Kukkula Wines

Wednesday March 20, 2019

new beginnings

For the last sev­er­al weeks I’ve tried many times to sit down and com­pose some­thing of impor­tance about hap­pen­ings at kukku­la. To say the year thus far has been con­trolled chaos might be an under­state­ment! Oh well, bet­ter late than nev­er!

Last year was a real­ly good year for us. The har­vest was as smooth as I can recall expe­ri­enc­ing, a num­ber of arti­cles were writ­ten about us, review scores keep get­ting bet­ter, and our 15 Aat­to was named by Wine & Spir­its one of the Top 100 wines in the world in 2018. Pret­ty Sweet!

Last year was also the first year we start­ed the long process of replant­i­ng our vine­yard due to the Red Blotch virus. Before bud break in 2018, we removed eight acres of our Zin­fan­del and Grenache. That acreage will sit fal­low until Jan­u­ary of 2020. We decid­ed to also remove six acres of our olive trees, as we’re frankly pro­duc­ing too much olive oil. Using the recent­ly vacat­ed space from the olive trees allowed us to avoid wait­ing two years before the first of the new vines were plant­ed. The tim­ing was serendip­i­tous because Hal­ter Ranch caught wind of our plans and asked if they could take all 800+ trees for their ranch. So last Novem­ber, they start­ed the process and today all trees have been relo­cat­ed to Hal­ter. In the last few weeks we’ve just com­plet­ed stak­ing and plant­i­ng a four-acre block of vines where the olives once sat. That whole process proved to be a bit of a chal­lenge because of the per­sis­tent rain since the new year began. What we had hoped would be a one month process became a four month adven­ture.

In Feb­ru­ary we removed anoth­er four-acre block of Syrah. That acreage will sit fal­low until the win­ter of 2021, when we will replant, and the process will con­tin­ue for the next 6 – 8 years until all of the vines have been replaced. Since con­fir­ma­tion of the virus two years ago, there have been a lot of sleep­less nights, and I’m con­fi­dent there will be many more as we work our way through this chal­lenge. But hav­ing had the advan­tage of time to let the pan­ic sub­side, and time to rethink what we’ve done that has worked, what hasn’t worked so well, and what we would do dif­fer­ent­ly now that we’re start­ing over again, I have to admit that I’m feel­ing a sense of opti­mism and maybe excite­ment about how this all comes togeth­er.

There are a few key changes that we’ve imple­ment­ed. First, Zin­fan­del will not get replant­ed. I’ve decid­ed that it isn’t core to the kukku­la brand. That acreage will get replant­ed with more of the same Rhone vari­etals we already grow. The only non-Rhone remain­ing will be Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, and that acreage will grow.

Sec­ond, we will increase our plant­i­ng den­si­ty to 871 plants per acre, up from 370. I’m doing this to try to reduce the vig­or of the vines by crowd­ing the root space. Final­ly, and the deci­sion I strug­gled with most, I’m adding a drip line to all of the new vines. I’m con­vinced that, due to glob­al cli­mate change, we will be expe­ri­enc­ing more draught years than wet years. Since the 2011/2012 rain sea­son, we’ve expe­ri­enced six out of eight draught years. So, I’ve decid­ed to be the win­ter rain. This thought real­ly came to me in March of 2018 when we had only accu­mu­lat­ed five inch­es for the sea­son. Thank­ful­ly, we did have the March mir­a­cle” and the sea­son end­ed with a bit over 19 inch­es. That said, I’ve come to believe that pro­longed peri­ods of stress to the vines ulti­mate­ly becomes detri­men­tal to the vines and the fruit. Going for­ward, I will mon­i­tor the rain totals, cal­cu­late water reserve require­ments for the soil, and add those reserves to the soil before bud break to make sure the plants thrive dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son.

Enough of that. I men­tioned that last year was a real­ly good year for kukku­la. Even though most of our wine is sold direct­ly to con­sumers from online sales, tast­ing room vis­its and club mem­ber­ship, I’ve always want­ed to make kukku­la avail­able in Fin­land. I’ve tried to make this hap­pen over the years, but with lit­tle suc­cess. Yet some­times in life we seem to catch the per­fect wave! In ear­ly 2018, a man named Esko Aho (a for­mer Prime Min­is­ter of Fin­land) walked into the tast­ing room, and start­ed the ball rolling. Through his con­nec­tions, I met and net­worked with a num­ber of peo­ple. Con­cur­rent with these dis­cus­sions, I received an email from some­one named Michaela Ger­baulet, whom I had sold a pal­let of wine to sev­er­al years ear­li­er. That wine was sold through Alko, the Finnish alco­hol monop­oly. Sud­den­ly I was in dis­cus­sions with two dis­trib­u­tors, and by mid-Decem­ber we had our first order. The wine is now in Fin­land ready to be intro­duced”. I’ll be fly­ing there on the 1st of June to help with the intro­duc­tion. I am very excit­ed and hope­ful that this will be a big suc­cess, and I’m real­ly appre­cia­tive of the inter­est and assis­tance I’ve got­ten from Esko, his good friend Lau­ri Kivi­nen, and Michaela. Best of all, now I have a great excuse to vis­it Fin­land on a reg­u­lar basis!

This fall, our youngest is head­ed to Car­leton Col­lege in Min­neso­ta. Car­leton stu­dents call them­selves Carls” by the way, so Karl is now also a Carl. Karl is real­ly excit­ed, as are we. It’s the end of a chap­ter for Paula and me as par­ents, and the begin­ning of a new chap­ter as emp­ty nesters. We’re look­ing for­ward to see­ing Karl pur­sue stud­ies of his choos­ing and become tru­ly inde­pen­dent.

Paula and I have been antic­i­pat­ing this day for a while. I’m sure there will be some teary moments, but we’re real­ly look­ing for­ward to trav­el­ing again and are already talk­ing about a trip to Argentina’s wine region and Patag­o­nia this win­ter.

Let’s toast to new begin­nings!


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