Passing the 1,000 blog readers mark, and with my thanks to you all, here are 50+ images from this, my 23rd vintage. – Ken Wornick
Blending trials for bottling aged reds prior to harvest
Faith and I needed to plan the bottling of the remaining 2020 client red wines that were still aging in barrels. To get ready, we conducted blending trials for some of our client wines here at the Hydeout Sonoma kitchen table.
Note the grouped samples as source wines, the pipettes and beakers, and so on. We start with the base wines, tasting notes, and lab chemistry in hand. Then we try to imagine what actions will give lift, depth, and longevity to each wine. Blending is a fun process because after spending a year growing the fruit and another year producing and yet another year aging the wines, it is really nice to sit in a warm quiet well-lit place and taste each wine one last time with focus and concentration. And then somehow with a bit of alchemy, create delicious artistry from all of the components.
While the 2021 vintage continues to age in barrels, and the 2022 harvest approaches, emptying barrels of perfectly-aged and blended 2020 red wine for bottling also creates needed space in the winery for the incoming 2022 vintage.
One of the best days for what we do is delivering a completed bottled vintage to our clients, sometimes 26 months of waiting! Here are 3 recent examples:
4:00am start on an early morning in August, 2022
Harvest 2022 started for us in mid-August with some client hillside fruit on Arrowhead Mountain in southern Sonoma. What a moment it is every year when we shift from farming, which started way back in January, and finally seven to nine months later the fruit is ripe and we’re ready to harvest.
A cool dense layer of fog sits on the valley floor below this vineyard block, as the slowly approaching tractor lights glow in the background
A slight breeze and the fog suddenly shifts as the sun almost rises (note the 3 house lights down below no longer in fog)
But it’s still dark inside this vine canopy as fruit fills the 1/2 ton bins of Zin
A bobcat grabs more empty bins and rushes them into the field
And minutes later returns with full bins of fruit. These bins are then rushed to the winery; we want that fruit to be ice-cold when it arrives.
My next stop is to check out a client’s Eastside Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir vineyard scheduled to pick in the following few days. Note the dark tight-fisted bunches as is the nature of Pinot Noir.
I can never resist picking up oak acorns. Every year, I start another crop of oak seedlings from acorns, for planting around the Hydeout ranch. Some of the most impressive oak trees and their falling acorns surround vineyards in Sonoma. And those majestic beauties produce some amazing acorns that one day will themselves be majestic oak trees.
Another harvest a few days later. Ready to drive a load of Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon to the winery.
We start in the early morning hours and we look up and suddenly we realize the sun is out and it’s warm outside. Here, a moment of pause to celebrate the process of harvested grapes with Hydeout Sonoma partner and winemaker Faith Armstrong.
Processing fruit in the winery
Growing and harvesting great fruit is only half the battle. Next up is the winemaking. Every load of fruit is very carefully weighed, by law, so that each client’s property can be carefully tracked all the way into bottle; every single drop.
The first few bins of Pinot Noir from another early morning harvest go onto the scale
Moving into September, the long slow harvest continues to roll along as tank after tank fills with fermenting fruit. Here, happy winemakers about to get started on some pristine Zinfandel
In early October, processing some Syrah from Kenwood into a 7-ton tank. The fruit from this vineyard is just across the street from Landmark Winery in Kenwood.
Muscat Canelli is not a very well known wine, but we love it. There are so many beautiful and under-appreciated grape varieties across the globe. This Muscat, from the Carneros Appellation in the Hyde-Burndale neighborhood, is packed full of tropical fruit and incredible peach aromatics.
Irrigating a tank a of Grenache, a process where the fermenting juice is pumped from the bottom of the tank and “irrigated” (and oxygenated) over the top of the “cap” (the fruit floating to the top and pushed there by the expanding CO2 gas), thus encouraging the yeast to thrive and to keep the cap wet (because if it dries out, bad things can happen like the formation of vinegar).
Now mid-October, and we’re still at it. Here, clean de-stemmed fruit accumulating in a bin, headed to a fermentation tank in a moment
The stems accumulate after the fruit has been removed for winemaking
After the fruit is moved to a fermentation tank, and lab reports have been studied, we re-confirm our goals for the wine. Carefully selected yeast is added to get the fermentation rolling. In this case, a yeast from the Rhone region is specially selected for Syrah and Grenache which are Rhone varieties.
The yeast is very carefully rehydrated, and then slowly small amounts of cool raw grape juice is added and the yeast cells adjust to the temperature and awaken.
