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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

Wine label press check, Dysfunctional Family chickens, egg frittata, fresh tacos and recipes, sourdough, art, NorCal fires, and walnut slabs…

Wine label press check, Dysfunctional Family chickens, egg frittata, fresh tacos and recipes, sourdough, art, NorCal fires, and walnut slabs…

What would wine be without a label? (We do have a word for naked wine bottles…they’re called “shiners.”) Join me on a quick road trip as I travel to our wine label printer’s factory, MPI Label in Stockton Ca. After the wine team completes the brand identity, trademark, label design, and the required label approval from the federal government, the final artwork is sent to the label printer’s pre-press team. Then it’s time for the wine label press check:


Long before the wine label press check, the decision of which paper to use is critical – every option from bright white felt to creamy eggshell is available to the wine label designers.

Raw paper

Those are huge! After the paper type is selected, the process starts with palleted spools of 1-ton raw paper sitting on the press factory floor. 

Nunez 1

The press team will run a sample of our client’s label for the client’s rep (me) to approve, thus the term press check. Here, our client’s artwork, the Nunez Vineyards Napa Cabernet, is the approved ‘control’ label given to the press operator who must precisely match this artwork throughout the entire press run.


And this press check proof is for another of our clients, the DeAcetis Family “Sovare,” a field blend of Sonoma Mountain Cabernet, Sangiovese, and Zin wine.

Salami label on spools

After running through the 1/4 mile long press, the label paper emerges as a continuous roll of almost-finished printed labels.

Video – watch the label printing on the press

Salami labels on roll

Whether it’s Safeway, Whole Foods, or Sonoma Market, food labels start with artwork that moves onto large rolls of paper and ends up here, as labels ready to apply to the package, in this case, Columbus Dry Salame.

Soap on spools

Here’s another example, in this case, many thousands of labels of a familiar brand of hand soap headed to Costco.


And a close-up of the hand soap label.

Bottling: after printing and processing, the labels make their way to the bottling line…

Mobile bottling filler

At the bottling line, new empty wine bottles are cleaned, ‘sparged’ with an inert food-grade gas which remove all oxygen, and then filled with wine.

Labels on bottles

After wine, cork, and capsule, the cut and spooled labels are applied to the wine bottles.

Video – of finished cases exit the bottling line

Palletized cases of labeled wine

Palletized and stretch-wrapped pallets of wine head to the chilled fulfillment warehouse, and eventually to your home! In 20 short months, from harvest to finished product, your deep dark inky red wine is ready for delivery.

In other news around Sonoma – chickens, frittata, tacos, fresh produce, recipes, sourdough, art, walnut trees, and more:

Kids in ‘school’

Neighborhood kids visit Hydeout Sonoma and the Dysfunctional Family chicken coop during a home-schooling exercise.

Chicken Olympics

On top of an alfalfa bale, Buff wins bronze, Orpington wins silver, and Henny Penny wins gold.


And the delicious result is a cooked-to-perfection low-fat high-protein zucchini frittata – try this recipe with some eggs and squash


My personal favorite place to buy fresh-made corn “Azteca style” tortillas. Use navigation to find it!

Heuvos Rancheros

Enjoying our homemade farm fresh tacos – brings a brief pause to the endless fires and virus isolation – here’s a good taco recipe

Summer produce

More mid-August produce from Hydeout Sonoma – this year’s various Zebra tomatoes are the clear winners – the green zebra is one this year’s favorites – learn more about heirloom green zebras

Hydeout Sonoma Produce

Hydeout Sonoma grew all the food in this photo…except one item. Can you guess? Where’s Waldo? (Yeh, it’s the watermelon). My favorite squash is the Pattypan. Small, sweet, few seeds, entirely edible with little waste – try growing some of your own Pattypans.


Oh no…but wait, oh yes… it’s the cliché shelter-in-place stay-at-home social-distancing no-hugging barely-risen amateur sourdough – try this super-easy sourdough recipe

But wait, there’s more…


The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art launched a terrific new show, “california rocks’ just as the virus shut down Sonoma. This is a fantastic collection of photographs from many of the best rock shows in the Bay Area during the 70’s, from the Cow Palace, Winterland, Day-on-the-Green, and many more – see it online here: Sonoma Valley Museum of Art – ‘California Rocks”

Fires, again!
Napa fire

 Oh no, here we go again. Last time it was the wind and downed power lines, this time it was ferocious lighting strikes, a rarity in NorCal. This was the start of it, as viewed from Hydeout looking east over Arrowhead Mountain toward Napa Valley over the hill.


