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
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.
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.
As the last few tons of fruit rolled in, I hosted the winery crew with my annual harvest BBQ. This great group destroyed a cooler full of beer and many dozens of hamburgers. Love these folks! From left to right: Kate, Rex, Victor, me, Jose, Miggy, Arturo.
Check out this map of the most recent 6 years of wild fire in Napa and Sonoma wine country.
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.
Barrels of wine completing the last of primary fermentation. Note the white plastic bungs are ‘breathable’ allowing the last of the CO2 gas to escape.
In this barrel stack of Hydeout Sonoma client wines (about 1,500 cases of wine in view in this image), the wines will sit cool and quiet through winter.
The very last tub of fruit for 2020
The very last ‘lug’ (40 pound picking bin) of the 2020 vintage – super dark tight and gorgeous Cabernet berries from Sonoma.
One of our really fun and generous Hydeout Sonoma clients cooked an over-the-top breakfast for the harvest crew. A 5:00am start was wrapped by 9:00am. In the foreground…braised rib “Birria”, a delicious classic, along with fresh tortillas, beans, and drinks. Thank you Jan!
Final tank of red wine gassed, settling, and ready for oak barrels.
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.
The secondary ML fermentation reaction is undertaken by the family of lactic acid bacteria (LAB); Oenococcus oeni, and various species of Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. Chemically, malolactic fermentation is a decarboxylation, which means carbon dioxide is liberated in the process.
Marking the end of the harvest and arrival of the Monarch Butterflies
So cool! Getting ready to depart for their winter range in Mexico, our first siting of the Monarch butterflies at the Hydeout Sonoma ranch. Monarch butterflies are an iconic species, easily recognized by their large and vibrant orange wings. Monarchs carry out one of the most incredible cross-continental journeys in the animal kingdom, travelling upwards of 3000 miles from Canada and the northern United States, and particularly Sonoma, to the oyamel fir forests in the mountains of Mexico.
Cyn and I have oddball ways of celebrating our wedding anniversary. For our very first anniversary in 1988, then living in Texas, we took a rickety public bus across the Rio Grande River into Nuevo Laredo to watch greyhound dog racing. (Sadly, the track is now owned by the Zeta’s Gang. 32 years later, in the middle of Covid, we celebrated by going to the exceptionally retro West Wind Drive-in theatre in Solano – to watch the one-night only release of Metalicca’s drive-in movie aptly titled Pandemica. The grape harvest started early the following morning.
And as the harvest concludes, a small celebration in the backyard with close friends to acknowledge that even in the middle of Covid, we can still celebrate life, food & wine, the seasons, and friendship.
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.
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.
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.
Excavator operator Jim Rong digging the test pit next to the old barn which will become the winery some day.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After running through the 1/4 mile long press, the label paper emerges as a continuous roll of almost-finished printed labels.
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.
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…
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.
After wine, cork, and capsule, the cut and spooled labels are applied to the wine bottles.
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:
Neighborhood kids visit Hydeout Sonoma and the Dysfunctional Family chicken coop during a home-schooling exercise.
On top of an alfalfa bale, Buff wins bronze, Orpington wins silver, and Henny Penny wins gold.
My personal favorite place to buy fresh-made corn “Azteca style” tortillas. Use navigation to find it!
Enjoying our homemade farm fresh tacos – brings a brief pause to the endless fires and virus isolation – here’s a good taco recipe
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 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.
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”
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:
A friend and neighbor down the street prepares to take down two huge and dying 80-year old Walnut trees…
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.
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”
This very heavy 20-disc hydraulic-ram implement is for sale. Reply with best offer, let’s make a deal!
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 –https://www.jockmcdonald.com