Robert Hall Winery: Leaping Into Regenerative Viticulture

The brick buildign of Robert Hall Winery

Robert Hall Winery represents one of the forerunners in regenerative viticulture in Paso Robles. Taking many practices, including a comparison study of biodynamic farming techniques versus sustainably farmed vineyards, is one way of forging a path toward better environmental stewardship. Therefore, Earth Month is the perfect time to recognize wineries whose vineyard and farming practices align ecologically.

Robert Hall Winery, located in the Paso Robles Estrella District AVA, grows five varieties on the estate vineyards but produces 17 varieties, including those sourced from 18 growers within eleven Paso Robles AVAs.

Robert Hall The Legacy

One man’s dream to produce world-class wines from Paso Robles signifies the heart of Robert Hall Winery. A self-made man from St. Paul, Minnesota, Robert Hall created several innovative small businesses, including his final achievement, his winery. A trip to France’s Rhone Valley cemented his desire to fulfill his passion for owning a winery.

Robert Hall purchased the property in 1995 to produce Bordeaux and Rhone varietals. At the same time, Robert Hall was one of the pioneers of sustainability in Paso Robles.

Today Robert Hall Winery is owned by O’Neil Vintners & Distributors. Owner Jeff O’Neil purchased the property in 2017 and continues to build on the legacy and ideas of Robert Hall. The winery became Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance in 2018. This year all fruit will be sustainably grown, including those grapes they source from other vineyards. Since 2020 Robert Hall Winery is ISO14001 certified. Their latest project is a breakthrough case study in the emerging field of regenerative viticulture.

The three estate vineyards lie in the Geneseo and Estrella District AVAs and make up the 173 acres owned by Robert Hall Winery. The grapes grown in the three vineyards consist of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petit Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Grenache Blanc.

Winemaker Don Brady

Maintaining consistency from the past to the present is winemaker Don Brady. He has been with the winery since its inception. Don worked at Pheasant Ridge Vineyard while studying at Texas Tech University. He also worked in Texas University’s experimental wine and grape program. Following college, Don began working at Llano Estacado Winery, a winery that helped bring the Texas wine industry to light. Now living in California, he has earned many accolades for his achievements.

Don Brady, Winemaker at Robert Hall Winery in the vineyards
Don Brady Winemaker Robert Hall Winery. Photo Courtesy of Robert Hall Winery

Regenerative Viticulture and The Study

The study compares side-by-side regenerative viticulture through biodynamic farming techniques and sustainable practices. This analysis was created as a three-year project on 40 acres led by biodynamic consultant Philippe Armenier and Robert Hall’s Managing Director Caine Thompson. The ultimate goal is to understand the effect of regenerative viticultural practices on the vineyard’s ability to sequester carbon while enhancing soil health and wine quality.

Caine Thompson Holding two bottles of Robert Hall Winery Red Wine
Caine Thompson, Managing Director of Robert Hall Winery

Thus far, the study compares the results of Cabernet Sauvignon grown both sustainably and through a regenerative regime. Sustainable vines have a more extended canopy and more dehydrated fruit. The regenerative vine produces more intact berries with less dehydration.

The practice of regenerative viticulture emphasizes restoration and biodiversity. The goal, preserving and improving soils, fruit, and wines while minimizing the environmental impact and carbon footprint. Basically, the rehabilitation of the land through organic and biodynamic farming practices, which focus on rebuilding soil and organic matter to reverse the effects of climate change.

Regenerative Viticulture considers the vineyard an agroecosystem, meaning it is not the vine but all the organisms in the ecosystem.

In the future, Robert Hall Winery hopes to become Regenerative Organic Certified. To accomplish this goal, the winery must convert to five key practices.

1. Composting
2. Cover crops in the vineyards
3. Incorporate human and social standards because people are essential to the ecosystem. It considers the living wage concept and involves conversations between owners, workers, and farmers.
4. Minimizing tillage
5. Eliminate and remove all use of chemicals.

Robert Hall Winery Vineyard utilizing Regenerative Viticulture
Robert Hall Winery Vineyard utilizing Regenerative Viticulture. Photo Courtesy Robert Hall Winery

Wine Tasting Luncheon

Recently at a wine-tasting luncheon, I got to sample the wines of Robert Hall Winery. The winery has several labels. The Cavern consists of 12 varieties. The Black label, also known as its Artisan series, includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. A sparkling wine created with Grenache Blanc will be added to the mix.

Robert Hall Winery Red Wine
Robert Hall Winery Red

Robert Hall Cavern SElect

Cavern Select Chenin Blanc Shell Creek Vineyard: The grapes for this wine come from 60-year-old vines in the Paso Robles Highlands. The wine ages in concrete, stainless steel, and puncheons. I found a light wine with citrus flavors and hints of pear and apple.

Cavern Select Cabernet Sauvignon: The Cabernet comes from the Willow Creek, Genesco, and Creston districts. The wine ages 24 months in French oak. I found a very balanced wine with aromas of dark fruit and tobacco. On the palate, the dark fruit persists.

Cavern Select Meritage: This wine blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. The grapes come from 4 sites in the Adelaida District and ages 24 months, 60% new French Oak. The full-bodied wine displays savory and floral aromas and flavors of blackberry and tobacco.

Cavern Select GSM: The Grenache ages in French oak puncheons, 50% new. The Syrah ages in 60% new French oak, while the Mourvédre ages in 50% French oak puncheons. The wine is blended and returned to French oak puncheons to age until bottling. Red fruit dominates this wine.

Cavern Select Syrah: The wine is composed primarily of Syrah with a small percentage of Grenache. This Syrah comes from the Willow Creek district and ages 100% French oak with 50% new for 18 months. Aromas of blackberry and chocolate, while on the palate, blue fruit dominates with hints of dried herbs.

Robert Hall Artisan Collection

Artisan Collection Sauvignon Blanc: I found tropical flavors with hints of melon accent with grass and herbs.

Artisan Collection Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine blends mostly estate fruit, Cabernet Sauvignon primarily with small portions of Merlot, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. This full-bodied wine ages 18 months in French and Eastern European oak. I found aromas of currants, spice, and flavors of dark fruit and mocha.

Robert Hall Winery White Wine in an ice bucket
Robert Hall Winery White Wine

Case Study

We were treated to two barrel samples of the 2021 and 2022 Cabernet Sauvignon. Each year’s selections had a sustainable version and a regenerative version. Although 2022 seemed relatively young, it was clear that the regenerative was richer and displayed more fruit.

With sustainability and regenerative viticulture, the inspiration and goal of Robert Hall Winery, this statement rings clear, “Creating wines of the highest quality is our promise, each one of them made by hand with a simple goal – enjoying The Good Life. Well-Earned.”

Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received a hosted wine-tasting luncheon. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.