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
Part 2 of farming and wine life in the Sonoma Valley…
Honey Bees and a National Park Ranger Talk on the Light Spectrum
Honey bees being a constant topic here at the Hydeout, what a great surprise to find a recent national park ranger talk on the color perception of bees! Turns out, honey bees see further out than humans on the light spectrum – which is why they can more easily find nectar in flowers. And why they don’t really like the color black.
Honey bees (cont’d)
Here are some more images of our work last week in the honey bees hives:
American Graffiti in Petaluma
This year marked the 50th year since George Lucas’ coming-of-age movie American Graffiti was released on the silver screen. Cruisin’ the Boulevard showcased hundreds of American model cars 1972 or older who joined in the annual parade of classic American cars cruising through the streets of downtown Petaluma where most of the movie was filmed in the summer of 1972. The best place to watch was along Petaluma Boulevard, south of B Street to D Street.
Sad to say we’ve had two fires already in our lovely Hyde-Burndale neighborhood. The first was a grass fire from some untimely afternoon high grass mowing. Our local neighbors with a water truck beat the firefighters to the scene (due to a faulty address) and had the fire out quickly.
The second, was a structure fire right across the street from us. The awesome and very local Schell-Vista Fire Dept arrived, followed closely by Cal-Fire, and that fire was also put out quickly. Hopefully the last of this fire business for the year.
Meal Fit for a King
Hosted by noted Napa vintner John Boich of Boich Cellars, we enjoyed an incredible food and wine event at their Wall Road vineyard (where we are farming Cabernet and Syrah for Boich). Check out the menu below for each of these incredible dishes:
Yours truly, Ken Wornick, with chef extraordinaire Landon Schoenfeld of Oak and Acorn Luxury In-home Dining
The Boich Cellars menu from Oak and Acorn Luxury In-Home Dining. Find them at 612-618-5909, firstname.lastname@example.org
After a very wet winter, wildlife activity is booming around Sonoma and at the Hydeout. These images, shot by professional photographer Michael Hodgson, Sony Pro photographer & travel journalist, at www.michaelhodgsonphoto.com and email@example.com
This is first time ever finding a snake at the Hydeout. Snakes, especially rattle snakes are super common up in the hills around Sonoma. Down here in the almost-flats, we have very few to zero rattlers. This snake however is actually a common gopher snake that was leisurely crossing the driveway. I grabbed it, put it in a bucket, and took it straight out the vineyard where it very quickly disappeared down a gopher hole – to my very great delight!
Cork from Ganau, it’s Italian for cork
Our primary supplier of cork is Ganau, a local Sonoma company run by terrific people. In this video, you can see a natural product, cork, being naturally branded by fire. Click here to watch a 30-second video of cork being fire-branded at the Ganau plant
Fire branded and ink branded corks
Fun night at the Big Easy in Petaluma seeing Illegitimate AC/DC. Fronted by my buddies Bob Taylor (as Angus, center, guitar) and James Marshall Berry (right, on bass). They rocked hard all night long. Bob and James are also an integral part of KSVY Sonoma, our local radio station. I was a guest on Bob’s The Morning Show last week – check it out here: listen to Ken Wornick on the KSVY Morning Show
Next up – watch for a big announcement!
My trusty 2007 BMW R1200RT gets me around to all the vineyard sites we farm.
The experts shock me with a surprising achievement in a crowded field of arguably the greatest of the older California Cabernets. Read the compelling story and see the results of our blind tasting:
25 – 50 year old California Cabernets (1973-1999)
Spoiler alert! Here is the end of the movie first. This photo is from the big reveal – after the tasting.
These 11 wines were carefully opened, decanted, bagged, numbered, and poured. These wines are mostly from my personal cellar from when I first became interested wine starting in my freshman year in college and up to my very first garage-made wine twelve years later.
Beringer, Cabernet, Napa Valley, Estate, ‘Centennial Cask Selection’, 1973
Seven Stones, Cabernet, Estate, Napa Valley, 1999 (the very first vintage, produced by me in the estate’s garage)
Each taster scored their top 3 and bottom 1 wine (shown here).
The top half of this page is the individual scoring, the bottom half are the actual bottle codes. After the tasting and scoring, the list of wines was provided to the panel.
As a second thought experiment, before revealing the actual bottles, tasters attempted to match the 11 wines tasted to the printed list of 13 possible wines shown. The 2 French wines (from my father’s cellar) were not included in the tasting and were simply on the printed list as decoys – to see if anyone would take the bait. A few did.
I could not believe my eyes! The clear winner? The 1999 Seven Stones! What? One of the first wines I ever produced. Not commercially either. Just made as a garage wine for our family.
Was this for real? Indeed it was.The tasting was absolutely blind. The results completely legitimate. Tabulations were scored by a very reliable accountant.
Story: The Seven Stones, Cabernet, Napa Valley, 1999 was the very first wine produced from the Seven Stones vineyard in St. Helena, Napa Valley. Planted by me in 1996 at my parent’s estate in St Helena. We were still living in Burlingame, Ca., and I had only just started my vineyard development business above Silicon Valley. That company is still operating, see this link: La Honda Winery and Post and Trellis Vineyards in Redwood City, California. The 1999 was one of the very first wines of my career – now 25 years ago. I didn’t have any formal equipment, fermented it in the garage, no drains, no press, no filter, just raw manual labor all the way through to hand bottling and labeling the 2 barrels, about 50 cases. The 1999 vintage was never sold to the public, only consumed by our family. There might be a dozen bottles still around. But the ’99 is what lead to the eventual commercialization of Seven Stones, which now garners incredibly high critic’s scores and sells out every year.
