new beginnings

For the last several weeks I’ve tried many times to sit down and compose something of importance about happenings at kukkula. To say the year thus far has been controlled chaos might be an understatement! Oh well, better late than never!

Last year was a really good year for us. The harvest was as smooth as I can recall experiencing, a number of articles were written about us, review scores keep getting better, and our ’15 Aatto was named by Wine & Spirits one of the Top 100 wines in the world in 2018. Pretty Sweet!

Last year was also the first year we started the long process of replanting our vineyard due to the Red Blotch virus. Before bud break in 2018, we removed eight acres of our Zinfandel and Grenache. That acreage will sit fallow until January of 2020. We decided to also remove six acres of our olive trees, as we’re frankly producing too much olive oil. Using the recently vacated space from the olive trees allowed us to avoid waiting two years before the first of the new vines were planted. The timing was serendipitous because Halter Ranch caught wind of our plans and asked if they could take all 800+ trees for their ranch. So last November, they started the process and today all trees have been relocated to Halter. In the last few weeks we’ve just completed staking and planting a four-acre block of vines where the olives once sat. That whole process proved to be a bit of a challenge because of the persistent rain since the new year began. What we had hoped would be a one month process became a four month adventure.

In February we removed another four-acre block of Syrah. That acreage will sit fallow until the winter of 2021, when we will replant, and the process will continue for the next 6-8 years until all of the vines have been replaced. Since confirmation of the virus two years ago, there have been a lot of sleepless nights, and I’m confident there will be many more as we work our way through this challenge. But having had the advantage of time to let the panic subside, and time to rethink what we’ve done that has worked, what hasn’t worked so well, and what we would do differently now that we’re starting over again, I have to admit that I’m feeling a sense of optimism and maybe excitement about how this all comes together.

There are a few key changes that we’ve implemented. First, Zinfandel will not get replanted. I’ve decided that it isn’t core to the kukkula brand. That acreage will get replanted with more of the same Rhone varietals we already grow. The only non-Rhone remaining will be Cabernet Sauvignon, and that acreage will grow.

Second, we will increase our planting density to 871 plants per acre, up from 370. I’m doing this to try to reduce the vigor of the vines by crowding the root space. Finally, and the decision I struggled with most, I’m adding a drip line to all of the new vines. I’m convinced that, due to global climate change, we will be experiencing more draught years than wet years. Since the 2011/2012 rain season, we’ve experienced six out of eight draught years. So, I’ve decided to be the winter rain. This thought really came to me in March of 2018 when we had only accumulated five inches for the season. Thankfully, we did have “the March miracle” and the season ended with a bit over 19 inches. That said, I’ve come to believe that prolonged periods of stress to the vines ultimately becomes detrimental to the vines and the fruit. Going forward, I will monitor the rain totals, calculate water reserve requirements for the soil, and add those reserves to the soil before bud break to make sure the plants thrive during the growing season.

Enough of that. I mentioned that last year was a really good year for kukkula. Even though most of our wine is sold directly to consumers from online sales, tasting room visits and club membership, I’ve always wanted to make kukkula available in Finland. I’ve tried to make this happen over the years, but with little success. Yet sometimes in life we seem to catch the perfect wave! In early 2018, a man named Esko Aho (a former Prime Minister of Finland) walked into the tasting room, and started the ball rolling. Through his connections, I met and networked with a number of people. Concurrent with these discussions, I received an email from someone named Michaela Gerbaulet, whom I had sold a pallet of wine to several years earlier. That wine was sold through Alko, the Finnish alcohol monopoly. Suddenly I was in discussions with two distributors, and by mid-December we had our first order. The wine is now in Finland ready to be “introduced”. I’ll be flying there on the 1st of June to help with the introduction. I am very excited and hopeful that this will be a big success, and I’m really appreciative of the interest and assistance I’ve gotten from Esko, his good friend Lauri Kivinen, and Michaela. Best of all, now I have a great excuse to visit Finland on a regular basis!

This fall, our youngest is headed to Carleton College in Minnesota. Carleton students call themselves “Carls” by the way, so Karl is now also a Carl. Karl is really excited, as are we. It’s the end of a chapter for Paula and me as parents, and the beginning of a new chapter as empty nesters. We’re looking forward to seeing Karl pursue studies of his choosing and become truly independent.

Paula and I have been anticipating this day for a while. I’m sure there will be some teary moments, but we’re really looking forward to traveling again and are already talking about a trip to Argentina’s wine region and Patagonia this winter.

Let’s toast to new beginnings!