Chapter 9: Winemaking 101
Establishing a vineyard has been an interesting experience! Each year, the vines become more mature, the fruit more robust and the harvest more abundant. The first harvest was a turning point and a celebration after years of hard work. Since then, our interest has turned to the “Art of Wine Making”. While this year’s grapes are still green, I decided to spend a morning interviewing our winemaker Ken Wornick of Hydeout Sonoma Winery so that I can share some of his thoughts with you all!
Our very knowledgeable wine maker has a great sense of humor and to spend a morning talking with him is quite a pleasure. The wine country experience has captured his heart but his attitude is unlike anyone else I’ve met in the wine business!
His personal brand name is “Dysfunctional Family “which says a lot about how he sees the wine industry. He is a bit of a radical portraying the opposite of what many vintner families want the world to see- a happy family standing in their vineyard with the dog and a glass of wine! He is creative and I love that! Visit : https://www.dysfunctionalfamilywinery.com/ to see his wine offerings. He makes the personal wine for our wonderful vineyard manager Mike Nunez who takes care of the farming for many local vineyards year round. Visit: https://nunezvineyard.com/.
I met Ken around the time when a Sonoma Film Fest film called Tiny Vineyards was featured at the iconic Sebastiani Theatre. Ken was the lead winemaker in the film. We watched and tasted wine after the show. He came recommended to me by Mike Nunez as well. The rest is history!
If you’re interested in learning a bit about wine making, read on…the interview begins…
Janette: Ken, tell me about your expertise:
Ken: I began my career as a geologist working for Bechtel on creating a nuclear power plant. I learned a lot about the earth and hazardous waste etc. I learned about time management and schedules as a project manager and eventually, I decided to do an MBA in Business. During those years, I wrote a thesis on the feasibility of developing a vineyard in Northern California. I had the opportunity to meet some of the most well known vintners including Mondavi and Haywood. I found inspiration from this research and decided to begin by working with some of the best winemakers around. Andy Erikson of Staglin was one of my mentors and from there I studied winemaking at UC Davis. I have had the opportunity to learn from the some of the best!
Janette: What kind of knowledge is important to be a good winemaker?
Ken: There are two components. One is physical: that is …physical work with wine equipment. All equipment needs to be sanitized and prepared before it’s used. Its’ a lot of physical work. The second is about having your senses turned on. Using all your senses will give you the needed insight into the development of the wine. Watching, listening, smelling, tasting, It’s important to pay attention.
Janette: Where does the winemaking process begin?
Ken: In the vineyard! It’s no exaggeration that wine making begins in the vineyard. The quality of the grapes will determine the quality of the wine.
Janette: Can you outline the process of winemaking?
The first decision is “when” to harvest. The grape and vine readiness is important to assess. Measuring the sugar content of the grape will be one of the signs that the fruit is ready. That is called the Brix. Here is an equation that helps to explain: 2 Brix +yeast=1 alcohol+CO2+ heat. Ex. 24 Brix = 12% +/- alcohol.
2) Weigh the harvest, sort grapes and green berries, leaves and stems
Destem leaving only ripe fruit before turning grapes into the fermentation vessel
3) In the fermentation vessel yeast reacts with the grapes and the fermentation process begins. This period is temperature controlled and monitored so that all the natural sugar can be converted to alcohol and the heat caused by the gases is managed. The top is open to allow the gases to escape. As soon as all the sugar is converted the fermentation is complete and the juice is immediately transferred directly to the barrel where no oxygen is allowed to exist.
4) The wine sits in the barrels for 1- 3 years depending on how long the wine needs to develop the properties that are desired. Periodic checks will assess the chemistry, taste, color and aroma of the wine.
5) At some point between 1 and 3 years for Cabernet Sauvignon, the aging is adequate. The wine is then bottled, corked and labeled. Of course the wine continues to “soften” in the bottle as the tannins decrease over time and it gets even better with age! Cabernet ages very well and can be kept for years.
Janette: What’s the most important quality in a good wine?
Ken: Character! Just like in people. ( Wine character comes from aroma, body, taste of sweet or bitter, color)
Janette: You focus on making boutique custom wines in small batch production. What is different about a boutique wine as opposed to wine that is produced in large quantities?
Ken: Literally everything! Here’s an analogy that answers this question…What’s the difference between a Ferrari and a Chevy?
Janette: Hey we have a Chevy truck! I know what you mean!
Ken: We all have Chevys around here! As a winemaker, I pay attention to the science- chemistry of the wine as well as the art of creating a character that is desired.
Janette: When is winemaking artful?
Ken: Well, just think of all the personal touches that go into a small batch… Hand farmed with sustainable and organic practices, hand-picked, hand-made and you are a vintner that is very “hands on” in the choices you make with your farm, and team. You are aware of every step and oversee the entire production carefully.
Janette: I guess the creation of something so delicate as wine is artful in so many ways. Everyone who is involved has their part. Thanks Ken! Your time is valuable. I appreciate that you took the time today.