Lots of oak barrels must be prepped because soon enough, all these tanks of wine will complete fermentation and, one by one, those wines must be quickly moved into barrels where the long aging cycle begins. (footnote: T-shirt was a gift from Chewy, my Desert Caballero ace cowboy buddy)
Pizza party at the Winery, at about the halfway point, 6 weeks in and about 6 weeks to go…
Exhausted but happy, a moment of pause for some local Mary’s Pizza with the awesome winery team. Pacifico (yellow cans) was the beer of choice for all on this day – except of course for one of the guys who always wisely choses a Coors Light…see the empty seat…yup…I made the right choice!
The team at Arcana Custom Crush Winery on 8th street east in Sonoma, the management and cellar crew, from left to right: Sebastian, Kate, Mat, Bill, Landon (Maverick), Miguel, Jose, Jesus
Our winery mascot, Kate’s son Landon, welcomes another load of fruit by crushing it with his own feet. I like to call him “Maverick” because he looks like Tom Cruise from Top Gun, and moves around the winery at the same speed. If you’re a mom and it’s harvest time, the kids go to the “office” too and become part of the action.
Mid-October, yet another harvest, and this time breakfast is included!
Starting in on a some short rows as the sun rises
The tractor leads the way pulling bins quickly filling with fruit
This is what really pristine Sonoma Valley cabernet sauvignon looks like
After this harvest, our wonderful client offers everyone a delicious meal. Last year was tacos and tostadas, this year was an amazing Pozole soup made of pork and hominy (the word “pozole” is thought to come from Nahuatl, the Uto-Aztecan language spoken in various forms during pre-Hispanic times).
Vibrant “thin-leafed sunflower”, always blooming around Sonoma at harvest time
Jack London State Historic Park – and the Park Partners – there is always time in Sonoma for another gala non-profit fundraiser!
Jack London Park Partners emerged during a budgetary crisis in 2012 which shuttered many state parks. It was the first non-profit organization to take up management of a state park on behalf of the people of California and it has been successfully running Jack London State Historic Park ever since. If you haven’t been, please do schedule a visit. It’s very scenic and historic too.
Park Partners hosted a sold-out entertaining outdoor gala event on Sept 24th.
The staged event theme, as seen here, was “Once upon a time in a not so distant forest lived an ancient redwood tree who silently presided over her forested sanctuary.” Adults and kids, dressed up as tree and forest creatures, was totally entertaining. A real hoot!
Final Harvest of 2022 – the last fruit to ripen and the final harvest of the year – our very own Sonocaia estate Sagrantino from here at the Hydeout Ranch
These Hydeout half-ton bins are cleaned, loaded on the skid trailer, and waiting to be filled.
It was a very cool damp night so we waited until the sun was up and dew was off the fruit before picking, but still it was just 40F outside.
The first of several bins begins to fill, and the fruit will be on its way to the winery in moments.
Vintage 2022, you started off so perfectly, with a terrific mid-winter atmospheric river and a lovely mild spring and summer, but then you turned on us and cooked us to a crisp for five days at +110F, and then you rained more than inch on us, and then it turned cold. Just another hah hah season in wine country.
The final lug of 2022 grapes, our inky tight-bunch Sagrantino…ahhh! We’ll start pruning all the vines in February and the process repeats yet again.
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Late into October 2022, and the first of our client’s harvested grapes (from late August harvests) have completed fermentation. We’ve pressed the wines off, settled in tank, and now it’s time to barrel them down and put these wines to bed for the winter:
A final acknowledgement – Nunez Vineyard Management:
I first met Mike Nunez and his family, of Nunez Vineyard Management, going all the way back to when we opened La Honda Winery in Redwood City more than 20 years ago. A client of Mike’s who owned a vineyard in Sonoma sent his fruit down to us to process. That year, the fruit was harvested late and we ended up making a beautiful port wine. Mike drove the fruit down himself. I met him at our loading dock. We’ve been friends and colleagues ever since.
The Nunez family has deep roots in both Sonoma and Napa. We partner with them on many client projects, and our combined knowledge and experience creates a great outcome for everyone.
And, everyone involved in the growing of grapes and making of wine is publicly acknowledged at this Nunez Vineyard Management harvest party. A class act!
Next year, I think it will be fun to post a blog looking back over my 23 vintages. For now, here is a sneak peek looking back to the year 2000, and the founding of La Honda Winery, in Redwood City:
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.
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.