And a few days later…this is a view of the Hennessey / Soda Canyon LNU complex fire in Napa, as viewed around noon from the Hydeout in Sonoma.

80-year old Walnut trees harvested for fine furniture:
Walnut tree

A friend and neighbor down the street prepares to take down two huge and dying 80-year old Walnut trees…

Walnut upper

In a few short hours, the crew has the bulk of the tree on the ground. This piece was estimated to weigh in excess of 3 tons.

Walnut trunk

Large pieces of exotic Walnut will easily make in excess of $100,000 of furniture. These particular raw chunks will be slabbed on a huge band saw and dried for 3-5 years at my friend Evan Shively’s mill in Marshall – go to this website and watch this incredible drone video – Evan Shively’s famous wood mill in Marshall, called “Arborica”


Offset disc 1

This very heavy 20-disc hydraulic-ram implement is for sale. Reply with best offer, let’s make a deal!

Ken in a Barrel

Some weird naked cowboy in a wine barrel snuck into this blog post. Thank you artist, renaissance man, and good friend Jock McDonald – see his website here –

Iconic Sebastiani vineyards returning to glory…

Iconic Sebastiani vineyards returning to glory…

Hydeout Sonoma was selected by one of the arms of the historic Sebastiani wine family to return two iconic vineyards to their former glory. But it almost takes a secret Sonoma decoder ring to explain the vaunted family history, players, vineyards, and wines. More on that later. Let’s start with the work in process…

“Los Liones” vineyard block: Hydeout Sonoma was tasked with the complete renovation of this famous vineyard. Here is an abbreviated one-year pictorial essay following the reborn “Los Liones” vineyard, from raw land to completed vineyard:

“Stone Fruit Square” block: We then cast our eyes on the equally iconic “Stone Fruit Square” vineyard just east of downtown Sonoma at the intersection of Lovall Valley Road and Gehricke Road. This 25-year old quadrilateral-trained Cabernet vineyard was once a part of the renowned ‘Cherryblock’ vineyard. Now, a piece of the famed ‘block’ has been segregated away and re-named “Stone Fruit Square” (this is August’s terrific play on words!). This fruit is also destined for the “Gehricke” ‘Upper Eastside’ label.

Now, the rest of the story…

Don and Nancy Sebastiani are the 3rd generation owners of the “Los Liones” vineyard. Their children, Donny, August, and Mia all have their hands in interesting wine country ventures. Fruit from the “Los Liones” vineyard once went into a small production red wine called Subterra.  Mia’s husband, Kendrick Coakley, along with his local friends, made a beautiful red wine from the “Los Liones” block. When 3Badge CFO Keith Casale handed me a bottle of Subterra, I opened it with some noteworthy Silicon Valley execs who have impeccable wine cred. They joined me in becoming immediate customers of Subterra.

But old age took down the original 1960’s era “Los Liones” vineyard and a replanting plan was set in motion last year (as you read about above). In parallel, we shifted the farming of the “Stone Fruit Square” vineyard from commercial mechanized farming to hand-cultivated farming. We intend to deliver deeper darker fruit as a result. August is the founder of 3Badge Beverage Corp. which is located in the former ‘firehouse’ at the corner of Broadway and Patten and the company “3Badge” is named in honor of family members who once held positions in the police and fire departments. Fruit from the “Los Liones” and “Stone Fruit Square” vineyard blocks will be combined under the Gehricke label as a ‘vineyard designate’ called “Upper East Side” (as both vineyards are located in the swanky upper eastside neighborhood of Sonoma town). 

Hydeout Sonoma will continue to develop and farm these iconic vineyard blocks. And we’ll do our best to bring forth fruit that will assure that the “Gehricke” ‘Upper East Side’ vineyard designates continue their iconic reputation.

