Kukkula Wines

October 1, 2017Isaac James Baker

kukkula - Raw Paso Robles, Exceptional Wines

I’ve had the priv­i­lege of tour­ing vine­yards and winer­ies all over the world, and I feel lucky to have seen such tremen­dous beau­ty. Still, I nev­er lose the abil­i­ty to be awestruck by pris­tine nat­ur­al spaces.

On a recent trip to California’s Paso Rob­les wine coun­try, I was blown away by the var­ied, dynam­ic ter­rain, and the thriv­ing wine­mak­ing cul­ture carved into this land. But Kukku­la Win­ery was the most stun­ning place I explored. If I believed in auras or new age‑y vor­tex shit, I’d be con­vinced Kukku­la was one such spot. It is a mag­i­cal place fit for a pilgrimage.

Ris­ing up steep slopes in Paso’s Ade­lai­da Dis­trict, own­er and wine­mak­er Kevin Jus­si­la has built some­thing spe­cial with his estate win­ery, vine­yards, and fam­i­ly home. This used to be a wal­nut orchard, until Kevin and his wife Paula (then liv­ing in Los Ange­les), pur­chased the prop­er­ty and moved up to the Cen­tral Coast in 2004.

As I toured the prop­er­ty and talked with Kevin, I got the impres­sion of a man who, once an idea became lodged in his mind, was dri­ven almost to obses­sion to make that idea real­i­ty — a qual­i­ty I rec­og­nize and respect. He knew exact­ly what he want­ed with the prop­er­ty he found on Chim­ney Rock Road, and he pulled it off.

Kevin farms organ­i­cal­ly and does not irri­gate his vines, but this area (so close to the coastal ridge) gets about twice as much rain­fall as the aver­age spot in Paso, and these steep slopes pro­vide great drainage. We’re pret­ty stoked not to have to farm with water,” Kevin said.

The vines cling to steep hills of rich clay and sed­i­men­ta­ry rock soils — Kevin is Finnish, and the name of the win­ery means hill” or high place” in Finnish. The hike to the top got my heart rate going, and the lack of tra­di­tion­al trel­lis­ing sys­tems left me with the impres­sion I was hik­ing through a bizarre, pri­mor­dial vine for­est. Because of its loca­tion and aspect, these vine­yards have a wild and raw feel. And it’s a thriv­ing ecosys­tem, with liv­ing things all over the place.

From atop the prop­er­ty, near the house Kevin and Paula built, I watched as the late-morn­ing fog rest­ed atop the ridge­line that divides the Paso Rob­les appel­la­tion from the Pacif­ic Ocean. The sun warmed up and the fog began pour­ing in through a crack in the ridge — pro­vid­ing those cool­ing winds that are such a crit­i­cal part of wine­grow­ing in west­ern Paso Rob­les. Red-tailed hawks hunt­ed lazi­ly as gophers scam­pered into hid­ing. I was consumed.

Oh, and the wines I tast­ed were flat-out fantastic.

Kukku­la uses only estate fruit, sourced from their 50 acres of vines. This is a Rhone-cen­tric effort, with vine­yards plant­ed to Syrah, Grenache, Mourve­dre, Counoise, Petite Sir­ah, Viog­nier, Rous­sanne, and Grenache Blanc, with some Caber­net Sauvi­gnon and Zin­fan­del round­ing things out. In the win­ery, Kukku­la uti­lizes native yeast fer­men­ta­tion, judi­cious use of new and used French oak, 18-months of bar­rel aging, no fin­ing or filtering.

As with most of the Paso wines I fell for on my trip, they are not easy to find. Kevin doesn’t make much wine (about 1,500 cas­es per year), and he told me he sells about 95% of that to win­ery vis­i­tors or through the wine club. But if you’re trav­el­ing through San Luis Obis­po and are look­ing for a wine expe­ri­ence you’ll nev­er for­get, Kukkula’s your spot.

Go there.