kukkula - Raw Paso Robles, Exceptional Wines - Isaac James Baker

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.