A fine wine in Turtle
by Cheryl Lecesse/ Staff Writer
From the Thursday, September 8, 2005 edition of the Lincoln Journal:
Walking into the basement of Kip Kumler's Beaver Pond Road home is like
walking into another world.
Below his home, set far back from the road, surrounded by peace and quiet,
is where Kumler makes his wine.
Kumler is the proprietor of Turtle Creek Winery, where he has been making
a variety of red and white wines for more than five years.
Having no background in chemistry, Kumler studied books and talked to
winemakers around the globe to become the knowledgeable winemaker he is
Grapevines on fences catch the eye of the driver heading up Kumler's driveway,
the only marker spoiling the known secret that a winemaker lives in this
neighborhood. Inside the unassuming home, on the winery's heated floors,
are equipment essential to winemaking. In another room stand cases of
wine, and in still another sweet-smelling room sit oak barrels full of
wine, waiting for the day when they will be bottled and sold.
"I could have hidden everything," Kumler said, saying all of
the winery - except the barrel room - was made from existing rooms at
the bottom level of his home. The barrel room was built from scratch.
Kumler's daughter designed the first "turtle" logo. Later Kumler
asked an artist at a printing company to design the logo as a mosaic.
Kumler makes about 500 cases of wine a year - about 7 tons of fruit. But
that large amount is only handled about 10 times between the vine and
the store, he said.
Making white wine is a different process
than red wine, Kumler said. While white wine grapes are pressed immediately,
red wine grapes are pressed after fermentation. Allowing red wine grapes
to ferment first adds to the wine's color.
Grapes are pressed gently - no more than 20 pounds per square inch.
"You want some solids in the juice because that facilitates fermentation,"
The result is a high quality juice.
After the grapes are pressed, the juice goes into a large stainless steel
tub, called a fermentor, for the full fermentation process to occur. A
computer system monitors the temperatures in each fermentor.
"Temperature control is one of the important things," he said.
Fermentation is an exothermic process - it generates heat. But too much
heat can kill the yeast, which interrupts the fermentation process.
"The yeast doesn't want to see more than an 8 degree Fahrenheit move
in eight hours," Kumler said.
Most Chardonnay and all red wines go through secondary fermentation, in
which malic acid is converted to lactic acid, and a process that reduces
acidity in wine.
In the laboratory, Kumler examines the wine, checking its acidity and
sugar content, measuring the pH, and adjusting them if necessary. Kumler
also measures the wine's alcohol level in the laboratory.
Finally, some wines are oaked - a process in which wine sits in oak barrels
to add to its flavor. Kumler said he places his red wines in new French
oak barrels - a sweeter oak than American oak, he said.
"Most Chardonnays, I think, Tracy and I feel are over-oaked,"
he said, saying he uses both 5-year-old oak and 4-your-old oak for his
batches. But 1/3 of his Chardonnay he stores in stainless steel barrels.
"Riesling doesn't see any oak," he said.
Bottling is a process in itself. First bottles are purged with argon and
filled using a special machine, set to fill each bottle according to the
legal fill requirement. Although the machine is designed to handle 1,800
bottles an hour, Kumler uses it at 400 bottles an hour. The machine corks
each bottle under a vacuum, then the bottle moves onto the spinner - a
machine that places the tin covering tightly over the cork - and then
to a machine that presses the label on.
An assembly line of people pitch in to make the bottling process go speedily
by. One person purges the bottles and runs it through the machine, the
next runs the spinner, and another runs the labeler. The wine then moves
on to the finishing room.
Volunteers help get the work done, especially around harvesting time.
Each one receives a Turtle Creek T-shirt, and Kumler rewards them with
a big dinner.
Currently Kumler purchases most of the fruit used to make wine. Fruit
for Riesling comes from the Finger Lakes in New York, while the remainder
of the fruit he purchases comes frozen from California.
"People are kind of surprised at the idea you can make wine from
frozen grapes," he said.
But Kumler said using frozen fruit has been a benefit.
"By freezing that you're breaking down the molecular structure, particularly
in the skin," Kumler said, which adds to the flavor and color of
In fact, a friend of Kumler's in the Sienna Foothills, also a winemaker,
liked how Kumler's wine tasted so much, he decided to freeze his fruit
"Purchasing fruit is a way of getting the winery going," Kumler
Kumler said they have been working on growing the vineyard - both in his
yard and at Flint's field off Lexington Road - for four years. Winemakers
usually wait about four years to grow their vineyard before going into
commercial production," he said.
"We want the vine to be in really good shape," he said.
The first winter, a lot of Kumler's vines were lost due to the weather.
Two winters ago, Part of the vineyard was damaged again due to the extreme
cold that hit in mid-December.
"We had butane heaters, trying to soften the ground," he said.
"That's all been replanted now."
In addition to his 8 acres at Beaver Pond Road, Kumler also leases part
of Flint's field off Lexington Road from the town.
Residents were weary of Kumler's plans for a winery when he first proposed
the idea, partly because his proposal included clearing two acres of land
of Lexington Road. But the deed for the property, he found, stipulated
the field had to be kept clear.
While the slope of the field is a little too steep for a hay wagon, it
works well for a vineyard - a south-facing slope ensures the vines will
always be in sunshine, which is critical to grapes' growth, said Tracy
Ebbert, vineyard manager.
"I think that it is far more beautiful now," he said, saying
a trail goes near the vineyard, to the top of the hill. "It just
gives you this beautiful experience over 30-40 acres."
But Kumler said he thinks purchasing fruit will always be a part of his
"This is fruit coming from people that have a stake in what I'm doing,"
he said. "They're an important part of what we do."
He added, "They like to see the wine that comes from it."
From deer and turkey to fungus and disease, vineyard managers face all
sorts of challenges, not to mention the challenge of making the perfect
batch of wine.
A rotten egg and Tabasco painted on a post keep the deer away, said Ebbert.
The threat of fungus also poses a challenge to winemakers throughout the
"We're at the epicenter of it now," said Kumler of fungal pressure,
which contaminates grapes, and wine if not found.
To minimize fungus, Kumler treats his vines with a spray that is 95 percent
"Sulfur technically is organic," Kumler said.
In addition, the vineyard drops a lot of fruit, due to animals, pests,
"We burn everything," Ebbert said of the fruit that is picked
off, as a precaution to keep disease or fungus from spreading to the healthy
Weather is also a major challenge, but Kumler has a system to protect
his vines in extreme cold: Sleeves of two layers of bubble wrap, laminated
and wrapped in foil, inside polyethitate envelope with a touch of salt.
Winemaking is a constant delicate balance. While sugar is needed during
fermentation - the yeast turns it into ethyl alcohol, it could cause fermentation
if residue is in the wine bottle. Yeast needs oxygen during fermentation,
but oxygen can spoil wine after it is bottled.
"Cleanliness is everything," he said. "You're spending
a significant amount of time cleaning up."
Once wine leaves a fermentor, everything is cleaned, including the threads
of the spout at its base - with a toothbrush.
Cleaning has to be thorough, or else the equipment could contaminate the
next batch of wine.
Kumler made significant investments in his winery, to make sure he used
techniques and equipment that would best respect the integrity of the
grape. All of his equipment was purchased with quality in mind, down to
the type of pump he purchased.
"I know we can make world-class wine here," Kumler said. "It's
a different matter to make it consistently."
For more information, visit www.turtlecreekwine.com.