Kukkula Wines

Thursday March 20, 2014

this too shall pass!

By Kevin

It’s almost the end of March and we’re only at nine inch­es of rain. We’re sup­posed to get some pre­cip­i­ta­tion next week, but that might only amount to a quar­ter of an inch. It appears that the next best chance will be around the first week of April. But we’re run­ning out of time!

Last year was marked by a whole bunch of con­ver­sa­tion and ten­sion over the con­tin­u­al deple­tion of the water table on the east side of Paso Rob­les. A mora­to­ri­um was put in place to pre­vent any new plant­i­ngs of crops requir­ing irri­ga­tion. A water board is like­ly to be cre­at­ed to over­see the water resources in this com­mu­ni­ty. The pop­u­la­tion of Paso has increased dra­mat­i­cal­ly over the last decade, and vine­yard acreage has explod­ed. Long time res­i­dents are up in arms over the deple­tion of the water table as a result of the water used by vine­yard owners.

Things are look­ing bleak. Or are they?

We moved here almost ten years ago, and my first year was spent get­ting an edu­ca­tion about the best way to devel­op our farm­ing oper­a­tion. It didn’t take long to real­ize that Paso was on the verge of some­thing big, and if we were right, it also wouldn’t be long before avail­able water became a big issue. We knew our prop­er­ty was ide­al for grow­ing high qual­i­ty grapes and that we had heavy clay soils with lots of frac­tured rock. We also had rain that aver­aged 28” per year.

So, we came to the con­clu­sion that we should dry-farm (rely only on the win­ter rains). After all, the prop­er­ty, and our neigh­bor­hood had dry-farmed wal­nuts, almonds, hay, and saf­flower for decades before us. So we had a plan. Today, we have almost 50 acres of dry-farmed vines planted.

The stats say that we aver­age around 28” of rain each year, but this is how it’s panned out (in rough form). From win­ter 200405 till this year, we’ve seen some­thing like 70+”, 28”(05/06), 10”(06/07), 28”(07/08), 20”(08/09), 32”(09/10), 42”(10/11), 17”(11/12), 18”(12/13), and 9”(to date). A huge vari­a­tion from year to year.

Last year, of the 18” total rain­fall, we had per­haps 14−15” by the first of Jan­u­ary 2013. We were get­ting ten acres of vines ready to plant on our prop­er­ty, and were wor­ried about it being so wet that we wouldn’t be able to get into the field to plant. Alas, we had a few weeks of dry weath­er and got the vines in by the first of Feb­ru­ary. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we only got a few more inch­es the rest of the sea­son. Ide­al­ly, I would have liked to have seen at least 10”. So, in June, we resort­ed to using five gal­lon buck­ets at each stake with a nail hole at the bot­tom to drip into the root zones. Even with a real­ly hot sum­mer, vir­tu­al­ly all of the vines survived.

This year has been the polar oppo­site. Again, we were get­ting ready to plant anoth­er ten acres at my bud­dy Ron Turovsky’s prop­er­ty. By the first of Jan­u­ary we had had essen­tial­ly no rain. By the mid­dle of Feb­ru­ary, only about 2 12 inch­es. Hard­ly enough to plant. Ron and I talked seri­ous­ly about can­cel­ing any plant­i­ng this win­ter. Around the end of Feb­ru­ary, it start­ed to look like we might have some sig­nif­i­cant pre­cip­i­ta­tion around the first of March. We decid­ed to get a crew into the field and get plant­ed before the storm. The tim­ing couldn’t have been bet­ter. In a five day peri­od we added anoth­er 6 12 inch­es to the tal­ly. Nine inch­es for the sea­son! As won­der­ful as that was, we’re only still about a third of our aver­age annu­al rain­fall. And we’re run­ning out of time. Right now I’d be hap­py with even anoth­er 3 – 5 inch­es. Of the two sce­nar­ios, I’d rather have this year’s sit­u­a­tion with the heav­ier rains after plant­i­ng, as the new vines prob­a­bly have a bet­ter chance to get estab­lished and drill their roots suf­fi­cient­ly deep before the hot sum­mer days of July and August.

I do wor­ry about what this all will mean for the health of the vines this grow­ing sea­son. Yet after some reflec­tion I’ve come to the con­clu­sion that oth­er much old­er dry-farmed vine­yards like Pesen­ti (Tur­ley today), or the Dusi broth­ers, have sur­vived for many decades. These are vine­yards on less clay, with per­haps half the rain­fall, and hot­ter sum­mers than we expe­ri­ence. Clear­ly they’ve seen times like this over the decades. I’m con­fi­dent, that this too shall pass.

The vines are amaz­ing­ly resilient. The soils are heavy in clay, rocks are porous, and the abil­i­ty to retain mois­ture is high. I’ll drop a lot more fruit this year to relieve some of the stress on the vines. In the long run, the rain will come again. I won’t need to wor­ry about the water table, as my vines have been trained to drill deep for mois­ture. And, the stress put on the vines will ulti­mate­ly cre­ate wine of amaz­ing com­plex­i­ty, fla­vor, and aromatics.

Life is good!



all things not wine: kitchen, olive oil, and more

By Paula

Not much new to report in the kitchen, though we will be mak­ing a change to our pric­ing. We will raise our prices to $14 and $10 for sand­wich­es, but will bal­ance that for club mem­bers by offer­ing wine club dis­counts (so wine club mem­bers will pay the same or less than cur­rent­ly). We are try­ing to main­tain a ser­vice for our cus­tomers while not fill­ing the tast­ing room with peo­ple who aren’t here for the wine.

Since we have been sam­pling it in the tast­ing room, many of you have tried the new olive oil har­vest­ed in Octo­ber 2013. We picked it ear­ly, so it is a lit­tle green­er than in the past, and when com­pared to our 2012 oil, it has a bit of a bite. It will mel­low over time though, and prob­a­bly be pret­ty sim­i­lar to past vin­tages”. We still have plen­ty of the 2012 and recent­ly have sold it to the Venice Whole Foods (final­ly) and Bistro Lau­rent in Paso. Please ask for it in oth­er Whole Foods and rec­om­mend it to your friends.

I also want­ed to devote some space to mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions for local things to do, and places to stay and eat. We get a lot of peo­ple ask­ing, and thought it would be handy to have the infor­ma­tion when you are plan­ning a trip. Here are just a few of our favorites:


Hotel Che­val — If you’re up for a splurge, and there is room in this tiny 16 room hotel in the heart of Paso, it is worth a vis­it. hotelcheval​.com.

Cass House — This small inn in Cayu­cos is our favorite spe­cial event des­ti­na­tion. The rooms are love­ly and the din­ner is amaz­ing – top 2 in the Cen­tral Coast. We usu­al­ly stay overnight so we can ful­ly enjoy the din­ner with wine. casshou​se​inn​.com

Sea Stone Ridge — If you’re trav­el­ling with a crowd, our across the street neigh­bors have a 3 bed­room vaca­tion rental on their prop­er­ty. With­in stum­bling dis­tance of the kukku­la tast­ing room! Check them out at pasorob​lesva​ca​tion​rentals​.com.

local restaurants

Bistro Lau­rent — Still our favorite in Paso Rob­les. Con­sis­tent­ly amaz­ing. We always let Somm Ian and Chef Lau­rent make the deci­sions for us.

Cass House — See above.

Black Cat Bistro — The best in Cam­bria. If you are stay­ing in Cam­bria, don’t even think about going any­where else.

other stuff

Cen­tral Coast Food Tours — Walk­ing tours of down­town Paso and SLO. Includes food and wine tast­ing. Check them out at cen​tral​coast​food​tours​.com.

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