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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

Spring sale – 40% off Dysfunctional Family Winery rosé

Spring sale – 40% off Dysfunctional Family Winery rosé

Sizzling sale of racy rosé – till sold out. See below and use the secret code!…

Less than 20 cases remaining of our crisp, racy, and delicious Dysfunctional Family Winery 2019 Rosé.
Marked down 40%, Half and full cases only, 6 bottles for $86.40, 12 bottles for $172.80

Simple order process using the SIZZLING discount:
  • Click on link – https://www.dysfunctionalfamilywinery.com/shop/
  • Select bottle quantity and click ‘add to cart’
  • Click ‘checkout’
  • Enter the discount code on the right: SIZZLING (all caps) and hit “Apply”
  • Enter your basic customer info on the left and hit continue
  • Choose delivery option “Pick up” or “Ship” and “continue”
  • Complete the order

If you choose “pick up” we’ll have the wine ready for you here at the ranch next week. Or we’ll ship to you asap.

Order today before it’s all gone. Chill it or freeze it or put a few ice cubes in your wine glass and pour – anything goes with rosé!

About: This rosé was made in the classic French ‘saigneé style’ – ‘bleeding off’ the raw pink grape juice from a gorgeous tank of just-harvested red fruit – then cold fermented in stainless steel, lees stirred for a creamier finish, and then racked back to neutral oak barrels for settling and aging; all resulting in a wine that is a dark cotton candy in color, bright and racy and fruit forward, with a soft finish; perfect for warm sunny afternoons and summer poolside dining.
Blend: 65% Cabernet, 23% Syrah, 9% Zinfandel, 3% Grenache

Totem pole – a new ranch project

There is a Federally registered first-nations “Miwok” artifact site on the ranch. So, a new project – a totem pole.

Totem poles were monuments created by First Nations of the Pacific Northwest to represent and commemorate ancestry, histories, people, or events. We thought it would be fun to create a modern Sonoma version of a totem pole to commemorate the local ancestors who once occupied this land. Being careful not to appropriate and warp the native culture, we’re steering clear of traditional motifs and looking at alternate totem design ideas.

Another couple of hours and it’s starting to look like something that can be carved. Into what is the question? If anyone has ideas, please offer them up!

In and around the gardens – potatoes, lettuce, wild birds, and awards

The ranch veggie garden is in Spring mode and the first crop of ‘new’ potatoes are in…

…in just two small raised beds, over 250 heads of lettuce harvested and shared with friends and family. Seen  here, the third and final heads of lettuce from the rather tired original roots.

Spring is definitely here when the trees, roof eves, and gutters are stuffed with tiny wild bird eggs…

SONOMA May 8, 2021 — Hydeout Sonoma has been selected for the 2021 Best of Sonoma Award in the Agriculture Cooperative category. Award winners include local Sonoma companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and our community.

Flashback – the terrible Sonoma and Napa fires of 2017 and 2020

Let’s hope we do not have to re-visit this ugly scene from 2017. But it is so darn dry out there already! Our weather station says we received only 11 inches of rain this season out of an expected 35 inches normally. Here at the ranch, we’ve cut way back on irrigation, let the lawn go brown, and doing everything possible to reduce aquifer usage.

Hoping for more of this…

…and less of this from the summer 2020!

Thanks to each of you, our 900+ member readers of this blog post!

Fun topics from Sonoma’s Dysfunctional Family Winery

Fun topics from Sonoma’s Dysfunctional Family Winery

Customers support our on-line launch…

Quick shop link: Dysfunctional wine Discount code at check out: “Hydeout”

Sonoma International Film Festival captures a Methuselah

Memories of a motorcycle adventure to Patagonia, Argentina

Tasting panel at the winery

Reader’s ask: “What part of the wine business is actually fun?” The wine business can be a complicated industry to navigate. Many wineries employ a team of professionals to help plan their way through branding, pricing, packaging, target demographics, the logistics of inventory planning and distribution, etc. Building distribution channels and tracking sales metrics requires expertise and data. And the wine industry, like many, is now an environment where “big data” rules the day. Careful dissection of customer acquisition costs, customer purchasing habits, and distribution channel metrics now takes place in dark rooms pouring over carefully accumulated data. And frequently the wines need to be similar from one vintage to the next – in order to meet and keep meeting a customer’s expectations.
I am not fascinated with that part of the business. For me as a smaller operator, I much prefer focussing all of my attention on growing grapes and making wines. And rely somewhat on creativity and luck to obtain customers. We produce wines which are rarely similar from one vintage to the next, as the quirky labels testify, often reflecting the individual vineyard sites as they change from one season to the next, experimenting with various techniques and blends and barrels in the winery, and offering wines to our customers who enjoy getting away somewhat from the ‘expert scores’ and ‘safe’ cookie-cutter profiles. It takes a certain degree of confidence to sell wines like this. And it definitely takes a certain degree of risk for customers to try our wines. For those who have tried us out, we sure appreciate your courage!

