Robert Hall’s Deep Dive Into Differences In Farming Bears Successful Fruit: Sparkling, GSM, Cabernet Sauvignon + Pairings

Menu for a Selection of Robert Hall Cavern Select Wines

What is regenerative viticulture all about? What’s the same or different between organic, biodynamic or regenerative organic? That’s what I was trying to explain to my husband after his query as we drove back from the Santa Paula Agricultural Museum following a panel discussion on the topic of regenerative agriculture. I explained about the three legs of the stool: people, planet, profits. To me, for wine, what it really comes down to is this: in biodynamic and regenerative organic vineyards and agricultural spaces, the land is much more ALIVE: cover crops enrich the soil full of microbial activity, the air is busy with beneficial buzzing insects and birds singing, the woods and other nearby natural spaces house diverse animals. The land is ALIVE –and so is the fruit.  At Robert Hall Winery in Eastside Paso Robles, they are taking a deep dive into understanding the differences between being Certified California Sustainable Winemakers (which is an important first step) to their Regenerative Organic Certification by comparing these practices on 4o acres of their estate vineyards.  

Robert Hall is sharing the results of their case study with the wider wine community by offering workshops where you can learn about regenerative viticulture through biodynamic farming techniques from world-renowned biodynamic consultant Philippe Armenier and Robert Hall Winery Managing Director, Caine Thompson. And taste the differences in the wines made by Don Brady and Amanda Gortner!

winemakers Don Brady and Amanda Gorter

“The purpose of the study is to understand regenerative farming practices and their effect on the vineyards’ ability to sequester carbon and overall quality effects on soil, fruit and wine,” reports the Robert Hall website. “As stewards of our land, we have a desire to constantly improve our soils, fruit and wine while minimizing our environmental impact and overall carbon footprint.”

Caine Thompson at Robert Hall on a cold wintry day in the estate vineyard with a favorite wine

While I haven’t been able to attend one of these educational events yet (and worth noting they offer a range of activities and pairings), I experienced these fascinating taste tests with Caine Thompson (pictured above) at an LA Wine Writers lunch at AOC Brentwood (a story for another day when I can attend an event at the winery as well!), Today we have tasting notes with coursed pairings plus more from my visit with the winemakers when in mid-winter, in between floods and before record setting snowfalls, I visited Robert Hall’s estate vineyards, toured the cellars, tasted wine (with pairings!) and heard stories from winemakers Don Brady and Amanda Gortner following a comparative tasting of Paso wines versus the world (read more here– the writeup includes Robert Hall’s vermentino!).  

Enjoying a Robert Hall Syrah by the fire on a wintry evening in Paso Robles

Let’s start with Robert Hall, The Man, The Winery. A hardworking,  self-made businessman, Robert Hall fell in love with wine, found Paso property affordable and with potential, and in 1999, he and his wife Margaret embarked on producing world-class wines there becoming the fifth largest winery in the Paso Robles wine region by 2016 when the business sold to O’Neill which at the time was the seventh largest in the state, and now is the tenth largest in the United States with seven million cases a year.

Don Brady in the cellar

“Robert had the vision to see the potential of Paso Robles,” Don Brady tells me on our tour of the cellar. Don Brady was the original winemaker for Robert Hall (who passed away in 2013), and Don has continued on with O’Neill. Jeff O’Neill, who was named Wine Enthusiast Person of the Year in 2022, has taken on a number of sustainability initiatives including installing significant solar pan­els to power operations, cre­at­ing the county’s largest wine industry worm-pow­ered waste­water treat­ment sys­tem, and examining the  impact regen­er­a­tive farm­ing at Robert Hall Win­ery. His goal is to have certified sustainable 100% of grapes grown on 15k acres and pur­chased from over 200 farm­ers, including, of course, those grapes that go into the Robert Hall wines that aren’t grown on the estate.

