In case you missed this post, it is a fun review of the holiday season in Sonoma Valley and the Sonocaia winery. Give yourself 10 minutes to catch up with wine country. Warmly, Ken Wornick
Join us for a year-end wine country photo journey in our final Sonocaia blog post of 2023:
Locals tasting event
With the help of some very wonderful friends, we sold out another ‘grand opening’ winery event – mainly for locals that missed the initial launch of Sonocaia estate winery.
I presented a story of ‘wine in context’ – when tasting wine it is important to know “why” this wine was produced. In our case, we started almost twenty five years ago in the Santa Cruz Mountains developing vineyards for private clients. A decade later we had more than 40 vineyards built and were making a lot of personalized wine for those clients in our urban winery in Redwood City. Some of those wines won Gold and Double-Gold from the SF Chronicle wine competition. We sold the vineyard development and winery businesses to an investor. See this link for more. Over the next ten years, we built a second client-based vineyard development and wine making business, this time in Sonoma Valley. And sold that business in 2023. See this link for more.
Our newest project is the Sonocaia estate winery – focussed exclusively on Sagrantino, a rare red variety of very high repute from Montefalco Umbria Italy. Meanwhile, our second brand, Dysfunctional Family Winery, still lives on with the motto “serious wine, irreverent style” offering fun blends for all taste preferences and budgets. See link here.
A sold-out crowd enjoyed the stories, wines, food, and conversation…
Working our way through the wine lineup
Answering a question about the unique clonal history of the Sonocaia Sagrantino grapevines
New friends being made all around the table
The tasting continues deep into the library wines
At the end of the tasting, a couple of wild local yahoos in their ridiculous jacked-up sport cars hit the gas and ripped up our nice new parking lot! Nah, not really, just kidding NF and GM.
But wait, there’s more…
A large, warm, and wonderful family from all over the U.S. (and three generations!) spent an afternoon with us the day after Thanksgiving ’23. We had a ball tasting through many wines, having lots of technical questions and answers about growing grapes and making wine, and generally having some great laughs. The toddler played with my guitar and beat a wine barrel with the drum sticks. Thank you Ginny and Larry.
Sonocaia in the Sonoma Index-Tribune newspaper
Our local Sonoma newspaper took an interest in our new Sonocaia winery project. Find the full article here.The author, Emma Malloy, did a great job detailing the history of our winery project. They lead with this headline: More than a winery: Sonocaia, and agricultural gem.
KSVY 91.3FM Community radio
Our local radio station KSVY 91.3FM has great wall-to-wall programming including talk, music, news, food, politics, and so much more. Not everyone is aware of the quality of the programming, yet. I’ve been a frequent guest on station manager and KSVY Exec Director Bob Taylor’s “Morning Show” many times. If you are a Sonoma local, it is well worth tuning in and supporting. They recently launched a new transmission antenna and expanded their reach from Sonoma, now reaching into Petaluma, Novato, and Napa. And last month, KSVY held a very unusual fund raiser. At the vaunted and historic Sebastiani Theatre, built in 1933, five great bands played country and western music all afternoon to the hoots and hollers of a large crowd. Learn more about KSVY here.
The crowd begins to gather at the Sebastiani Theatre
Bob Taylor, Executive Director of Sonoma community radio KSVY 91.3 (and lead guitarist of ACDC cover band “Illegitimate AC/DC”)
Patrons Diana Bugg and Leslie Carlson; and Roger Rhoten, widely beloved manager for over 30 years of the Sebastiani Theatre
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art
SVMA, our treasured Sonoma art museum, situated on Broadway very close to the Sonoma Plaza, held a very fun ‘poetry, food, and wine’ event in the museum’s gallery. Sold out weeks in advance, the poetry was provocative, warm, and hilarious. A far cry from the sleepy prose that I recall from English class in 7th grade. I poured Sonocaia and Dysfunctional Family wines at the event. See more here. Carole Copelan poured her Owl’s Perch and Harpsichord wines. And Chef Kyle Kuklewski served some delicious bites which paired beautifully with the wines and the poetry. The art in the background in some of the images below are from Richard Mayhew and the exhibition is called Inner Terrain.
