Sagrantino tasting panel with industry pros and collectors in Sonoma

Sagrantino tasting panel with industry pros and collectors in Sonoma

Setting up for a blind tasting of Sagrantino

Wine is to be enjoyed and everyone gets to decide exactly what they like. Wine labels, the setting, the food, the mood, everything influences how we feel about a particular wine.

But a truly blind tasting is the closest we can get to really measuring one wine against another. And even then, the order of favorites can change – if the tasting is done before lunch or at dinner time, on weeknights or weekends, even the mood of the group, or just one small whispered remark, can re-order the evaluation and the results. Still, it is educational to taste wines blind, as we did here with these Sagrantino wines:

In this windowless cave under a spectacular private estate in Sonoma, we set up a blind tasting of Sagrantino wines.

The wines were bagged and numbered for complete anonymity.

Then, to assure strict adherence, all of the wines are poured in careful numbered order into wine glasses in advance, before the tasting panel entered the room

The panel was seated. And the hard work began. We tasted the wines one by one, making scrupulous notes along the way. It takes concentration and focus to really evaluate each wine carefully. The wines were judged on the basis of color, aroma, viscosity and mouthfeel, tannin structure, and finish.

The participants: When we were done tasting and making notes, the data was collected and tallied and force-ranked. Then, we revealed all the wines and had a free-wheeling discussion over the results. The professionals were quick, efficient, and showed great certainty.

From left to right, clockwise:

  1. Liz Thatch, Master of Wine and Distinguished Professor of Wine – click: Liz Thatch
  2. Graham Smith, CEO and wine collector – click: Graham Smith
  3. Anne Mieling, French-born wine expert – click: Anne Mieling
  4. Ingrid Reyes, CEO, M&A Creative Agency – click: Ingrid Reyes on LinkedIn
  5. Jennifer Arie, Director of Customer Success, Comm7 eCommerce platform – click:
  6. Ken Wornick, winemaker, Sonocaia Sagrantino and Dysfunctional Family Winery – click:
  7. Don Sebastiani, Sr., our host  – click:
  8. Steve Bush, former bio-med devices CEO, restauranteur, wine collector – click: Steve Bush
  9. Jon Curry, owner of Landers Curry, former board chair of Sonoma’s Int’l Film Festival – click:
  10. Kelly Nice, CEO/Founder, Nice and Co. Ad Agency – click:
  11. Keith Casale, local Sonoma CFO – click: Keith Casale
  12. Cynthia Wornick, Dir. of Marketing, Sonocaia and DysfunctionalFamily Winery – click: Cynthia Wornick

Note: our host for this event was Don Sebastiani, Sr. (#7 above). A true gentleman, host extraordinaire, smoker of fine cigars, lover of fine wine and food, fluent speaker of at least five languages, a true Sonoma native, and so modest you’d never know any of this about Don unless someone else told you.

A total of eight wines were evaluated – seven pure Sagrantinos from Umbria, Italy, and our 2020 Sonocaia (just-bottled estate reserve Sagrantino from Dysfunctional Family Winery at the Hydeout Ranch here in Sonoma).

Wines revealed – here are the 8 wines revealed after the blind tasting:

I was floored that our inaugural, very young, and not-yet-released 2020 Sonocaia Estate Reserve Sagrantino earned a strong third place, especially against these world-renowned Umbrian all-stars.

First through third place were tightly bunched, the next wine was a very distant fourth.

  1. Arnoldo Caprai 2003 Collepiano Sagrantino di Montefalco (99 pts)
  2. Arnold Caprai, 2016 Montefalco Sagrantino, 25th anniversary edition (97 pts)
  3. Sonocaia, 2020, Sonoma Valley, Sagrantino, Estate Reserve (94 pts)

The full lineup of Sagrantino wines – seven from Umbria and one from Sonoma

After the tasting, the panel retired outdoors to the patio for discussion and a perfectly curated lunch hosted by Don Sebastiani Sr. and prepared and served by renowned Chef David Bush from Oso Restaurant in downtown Sonoma. If you have not yet visited OSO, please do; it is a wonderful, locally-operated delicious family-owned restaurant.

