Friday, October 13, 2017

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.

Here are my notes on the wines I tasted…

2013 Kukkula In The Red - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
Nose shows dark currants, blackberries, cedar, clove and cinnamon. Sturdy/dry tannins with moderating acidity. Dark plums, tart black currants, rich but bright and pretty fruit. Mix in some clove, root beer, spiced tea, dark chocolate shavings, also some underlying mineral and dusty/rocky elements. Wow, so pretty now but a long time to evolve in the cellar. 60% Syrah and 40% Cabernet. (92 points)

2014 Kukkula Aatto - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
Aromas show tart strawberries, cranberries, it’s really spicy with sour ale, smoke, pepper and herbal notes. Plum and chewy on the palate, velvety and voluptuous but also bright and lively. Strawberry jam, raspberries, rich fruit but so juicy. Super peppery with bacon fat and olives, a really fun and delicious salty presence that balances out the punchy fruit. Love the mineral-laden, long finish. Three-to-five years would really do wonders for this wine but it is gorgeous now. 48% Counoise, 38% Mourvedre, 14% Grenache. (92 points)

2013 Kukkula Pas de Deux - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
Savory herbs and spices on the nose with black and red cherries, red licorice, wood planks. Full and velvety with smooth tannins and medium acidity. Juicy cherries and red and black plums, tossed with licorice, anise, clove, lots of spicy/herbal complexity. Chewy and bold but still vibrant and nuanced. 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah. (91 points)

2013 Kukkula Sisu - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
I get some tart black currants and juicy plums on the nose along with leather, clove, cedar and toasted walnuts. Full and structured nicely but suave, too, with moderating acidity and lots of crushed blackberry, tart dark plums, smoky blueberries. Laced with earth, loam, pepper, leather, dusty library, not to mention some charcoal, mushroom and mocha. Big but beautiful and full of nuance, this will be even more beautiful in five years. 55% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre. (93 points)

2014 Kukkula Noir - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
Really cool stuff! On the nose, I get cedar, roasted chestnuts and walnuts on top of black cherries and plums, black pepper glaze, black olive, smoke, charcoal, tar – I love it! Bold presence but plush with velvety tannins and moderating acidity. Black cherry, gushing blueberry, mixed with smoky tar, graphite, mushroom, pepper, bacon fat, spiced black tea — I’m not kidding with these complex nuances, this wine is full of them. Coffee and anise on the long finish, this is a savory but juicy wine with lots of aging potential. 89% Syrah and 11% Counoise. (94 points) 

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