The very last tank of grapes has finished fermenting. The tank is drained of wine and placed in barrels (that liquid is called the “free run”). Then the remaining fermented grapes in the tank are moved into the press and gently squeezed (and the result is called the “press fraction”). And what’s removed from the press after pressing (called the “pomace”) is either sold as animal feed or recycled into green waste or sent to our distiller and turned into Grappa, Brandy, and Cognac; and the seeds are further pressed into grapeseed oil. And that really marks the end of the harvest season.
This is what 2 tons of dense Syrah grape pomace looks like when it comes out of the press. It’s dark purple and bone dry. The very last cuveé of wine has been barreled.
There still remain some chores to manage over the winter: the newly filled wine barrels will be carefully monitored as the secondary Malo-Lactic fermentation is monitored and managed (and where the tart Malic acid, think green apple, is slowly fermented into Lactic acid, with potential health benefits including improved gut health, immune system support, and antioxidant effects). Barrels must be topped off due to evaporation. And as the wine settles we need to taste every wine to assure things are coming along to our liking. And, we start thinking about which of the older wines need to be prepared for bottling this spring. Last, now is the time for the winery to be thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom. And only then will it be time for everyone to have a much needed rest.
A brief note about the 2022 season: It started off with a really hard freeze right as many grape varieties were just budding out. There was some damage to some vineyards resulting in crop loss as much as 50%. Then after a normal but very dry summer, the record heat wave struck, 5 days over 100F and 5 nights in the 80F’s putting extreme stress on ripening fruit. And then adding insult to injury, 2 inches of rain. It was one of the most confounding and complicated growing seasons ever. More on that when the 2022’s are ready for release in 2024.
Halloween is usually the first sign that the wonderful long slog that is harvest and winemaking is about to wrap up. When bright orange pumpkins start appearing all over town, we know the harvest season is almost over.
As the cold weather settles in at the Hydeout, the chicken egg production starts to fall off as the chickens shift their energy from egg production to winter feather production. And in our case, they also start flying the coop and hiding their eggs in hilarious hard-to-find places.
Final garden harvest
As is the tradition in the Fall, it’s time to harvest the last of the garden produce, clean it up, and pickle it all in bell jars.
Wood slab table – restarting an old project
In 2020, St Helena in Napa Valley was surrounded by the Glass fire. Acres of gorgeous oak forest was lost. With help from friends, I located and set aside one of the fallen oaks and had one of the fire department crews mill it into oak slabs for me. The new table from this project will go into the new winery barn here at the Hydeout.
Two oak slabs, about 10 feet long and 18 inches wide, will be joined along the inside edges to form a new table. The outer live-edges still show the burn scars from the fire. It is a stark reminder of how the fires damaged lives and property.
By the time of the Thanksgiving holiday in late November, winemaking has truly concluded, and our Prickly Pear Cactus flowers are ripe. And that means it’s time for the whole family to get involved in producing our Prickly Pear Agave Nectar. And our tart, sweet, smoky, mezcal Margaritas!
Dear friend, character, bon vivant, and Sonoma artist Jock McDonald, with assistance from his wife Sherry McDowell, set up a photo shoot for a new project Jock is developing called “TRASH.” I can’t say any more at this time as the final form of this new work is on its way to Art Basel in Miami, Florida right now! These are preliminary images only and in no way depict the final art form that Jock has developed. To learn more, click here.
This is the time of year we all gather as family and enjoy another wonderful year of life, trials, tribulations, health and happiness. Here is the entire Hydeout team:
Happy holidays from the entire Wornick family – Ken, Dennis, Sophia, Cynthia, Harry, with Elyse, Jessica, and Tony the dog
Give thanks for the rain in your life which waters the flowers of your soul.
Join us as we tour our way around Sonoma County and celebrate the arrival, finally, of the long awaited rains.
And at the bottom of this post, tell us your stories of how you’ve enjoyed the rainy weather?…
When it comes to growing wine grapes, the 2021 vintage in Sonoma was stressful. It rained a mere 13 inches total, and most of that rain fell in three brief events separated widely with hot sunny days. Hardly any water percolated into the root zone of the grape vines. So in many cases, growers had to use a lot of water from deep wells to drip into the vineyard. Conditions are already way better in the 2022 vintage – thanks to all of this early rain. It has rained over 13 inches and it’s still just December 2021. And even better, we haven’t had any sunny days or warm temperatures in between rain events, so the ground has remained saturated and damp. Rain water is far superior to drip irrigation. But that’s a science story for another time. For now, let’s just celebrate getting wet…
Rain poured off the roof and down the rain chains and sang it’s happy song. This rain water is going directly into our DYS Sagrantino vineyard, our estate red wine, a rare central-Italian red found mostly in Umbria. It’s recently been noted to contain some of the highest polyphenol (antioxidants) levels of any red wine on earth. (vineyard visible in the background).
Before the rains really got under way, contractors connected all of the Hydeout Ranch rain gutters to the hand-dug well capturing rain, stopping wasteful erosion, and recycled back onto the land (white riser pipe)
And they built a Gabian wall to capture most of the runoff into the ag sump from this small ditch at the edge of the ranch
Hydeout Ranch animal sanctuary – when we bought the ranch, a fence had been built long ago (as was the habit then) right up against the creek edge. That old fence prevented animals (and people) from safely visiting and moving along the riparian corridor. One of the first projects I undertook was to take down that old fence and built a new fence 150 feet west of the creek. In addition, I built just next to the new fence a long high pile of logs and green waste. Now, with several acres of land open adjacent to the creek, and lots of safe spaces to nest in the log piles, wild animals have returned to occupy this land, including hawks, owls, buzzards, skunks, rabbits, gophers, moles, voles, raccoons, and even a million worms in every puddle.