Chef David Bush has a storied track record of amazing stops on the culinary trail, but certainly his restaurant Oso in downtown Sonoma is his crowning jewel, so far! Find it here: OSO Restaurant in Sonoma

The “Sonocaia” estate Sagrantino vineyard during a particularly lovely sunset in early September. Harvest is not expected until mid-October.

But wait, there’s more, another blind wine tasting event: Hydeout Consulting client “Quail Run 2020 Estate Cabernet”, just bottled, competes with older Cabernet wine country legends and comes out a winner!

We are the consulting winemakers for the Quail Run estate Cabernet. Just a couple of weeks ago, we delivered the 2020 vintage to the client. The wine was bottled after 23 months of oak aging. The client organized an inaugural blind tasting and invited a knowledgeable group of friends and neighbors to participate. I admit I was a bit nervous knowing this newly bottled inaugural vintage (and possibly my career) was about to go head-to-head against some of the finest Cabernet’s in my client’s formidable wine cellar!

Quail Run 2020 was tasted against Stone Edge Farm 2014, Repris 2018, and Stag’s Leap 2019…

The contestants in this blind wine tasting event.

At the winery, Quail Run estate Cabernet clients Jan and Patrick (right) tasting their developing 2020 estate Cabernet in August 2022 just prior to bottling.

And fresh off the bottling line, the Quail Run estate Cabernet, Sonoma Valley.

A good friend of the client, Austin Texas expert wine educator Jim Bushee, wrote a blog post about the Quail Run blind tasting. To see the results, read here: Click here to read Jim Bushee’s blog post

The client also wrote a blog post about her version of the tasting: Quail Run estate Cabernet blind tasting blog post

Summer in Sonoma  – Farming, Summerfest, and Rodeo

Summer in Sonoma – Farming, Summerfest, and Rodeo

After religiously posting every month for several years, it’s been nearly five months since I last posted.

Below are some brief stories about farming, the Sonoma Int’l Film Festival Summerfest, and a local Rodeo.

In the next few Sundays, we’ll look at Sagrantino through the lens of our trip to Umbria Italy. Then we’ll have a look at a professional blind Sagrantino tasting. And after that, a look at the 2022 harvest. Enjoy…

Farming in summer

By late summer, our Sagrantino vineyard can be a bit of a sprawl as the long days and warm weather inspire a growth spurt in canopy and shoot length. Not only unsightly, it also tends to shade the fruit from sun and trap air movement. So a clean up is in order.

After shoots are trimmed and positioned into the canopy wires, and lower leaves are removed around the fruit zone on the north facing side of each row, the vines are now well positioned to ripen fruit late into the fall.

Sonoma International Film Festival – Summerfest

One of the truly fun annual events in Sonoma is the Sonoma International Film Festival. Our next festival kicks off on March, 22-26 in 2023. Meanwhile, the Festival held a weekend-long “Summerfest” in early August with films during the day and films and dinners and parties at night. Here is a quick look:

Summerfest started with a grand launch at the Sebastiani Theater.

An outdoor film screening, food trucks, and fabulous wine – on the lawn at Chateau St Jean Winery

Sit down dinner and a movie – “screen and cuisine” – at the Hanna Boys Center. The movie, a biopic of noted chef and restauranteur Charlie Trotter, was moving, controversial, and entertaining.

Before dinner service, the crowd celebrated the five chefs and their wonderful and creative menus

The complete menu from the nights event, along with wine pairings, and key sponsors

Buy your tickets now for next spring’s Film Festival, March 22-26, a totally “walkable” festival on the square in Sonoma town –

Rodeo at Wing and Barrel

Seems like there is nothing more all-american than a rodeo, especially when it starts with someone jumping out of any airplane with a giant American flag, and sticking the landing right in the middle of the paddock!

The event was held at Wing and Barrel, set on a 1,000 acre hay ranch few minutes south of Sonoma. W&B is a membership facility designed with a hunter’s sensibilities and a connoisseur’s palate “catering to discerning sportsmen, women and their families.”

