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Sonoma – wine tasting, film, food, horses, chickens, and fun

Sonoma – wine tasting, film, food, horses, chickens, and fun

This is where I try to convince you to be entertained for a few minutes with little bits of fun from Sonoma –

 

Blind Tasting: 2013 Napa Valley Cabernets and 2020 Sauvignon Blancs from 5 Countries

Many thanks to friend and colleague, Keith Casale, who helped launch this inaugural tasting event at the Hydeout Sonoma. Also, thanks to Lisa Lavagetto for the delicious catering effort.

Sonoma Int’l Film Festival – 25th Anniversary

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.

Chickens

New arrivals – over 30 new chicks who will grow up to be egg producers of the team of Dysfunctional Family Chickens

Video – Hydeout Sonoma welcomes a new batch of very cute Dysfunctional Family Chickens

Horses

Five of us from Sonoma rode in the 75th anniversary of the Desert Caballeros horseback ride in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. 100 miles in 5 days, sleeping under the stars at night.

Video: check out this video of 160 horses riding into the Sonoran Desert

Weather

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.

Learn about and order our wines here: Dysfunctional Family Winery – rosé and red blends

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

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.

Sonoma 2020 grape harvest finally winds down as red flag weather warnings continue…

Sonoma 2020 grape harvest finally winds down as red flag weather warnings continue…

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.

winery bbq

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.

Smoke

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.

6 year fire map

Check out this map of the most recent 6 years of wild fire in Napa and Sonoma wine country.

Rejected Fruit

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Larger growers maintain significant crop insurance. Their policies allow for smoke taint as a covered item. If buyers reject their fruit, they are covered.
  3. Winery’s contracts with growers also provide for smoke taint as a rejectable flaw.
  4. Labs have the ability to test for smoke taint in the parts per billion range, in alignment with grower and winery contracts and policies.
  5. Grower and winery insurers have established smoke taint rejection criteria.
  6. 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?
  7. But, the science of smoke taint is not perfectly understood.
  8. 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.
  9. Worthy of note, brokers have quietly tied up significant portions of the 2019 bulk wine supply right as the fires started.
  10. 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.

Barreled Wines

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.

barrel fermenting chardonnay

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.

barrel stack

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

DSCF1060

The very last ‘lug’ (40 pound picking bin) of the 2020 vintage – super dark tight and gorgeous Cabernet berries from Sonoma.

Jan Keating

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!

OPen top syrah tank

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.

Gas chroma 1

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.

gas chroma 2

Please watch this You Tube video of how we perform this MLF status test: Video fully explaining the MLF test process

Marking the end of the harvest and arrival of the Monarch Butterflies
Shmetterling

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.

Other stuff

Metallica drive in movie

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.

dinner

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.

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.