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:
Liz Thatch, Master of Wine and Distinguished Professor of Wine – click: Liz Thatch
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.
Arnoldo Caprai 2003 Collepiano Sagrantino di Montefalco (99 pts)
Arnold Caprai, 2016 Montefalco Sagrantino, 25th anniversary edition (97 pts)
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.
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 – https://sonomafilmfest.org
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 https://www.jockmcdonald.com
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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
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