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
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.
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:
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!
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:
After religiously posting every month for several years, it’s been nearly five months since I last posted.
Below are some brief stories about farming, the Sonoma Int’l Film Festival Summerfest, and a local Rodeo.
In the next few Sundays, we’ll look at Sagrantino through the lens of our trip to Umbria Italy. Then we’ll have a look at a professional blind Sagrantino tasting. And after that, a look at the 2022 harvest. Enjoy…
Farming in summer
By late summer, our Sagrantino vineyard can be a bit of a sprawl as the long days and warm weather inspire a growth spurt in canopy and shoot length. Not only unsightly, it also tends to shade the fruit from sun and trap air movement. So a clean up is in order.
After shoots are trimmed and positioned into the canopy wires, and lower leaves are removed around the fruit zone on the north facing side of each row, the vines are now well positioned to ripen fruit late into the fall.
Sonoma International Film Festival – Summerfest
One of the truly fun annual events in Sonoma is the Sonoma International Film Festival. Our next festival kicks off on March, 22-26 in 2023. Meanwhile, the Festival held a weekend-long “Summerfest” in early August with films during the day and films and dinners and parties at night. Here is a quick look:
Summerfest started with a grand launch at the Sebastiani Theater.
An outdoor film screening, food trucks, and fabulous wine – on the lawn at Chateau St Jean Winery
Sit down dinner and a movie – “screen and cuisine” – at the Hanna Boys Center. The movie, a biopic of noted chef and restauranteur Charlie Trotter, was moving, controversial, and entertaining.
Before dinner service, the crowd celebrated the five chefs and their wonderful and creative menus
The complete menu from the nights event, along with wine pairings, and key sponsors
Buy your tickets now for next spring’s Film Festival, March 22-26, a totally “walkable” festival on the square in Sonoma town – https://sonomafilmfest.org
Rodeo at Wing and Barrel
Seems like there is nothing more all-american than a rodeo, especially when it starts with someone jumping out of any airplane with a giant American flag, and sticking the landing right in the middle of the paddock!
The event was held at Wing and Barrel, set on a 1,000 acre hay ranch few minutes south of Sonoma. W&B is a membership facility designed with a hunter’s sensibilities and a connoisseur’s palate “catering to discerning sportsmen, women and their families.”
The Rodeo got started with a roundup of the horses into the large corral. All of the cowboys and cowgirls were gathering their gear, stretching out, and getting ready to compete.
The action lasted all afternoon. Incredible talent that can only be developed when you spend your childhood, or a lot of time, or both, around horses. Photo credit: local Sonoma artist and photographer Jock McDonald https://www.jockmcdonald.com
Our group of rodeo clowns, during a stop at the Wing and Barrel bar, heading out to the rodeo. Our generous hosts, Jon and Christine Curry, 3rd and 4th from left.
Enjoying some Dysfunctional Family Winery rosé, and beer, and tequila
In the next few Sundays, we’ll look at Sagrantino through the lens of our trip to Umbria Italy. Then we’ll have a look at a professional blind Sagrantino tasting. And after that, a look at the 2022 harvest.
Sonoma Harvest, Part 1, “The Night” featured some harvests at night. As the sun rose and fruit was loaded onto the trucks, here are some daytime images of a few of our client’s harvests. And check out the winery videos and fermentation chemistry at the end. In all of the stories below, Hydeout Sonoma is responsible for all vineyard farming, winemaking, and the brand identities of these hand-made boutique wines…
Featuring an incredibly lovely and fun couple from New York, and their very authentic Italian patriarch, Pasquale, (bottom row, second from left), these clients celebrated their 3rd harvest of mountain-terraced “field blended” Cabernet, Sangiovese, and Zinfandel. This fruit was harvested in the early morning hours and rushed to the winery to be turned into a singular ‘estate’ wine. Available for sale in 2019!
Hailing from San Francisco, with children, aunts, and uncles all pitching in, this new client recently acquired their steep 100% hillside Sonoma Mountain Cabernet vineyard (which we have been farming for three years for the prior owner). As you can see from the white 1/2 ton bins, this vineyard yields spectacular dense fruit that delivers a classic Sonoma Cabernet. Inky, full of dark fruit, and soft silky tannins. Available for sale in 2020!
This very creative son-and-matriarch team (middle of bottom row) from the island of Hawaii standing in front of their harvest of 12-year old Napa Cabernet from their ranch near Monticello Road This harvest produced a yield of almost 5 tons of deep dark inky opulence. The fruit will make a highly-customized Napa Cab. Available for sale in 2020.
