Turtle Creek Casablanca
Turtle Creek American Sauvignon Blanc
Turtle Creek 2000 American Chardonnay
Turtle Creek American Chardonnay
Turtle Creek American Pinot Noir
Turtle Creek American Cabernet Franc
Turtle Creek American Cabernet Sauvignon
Turtle Creek American Late Harvest Zinfandel
Kumler is new to winemaking, and you could be forgiven for dismissing him as one more ex-CEO who dreamed of the wine life in Napa or Sonoma and then—as if it were a yacht—bought it. But you’d be about as wrong as you can be.
This new vineyard owner is actually doing everything himself—planting the vines, pruning them, getting his hands “purple” in the cellar. And he’s not in some famous place. Most people in Kumler’s position are indeed in Napa, or Sonoma, or another big winemaking region and they hire a winemaker and let other people do the real work. They want to be able to say they own a vineyard.
Improbably, Kumler’s winemaking venture, Turtle Creek (named because he likes the sound of it), is deep in leafy Lincoln. On an 8- acre plot, a mile or two from the hum of Route 2, Kumler, a Harvard Business School graduate and former Arthur D. Little consultant, has set up a miniature winery complete with state-of-the-art Italian press, temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, and a high-tech lab with a heated concrete floor. The lab is housed in a room where a former owner—a child psychiatrist—once saw patients.
Ten years ago, if you had asked him what he would be doing at this point in his life, “I would never have said it would be this,” says Kumler, who prefers to say he is refocused rather than retired.
Four to 500 vines grow around the house, but because the entire enterprise is so young, no grapes from the property have yet found their way into a Turtle Creek release. Until the 2000 vintage, when Kumler harvested a little chardonnay and cabernet franc (they’re still in barrel), all the wines were made with fresh grapes, grape juice, or frozen grapes shipped from growers in California, New York State’s Finger Lakes Region, or Long Island. Making wine with purchased grapes isn’t unusual anywhere in the wine world, even among high-quality producers. But, eventually, Kumler hopes to make a full transition to estate-grown grapes, with the exception of those varieties—such as zinfandel—that just don’t do well here.
Bill Barber, whose Cheese Shop in neighboring Concord is the only retail outlet for Kumler’s wines, says that when he first tasted them, he was astonished at the quality. “This is serious, handcrafted wine,” says Barber. “This isn’t some guy with a couple of plastic jugs in his cellar.”
The winery proper is located beneath the sprawling shingle-style house he and wife Kally bought in 1984. Built early in the last century as a summer residence, the house has a rather grand, elderly air. A long, curving gravel drive wraps around a little slope in the front of the house, where you get your first view of Turtle Creek’s Lilliputian vineyard—a scant couple of hundred chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc vines trained along wires in single guyot fashion.
Why these particular varieties? “These are the ones I like,” the winemaker replies.
There are more vines behind the house on terraced slopes. Here, Kumler is experimenting with an unusual pruning technique by which the bearing canes emerge from the trunk high up, at eye level. Kumler hopes these high-trained canes will give the fruit better exposure to sun and air, though the elongated trunk may be susceptible to winter damage. Like most things in agriculture, it’s a trade-off—a calculated risk undertaken to generate an incremental benefit.
In a few years, Kumler will establish a new vineyard on land leased from the town of Lincoln a mile or two from the winery. The southeast-facing slope, on the site of the former Flint farm, will eventually be home to 4,000 new chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling, and pinot noir vines.
All vines planted at Turtle Creek are true, old world vinifera varieties, not the hybrids, which tend to be easier to grow in these latitudes, but produce inferior wines.
At first, the town was skeptical of the Flint property project because it involved cutting trees. The original colonial era land grant, however, stipulated that once cleared the land was to be maintained as open space in perpetuity. That discovery, coupled with the town’s interest in encouraging small-scale agriculture, helped ease the way for a long-term lease. The arrangement, says former Conservation Commission chair Jonathan Donaldson, was discussed at length. “In the end, it wasn’t really a controversial decision,” he says. When complete, Kumler expects to have around $50,000 invested there.
Once the Flint property vineyard comes into production, Turtle Creek’s vines will yield between 6 and 8 tons of fruit, capable of making 500 and 600 cases of finished wine. It’s a level of production Kumler thinks would mark the practical limit of his facilities.
“When I got started, I completely underestimated the amount of space required to do this,” says the winemaker, pulling open the wide doors of a new shed-like building adjacent to the large Gropius-designed garage. “For example,” he says, showing cases of new unused bottles, “I hadn’t counted on how much room was needed just to store empty bottles.” A new aging room is under construction, too. It features a vaulted concrete ceiling, and will hold fifty 225-liter French oak barrels of maturing wine.
The MBA is a quick study, however. A native of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Kumler earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Cornell. His mother’s graduation gift was a summer in France. “That experience opened up the world to me,” he says with a trace of emotion. Later, while friends volunteered for the Peace Corps, Kumler signed on with the Navy Officer Candidate School and spent nine months patrolling Vietnamese rivers with US Army’s Special Forces. In 1967, he was back at Cornell finishing a master’s degree, then business school, which led to 10 years at Arthur D. Little.
“I saw people there reaching 55 or 60 who were no longer in control of their professional lives,” Kumler reflects. “I didn’t want that to happen to me.” He established his own Lexington-based consulting company and ran it, mostly alone, from 1979 to 1994.
In some ways, Kumler is typical of his new profession. “Frequently, small-scale winemakers are refugees with an attitude,” Kumler muses. “They’re people with definite opinions on just about everything. Making wine is a way of getting things exactly the way you want them to be.”
Though Kumler can tell you, to the penny, where all the money goes, he’s under no illusions about the balance sheet. He discounts capital expenses when figuring the cost of a bottle of wine, calculating only the hired labor, purchased fruit, yeasts, barrels (around $600 apiece), bottles, corks, capsules, labels, etc. For the moment, Turtle Creek’s mission isn’t to make money, but to demonstrate conclusively that noble grapes can be successfully grown and correctly vinified in a spot like Lincoln.
Since he discovered an 18th century ancestor who once tended vines and pressed grapes in the tiny Swiss town of Maisprach, near Basel, Kumler—the name was originally Kummler—has taken to describing himself as the scion of a 13th generation winemaking family.
“For twelve generations,” he says, “they decided to skip the winemaking part.”