There’s still time to order wine with a “blog subscriber discount” using the code word “Hydeout” – just enter the word “Hydeout” when you check out from the on-line shopping portal found here: https://www.dysfunctionalfamilywinery.com/shop/

Pruning our ‘Estate Reserve’ Sagrantino vineyard in the winter of 2021. 

 

View of one of Hydeout Sonoma’s client vineyards, this spectacular property is just above the small town of Sonoma. Looking north, old head-pruned zin in the foreground, on the above-left is a lavender field and above that is a new Petite Sirah vineyard on a very steep side-slope, and in the background-right is a new Cabernet block planted just last year. These were already open fields, the drainage corridor has been carefully preserved (see center of image), and no trees were taken down.

 

L-R, Cynthia, daughter Sophia, and me – on a chilly morning out in the vineyards on the reliable Polaris UTV reviewing recent pruning. We thank you all for the continued support of our new Dysfunctional brand launch.

The smoky grape harvest of Sonoma 2020

The smoky grape harvest of Sonoma 2020

A smoky harvest like no other…

Pandemic, wildfires, smoke, and riots. And who can forget the electromagnetic solar pulse that destroyed the electrical grid! While all this mayhem has been going on, the Sonoma wine industry has been grappling with a grape harvest like no other.

While firefighters fought blazes across the west, growers attempted to protect their employees from the virus with masks, thermometers, and testing while also protecting the valuable grape crop from endless exposure to smoke. The compounds from smoke can settle on the grapes and be metabolized into the fruit through the grape skins. In some wines, the effect will be little to none and the smoke is no cause for worry. In other cases, experts and trained consumers will detect the smoke taint in the wine after 6 months or so. Behind the scenes, most winemakers are saying that the frequency of smoke taint is overblown. We’re just not seeing detectable levels as wines complete fermentation. But no one wants to be caught pressing a narrative that could appear to be self-serving. Click here to read a detailed story on smoke taint from noted SF Chronicle wine writer Esther Mobley and this article by noted chemist Clark Smith.

Here are some photos of Hydeout Sonoma’s first few days of the smoky harvest:

Bringing in the fruit:

We managed to bring in great fruit despite the many challenges, and thankfully most of it looks to be free of smoke taint. But we won’t really know for sure until a few months from now when a) the lab test results are back and b) the wine is safely in barrels.

Processing the fruit:

This time-lapse video link below says it all: Click here for the time lapse video of the winery crush pad.  Note that each white bin that arrives and departs represents a half-ton of fruit, equal to about 80 gallons or 35 cases of finished wine. I am standing atop the catwalk at the top of the frame ruling over my loyal subjects.

Fruit processing

A 1/2 ton bin of Syrah waiting for the de-stemmer

Surprising news about what wine drinkers care about:

Grape growers and winemakers live and breathe farming and fermentation all year long, and many wine marketers wrongly assume that is what consumers want to hear about. But no, it appears that they are not very interested in how the wine is made or for that matter even how it’s grown. The top three important pieces of information consumers are after are 1) wine type, 2) flavor and taste, and 3) where the wine was produced. I suppose then a word to the wise – no more putting people to sleep droning on and on about farming methods, special blocks, blending trials, oak barrels, and so on.

Whhat wine customers are looking for?

Dysfunctional Family Winery construction news:

After 3 1/2 years of Sonoma County-required studies for a micro-winery Use Permit, we finally ‘turned some dirt’ and started digging test pits to reconfirm the building foundation requirements.

Geotech test pit 1

Excavator operator Jim Rong digging the test pit next to the old barn which will become the winery some day.

Geotech test pit 2

Don Whyte from PJC Geotechnical climbs into the test pit to study and report on the soil characteristics. We tossed in a Coors Light and a small dog and said “have fun down there”.

Happy winemaker:
IMG_1377

Underway with my 21st vintage. My happy face and the bags under my eyes is a regular gift from the long days of every harvest. That hat on my head, my local gym, well, I haven’t seen the place since March.

There goes my hero! – (watch the Foo Fighters song on You Tube)
DAW

Were you perhaps wondering who is this brave firefighter featured at the top of this post? His name is Dennis Wornick, and he is our middle child. He is a wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service ‘Texas Canyon Hotshots’ based in LA. I am not certain where or when this picture was taken, but it was likely either on the Red Salmon Complex fire in or on the Dolan fire in Big Sur; and today his crew went into the Bobcat fire.