And this rag-tag crew of wonderful family, friends, and the Hydeout Sonoma farming team (plus a special shout-out to the Kansas City-based picking crew!) helped harvest the very 1st vintage of Hydeout Sonoma’s “Sagrantino” (from our 11-acre Carneros ranch, a 100% Umbrian red varietal) and also the 2nd vintage of our Dysfunctional Family Winery “Red Blend.” Dysfunctional Family will be available for sale in 2019. And the “yet-to-be-named” Sagrantino will available in 2020.
These good fellows (client, father-in-law, and uncle) worked very hard to help us harvest their family’s Cabernet grapes starting at 6:30 in the morning, then followed us to the winery to observe the fruit being meticulously processed. And then they hustled back to cook a spectacular steak-and-potato harvest dinner. When I arrived, the sun had already set, but the corks of these four special wines were just being pulled and generously shared!
My loyal and true partner through the entire farming season and harvest, Señor Tacho Enriquez, carefully looks after our people and farm equipment. Here he is being supervised by our “Buho Jefe”, Hydeout’s pet owl. This plastic owl is supposed to keep birds out of the vineyard. It doesn’t. But it’s fun to have around.
A brief visit to the winery…
Once the fruit is fermenting, it’s time for pump-overs and punch downs. After the fruit is destemmed, moved into the fermentation tanks, cold soaked, and finally inoculated with yeast, the grape skins start to rise to the top of the tank (see the organic chemistry note below for more info). Two to four times per day, every day, we pull the juice from the bottom of the tank and ‘pump it over’ the top – this pushes the grape skins back down into the liquid must (see the white hose coming from the lower part of the tank, into a pump, then up the stairs to the top). In smaller tanks, this is done from the top by manually pushing down on the skins, and is called a ‘punch down’. As the skins are forced down into the liquid, and as alcohol slowly accumulates, the alcohol acts a ‘solvent’ soaking the polyphenols (tannins, flavonoids, color, and body, etc) from the skins into the wine. Managing this process carefully is part of what makes a good wine great.
Start with great fruit…
Get it quickly to the winery crush pad…
Ferment it to perfection…
Transfer the almost finished wine into barrels for aging, then wait a year…
Brief videos of a few winery processes:
video: stems being removed from the grape bunches
video: small tank hand punch down
video: 1000 gallons of wine being pumped over
Note: Yeast will convert sugar into alcohol at a ratio of approx 62%, the remaining 38% of the equation becomes CO2 and heat. The heat and CO2, in gaseous form, rises in the tank taking the grape skins with it. Thus the need to ‘pump over’ or ‘punch down’ the skins back into the fermenting juice.
Glucose is first converted to pyruvate by glycolysis, and the pyruvate is converted to ethanol and CO2CO2 in a two step process:
For the second step function, start with pyruvate, for alcoholic fermentation the net reaction is:
And here is a general flow chart of the red wine making process:
In Sonoma, the harvest is already well underway for sparkling wines and some Pinots. But for the deeper darker reds, we are just starting to do field sampling of berries. And beginning to forecast the harvest schedule. This is vital because every winery has a different style of wine and elects to harvest using different benchmarks. In addition, there is necessarily a lot of planning to assure that manpower is ready to go, tractors and picking bins are in place, and the winery is ready with open tanks for fruit delivery. Thus we start forecasting way in advance…
Below is a quick review of some fruit conditions around Kenwood and Bennett Valley as of Saturday am, August 26th, 2017:
Above is some nicely ripening Syrah, this one is the Bien Nacido clone (historically emanating from the Santa Maria Valley, and notably used by Qupe’ and Au Bon Climat).
This is a typical hand held field refractometer. With a few drops of raw grape juice on the window (the blue glass), the light is ‘refracted’ through the viewfinder indicating the percent dissolved solids, which is essentially a proxy for total sugar, i.e. ‘brix.’
This is a view through a hand held field refractometer.
And you can see this Syrah sample shows brix at about 21 (the intersection of blue and white), resulting in about 10.5% alcohol (if harvested today). Naturally, we are monitoring ripeness looking for closer to 24.7 brix and closer to 13% alcohol (although ultimately in very fine wines, such as ours, seed ripeness, tannins, pH, TA, and many other inputs will be considered before the harvest)
Here is some slightly less ripe Syrah, with equally sized berries but smaller clusters, this being the Durell clone (from the famous Durell Vineyard of the 1970’s in Sonoma).
And the brix are lower, hovering closer to 19.
With the Syrahs above, we simultaneously pick and co-ferment about four percent Viognier, seen here. Both Syrah and Viognier originate from the Rhone Valley in France.
On average, and very roughly depending on variety, clone, rootstock, day and night temps, wind, etc, clusters will gain about 1.5 brix per week. Thus a sample at 19 today, with a goal of 25 at harvest is about 4 weeks away…