Sonoma International Film Festival
Named “One of the 25 Coolest Festivals” by MovieMaker Magazine and one of “America’s Top Ten Destination Film Festivals” by USA Today, and coming up on March 20th – 24th, 2024; all passes to the Sonoma International Film Festival are on sale right now. It is a fully park-and-walk festival with great venues, truly excellent films, delicious food, and first class wine. You don’t want to miss it!
The staff and board of the film festival gathered for our holiday party. Many of Sonoma’s non-profits were also represented. And as always, the event was hosted by Kevin and Rosemary McKneely, our most important and generous patrons.
In the center, film festival board members Lisa Mango and Patty Elkus
Film festival patrons
Kevin McNeely, Executive Director Emeritus of the Sonoma Valley International Film Festival, hoists a giant Methuselah of 2018 Dysfunctional Family Winery ‘Red Blend’, equal to 6 liters or 8 bottles. The SIFF film festival and Dysfunctional have teamed up several times for outdoor movie nights on the lawn, and we’ll return to that program someday soon.
Sonoma International Film Festival – Kevin McNeely (Emeritus Creative Director), Bob Berg (Board Chair), John Curry (Emeritus Board Chair), and me, Ken Wornick (Board Vice-Chair)
Supporting the Jewish community in their time of extreme stress, and for the right of Israel to exist, we attended a Hanukkah holiday event at the local Shir Shalom temple, then we cooked traditional potato latkes (don’t tell the cardiologists) and joined the larger Sonoma community for a public inter-faith community-wide menorah lighting and some street dancing too, on the last day of Hanukkah. The local Sonoma police and the County Sheriff’s offices blocked off a portion of Spain Street near the Plaza and provided a watchful vigil during the ceremonies, for which all attendees were quite grateful.
Below, winery client Patty Elkus submitted this beautiful image she titled “Lil Vignette of Santa and his Rosé” for the holidays. Seemed like just the right image for us to include with the Hanukkah story!
Bees and wax candle making
We put our Hydeout farm bee hives to bed for the winter, allowing the bees to build a seal around every crack and crevice of their hives, thus sheltering themselves from wind and rain and cold during the winter. Before that, we did the necessary hive work and collected some of the extra wax for various projects, seen here. I want to particularly thank Nic Freedman of Bees Rock Ranch and Chere Pafford, a renowned holistic bee keeper, both of whom acted as my mentors during this entire season.
Olives and oil
We harvested over a ton of Hydeout olives this year. Like everything on the farm, our approach is 100% organic. Due to last winters excellent rain, and the light crop in 2022, the 2023 crop was not only large, but nearly completely free of olive fruit flies. All in all a great olive harvest yielding deeply unctuous green oil.
Fall harvest – our final harvest of fruits and veggies from mid-December here at the farm
The very last of the tomatoes, persimmons, and figs picked just before the first rain (with a few peppers and some fresh eggs too).
What’s next for 2024?
The 2022 and 2023 vintages of Sagrantino are resting in barrels for the winter. The wild grasses and mustard are pushing up through the wet dirt from the recent three inches of rain. The winter solstice arrived on December 21st. Now the days get longer once again. We’ll prune the grape vines, mow the cover crop, and start in on another vintage. The 2024 vintage will be my 25th vintage.
Wishing all of you a wonderful New Year.