This 100% Grenache Blanc celebrates Paso, according to Robert Hall winemaker Amanda Gorter

Next, what exactly is Regenerative Organic Certification? “Regenerative Organic Certified® is a revolutionary new certification for food, textiles, and personal care ingredients. Regenerative Organic Certified® farms and products meet the highest standards in the world for soil health, animal welfare, and farmworker fairness,” states the ROC website. LEARN MORE

Regenerative Organic Certification is so new that less than a dozen wineries are certified in the United States (read about Troon, the first one in Oregon, and the very first one ever, Tablas Creek in Paso Robles). The ROC process actually starts with a National Organic Program certification. Wineries also tend to practice biodynamics, and have that certification first. Next, they

  • prove soil health with minimal tillage and cover crops and crop rotation;
  • show social fairness for employees;
  • make sure that animals are well cared for so that they are
    –free from hunger or thirst; discomfort; pain, injury or disease; fear, distress and mental suffering;
    –free to express normal behavior.  

Here’s a 20 minute video that explains Regenerative Viticulture practices at Robert Hall: 

These experiments fit right in to the culture of innovation at Robert Hall which had one of the pilot vineyards for the SIP certification, and is found today by the winemakers at Robert Hall where they have plenty of freedom and permission to fail, where they can try something and see what happens whether the finished product makes it to the tasting room or not.  They are also watching research in Israel about water, considering clones, and using drones and other technology too. Being part of a larger company makes it possible for them to have the tools they need, buy the best fruit and barrels, but it is also fruitful to have a permission to fail culture where it’s not just about doing it right, but about doing great things, Don Brady reports.

Robert Hall offers a range of wines, from the “Black Label” ones you can find easily around $20 that are made from sustainably grown fruit, most of it certified SIP, to the higher end “Cavern Select” wines you can find at the winery that are biodynamic and with fruit that is Regenerative Organic Agriculture Certified or in conversion. 

Menu for a Selection of Robert Hall Cavern Select Wines

Menu for a Selection of Robert Hall Cavern Select Wines

  • All three of these wines deserved a different stand out and distinctly different meal that goes well with each wine. A coursed meal like this is a really wonderful way to experience these wines, but usually you’d only get that at a winemaker dinner. However, these courses aren’t that difficult to do, and would be wonderful for a dinner party with several couples.
  • Local Fresh Sand Dabs with Lemon Butter Caper Sauce and micro-greens
    with organic 2021 Robert Hall Cavern Select Sparkling Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles AVA
  • Arancini with rice, ham, organic mozzarella, and parmesan with organic micro-greens and organic marinara
    with organic 2020 Robert Hall “GSM” Paso Robles AVA
  • Filet mignon on a bed of homegrown chard with lemon parsley garbanzo bean and garlic bread crumbs (recipe below) 
    with organic 2018 Robert Hall Cavern Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles AVA

2021 Robert Hall Cavern Select Sparkling Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles AVA

2021 Robert Hall Cavern Select Sparkling Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles AVA

ABV: 11.5
SRP: $40
Grapes: Biodynamic ROC (in conversion) Grenache Blanc 
460 cases 

This 100% Grenache Blanc celebrates Paso, according to winemaker Amanda Gorter. Made in the traditional method of site at first, the winery invested in the equipment and it is now made completely in house. These blocks are in conversion to Regenerative Organic for Certification.

In the tasting room, this was paired with a creamy Cambozola blue cheese, and wow, what a pairing that was! 

Appearance:  Very very pale yellow, platinum, very delicate bubbles, persistent, 

Aroma: Minerals, chamomile, meadow, meadow grasses, nice and dry, herbal on the palate, lemon, lemon lime, fennel, 

Palate: Very sipible very lovely to drink, delicate bubbles gently fizz across the palate, 

Pairing: Sand dabs with a lemon butter caper sauce was the pairing we chose for this wine. The sauce on the capers brightens the wine, the pairing works quite nicely together, would be lovely as an appetizer on a shortbread cracker, the micro greens help to enhance the meal as well. It is more than just a pretty garnish on the plate and adds nicely to the dish, 

2020 Robert Hall “GSM” Paso Robles AVA

2020 Robert Hall Cavern Select “GSM” Paso Robles AVA

ABV: 15.5%
SRP: $60
Grapes: Biodynamic ROC 53% Grenache, 33% Mourvedre, 14% Syrah
350 cases 

Appearance:  Dense, bright ruby, youthful, jewel tone, 

Aroma: Rich and decadent, raspberry, raspberry jam, plum, spice, cinnamon, clove, clay, wet earth, violet, very inviting, for as high as it is in alcohol the nose is not hot. 

