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Hope for the future of wine and food

From my view on the Advisory Board of the Sonoma Valley High School Agri-Tech Academy, I get a first-row seat to watch some of our best and brightest explore their love of farming and plan for their (and our) wine and food futures. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so let’s let them do the talking…

The Sonoma Valley High School has it’s own 5-acre farm, with greenhouses, animal pens, and a vineyard. Here is the 2018 student-lead grape harvest team:

SVHS Agri-tech acadeny students

When it’s close to harvest time growers and winemakers use a light refracting device to measure the amount of sugar in the grape juice. Here, staff and students take sugar readings with a refractometer. These grapes are ready to harvest with a brix (sugar) reading of 23.2, which will yield a wine with approximately 14.3% (alcohol by volume):

SVHS refractomieter

Here, a few weeks ahead of the harvest, Ag Academy teachers and students remove leaves and shoots to get more sun into the canopy and make access to the grapes a bit easier at harvest time:

SVHS teacher and students harevsting

After plenty of sweat and hard labor, and some good fun, close to a half-ton of Chardonnay is ready to head to the winery.

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Sonoma Harvest 2018 – Part 1 “The Night”

Here is your Sunday Morning just before brunch wine podcast. While you were sleeping, Sonoma Valley was hard at work harvesting wine grapes at night.

You might ask, “hey Ken, what’s it like to prepare for a night harvest?” I’ll tell you…Are the grapes ready?, where is that lab report?, where are the lugs and bins?, get the tractor over here asap, tell Don Tacho to grab more diesel fuel, make sure we have the crew ready to go…oh no, the bin trailer broke down!, get the welder on the phone, and how late is Sonoma Market open for burritos? These are some of the features of getting ready for the nighttime harvest…


Do you love that cool-climate Pinot? Maybe that spicy Syrah or that dark inky GSM blend? To make these wines, the grapes must arrive at the winery very chilled. Warm grapes will begin to ferment almost immediately. Start picking at 7:00am, and the grapes will be 85 degrees by mid-afternoon. And that’s how bad flavors can arise – like vinegar (acetobacter) and nail polish (acetone). So picking at night assures the grapes will arrive at the winery in mint condition.

Many vineyards are too large to be

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Vacation rentals are a fixture of wine country

Focusing on vacation rentals is a bit afield from our usual topic – Sonoma grapes and wine. It’s all well and good to grow great grapes, make delicious wine, and build beautiful wineries. But we’d better have customers to enjoy it all. Many growers and winemakers rely on vacation rentals for their customer traffic. And often operate vacation rentals themselves.

One of the biggest challenges with all vacation rental operations is the “turnover”. Unlike hotels which have staff, individual vacation units are turned over one at a time, and often managed by the owner themselves. Managing that process – stripping beds, doing laundry, cleaning kitchens, repairing toilets, etc – falls to an array of independent cleaners and maintenance people. Identifying qualified cleaners and squeezing those cleaning teams inside of a 3-hour turnover window is a complicated and ever-present headache.

Last week, Cynthia and I travelled to the SF law offices of Wilson Sonsini to hear presentations from 8 tech start-ups, all organized by Hawaii-based startup-accelerator BlueStartups.


Our prime interest was in one firm, TurnoverBnB, lead by Israeli-born Hawaii-resident Assaf Karmon. They have developed a high-functioning platform to help vacation rental operators locate qualified vendors and manage all of their

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New York wine client “Sovare” visits Sonoma…

Hydeout Sonoma has many wonderful clients. Our New York-based clients, owners of the Sovare label, came into town to taste their 2017 vintage. Sovare is an estate hillside vineyard near Sonoma Mountain comprising equal percentages of Cabernet, Sangiovese, and Zinfandel. 

Hydeout Sonoma took over management of the vineyard in 2015. At that time the vineyard was not in good shape. After a lot of dedicated attention, this is the vineyard as of July 2018:

Sovare 2018

And here is a pictorial essay of Sovare’s visit to the Arcana Winery custom crush facility where Hydeout Sonoma makes the Sovare wine:

Using a wine thief, I am pulling equal sample volumes from these barrel and blending into wine glasses ‘on the fly.’

Hydeout winery visit 3

Almost ready with equal parts from several different barrels:

Hydeout winery visit 4

The moment of truth, tasting the 2017 vintage.

Hydeout winery visit 6

Discussion follows, how much more time in the barrel, in what way is the 2017different from 2016, what wood to use in 2018, and so on.

Hydeout winery visit 7

And more discussion…

Hydeout winery visit 8

And more discussion…

Hydeout winery visit 9

Having settled on the key next steps fro 2017 and 2018, now we need to decide where to go for lunch! We ended up at El Dorado Kitchen on the square for

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Farming Sonoma vineyards organically


Farming Sonoma vineyards organically is expensive and time consuming. And it makes the wine more expensive too. Why?

One of the biggest risks to vineyards around the globe is mold and mildew. Mildew spores over-winter in dormant cane buds and under bark. For season-long control, the vineyards must be sprayed. But with what?

Traditional farming deploys an array of chemicals to knock down mold and mildew. Examples include Tebuconazole, Triflumixole, and Quinoxyfen. To be effective, during the growing season chemicals like these will be sprayed on every inch of every grapevine roughly every 21 days.

Organic choices are more limited, and less effective, and sometimes more expensive too. And they must be applied every 10-14 days. Over the course of an entire growing season, that means 3-5 more trips through the vineyard with the driver, tractor, and sprayer, and nearly twice the total chemical cost. If you owned vineyards and you’re livelihood depended on growing and selling perfect grapes, which path would you choose?

At Hydeout Sonoma, we are sustainable always, and organic whenever possible. And our clients happily (or grudgingly) pay the extra costs – knowing their kids and pets can safely play in the vineyard and (the

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Sonoma International Film Festival

Join me for a quick visit to the Sonoma International Film (and food and wine) Festival, as seen through the eyes of Hydeout Sonoma:

Our houseguests during the festival were the director and stars of the documentary film, Grand Cru. Focussed on the trials and tribulations of farming and winemaking in Burgundy, famed winemaker Pascal Marchand is followed by the camera during the 2016 vintage as he works through hail, frost, mildew, low yields, and bureaucratic logjams in one of the most difficult vintages in Burgundy’s history.


Pascal’s wife, Amandine Marchand, manages the brand’s front office.

Following the film, Grand Cru, director David Eng (left) and Pascal participated in a lively Q&A.


Pascal, and his business partner, Moray Tawse, bottle wines, including many Grand Cru’s, under the Domaine Tawse and Marchand-Tawse.

Famed local historian, radio and newspaper personality, art collector, and all around local Sonoma booster Kathleen Hill MC’d the Q&A session.


After the screening of Grand Cru, as is the tradition in Sonoma, the film crew, festival staff, and VIP’s headed over to a tasting room for some wine and cheese, this time to “Abbot’s Passage,” a new project by sixth-generation vintner Katie Bundchu (of Gundlach

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