The Rodeo got started with a roundup of the horses into the large corral. All of the cowboys and cowgirls were gathering their gear, stretching out, and getting ready to compete.

The action lasted all afternoon. Incredible talent that can only be developed when you spend your childhood, or a lot of time, or both, around horses. Photo credit: local Sonoma artist and photographer Jock McDonald

Our group of rodeo clowns, during a stop at the Wing and Barrel bar, heading out to the rodeo. Our generous hosts, Jon and Christine Curry, 3rd and 4th from left.

Enjoying some Dysfunctional Family Winery rosé, and beer, and tequila

In the next few Sundays, we’ll look at Sagrantino through the lens of our trip to Umbria Italy. Then we’ll have a look at a professional blind Sagrantino tasting. And after that, a look at the 2022 harvest.

Sonoma – wine tasting, film, food, horses, chickens, and fun

Sonoma – wine tasting, film, food, horses, chickens, and fun

This is where I try to convince you to be entertained for a few minutes with little bits of fun from Sonoma –


Blind Tasting: 2013 Napa Valley Cabernets and 2020 Sauvignon Blancs from 5 Countries

Many thanks to friend and colleague, Keith Casale, who helped launch this inaugural tasting event at the Hydeout Sonoma. Also, thanks to Lisa Lavagetto for the delicious catering effort.

Sonoma Int’l Film Festival – 25th Anniversary

Opening night of the 25th anniversary of the Sonoma International Film Festival. Here, in Sonoma’s art deco Sebastiani theatre, artistic director Kevin McNeely interviews the “Lost City” film’s directors, brothers Adam and Aaron Nee. This was the film’s premiere, featuring Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum (with a hilarious cameo by Brad Pitt) and the audience were roaring in their seats. One of the very best events in wine country, the festival runs over 5 days, 7 venues, dozens of fantastic films, and endless food and wine.

The new leadership of the Sonoma Int’l Film Festival for the 26th year: L to R, Kevin McNeely (Artistic Director), Bob Berg (Chair of the Board) Jon Curry (Immediately. Past Chair of the Board), Ken Wornick (Vice-Chair of the Board)

Sonoma grapevine bud break – 2022

What a cliché – bud break in wine country. And yet it is truly the annual renewal of life after a welcome and much needed cold rainy winter.


New arrivals – over 30 new chicks who will grow up to be egg producers of the team of Dysfunctional Family Chickens

Video – Hydeout Sonoma welcomes a new batch of very cute Dysfunctional Family Chickens


Five of us from Sonoma rode in the 75th anniversary of the Desert Caballeros horseback ride in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. 100 miles in 5 days, sleeping under the stars at night.

Video: check out this video of 160 horses riding into the Sonoran Desert


Rain! After two atmospheric rivers in late Fall, it seemed the rain would never return. But in early April, a series of storms rolled through Sonoma. Here, the Hydeout weather station was so shocked by it all, it displayed 10.24 inches rain in an hour. Repairs are in order. But still, rain in any amount is welcome.

Learn about and order our wines here: Dysfunctional Family Winery – rosé and red blends

1) Hydeout Sonoma announces new partner, 2) motorcycling through Baja Mexico’s wine country

1) Hydeout Sonoma announces new partner, 2) motorcycling through Baja Mexico’s wine country

Hydeout Sonoma announces new partner

Hydeout Sonoma, a full-service wine country consulting firm offering vineyard farming, winemaking, and brand development services to a portfolio of private clients announces the appointment of its newest partner, Faith Armstrong. Faith will play an immediate full time role with the company in support of client farming and winemaking.

Faith received a full Regents Scholarship to the University of California at Davis, earning her B.S. degree in Viticulture and Enology with highest honors. She became the assistant winemaker at the renowned Frank Family Vineyards in Calistoga, Napa Valley. And while focussed on raising her children, Faith also established her own highly-acclaimed brand of modern wines, Onward.