Side note: That 1999 Seven Stones was a combination of amazing grapes and some good luck. With an undergrad degree in geology, years of field work, followed by an MBA; a decade later I took a few extension courses at Davis. And interned for a few weeks during harvest at the vaunted Staglin Winery in Rutherford, Napa. The winemaker at that time was Andy Erickson, now of Screaming Eagle and Leviathan and Favia, among others. But I was the very lowest man on the totem pole and naturally spent the entire “learning experience” dragging hoses and cleaning tanks. Those are the rudimentary skills I had to apply to the 1999 vintage.
1970’s panel “Winners” and “Worst of the Best” – details on the scores (we were stunned, and if you weren’t there you might not believe it):
Best of the best:
- Seven Stones, Cabernet, Napa Valley, 1999 was the clear winner overall. I alone knew that Seven Stones was the somewhere in the lineup, but I didn’t know where? No one else had a clue that a Seven Stones wine was in the tasting until after the reveal. And as proof of the ‘blind’ results, I actually chose the group’s least favorite wine as my personal favorite (ever the contrarian, as you’ll see below). One note – to be completey fair, the 1999 Seven Stones was the youngest wine in the lineup, and perhaps therefore the ‘freshest.’
- Louis M Martini, North Coast, 1982 – with arguably the second highest scores, we all just about fell off of our chairs as this wine sold for $3.79 at the time and had a peel-off plastic capsule. But, the cork was in superb condition. It was considered a spaghetti-red table wine at the time and likely not ever intended to go up against these more expensive titans.
- Sebastiani, Cabernet, Proprietor’s Reserve, North Coast Counties, 1977 and Stephen Zellerbach Vineyard, Cabernet, Alexander Valley, 1978 were also in the running for favorite, as were several other wines vying for a place in the top 3. I was pleased for Don that his family’s wine showed so well. I was a nervous wreck knowing that our host’s family’s wine was hiding somewhere in that lineup.
Worst of Best: There really and truly were no bad wines. Not a single bottle was badly oxidized. And the ullage was excellent for all bottles:
- Beringer, Cabernet, Napa Valley, Estate, ‘Centennial Cask Selection’, 1973 – there was near unanimity in the group of this wine being the least favorite. This surprised me as I had posted it as my favorite wine. I felt it had fantastic aromas on the nose, and a depth of flavor, but others felt it was somewhat pruny and over the hill. Still available on some re-sale sites for $350.
- Grgich Hills, Cabernet, Napa Valley, 1984 – this wine garnered a few votes for least favorite. And the cork was in superb shape. So who knows? Grgich was and remains a well respected Napa winery. So many things contribute to the condition of a wine after 25-50 years. Found on some re-sale sites for $160-$300.
A pause in the action for a quick photo. At this point we’ve quietly tasted and made notes on 5 of the 11 wines. In this tasting, I invited some of my favorite colleagues from the wine world – winemakers, collectors, customers, and consultants. But I forgot to ask permission this time around, so I am afraid I cannot identity most of them.
Having a laugh: Stacey Clarke, Principal owner of Treehouse (the brand development company behind the spring 2023 launch of our Sonocaia estate Sagrantino) and me, Ken Wornick (Sonocaia, Dysfunctional Family, and Hydeout)
Many of the old corks were in very fine shape, likely due to the quality of the producers, and the excellent storage history, but a few disintegrated on contact and had to be very carefully extracted and wine decanted.
11 wines lined up and quietly tasted blind. Then tasters were supplied with a list of 13 wines, out of order, and had to guess which 11 wines were which.
Honorable mention – one of our winemaking colleagues brought a Hudson Valley Torchon Of Foie Gras (see the empty plate). It went so perfectly with our tasting. Also of note, the ducks are apparently not stuffed with feed (as with days of old). Their website says – the Moulard is a cross between the white farm duck, the Pekin, and a South American duck, the Muscovy. The Pekin has a mild flavor; the Muscovy, a gamy flavor. When the two breeds are crossed, they produce a high quality, deliciously unique flavor sought after by the finest chefs worldwide. Moulard ducks have a special ability to store fat in the liver. Like the Muscovy, they are ground-foraging ducks. Moulards don’t fly and are not fans of open water. These characteristics make the Moulard the ideal breed for producing foie gras.. The website says: Don’t Sweat the technique! The Torchon of Foie Gras is the ultimate cold preparation. Translating to “Towel” in French, its name is a result of the preparation method where the Foie Gras was traditionally tied in a kitchen towel, rolled, poached, and hung to chill for several days. The torchon of Foie Gras is a labor of love that we have refined for your convenience and enjoyment. Its cylindrical shape makes for an easy and impressive slice & serve that is guaranteed to delight.
The scene of the crime, the home of our very gracious host, Don Sebastiani Sr. of Sonoma. My thanks as always to Keith Casale, CFO of Landers Curry, who assisted Don (and me) in organizing this tasting.
Chicken Murder, Bobcat style
Went for the usual collection of chicken eggs at dusk, found this sad scene of feathers but no chicken – one of the most productive and peaceful of our flock – a Buff Orpington chickens was killed. Looks like it was pulled through a hole in the fence and dispatched just outside the coop door. This might be the first time a bobcat has taken a chicken. For us, it’s usually the hawks.
The likely fugitive from justice, a really gorgeous Bobcat crossing from the chicken coop to the vineyard. Note the telltale striping on the front left leg.
What happens in Sonoma when the harvest is done?
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!
Recipe: Click here!
Living art at the Hydeout
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