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.
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: