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
Setting up for a blind tasting of Sagrantino
Wine is to be enjoyed. Everyone gets to decide exactly what they like. Wine labels, the setting, the food, the mood; everything influences how we feel about a particular wine.
A genuinely blind tasting is the closest we can get to objectively measure one wine against another. And even then, the order of favorites can change – if the tasting is done before lunch or at dinner time, on weeknights or weekends, even the mood of the group, or just one small whispered remark, can re-order the evaluation and the results. Still, it is educational to taste wines blind, as we did here with these Sagrantino wines:
In this windowless cave under a spectacular private estate in Sonoma, we set up a blind tasting of Sagrantino wines.
The wines were bagged and numbered for complete anonymity.
Then, to assure strict adherence, all of the wines are poured in careful numbered order into wine glasses in advance, before the tasting panel entered the room
The panel was seated. And the hard work began. We tasted the wines one by one, making scrupulous notes along the way. It takes concentration and focus to really evaluate each wine carefully. The wines were judged on the basis of color, aroma, viscosity and mouthfeel, tannin structure, and finish.
The participants: When we were done tasting and making notes, the data was collected and tallied and force-ranked. Then, we revealed all the wines and had a free-wheeling discussion over the results. The professionals were quick, efficient, and showed great certainty.
From left to right, clockwise:
- Liz Thatch, Master of Wine and Distinguished Professor of Wine – click: Liz Thatch
- Graham Smith, CEO and wine collector – click: Graham Smith
- Anne Mieling, French-born wine expert – click: Anne Mieling
- Ingrid Reyes, CEO, M&A Creative Agency – click: Ingrid Reyes on LinkedIn
- Jennifer Arie, Director of Customer Success, Comm7 eCommerce platform – click: https://commerce7.com/about/
- Ken Wornick, winemaker, Sonocaia Sagrantino and Dysfunctional Family Winery – click: https://www.sonocaia.com
- Don Sebastiani, Sr., our host – click: http://donsebastianiandsons.com
- Steve Bush, former bio-med devices CEO, restauranteur, wine collector – click: Steve Bush
- Jon Curry, owner of Landers Curry, former board chair of Sonoma’s Int’l Film Festival – click: https://www.landerscurry.com/home
- Kelly Nice, CEO/Founder, Nice and Co. Ad Agency – click: https://www.niceandcompany.com
- Keith Casale, local Sonoma CFO – click: Keith Casale
- Cynthia Wornick, Dir. of Marketing, Sonocaia and DysfunctionalFamily Winery – click: Cynthia Wornick
Note: our host for this event was Don Sebastiani, Sr. (#7 above). A true gentleman, host extraordinaire, smoker of fine cigars, lover of fine wine and food, fluent speaker of at least five languages, a true Sonoma native, and so modest you’d never know any of this about Don unless someone else told you.
A total of eight wines were evaluated – seven pure Sagrantinos from Umbria, Italy, and our 2020 Sonocaia (just-bottled estate reserve Sagrantino from Dysfunctional Family Winery at the Hydeout Ranch here in Sonoma).
Wines revealed – here are the 8 wines revealed after the blind tasting:
I was floored that our inaugural, very young, and not-yet-released 2020 Sonocaia Estate Reserve Sagrantino earned a strong third place, especially against these world-renowned Umbrian all-stars.
First through third place were tightly bunched, the next wine was a very distant fourth.
- Arnoldo Caprai 2003 Collepiano Sagrantino di Montefalco (99 pts)
- Arnold Caprai, 2016 Montefalco Sagrantino, 25th anniversary edition (97 pts)
- Sonocaia, 2020, Sonoma Valley, Sagrantino, Estate Reserve (94 pts)
The full lineup of Sagrantino wines – seven from Umbria and one from Sonoma
After the tasting, the panel retired outdoors to the patio for discussion and a perfectly curated lunch hosted by Don Sebastiani Sr. and prepared and served by renowned Chef David Bush from Oso Restaurant in downtown Sonoma. If you have not yet visited OSO, please do; it is a wonderful, locally-operated delicious family-owned restaurant.
Chef David Bush has a storied track record of amazing stops on the culinary trail, but certainly his restaurant Oso in downtown Sonoma is his crowning jewel, so far! Find it here: OSO Restaurant in Sonoma
The “Sonocaia” estate Sagrantino vineyard during a particularly lovely sunset in early September. Harvest is not expected until mid-October.
But wait, there’s more, another blind wine tasting event: Hydeout Consulting client “Quail Run 2020 Estate Cabernet”, just bottled, competes with older Cabernet wine country legends and comes out a winner!
We are the consulting winemakers for the Quail Run estate Cabernet. Just a couple of weeks ago, we delivered the 2020 vintage to the client. The wine was bottled after 23 months of oak aging. The client organized an inaugural blind tasting and invited a knowledgeable group of friends and neighbors to participate. I admit I was a bit nervous knowing this newly bottled inaugural vintage (and possibly my career) was about to go head-to-head against some of the finest Cabernet’s in my client’s formidable wine cellar!
