Kukkula Wines

Thursday September 1, 2016


I’ve been in a reflec­tive mood late­ly. Maybe it’s because we’re in our 12th year of this project called kukku­la, and I’m tak­ing inven­to­ry. Or maybe it’s a result of watch­ing our kids become adults. Two of our three are now out of the nest: Anna is in grad­u­ate school and Adam is in the lat­ter stages of his under­grad­u­ate edu­ca­tion. They’re doing real­ly well and are on their way to won­der­ful lives. But, boy does time go fast!

Our project start­ed in 2003 as a result of years of day­dream­ing and Paula open­ing the door to explore step­ping over the thresh­old and mak­ing a major life change. Of course, I did just that. And while Paula was the cat­a­lyst, our friends, Lothar and Stel­la were the enablers. Many of you already know the sto­ry of how this whole thing got start­ed. But short form:

Lothar (a client in my finan­cial world) knew of my pas­sion for doing this. On our first trip to Paso we saw our prop­er­ty and were smit­ten. Lothar, by chance, found out about our week­end trip. In ret­ro­spect, I think he was every bit as excit­ed as I was. He wouldn’t let me drop the fan­ta­sy. To sim­pli­fy, he end­ed up buy­ing this prop­er­ty so it would be avail­able when we were ready, and we bought it from him a year later.

It was the begin­ning of an amaz­ing jour­ney, and the rea­son why we have a wine named Lothario. By the way, he’s not real­ly a Lothario. But, the name was too good to pass up and made for an even bet­ter story!

That was our start, yet there were many more who helped coax us along the road (inten­tion­al­ly, or unin­ten­tion­al­ly!) to where we are today. I found that the wine indus­try is very fra­ter­nal and I con­tin­ue to be amazed at how gen­er­ous peo­ple in this busi­ness are with their time and knowledge.

Paula says I don’t under­stand the mean­ing of a small hob­by. But, my hob­by got me to meet peo­ple like Helen Keplinger, before there was a Keplinger Wines. She was trapped in L. A. for a few years in the ear­ly 2000s, just had to work on a wine project, and we need­ed some help. She found me through a mutu­al friend, Scott Rich (Tal­is­man, his own label, and Mor­a­ga, in BelAir). When we made the deci­sion to do the Paso project, Helen referred me to a good friend in Paso, Natasha Boff­man, and her hus­band, John Guffy. Both have been an invalu­able source of help in get­ting the project going, con­sult­ing in my wine­mak­ing, and intro­duc­tions to oth­er peo­ple who have been instru­men­tal along the way.

Once we start­ed to devel­op our prop­er­ty I met a lot of peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hood. Dave, a neigh­bor to our south east cor­ner, was piv­otal in decid­ing how we farm. Dave con­vinced me to dry farm. To this day, I’m beyond thank­ful I met him. He has bent over back­ward to help me. Dave’s the kind of guy who would just about drop any­thing to give advice, come over to help fix a trac­tor, or move equip­ment, and always refuse to get paid for the ser­vice. So, I pay him in wine. I keep won­der­ing when he’s going to get sick of this form of payment!

I met Stephan Asseo, from L’Aventure right after mov­ing up here. I don’t recall exact­ly how, but it must have been as a result of vis­it­ing the win­ery with some friends. By that time he was already get­ting a lot of buzz. Not being a shy guy, I kind of latched on to him and would call him for advice. Over the years I’ve spent many hours pick­ing his brain. He’s tak­en the time to walk me through both his and my vine­yard, talk to me about equip­ment, process, mar­ket­ing, cri­tiquing my wines. You name it, he’s been very thought­ful and gen­er­ous with his time. I guess he sees that I’m real­ly seri­ous­ly com­mit­ted to my trade, and he enjoys help­ing me out. I know I’m one of many.

At around the same time I met Mitch and Leslie Wyss who helped start Hal­ter Ranch. Mitch ran the vine­yard, and Leslie, just about every­thing else. I start­ed buy­ing fruit from them in 2006. Although we start­ed get­ting our own estate fruit by 2009, they were my major source of pur­chased fruit until 2012. The 2013 vin­tage marked the first year that kukku­la became entire­ly estate grown, from our dry-farmed organ­ic vine­yard. Dur­ing those years, I learned a lot, prob­a­bly both­ered them a lot, but ulti­mate­ly formed a great friendship.

Through them, I met Han­sjörg, Halter’s own­er, whom I have come to call a friend. Han­sjörg is beyond an amaz­ing suc­cess in the busi­ness world. What he’s done with that suc­cess, I could argue, is a big­ger suc­cess. In addi­tion to cre­at­ing foun­da­tions to fund the arts and bio­log­i­cal­ly inspired engi­neer­ing research, he’s been a pas­sion­ate advo­cate for pro­tect­ing land from uncon­trolled devel­op­ment. Our inter­ests in pre­serv­ing the integri­ty of Ade­lai­da are close­ly aligned. Over the last sev­er­al years, he’s acquired sig­nif­i­cant acreage in our neigh­bor­hood in order to main­tain the feel of the com­mu­ni­ty. So it was espe­cial­ly excit­ing to hear recent­ly that he pur­chased prop­er­ty that bor­ders our entire south line. It’s very com­fort­ing to have neigh­bors who are good stew­ards of the land!

The last twelve years have been any­thing but bor­ing. Work has been end­less, free time is a con­cept for the rest of the world, and we’ve for­got­ten how to spell liq­uid­i­ty. But, we’ve accom­plished a lot. We’ve met a lot of amaz­ing peo­ple, who are equal­ly pas­sion­ate about this kind of life. Many nights, after a long day’s work I find myself tak­ing inven­to­ry, or sur­vey­ing the estate from our home (of course with a glass of wine in hand!), and I feel this sense of hope, excite­ment, and reju­ve­na­tion. I can’t believe we’ve come this far. I’m thank­ful for the peo­ple who have helped us along the way. And I’m grate­ful to be a part of this com­mu­ni­ty. I guess it’s good to be reflective!



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