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A Beast of a Feast at kukkula Winery

By Mike Dawson / Photography By Daniel Kuras | November 22, 2017
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The sun began to slip behind the hills in West Paso Robles, the guests were en route and Paula Jussila was adding the final touches to her Boar Bourguignon, the main course for tonight’s intimate end-ofharvest feast at their modern Chimney Rock Road home. But there was one thing blatantly missing—her husband, and kukkula’s ( winemaker Kevin Jussila. Just as she was about to call him on the phone, a voice bellowed from the hallway.

“I’m here, I’m here, and I have the wine.” Turns out, Kevin had good reasons for being a tad tardy. All day he had been pressing and tanking the last of the vineyard’s Rhône grapes in kukkula’s winery, which sits about 100 yards below their hilltop home, at the base of their steep-sloping vineyards.

This year’s wine harvest has been a bear for Kevin—and nearly every winemaker in the Central Coast—thanks to a late-season heat spike that struck at precisely the wrong time, sending the almost-ripe grapes into a tizzy, upending picking schedules and creating chaos for winemakers and farmers alike.

But this harvest day was especially difficult for Kevin. He set out the wine on the copper-flecked granite kitchen island and declared he wanted beer before heading to the shower. “It takes a lot of beer to make wine,” he said, reaching for a Stella Artois in his Sub-Zero refrigerator. As he popped the bottle top, he asked if I liked his arm. Kevin is fit and lean, but his grape-stained left forearm was swollen and bulging out like Popeye’s. “Wasp nailed me this morning,” he said. “I had to switch my watch to the widest notch.”

Just to be clear, a wasp sting can ruin most people’s day, especially for those who have to wield shovels, forklift shifters and hoses all day long. But that’s the rule of winemaking: when the grapes are in, there are no excuses. This the-buck-stops-here, self-sufficiency ethos rings especially true for Kevin and Paula, who 15 years ago dove headfirst into the winemaking world.

After purchasing the 80-acre property of steep, hilly terrain, the Jussilas poured their lives into shaping their wine country vision, one minute and environmentally-friendly detail at a time.

The Adelaida District winery is 100% dry farmed (they do not water at all), the vines are head-trained (they look like free-standing trees) and it’s farmed organically. The winery and home are solar-powered, the floors of the winery are made of radiant-heated concrete to help lower their carbon footprint and as the vines were being planted, Kevin personally pulled from the soil hundreds of limestone rocks to create the gabion stone walls of their winery and home.

Photo 1: A table set for feasting on hyper-locally sourced dishes
Photo 2: Kevin replenishes the wine
Photo 3: Bottles of kukkula wines, whose name is derived from the Finnish for “the hill”

Many of their friends in Topanga thought they were flat-out nuts to go into wine, but the Jussila’s hard work is paying off. The wines of kukkula—which means “the hill” in Finnish, a nod to Kevin’s deep-rooted Finnish heritage—have consistently won over critics, netting scores well above 90 points.

It’s no surprise, then, that this harvest feast with friends was nearly all sourced from their homestead in the hills. The boar for Paula’s Bourguignon was harvested in the vineyard, her addicting wine-candied walnuts were plucked from their grove and the kukkula olive oil is crafted from the scores of Provençal variety olive trees (most olive trees in Paso Robles are Italian varieties) that line the property.

The five guests began arriving, the sky turned from cotton candy pink to orange, and the dinner party began on the patio with healthy pours of kukkula’s rosé, called Rosie.

Soon the rosé was emptied, and the feast was ready. Held in their glassed-in dining room with unobstructed views of the Santa Lucia Hills, the table was set with Paula’s boar frittata, goat cheese mashed potatoes, the Boar Bourguignon and a bowl of kukkula olives and sauna-dried tomatoes. You read that right. In keeping with their Nordic roots, they often dry goods in their sauna, which they pronounce, in true Finnish fashion, “sow-na.”

As Beethoven played throughout the home, plates and forks clinked and kukkula wine flowed, including the award-winning sisu, a gorgeous full-bodied blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, and the pas de deux, the highly sought-after Grenache-Syrah blend that has helped put Kevin’s winemaking skills on the wine world’s map.

The talk centered around harvest, and Kevin led his friends through his trials and tribulations of the season. And as the Harvest Full Moon began to rise, laughter erupted from the table after Kevin asked his guest, Dr. David Yeh, if, in fact, all this wine would act as an antihistamine for his wasp sting.

“I am no longer giving you any more medical advice,” Yeh said.

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