Additional vineyard notes (for those who just can’t get enough technical info):

“Los Liones” vineyard:

  • Plant type – Ubervine from Novavine
  • Variety – Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Clone: VCR 198.1 (proprietary selection from Vivai Cooperativo Raucedo via Foundation Plant Material Services at UC Davis)
  • Rootstock: 110R (berlandieri x rupestris, medium vigor, loves hillside gravelly soils)
  • Vine architecture: bi-lateral cordon (moving toward cane-and-spur in year +/- 5)
  • Farming: 100% organic, irrigated during youth, moving toward deficit irrigation

“Stone Fruit Square” vineyard:

  • Planting – old school 1960’s plant canopy and spacing
  • Variety – Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Clones: Various
  • Rootstock: St George (‘terra rosa’ volcanic soil)
  • Vine architecture: quadrilateral cordon
  • Farming: 100% organic, deficit irrigated and/or dry farmed depending on the year
A final thought: We are in a time of terrible upset in our great country. It seems as if everything is politicized and polarized. We at Hydeout Sonoma takes very seriously the issues we are all confronting. But our blog post is not the forum for otherwise welcome debate. Still, we hope for health, peace, and liberty for all.
Sonoma Farm Life (in the time of Corona Virus)

Sonoma Farm Life (in the time of Corona Virus)

Sonoma farm life is explored, scroll through to be entertained, learn, and laugh…or just waste 10 minutes before your next ‘bored & working from home’ Corona virus zoom video conference.

Vineyard pruning in March

Vineyard unpruned vine

Here is an example of a grapevine waiting to be pruned. As a deciduous plant, it drops all of it’s leaves in winter and translocates carbs and nutrients from the woody shoots back into the roots. In spring, those nutrients push back into the new shoots supporting growth.

Vineyard pruner at work

Our beloved Emma, a world class grapevine pruner at work.

Vineyard canes and spurs tied to training wire

The pruned and tied vine. Note all the previous year’s wood has been removed (on the ground waiting for mowing into in-place compost), and only the ‘new wood’ has been tied horizontally to the training wire (the wire above the black drip hose). Picture this being done thousands of times per acre and you have some sense of the labor and expense of vineyard farming. Sonoma farm life


beets onions

One of our raised beds – Beets in the foreground, red onion sets in the background, about 4 weeks from harvest, around April 10th.

little bunny foo foo

The bunnies have been reproducing especially rapidly this year. This baby here has possibly lost its mother and is temporarily hiding in this empty plant container till dark. Always interesting to follow which animal populations expand or shrink depending upon conditions. We’ve always had the usual gophers, deer, rabbit, and fox, and recently a family of weasels under the rock pile. Sonoma farm life

Rescuing a downed Red Tail Hawksadly this story doesn’t end well…

Red Tail at night

I was on a walk at dusk down by the Arroyo Seco creek and came upon an injured and very confused Red Tail Hawk. Called my friend Chris Melanćon, a trained falconer, and later that evening we captured and boxed the bird to keep it safe and warm overnight.

Red Tail weighing

The following morning we brought it to the Bird Rescue Center in Santa Rose were it was checked into the system, assigned a number, and weighed.

Red Tail closeup head

Skilled nurses carefully checked the health and condition.

Red Tail wing span

And checked all it’s vitals, including wings of course.

Red Tail talons

You can see these raptors have quite the extended reach and very sharp claws to grab their prey while in flight.

Red tail Bird Rescue Sign

Sadly, our bird survived only a few days at the Rescue Center. Apparently it had suffered a neurologic injury and just could not pull through. We did our best. Nature at work. Sonoma farm life

Willow tree cuttings

willow cuttings

Found myself in Healdsburg on a bike ride and met up with a fellow winemaker who has a rare yellow-barked willow. Genus Salix. Could not pass up the chance to fill my backpack with cuttings which in the case of all willows are quite easily transplanted.


These willow cuttings are soaking before going into the ground. Willows will sprout roots from almost any woody cutting. They are fast growers too. The roots are very invasive so it’s a bad idea to plant them near pipes and sidewalks. But they are an excellent plant almost anywhere else for instant shade. And other plants and trees will naturally fill in under them as the willows age-out and die-off later.