And when the holidays are done and things have returned to normal, we’ll still be here – ready to supply you with delicious wine. You can always order wine and pick it up at the winery. And we can ship too. Just click on this link! https://www.sonocaia.com
Happy new year everyone! – Ken
Three days of launch parties
With thanks to you, our loyal band of blog post readers, customers and fans, the 3-day launch of the Sonocaia winery sold out quickly. And went off without a hitch. See photos below for a glance at the various events. More carefully curated events are being placed on the calendar now – winemaker dinners, ranch tours, etc. We look forward to seeing you here soon:
Friday – the raucous crowd was ready to start their weekend
Saturday – this group had excellent probing questions about clones and rootstocks and farming and winemaking
Sunday matinee – this was a very fun crowd enjoying their Sunday afternoon after the clocks were turned back for daylight savings time
Preparations for the 3-day event involved the careful selection of five wines – one rosé wine and four reds – a saigneé provenćal rosé, the double-buffalo 2021 red blend, the inaugural preview of the 100% Sonocaia estate 2021 Sagrantino, the black label 2019 reserve, and one library wine, a robust 2017 Cab-centric blend.
During the 3-day event, we revealed the inaugural release of the Sonocaia Estate Reserve 100% Sagrantino label. And the newly designed Dysfunctional Family Winery iconic “double buffalo” label:
Customers studied the wine menu notes carefully, offered helpful comments, and purchased their favorites
A selection of curated charcuterie was served table side
Sagrantino harvest 2023
Just prior to the Sonocaia grand opening, we completed the 2023 harvest, crush, and winemaking. This was a long cool growing season, with much needed rain last winter, a mild spring, and a long summer with very few heat spikes. Some of the colder spots around Sonoma had the latest harvest date in years. Our estate Sagrantino, below, did finally ripen to perfection; the resulting taste and technical lab numbers were nearly perfect. The 2023 now rests in barrels and will certainly be the boldest and most varietally accurate of our 5 harvests.
Freshly harvested 1/2 ton bins of Sagrantino fruit awaiting handling at the winery
A view of the estate Sagrantino vineyard looking south from the Sonocaia winery. Fall weather arrived just in time to complete the 2023 winemaking and get the winery open.
We’re doing our best to manage all of the food and beverage waste cycles here at the ranch. One project is our substantial composting operation – where nearly all brown and green organic material is recycled into the massive compost pile – including chicken manure, garden waste, tree trimmings, and below, post-fermentation grape skins.
One of my very favorite annual projects is the collecting of oak acorns. During my wanderings around Sonoma, I have identified a few “mother” trees which are huge 100+ years old behemoth oaks that produce incredible acorns almost every year. I think we can all agree that an acorn is a marvel of the living world! An impenetrable hard shell protects the inner meat and seed from the harsh sun and animals. After soaking on the ground in the cold rain all winter long, the root emerges and immediately digs a deep tap root. It takes years for the tree to reach 4-5 feet above ground. But in successive years after it establishes itself, it quickly rockets to the sky becoming a huge and gorgeous canopy offering shade, food, water retention, carbon sequestration, and visual joy.
The olive harvest is the next task on the horizon. This year, anecdotal data suggests a very large crop significantly devoid of the usual destructive olive fruit fly.
Hot air balloons are a very common site here at the ranch. They depart at dawn just north of us from mid-valley, and as the sun rises the air briefly moves toward the bay blowing the balloons south and right over our backyard, and then exactly on cue the wind shifts north and off they go headed to Carneros and Napa for their landing.
See you at our next event. Warmly. Ken Wornick, Sonocaia owner/winemaker
Announcing the grand opening event of Sonocaia estate vineyard and winery
Join us for a delicious wine and food experience at our new Sonoma estate, Sonocaia (So-No-Kai-Yah). As one of our loyal Hydeout and Dysfunctional blog post readers, you get first shot to this event. Tickets will sell quickly. Three dates to choose from: Nov 3rd, 4th, and 5th.
Ticketed reservations are required. Seating is very limited. Your ticket includes our inaugural 2021 estate reserve Sagrantino, plus new and current releases, older library wines, and curated charcuterie. All set in our new winery.
Instructions: Click on the link, choose ONE of three dates, select number of tickets (max of 2) then ‘Add to Cart’ and proceed through checkout.
Sonocaia’s Inaugural Launch Event – click here for tickets
If you are unable to purchase tickets, that means the date is already sold out. Please try another date. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be keeping a first-come first-served waiting list. Special discounts for wines purchased at the tasting will be automatically affilliated with your ticket.
