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Are you running out of Chardonnay? Here’s why…
The long years of wildfires in Sonoma has taken its toll in the vineyards and on the grape supply. Combine that with high e-commerce demand from Covid. And you get this:
Is that smoke I smell in my Merlot? Maybe, or maybe not…
That’s a lot of grapevines to prune by hand!
Even in smaller ranches of a few acres, it still adds up to many thousands of vines. And vines must be pruned by hand, one by one, it’s the only way. And when you take the time to carefully choose how many fruiting buds to leave on each vine in the winter, the result will be fruit that will ripen to perfection at the end of summer.
Our Sagrantino vines below are where the Dysfunctional Family ‘Estate Reserve’ is grown at the Hydeout Ranch. Click on this link to learn more about Sagrantino, a “thick skinned, dark, tannic monster.” The whole family gets involved in pruning and tieing…
If it’s February in Sonoma, it must be time for mustard…
Dysfunctional Family Winery – You still haven’t tried our wines? Boldly defying wine branding convention and in a humorous contrarian twist – ours is a simple premise – we take our wine seriously, but not ourselves. For decades we have farmed the vineyards and produced the wines for over fifty noteworthy private clients from Silicon Valley to Sonoma. Now we invite you to taste our own family’s wines, visit our ranch, and feel at home, relaxed, and ready for fun. That’s why we named our winery after all of our wonderful families – happily, humorously, proudly Dysfunctional…
We deliver, or you can pick up at the ranch in Sonoma…
And a farming post-script from the Hydeout Ranch…
Thanks for reading these blog posts, for your great questions, and for being loyal customers of our Dysfunctional Family wines.
Another grape harvest in the books. 22 vintages for me. And what a vintage 2020 has been. The winery established a ‘no visitor’ employees-only policy, so no client visits this season. We’ve all been functioning as a tight pod. And hanging over the entire harvest were continuous red flag warnings and the smoke taint issue widely appearing in the news.
I’ve personally tasted many dozens of 2020 wines in tank and barrel and (so far) there is little to no evidence that smoke taint has made its way into the wines. I know, it’s a big claim, but that’s honestly what I’ve personally observed. We won’t know for certain of course for a few more months, so stand by for an honest re-assessment this winter. To understand more about the process of smoke taint, read here: Smoke taint as presented by the Wine Spectator in 2017 and Smoke taint as presented by the Wine Spectator in 2020.
While smaller producers forged ahead with harvest and winemaking, larger players rejected huge loads of fruit. Why did some producers proceed with harvest while others rejected grapes? Many theories abound. Here are my personal observations:
- In many dozens of 2020 wines made from northern california fruit, we have observed very little presence of actual smoke flaws in the wine so far.
- Larger growers maintain significant crop insurance. Their policies allow for smoke taint as a covered item. If buyers reject their fruit, they are covered.
- Winery’s contracts with growers also provide for smoke taint as a rejectable flaw.
- Labs have the ability to test for smoke taint in the parts per billion range, in alignment with grower and winery contracts and policies.
- Grower and winery insurers have established smoke taint rejection criteria.
- The mere mention of smoke taint associated with a wine is enough to sully a valuable brand. So why put the brand at risk when you can collect insured coverage?
- But, the science of smoke taint is not perfectly understood.
- Market forces are in control. Some wineries are not unhappy with the chance to reduce a glut of inventory from the various production, economic, and virus pressures in the market. Thus rejecting fruit under contract may be a welcome relief from a mounting inventory and financial burden.
- Worthy of note, brokers have quietly tied up significant portions of the 2019 bulk wine supply right as the fires started.
- Last, look for lots of 2020 rosé wine soon – due to the way rosé is made by quickly removing the smokey skins from the juice, many wineries took that step.
Back to the 2020 vintage – at the conclusion of fermentation, the wines are pressed and barreled. They are carefully labeled and stacked. It’s quite a feeling to see 12 months of work put safely to bed.
The very last tub of fruit for 2020
A moment for MLF science – the secondary ML (malo-lactic) fermentation and chromatography
Why are some wines crisp and citrusy and others so soft and jammy or buttery? Primary fermentation involves the conversion of sugar to alcohol according to this formula: 2 parts sugar + yeast = 1 part alcohol + 1 part CO2 + heat. As the yeast converts the last few molecules of sugar, the red wins are pressed and settled, then moved into barrels. Over the winter months, the ‘secondary fermentation’ occurs. In the presence of the friendly and beneficial bacteria, relatively weak Malic acid (somewhat tart) is slowly converted into Lactic acid (the softer acid typically associated with dairy). This has the benefit of reducing some of the tartness and making the resulting wine taste softer. To monitor the status of the secondary “ML” fermentation, we use paper chromatography.
Marking the end of the harvest and arrival of the Monarch Butterflies
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.
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.
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.