laying out the new vineyard and olive orchard. Our first 2 ½ years were spent in a small house in Templeton. I began the lunacy of a double career life as a farmer/winemaker and financial advisor. Youth, drive, and naivety certainly played a strong hand in enabling us to keep it together.
I look back fondly at the time we spent at our rented home in Templeton. There was a simplicity to paying rent, not having the weight of the responsibilities of home ownership, having neighbors literally feet away, enjoying playing basketball with the kids and their friends in the cul-de-sac we lived on.
Of course, that all changed once we moved into our new home and were now developing and maintaining our land and farm operation. The work is endless, the changes have been dramatic. We have removed nearly fifty acres of our walnut orchard, planted eight acres of olives, and built our home and winery. During each phase I remember feeling like each were taking forever to accomplish, yet in retrospect it now seems to have been almost a snap of the finger.
It took until 2013 for all of our red blends to be fully estate grown and 2015 for our white. So, although we’ve been at this for over 15 years now, we’re still a relatively new winery and only about 6 – 7 years since our estate wines were first released. A lot of work before anyone knows you exist, I guess!
We finished our tasting room in the fall of 2010, and all of our production and storage have now been onsite for a decade. We are pretty self-sufficient here.
There have been many bumps in the road, yet they seem to fade to footnotes with the benefit of time.
A few of the current bumps:
- We’re deep into the removal of all fifty acres of vines we’ve planted between 2006 and 2013 because of the red blotch virus I’ve discussed on a few occasions recently. The verification of the problem resulted in one of those gut punches we all get in life where you start wondering how you’re going to survive the hit. Even though it will likely take another 3 – 4 years to remove and replace all of our vines and another 4 years beyond that to have everything back on-line, we are well into it, and I am starting to feel some comfort in our ability to see this through.
- Hand in hand with this process, I’ve come to terms with needing to also buy fruit for a few years from neighboring west side vineyards to supplement our growing demand. This is adding a significant cost component to each vintage for the next 3 – 4 years, but it’s a necessary step to meet our growing demand and maintain the quality we’re determined to deliver to you all.
- Perhaps the biggest issue on my mind right now is the extreme labor shortage in which we find ourselves. We have been trying to hire for three positions in the last few months and have had absolutely no success at this point. I’m guessing this is a combination of a give-up by the young people out there due to COVID, the cost of living expenses in the Central Coast (making it difficult to make ends meet here at the prevailing wage), and perhaps the government incentives for the unemployed that are just attractive enough to compel many to just not want to seek employment.
I have never been known for being a good sleeper. I suppose I pile too much on the plate and find myself up a lot in the middle of the night processing a multitude of issues bouncing around in my brain. So, the current mentioned issues have kept me busy on many nights recently.
That said, last year was our first year of profit since starting kukkula fifteen years ago, and COVID, thankfully, has made many of us appreciate good wine and food a whole lot more, which grew our sales and club membership quite nicely last year. The trend seems to be continuing this year. Maybe we’re on to something here!
I’m writing the spring newsletter on a plane from Dallas back to San Jose. I have been trying to find the time and creative juices to make it happen for the last several weeks, but being short of help at kukkula, has taken me on a lot more circuitous path than I had planned. Last Thursday, Paula and I took our first flight since the end of February of last year, to visit our daughter, Anna, in Cleveland, where she is a few months away from completing her PhD in biology at Case Western. We were supposed to be home yesterday, but were re-routed to Little Rock, Arkansas due to weather in Dallas, and DFW was closed. Our return will take the better of two days. Paula and I were sitting on the tarmac in Little Rock for a couple of hours trying to figure out the least painful plan to get home. Both of us were pounding away on our cell phones dealing with alternative flights and making hotel arrangements. Even the kids were helping out and we had a lively text exchange on the best plan. It made me realize that we can make the best of the situation and not get caught up in the minutiae, and it dawned on me that that, in essence, is how I feel when taking inventory of our journey with kukkula.
COVID seems to be fading into history, the kids are more or less on their own, Paula and I are starting to spread our wings a bit more, kukkula is profitable and growing, and the future seems pretty promising (even with the bumps along the way!).