Kukkula Wines

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!).


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