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!