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.
empty glass headed into the bottling line
and onto the conveyor
quickly filled, corked, and labeled
and stacked case by case
pallets are stretch wrapped
Forklift moving cases into cool room
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:
Quail Run (Cab)
and Raye (Zin)
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.
Click here to watch a video of a night harvest
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).
Click here to watch a quick video of “irrigating” the cap
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.
If you are still reading?…
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!
A view across the Napa Valley to Stag's Leap
100 year old barn
Nunez Family (l to r : Mike, Rosario, Francisco Sr, and Francisco Jr.)
Happy crowd celebrating harvest
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:
First client harvest
First wine release
Foot treading corporate marketing event
First tanks and barrels
A much younger me in a Cabernet vineyard in Los Altos Hills
First corporate event at the winery