Ken Wornick, company founder, works exclusively with the firm’s private clients, conceiving and executing vineyard, wine, and brand development projects, taking 100% ownership of all concepts and deliverables, leaving clients free to participate when/how interest and schedule allows. The firm manages sixteen boutique vineyards in Sonoma and Napa and produces the client’s branded wines. The firm also produces wine for its company-owned brand, Dysfunctional Family Winery.

Link to the full story in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Faith Armstrong and Ken Wornick – pictured at their winery in front of some client barrels of rosé.

Motorcycling through Mexico’s Guadalupe Wine Valley – the “Ruta Del Vino”

The sign welcoming us to the Ruta, you can spot a few vineyards in the mountains beyond.

Before the 2022 grape farming season got fully underway in late February, our middle son Dennis and I rode motorcycles from Cabo San Lucas, the southern tip of Baja Sur, Mexico north to Long Beach, USA. Below is a brief series of photos from the epic journey…

Dennis and Ken Wornick, riding in the gravel to reach the overlook of the Punta De Prieta, and the vast and empty Bahia De Los Angeles, in Baja Sur

A couple of days into the journey north, I remembered to shoot a photo of the Kilometers remaining until crossing the border back into the USA (something you can’t help bu have in the back of your mind when in the middle of nowhere in Mexico); in this case, 1161 Km.

Of particular interest to me was the somewhat new Mexican wine industry in the Guadalupe Valley (which is just south of the USA border, about 2 hours from San Diego). Initially founded in the 1820’s by Spanish missionaries intent on making their own wine, there was then a brief period when Russians fleeing the war with Japan ended up there and built most of the town. But in the 2000’s, industrious Mexican nationals have developed the valley in style and intent similar to Napa and Sonoma. Many of the wines were indeed delicious – fresh, fruity, exhibiting true terroir, and of high quality.

This map shows the location of the Guadalupe Valley relative to northern Baja, Tijuana, and San Diego. After visiting the Guadalupe Valley, we crossed into the USA in Tecate, which is a smallish border crossing with a significant new border wall.

Some of the newer wineries are ultra-modern and offer first class accommodations on site – like these at Encuentro Guadalupe.

Much of the food is sophisticated, and there is also plenty of really good and authentic outdoor food – like this at the well known Deckman’s.

An example of some of the more modern-style wines available from the Guadalupe Valley viticultural area.

Just one example of the truly endless Mexican roadside monuments to loved ones who died in car crashes along the highway.

Our group of riders traveling with Motoquest north through Baja on these rugged adventure bikes – BMW R1200GS’s and BMW F750GS’s. Why are we all bundled up in sub-tropical Mexico? On this particular day, we climbed multiple times up and over the Sierra Madre Occidental with elevations as high as 3500 feet. And on this day, a brutal weather system rolled in from the west. We rode through rain and sleet, precarious mountain passes, and even with heated handgrips found ourselves with chattering teeth and frozen toes.

Request to our readers

We are curious what other topics would be of interest to you?

We would appreciate any notes suggesting future topics?

Farming, winemaking, gardening, travel, motorcycles, food, herbicides, drought?…

Harvest in Sonoma Valley, from Vineyard to Winery, the 2021 season

Harvest in Sonoma Valley, from Vineyard to Winery, the 2021 season

For Hydeout Sonoma and Dysfunctional Family Winery, it’s another wine harvest in the books. Vintage number twenty-three for me.

Here is a quick pictorial essay of the entire 2021 season.

On a bright blue day in February, pruning of the dormant vines is the first order of business (here we severely pruned an old vine Zinfandel block and piled up these cuttings for a local artist’s wood project)

The vines after pruning, a bit of rain falls, and the mustard cover crop starts to push

Soon the mustard is towering over the vines (here I am in a drone-shot in a newly planted Cabernet block)

It will be time soon to begin actively farming for the season, and so we start prepping the equipment for the next few months of heavy use.

The mustard cover crop is mowed down, the soil warms, the vines wake up, and bud break is under way (but rainfall totals end up well below average in 2021, and the season ending with just 11 inches of rainfall versus a normal of 32 inches, severely taxing the water table as we watch our deep aquifer wells dry up)

But grapevines are hardy and soon the vine shoots are elongated, and deep inside the canopy the fruit begins to flower and set.

