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Rain in Sonoma, finally…

Rain in Sonoma, finally…

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…

The Arroyo Seco is a 6.9 mile tributary of Schell Creek that pours down from the Mayacamas, on to Arrowhead mountain, and then across the Hydeout Ranch and Dysfunctional Family Winery at the north west corner of the Carneros appellation

Video: the Arroyo Seco starts to flow

Jack London State Park was toasted to a crisp by the end of the summer. But when the rain finally came, the park cam alive.

Video: On a hike in Jack London State Park

By December 23rd, the water level of the Arroyo Seco was starting to rise

Video: After another night of heavy rain, the Arroyo Seco flow increased

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).

Video: At the Hydeout, the rain poured down heavy from the roof

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

Video: the new Gabian wall, a beauty of natural construction materials, functions as a dam to hold back water in this minor ditch

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.

Video: the peaceful sanctuary providing animals with access to land and water

It rained so hard last night, even the fenced animal sanctuary started to flood. It was fun to wade through it in my knee-high rain boots.

Video: Wading through the large puddle in the animal sanctuary

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

Video: Lab wine reagents bubbling away

A final flashback to the middle of the pandemic summer of 2021, one of the driest on record.

Happy holidays and happy new year to all of our blog post readers, now numbering over 1000 strong and growing.

Go here to visit: Hydeout Sonoma Ranch

Go here to order wine for pick or delivery: Dysfunctional Family Winery

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

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:

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.

Dysfunctional Family Chickens

Dysfunctional Family Chickens

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:

Cynthia checking out the conditions in the coop

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…


to this…

Chickens in the vineyard

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.

Meal worms

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.

Poultry grit

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.




Food cans

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:

Morning drink of water

Dinner time

Chicken scratch

Time lapse chickens

Time lapse neighborhood walk with Cynthia Wornick

Before I share news around town, a special chicken related call out to our friendly neighbors at the Boxcar 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! 

Ken at Turtle Rock Tiburon

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


Ken and Steve Bush at the hand dug 16′ well

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.

Sonoma Firestorm – Part 2 – Analysis, Recovery, Celebration

Sonoma Firestorm – Part 2 – Analysis, Recovery, Celebration

With mother nature, life always follows death…

In my previous blog, you saw images of the terrible firestorm and resulting destruction in Sonoma.

In “Sonoma Firestorm – Part 2” we visit a fire-damaged vineyard near Kenwood springing back to life just one month later. And meet in the Sonoma town square to thank first responders.

But first, a reminder of where we came from just one month ago…

The continuing personal impact on some is hard to measure. These photos are from the Warm Springs Road area, close to many of my client vineyards…

Many vineyards were either spared from from the fire, or actually blocked the fires from advancing – by cutting off the fuel supply. However, some vineyards did burn, and here we see a vineyard a few days after being burned during the firestorm. Note that all of the ground cover and much of the leaf canopy is either burned or charred.

And the first few feet of vine trunk is quite scorched…

This fire also destroyed all of the drip irrigation system, including riser pipes, hoses, and drip emitters, leaving dripping plastic residue on the ground in its wake…

And destroyed every drip emitter…

And some very large trees burned and fell into the vineyard, including this epic California Bay Laurel…

We enlisted the help of the several agencies to help us assess the damage. The Sonoma Resource Conservation District helped us develop an erosion control recovery plan. Below, Project Manager Justin Bidell and Resource Planner Anya Starovoytov walk the damaged site collecting data, taking pictures, and advising on recovery plans and funding sources…

Justin and Anya point out that the fire even chased into plastic drainage culverts, burning underneath several access roads…

And looking at this close-up image of a charred grapevine trunk, you might think that this vineyard would be lost and need to be replanted…

But dig down to check the condition of the vine roots and we find in most cases no damage at all…

Amazingly, just one month later, we find everything is roaring back to life!…

And rain brings welcome moisture and renewed growth…

And the cover crop in between the vine rows explodes back to life, and the grapevines respond accordingly, soaking up moisture, swelling buds, and going into dormancy…

And the return of power at the winery allows us to get back to work. In this photo, wine that had been resting in stainless tanks has been moved into oak barrels where it will rest in the caves for the winter…

And one month later, although many friends are homeless, or know someone who lost a home, the vineyards and wineries and the town of Sonoma are bouncing back to life. And we can still find small things for which we can all be grateful…

The town of Sonoma celebrated on Saturday night, November 19th, with a Sonoma Town Hall holiday lighting ceremony, awards and standing ovations to the first responders, great music, and this wonderful tribute from Amy Miller, Artistic Director of Transcendence Theatre Company:

Video: Sonoma Square and Amy Miller from Transcendance Theatrer

Other links on this topic:

Ways to support those who need help

Did vineyards help save wine country?

A look at 22 wineries that sustained damage

Search and Rescue teams news

Tourists encouraged to come back!