Mowing the native grasses

Before mowing

Before: This is a good time of year to give the grasses and forbs (pasture) a quick haircut.

after mowing

After: The first cut-pass with my old 1950’s Mott flail mower mounted onto the PTO of our Kubota tractor. The smell of the cut grass is intoxicating. I do this to create a dry and comfortable walking path out in the pastures, leaving the remainder to grow high in the spring.

fence line

This is view of our north fence line getting ready to mow.

The old Mott flail mower occasionally enters a complaint!

old bearing

The flail mower takes a real beating. After some heavy use, on occasion a bearing will burn out. You can see here that the bearings are completely gone. Had to learn how to replace these. I’ve heard many stories of grass fires starting when the bearing fails and the red-hot ball-bearings fly out on to dry grass. It’s best to be safe and mow while the grass is still green.

new bearing

About to install this new bearing mount on the cutting shaft. $250 and 2 hours later.

Distilling wine into ethanol to make grape-based Brandy and Grappa

Still 1

This is a view of the copper column still I’ve been using to craft Brandy and Grappa from our clients grape pomace.

Still 2

Start off with a half-ton of what’s left in the wine press after pressing, called pomace, and end up after distilling with several gallons of 186 proof pure distilled ethanol. Then that is diluted back with pure water to reach the targeted brandy/grappa alcohol level 35% to 60% by volume (ABV). Then it’s aged in oak or whisky barrels or flavored with fruit as desired. And then bottled and labeled. The story of grappa.

Chickens and Auto Solar Chicken Door

chicken incubator

Last month I added eleven new chicks seen here in the incubator. Just add chicks, water, and food, and presto…in about 21 weeks all those hens will be laying 2 eggs every 3 days!

Auto chicken door

This is an automatic chicken door. How does it work? A solar panel (on the coop roof, not in view) charges a 12v battery (top left of the white door), the battery operates the motor (top right of door), and a light sensor (not in view) opens the door at first light and closes it a dark. There is also a ‘last chance’ feature where the door re-opens for one minute 5 minutes after dark. The chickens quickly adjust to the routine and religiously get themselves inside before the door closes for the second time at dusk. You can find this excellent equipment at Chicken Doors. Sonoma farm life


wood chips

Local tree trimming companies are more than happy to have a free place to drop off chipped tree mulch. This pile represents about 20 truckloads. This material is very useful around the farm; especially with roses and plants that require moist soil and little weed competition.

Mustard blooms


In one of our client vineyards, a tree fell in the recent strong winds, so we got out the chainsaws and went at it. In the background you can see a new Cabernet vineyard block we planted last Fall, and the mustard coming up nicely.

Hot air ballooning

hot air balloon

In Sonoma, you can look up pretty much any early morning and see the tourists enjoying their hot air ballon rides. The air is very still and it’s pretty cold out too. That’s why they keep the coffee hot! This one, the well-recognized ‘red tulips’, is from Napa Valley Balloons.

The end of the day on the farm

winter full moon

The sun begins to set on another day on the farm, as the low clouds glow and the full moon rises.

end of day

It’s a real treat to have friends over for an authentic wood fire, only possible on cold damp winter nights, and no matter what, we use the spark arrester. Why? Everyone in Sonoma is rightfully fearful of loose sparks starting a wild fire.

Just for fun: The biggest grape and wine convention in the United States, the Unified Grape and Wine Symposium

Symposium entrance

The Unified Symposium attracts wine industry professionals from around the world.

Wine Business Monthly

One of the most popular trade magazines in our industry, Wine Business Monthly always has an informative booth. Assistant Editor Stacy Briscoe welcomes me to the show. This is also the ‘go-to’ website for all things grapes and wine – buy/sell grapes or bulk wine, learn about the latest trends, etc.

Symposium floor

The convention covers every imaginable aspect – from vineyard farming tools to heavy equipment, to the latest in drone-applied sprays. And in wine, everything from bottles, corks, and capsules, to pumps and valves, and laboratory testing.

Mechanical Harvester

One of my favorite activities each year is to visit the ‘large equipment’ yard. I’ll never have a use for this million-dollar computer-controlled self-propelled mechanical harvester/sorter…but it’s really interesting to stand next to it and walk around (and inside). This behemoth can harvest upwards of 25 tons an hour, with one operator! Equal to many dozens of laborers and people-hours.