And our garden at the Hydeout responds to the summer heat with a bountiful harvest

And the next thing you know, like magic, tons of fruit is ripening quickly.

The first morning of harvest, and I am headed out at 4:00am, the car still a comfy 71F from being in the garage, but it’s a chilly 48F outside.

I arrive to find the crew well underway with harvest, as the first few vines get picked.

And after a long season of work, the half-ton bins begin to fill with ripe dark inky fruit

The sun rises and last few rows of this block get harvested.

And soon many tons of perfectly ripe fruit are ready for delivery to the winery

And eight long weeks later, the last bin of fruit is picked and is headed for the flatbed truck, and the team takes a big sigh of relief.

And now the work moves to the winery, here tank #20 is cleaned and prepped for some ripe Syrah from Kenwood

The yeast selection for this cuveé has been made, and this particular selection is a powerful one that will reliably finish fermentation in high-alcohol super-ripe red wines

Excited clients, family, and friends stop by the winery to celebrate a year’s worth of effort safely in tank

And once fermentation is complete a few weeks later, the wines are “barreled down” and the season is put to bed!

Click on these live-action videos to get the real feel of the moment:

Picking fruit by hand on a steep hillside

Filling a half-ton bin from the forty pound lug boxes

At the winery, raw fruit from the field is processed in the destemmer

After the harvest, some wine-loving friends gather to share ten special old bottles from our cellars:

  1. Botte Frères Vin D’Alsace Gerwertztraminer, 1990, Cuvee Exceptional
  2. Gundlach Bundshu, Sonoma Valley, 1990, Cabernet Sauvignon
  3. Clos Fourtet, 1st Grand Cru Classé, Saint Emilion, 2005
  4. Grand Vin De La Chateau Latour, Paula, 1990
  5. Haywood, Spaghetti Red, Sonoma Valley, 1983
  6. Silver Oak, Alexander Valley, 2003, Cabernet Sauvignon
  7. Hansen, Limited Release, Paso Robles, 2009, Cabernet Sauvignon
  8. Dalla Valle Vineyards, Napa Valley, 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon
  9. Dalla Valle Vineyards, Napa Valley, 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon
  10. Senots Yendick, Napa Valley, 1999, Cabernet Sauvignon

As the harvest winds down, look no further than just north across the street from the Hydeout Sonoma and Dysfunctional Family Winery to the Gundlach Bundschu Winery and the Huichica Music Festival. This is a photo from opening night on Friday, 10/15/21

And there’s just enough time before winter arrives for this winemaker to head off to Ennis, Montana for some fresh air

Legacy of Zinfandel – a wine tasting at Don Sebastiani’s home cellar, and other Sonoma Valley events

Legacy of Zinfandel – a wine tasting at Don Sebastiani’s home cellar, and other Sonoma Valley events

Legacy of Zinfandel in California – the Sawyer/Casale tasting panel

Generously hosted by Don Sebastiani in his home cellar, and curated by 3Badge/Gehricke CFO Keith Casale and well known Sonoma Sommelier Christopher Sawyer, we tasted our way through ten carefully aged 20-30 year-old California Zinfandels. The panel participants spanned across Sonoma grape growers, winemakers, and wine industry and media experts. The entire tasting was blind which inevitably lead to informed and wild guesses about appellation, vintage, producer, style, and so on. Click HERE to see the list of wines and vintages in the lineup. 

Sommelier Chris Sawyer reveals the names, vintages, and histories of each of the ten wines. Fascinating discussion followed. These old Zins mostly showed to be very long lived and is a testament to the skill of the winemakers back in the 1990’s. Most of the wines really held up despite their age, showing soft tannins, crisp acidity, and surprisingly fresh fruit; these traits are perhaps the hallmark of long-lived Zinfandel, California’s most “native” variety. Christopher will be collating the tasting notes and will be publishing the results soon.

