This week, I was lucky to join the LA Wine Writers for a brilliant tasting of wines from Paso Robles winery, Robert Hall, perfectly matched with dishes at AOC Brentwood, and led by Caine Thompson, managing director and sustainability evangelist for Robert Hall.
I have long been interested in biodynamic/sustainable agriculture – trekking to Bonterra, Troon, Foradori and Paso’s trailblazing Tablas Creek to see it in action. I simply had no idea (although I should have!) that Robert Hall was, under Caine's leadership, blazing some biodynamic trails of its own, including a three-year case study on the impact of regenerative practices on a vineyard’s ability to sequester carbon, while promoting soil health and, importantly, wine quality.
The winery, established in Paso in 1994, has 170 acres of vineyards in Paso's Geneseo and Estrella AVAs (they also source from all 11 Paso AVAs). It has been CA Sustainable since 2018 and is on track to achieving the rigorous Regenerative Organic Certification in November (Tablas Creek was the first US winery to earn this designation which focuses on soil health, carbon capture, biodiversity, animal welfare, and farmworker fairness). With 43 acres currently farmed regeneratively and biodynamically, Robert Hall is working on converting the remaining 130 acres of their Paso vineyards to regenerative agriculture.
We tasted their ‘Cavern’ (only avail at the winery tasting room) and ‘Artisan’ wines (only avail at restaurants) paired exquisitely with dishes by A.O.C.
Surprisingly for a skeptic of Sauvignon Blanc from Paso (I am!), I loved their ripe version, oozing passion fruit, balanced with zesty acid and just a touch of grass, synced up with AOC’s zingy winter citrus and avocado salad with lime.
While I enjoyed their Meritage and 2020 Cab Sav (both Bordeaux blends), it was the 100% 2019 Cavern Select Cabernet Sauvignon that had my heart, as it burst forth with blackcurrants, its heft and savoriness a grand complement to AOC’s juicy grilled hanger steak, laced with pine nut black olive butter.
And last, but not least, was the engaging, fruity, herby and earthy 2019 Cavern Select Syrah: a touch of heaven paired with a heady, tangy Gouda from the Netherlands.
After the pairings, we were lucky to be among the first to experience the difference that Robert Hall's regenerative agriculture project can make in the glass, as we tasted 2021 & 2022 sustainable Cabernet Sauvignon alongside their 2021 & 2022 regenerative Cabernet Sauvignon – a fascinating comparison, with the regenerative Cab (although young) showing, in my opinion, extra brightness, fruit and complexity in the glass. Caine attributed some of the difference to the increased canopy from the regenerative protocols that shields the grapes from raisining but, clearly, those protocols are spurring other earthly magic as well.
There are many challenges to sustainability in the California wine world - with water, soil health, water, livability for workers (did I mention water?) at the forefront of that - and there is much to solve, including the ever-expanding planting of vines in Paso. But I, for one, applaud wineries who are doing more than greenwashing - who, like Robert Hall, are seriously investing (these protocols are expensive to implement) and leading the way in modeling a more sustainable future, while endeavoring to demonstrate that these protocols have financial viability, including real living wages for workers.
And, just one of the fun examples of Robert Hall's approach is how they deal with the scourge of mealy bugs - rather than using pesticides, they contract with a bug breeder for a supply of 'mealybug destroyers' - predatory ladybird beetles - that they then disperse through the vineyards via drones. Fly away home ladybird, Indeed!
There is a lot more to this story, including Robert Hall’s work with the Cab Collective, which recently won a federal grant to help them further explore/implement climate change protocols, an initiative Caine, as chair of their sustainability and R&D committee, is helping to spearhead. Of course, front and center are quality wines; so, next time you are in Paso, take the time to visit Robert Hall Winery, and taste for yourself. I know I plan to and to get into that vineyard to report back further on their regenerative initiatives!
To learn more about Robert Hall, go to https://www.roberthallwinery.com/