On my walk this morning along the edge of the creek, I came across the horseshoe. At one time, the Hydeout Ranch housed over one hundred horses and perhaps this horseshoe was tossed or thrown into the creek long ago.
One of the prized smaller oaks at the ranch responds to the rain with almost overnight new growth. The red bench sits under the tree next to the doggy cemetery where our Oliver rests. A few years ago, all five of us gathered, dug the hole, wrapped Oliver in a blanket and buried him here.
A quick ride around the ranch to check on things between storms
In other news:
In the lab at the winery, checking pH, TA, and VA levels for wines of the still-fermenting vintage 2021
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.
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.
Here at the Hydeout, we have many projects going on around the property.The latest addition being a chicken coop! Many friends in Sonoma have backyard chicken coops and we thought it would be great to join in on the fun. Raising chickens on property is part of a growing movement to reconnect to nature and grow your own food. Everyone willingly shares knowledge and experience, and eggs. Our growing brand of Dysfunctional Family products will soon include free-range eggs, a project we’re calling Dysfunctional Family Chickens.
Enjoy this pictorial essay on everything (almost) you need to know about raising backyard chickens:
To start, you need a coop. It can be very modest. Or you can start with a roomier model like we built here. Cynthia is checking in on things. To the left are the ‘nesting boxes’ where the chickens lay their eggs, to the right are the ‘roosts’ where the chickens sleep well above the ground at night (as is their preferred habit), and in the background is the ‘run’ where the chickens hang out in the morning until we open the door to free range around the ranch all day until sunset.
We started with 5 small very shy birds. They grew very quickly, from this…
Hilariously, 3 of the 5 chickens turned out to be roosters. Note red ‘combs and wattles’ and perky tail feathers. Even the professional hatcheries have some difficulty determining the sex when they are young chicks. More hens will be added when the weather warms up a bit.
Most backyard coop experts recommend one rooster for every 8-10 laying hens. This general rule keeps the flock in calm order, and the rooster keeps an eye out for predators too. More than one rooster and those boys will constantly fight for dominance and argue over control of every hen, wearing themselves and the hens out.
To start, chickens of course need water and food. This device is a simple automatic water device – connected to a garden hose. It hangs slightly off the ground and auto-releases water into the channel as needed.
And this is a very simple multi-day automatic feeder – the feed is fed into the top manually, and is slowly is fed out at the lower rim as chickens consume the feed.
What do chickens eat? Generally, chickens will happily live on the grass and weeds and bugs around your house. But for high quality eggs and good chicken health, there are some helpful supplemental options too:
This standard Hunt and Behrens “laying mixture” is a blend of 16% crude protein, 2% fat, and 20% fiber and ash. This is their primary daily feed in the first 5 months. This feed costs roughly $17 for 50 pounds and will last roughly a month to 6 weeks for 5 growing chickens.
Our Dysfunctional Family Chickens, just like us, love a yummy treat. This is a corn-and-seed based “scratch.” It is lower in protein than feed, but the chickens go crazy for it, and once a week or so it is good entertainment for you and a party for them.
An ever bigger treat is mealworms, rather expensive and more of a luxury supplement than a necessity.
This is what the worms look like. The chickens simply freak out of them, and they are gone in an instant.
Chickens have a ‘gizzard’ which is a strong muscle that helps grind up hard seeds and so forth (such as corn scratch). This insoluble granite-based gravel is added to their snacks to keep their gizzards full of small stone.
Closeup of granite-based grit.
Chicken feed and supplements can attract rodents very quickly. That’s why it’s important to keep these products in closed metal cans and well secured. I label the tops so that if others are helping out around the ranch, they know were to find the various feeds.
Last, here are a few short fun videos to click on, showing the daily chicken activity:
Before I share news around town, a special chicken related call out to our friendly neighbors at theBoxcar Chicken and Biscuits on Fremont Drive in Sonoma (formerly the Fremont Diner, and recently renamed yet again as Lou’s Luncheonette). It’s still delicious food, and a fun place to hang out!
Winter day hike atop Turtle Rock in Marin County – one of the best close-in bouldering areas in the Bay Area.
Sonoma DYL workshop #1: After just completing the 2 1/2 day “Designing Your Life” program – a book, workshop, and course from Prof’s. Burnett and Evans at Stanford Univ. The Stanford “Life Design Lab” applies design thinking to tackling the “wicked” problems of life and especially vocational wayfinding. It was a great productive workshop. Many of us who already have well-developed careers found new energy and expansive ideas arise from the program. And those searching for a transition to a new career also worked towards exciting new personal roadmaps. Front row: Peter Ferris (co-coach), John Hornbaker, Jay Rooke Back row: Ford Goodman, Holly Bennett, Kurtis Rissmiller, Sharon Knight, Beth Stelluto, Thomas Ward (co-coach), Ken Wornick, Bob Berg
My neighbor Steve Bush, a chicken expert in his own right, is over for a visit; here examining our hand-dug 16′ deep alternate agricultural water well – this well atomically turns on and sends water to our 5000 gallon irrigation tanks – until it dries out around June, then the deep water well takes over.