Click HERE to see the list of wines and vintages in the lineup. 

After the tasting, Chef Keith Filipello of Wild Thyme Catering served lunch to the tasting panel, on the patio of Don’s home just above of the wine cellar.

SummerFest at Sonoma International Film Festival Aug 5th – 8th, 2021

A not-to-be-missed event in Sonoma, the SummerFest film festival is loaded with great films, wine, food, music, and fun. Tickets to this party are going fast. Click here to buy tickets and join the party

The SummerFest mini-festival is not to be missed. The event features 40 narratives, documentaries and short films from 15 countries screening in person at Sebastiani Theatre and Andrews Hall (at the Sonoma Community Center) all weekend, two outdoor winery screenings with live music, and SIFF Screen & Cuisine, a dinner, live music and film special events.

Sonoma Int’l Film Festival Artistic Director Kevin McNeely serves a very bountiful breakfast at his hillside home above Sonoma town to his new SIFF board V.P. (that would be me). Kevin is the man behind the curtain at the festival and a wonderful leader who expertly guides the festival staff and cheerfully greets all festival guests.

Jack London State Park – a gala donation dinner event

Another Sonoma treasure, Jack London State Park is packed with history, hiking and biking and horse trails, and historic buildings. In early June, a small group of friends gathered for a private dinner hosted by park staff. In luxury SUV’s, our group of ten was ushered to near the top of the park, just short of the summit 4.5 miles from the parking lot at 2,464 feet. We hiked the hilariously easy last 100 yards (seen here) to the top and enjoyed bubbles, rosé, and views of the Sonoma Valley. Then we walked back down to the cars where we found tables set up for a very thoughtfully prepared meal. After a couple of hours of food and fun, we drove half way back down the hill to a clearing and watched a stunning moon rise. And all for a good cause. Next up – click here for tickets to the upcoming Jack London State Park gala.

A group of Jack London Sate Park supporters arrives at the top of Sonoma Mountain after an exhausting 100 yard walk to the top.

In the wee hours well after dinner, the group settles in to watch the full moon rise from a clearing in the park. This photo was taken in complete pitch-blackness with an old iPhone and the photographer disavows any responsibility for the appearance of the participants.

A local Sonoma men’s group affectionally known as the “Choir” enjoyed a night of ‘practice’ with a tequila tasting generously hosted by one of our winemaker members. 123 Spirits founder David Ravandi presented the tequila lineup. The tasting took place in an old “Turkey Barn” just across the street from the world-wide headquarters of Dysfunctional Family Winery.

Left to right, Blanco (1), Reposado (2) , Añejo (3) – part of the 123 Spirits tequila lineup. Behind the bottles, yours truly Ken Wornick on the left (with maybe a bit too much sun), and David with the hat.

123 Spirits founder David Ravandi explaining how he manages his farming and agave fermentations.

As is standard protocol, the faces of “Choir Practice” members have been blurred to maintain an air of confidentially. The group placed a lot of orders and nearly drained his current inventory.

These delicious homemade tacos were supplied by Dani Luzzati from Bella Lu Catering.

More wine country news from Sonoma – barrel tasting, interviews, new oak barrels, etc…

In front of a stack of Hydeout Sonoma and Dysfunctional Family Winery barrels, we are barrel sampling the inaugural 2020 vintage of the Keating Family “Quail Run” Cabernet Sauvignon, scheduled for release in September 2022.

Jan Keating, artist and art educator, taking notes in discussion for the family’s “Quail Run” estate Cabernet

Preparing for the 2021 harvest, in front of +/- a hundred Hydeout Sonoma and Dysfunctional Family Winery barrels full of client wines sits a dozen new French oak barrels from Tonnellerie Bel Air.

The entire Wornick family for my dad’s 89th birthday and mom’s 85th birthday – mom and dad front center, with brothers, wives and kids; celebrated on the Bay and at the Ballpark, this group represents the completely unsuspecting inaugural members of the original dysfunctional family.

Thank you for reading another installment of the Dysfunctional Family Winery blog, sincerely, Ken