Palate: Juicy, big fruit, raspberry, raspberry vines, blueberry closer to the finish, baking spice, hotter on the palate than it is on the nose, river clay, oregano, mint mid palate, long lingering finish, 

Pairing: We weren’t sure what to pair with this wine for a second course, but then I went to the Robert Hall website and checked out the tasting menu! Thank you Robert Hall for the suggestion of pairing Arancini with the GSM as it totally works with this wine. Arancini is a rich satisfying dish that matches the rich decadence of the wine with the liveliness of the tomato sauce matching the liveliness of the grenache in the blend. Arancini is a perfect dish to make if you have left over rice in the fridge. Simple and easy yet very impressive and tasty for guests or the family as an appetizer or side dish. 

2018 Robert Hall Cabernet Sauvignon, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles AVA

2018 Robert Hall Cabernet Sauvignon, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles AVA

ABV: 15%
SRP: $95
Grapes: Biodynamic ROC Cabernet Sauvignon
174 cases 

With this big hefty bottle, they are trying to express how special this wine, and should you gift it, share it, or see it, you’d expect that what’s inside is as special as what’s outside. Well, this wine needs no fancy bottle –it’s really impressive. 

A quick note on the pairing: when I stayed in Paso Robles at Caine Thompson’s Air BnB, he opened a syrah and a carbonic macerated carignon — but I was having a salad with a squeeze of lemon, olive oil, avocado, tangerine,mixed nuts, oiled cured olives,  and lemon-cumin-parsley garbanzo beans. Well, surprise surprise– the salad went well with these wines! So when Sue suggested this chard salad with garbanzo beans, I suspected it would go great with this wine– and it did! 

Appearance:  Extremely dense, plum, ruby rim, insane legs, 

Aroma: Cherry, cherry tobacco, eucalyptus, herbal, fresh and clean once you get past the cherry and tobacco, not hot on the nose, this wine could easily be mistaken as a Napa Cab, at least a $200 bottle of wine in Napa, very pleasant and complex in the nose.

Palate: So good, cherry, cherry tobacco, menthol, dry, very structures, plenty of beautiful fruit that is not a fruit bomb, vuloptuous on the palate, Marilyn Monrose wine sexy as hell, leathery tannins, suede. 

Pairing: This melt in your mouth filet was the perfect choice to pair with thine wine. Our salad worked so nicely with the wine. If you needed to have a vegetarian meal you could grill a portobello instead of a steak. The wine loves the spices and grill flavor. As much as I loved the filet, I loved this salad and the portobello would be a fantastic substitute for the steak. The steak was perfect with the wine, perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. Perfect accompaniment to the salad instead of the main star. And so fabulous with this big hearty wine. 

Chard Salad with Garbanzo Beans with Robert Hall Cavern Select Wines


Lemon Parmesan Chard Salad with Garlic Bread Crumbs and Cumin Parsley Garbanzo Beans

adapted from Food 52– with a LOT of adaptions! 

Ingredients for Salad

  • 1 large bunch Swiss chard, chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste 
  • 1 and 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
  • cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan

Ingredients for Lemon Cumin Dressing with Garbanzo Beans

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 c garbanzo beans 
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 cup Parsley 
  • 1-2 lemons (we used 1 very large Meyer lemon)
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • pinch salt
  • pinch pepper
  • 1/2 cup pitted olives 


  1. Remove stems from washed chard.
  2. Zest and juice the lemon.
  3. Combine lemon juice (approximately 3 T), zest, seasonings, and whisk in 1/4 cup of the olive oil, then add parsley, olives, and garbanzo beans.
  4. Warm 1/4 cup olive oil in skillet.
  5. Add breadcrumbs to skillet and stir until crisp and brown (5 minutes).
  6. Add garlic, toast for one minute, remove bread crumb mixture from heat.
  7. Finely chop chard stems.
  8. Shred chard: stack leaves, roll together, cut thin.
  9. Combine chard and stems in bowl, toss gently with Parmesan.
  10. Add lemon parsley garbanzo beans and toss.
  11. Toss in the toasted breadcrumbs and serve immediately.

If I was going to do it again, I’d use the Trader Joe’s Olives and Nuts instead of the olives as well as a can of their Lemon-Parsley-Cumin Garbanzo beans to save time… and then just add a bit more oil and a half lemon squeeze. This would also be good with sliced hard boiled egg instead of the filet or use a grilled then sliced portobello. 



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