Sonocaia’s Inaugural Launch Event – click here for tickets
About Sagrantino: Our estate grown Sagrantino is a boutique-scale effort and one of only three wineries in the entire United States dedicated this variety. The Sonocaia Sagrantino is a traditionally-made deep red wine that transports tasters to the hills of Montefalco, Umbia, Italy. A rare find in California, this varietal is relatively unknown in the new world and is sparking curiosity from both the casual traveller and the serious wine critic. We have painstakingly cultivated this highly regarded Italian varietal with meticulous sustainable farming. The resulting wine makes a bold but very approachable statement. Think of Cabernet or Petite Sirah in complexity and structure, but with the body and finish of a softer wine. The nose offers enticing aromas of red and black fruits, dark chocolate, cedar, earth, savory herbs, and a touch of oak spice. On the palate the wine shows a rich, full body with a lovely, long-lasting finish. These features make Sagrantino a wine that will last nicely throughout an entire meal.
Sonocaia’s Inaugural Launch Event – click here for tickets
To learn more about our estate Sagrantino, click here
To read about all of our wines, click here
Pronounce it like this: SO-NO-KI-YAH SAG-RAN-TEEN-OH
We look forward to seeing you in November…
Ken and Cynthia in the new Sonocaia winery back in late winter of 2022 as construction is completed and oak barrels are moved in.
Blind tasting modern Spanish Priorat
Another fascinating tasting with preeminent host Don Sebastiani at the Swiss Hotel on Sonoma Plaza.
Priorat is in Catalona (Catalunya), a region immediately south west of Barcelona, and directly west of Tarragona. It is rough and rugged in the extreme. For most of its wine history, it was a scenic but otherwise nondescript place with dull brownish wines. Then, big Spanish wine money started pouring into Priorat in the 1990’s. And now the wines are uniformly modern and new world with swanky stylish labels. Most are made with blends of Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignane). This tasting was a real shocker to all of us as the wines were quite fresh and vibrant, with some evident terroir, and somewhat reasonably priced as well. And all available now at the Bottle Barn in Santa Rose.
We started the tasting blind; this is an image after the tasting of the 8-bottle lineup, as it turned out organized by age of vines and vintage.
You can see these wine are all deeply colored, on the core and rim as well. No flaws, no VA, all clean and fresh.
Part of the team of winemakers and media chatting about how to approach this tasting.
Installing a wild swarm of bees into a new hive box at the Hydeout
Good friend and beekeeper Nic Freedman from Bees Rock Ranch in Petaluma passed this wild swarm on to us for one of our new hive boxes.
This swarm was caught in a swarm trap using lemon grass oil as bait. These bees may have been wild. Or, they could have been a hive splitting from one of Nic’s overwintering hives (which itself started as a swarm last year).
How do you transfer bees? Just carefully lift each “frame’ from the swarm box and place it in the new hive box. There are some rules about how fast to move, alignment of boxes, location of the hive, and so forth. Like most things, easy on the surface but complicated when confronting the number of decisions and various opinions on just about everything from various beekeepers.
About 15 minutes after transfer into the new hive box; the bees are flying out, around, and back into the new hive to figure out where they are, developing navigation cues, and so forth.
Myself, Nic, and friend and neighbor John Boich, all in our suits and observing the newly installed swarm at the Hydeout.
Motorcycling through Morocco
Just before bud break in our Sonocaia Sagrantino vineyard at the Hydeout, we had a chance to ride our BMW R1200RT through Morocco. We started in Malaga Spain, took the ferry south across the strait Gibralter, and then road through Chefchouan, Fez, the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert, Dades, Marrakech, and Rabat. Lots to report about the geography, food, music, religion, politics, and so forth.
Older posts you shouldn’t miss:
Sagrantino tasting – our Sonocaia vs Italy
Italian Barolos blind tasting report
50-year old California Cabernet blind tasting
Back in the Sonocaia winery after a long journey home from Morocco.