Quail Run 2020 was tasted against Stone Edge Farm 2014, Repris 2018, and Stag’s Leap 2019…
The contestants in this blind wine tasting event.
At the winery, Quail Run estate Cabernet clients Jan and Patrick (right) tasting their developing 2020 estate Cabernet in August 2022 just prior to bottling.
And fresh off the bottling line, the Quail Run estate Cabernet, Sonoma Valley.
A good friend of the client, Austin Texas expert wine educator Jim Bushee, wrote a blog post about the Quail Run blind tasting. To see the results, read here: Click here to read Jim Bushee’s blog post
The client also wrote a blog post about her version of the tasting: Quail Run estate Cabernet blind tasting blog post
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.
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:
- Botte Frères Vin D’Alsace Gerwertztraminer, 1990, Cuvee Exceptional
- Gundlach Bundshu, Sonoma Valley, 1990, Cabernet Sauvignon
- Clos Fourtet, 1st Grand Cru Classé, Saint Emilion, 2005
- Grand Vin De La Chateau Latour, Paula, 1990
- Haywood, Spaghetti Red, Sonoma Valley, 1983
- Silver Oak, Alexander Valley, 2003, Cabernet Sauvignon
- Hansen, Limited Release, Paso Robles, 2009, Cabernet Sauvignon
- Dalla Valle Vineyards, Napa Valley, 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Dalla Valle Vineyards, Napa Valley, 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Senots Yendick, Napa Valley, 1999, Cabernet Sauvignon
And there’s just enough time before winter arrives for this winemaker to head off to Ennis, Montana for some fresh air
The last ton of grapes is safely in the winery, and in celebration of the end of the 2019 harvest Hydeout Sonoma hosted a BBQ lunch for the whole hard-working winery team. The joke is that ‘it takes a lot of beer to make good wine’, and in this case, yes, guilty as charged. That, and many many hamburgers. In the featured cover photo, from left to right – Señors Altuve, Edgardo, Ricardo, Jose, Rex, Miguel, Ken, and Sebastian.
Quick flashback to July 2019 – the start of the harvest and the celebratory Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers dinner at Donum Winery in Carneros.
Grape harvest – cover crop seed
Once the harvests are completed, and winemaking chores are put to bed, it’s time to spread cover crop seed in the vineyard. We do this to secure the precious soil from runoff and add nutrition, break down clay, provide nematode suppression, and add beauty. Here in the back of our Polaris Ranger are a couple of 50 pound bags of “Brassica mix” – 40% Nemagon mustard, 30% common mustard, 15% Canola, and 15% daikon radish. This fast growing cover crop has the ability to produce up to 4 tons of bio-matter per acre!
Then just like clockwork, it’s time to start harvesting the ripe olives for oil. Cynthia and Martin start the long hard process of hand-harvesting.
Here I am up in the olive tree getting the last fruit from the top of the tree.
Fog over head, still early in the morning and just getting started, we examine the fruit for quality and celebrate being underway. Farming, growing things organically, trying to live somewhat off the land, all a real pleasure.
All done, about 500 pounds, equals about 7 gallons of extra virgin oil.
Delivered to Figone’s Olive Oil Company where the Hydeout Sonoma olives will be milled. Here, Cynthia and Zan.
Olives loaded into the hopper, then cleaned and ready for the mill. Proprietor Frank Figone met us at the loading dock and supervised the press.
Click here for a brief olive oil processing video
The big payoff – the start of a small stream of extra virgin oil exits the press.
The finished product – 4.3 gallons of extra virgin olive oil…
For more information – Click here to visit the Figone Olive Oil website
Figone’s is a great place to shop, in person or online, for delicious authentic olive oil products!
And in other Hydeout Sonoma Farms and Dysfunctional Family Winery news…
Our final harvest from the Hydeout Sonoma gardens – the last of the tomatoes and peppers, these are mainly Early Girl, Better Boy, and Roma tomatoes along with Shishito and Padron peppers.
Ripening Persimmon – colorful, and famously packed with lots of vitamin C. Just in time to prevent winter colds.
After the grape and olives and garden harvests, it’s time for a little fun – a game Jenga ends in a pile of blocks – with Paige Locke, Gail Diserens, Cynthia Wornick, and Elaine Smith looking on.
Finally, some time off – heading down the coast on Highway One from Sonoma on our way to Los Angeles.
And 5 days later we turned north and pointed the bike towards Death Valley (see the sign).
As the weather cools, our estate Sagrantino vineyard shows off its fall colors…two chemicals are responsible for the fall coloration of leaves, carotenoids create orange and yellow pigments, and anthocyanins create shades of red and purple. The carotenoids are present in the leaf all summer long, but they’re masked by the green of chlorophyll.
…the harvest moon rises over Sonoma Valley.
Wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Despite what seems like turmoil everywhere, the great majority of us are blessed with ample food, clothing, shelter, and love. And for those that are not, we are all doing our best to help. Thank goodness we are not living in a time of widespread famine and disease. Let’s celebrate all that is good. Warmly. Ken