A regenerative farming case study: Robert Hall Winery looks ahead to the next 20 years

Regenerative farming is the new buzzword in the wine industry. But it is more than a marketing term. It focuses on soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness and Robert Hall Winery in Paso Robles has initiated a living case study as they look forward to their next 20 years as I wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and share here.

A regenerative farming case study: Robert Hall Winery looks ahead to the next 20 years

Conservancy has been at the heart of Robert Hall Winery from its birth 20 years ago. And as the team looks forward to the next 20 years, regenerative farming may be the key.

The winery was established in 1999 by Robert Hall, a businessman from Minnesota with a vast portfolio that included owning bowling alleys and hotels. After falling in love with Rhone wines in France, he came back to the U.S. with the inspiration to make Rhone-style wines and decided that Paso Robles was the place to grow Rhone grapes, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon.

A consummate host, he wanted to be near the center of town, so he bought land in the Paso Robles Geneseo District in 1997. The first release of the Cabernet Sauvignon was in 2001.

Twenty years later, Robert Hall Winery has 172 estate vineyards straddled between two AVAs and they work with 20 growers across all 11 AVAs of Paso Robles. And since day one, Don Brady has been the winemaker, producing wines that represent the region of Paso Robles.

A regenerative farming case study: Robert Hall Winery looks ahead to the next 20 years

In 2014, Robert Hall Winery was purchased by O’Neill Vintners, the seventh-largest wine company in the U.S. But as large as they are, O’Neill Vintners’ primary focus, from premium to bulk wine, has always been sustainability.

O’Neill Vintners started their sustainability initiative in 2017 and as a company, received official California Sustainable Vineyard & Winery certification from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. They worked with BioFiltro to construct the largest worm-powered winery wastewater system in the world, capable of filtering more than one million gallons of wastewater per day.

BioFiltro’s patented biodynamic aerobic (BIDA) system enables the harnessing the digestive power of California red wrigglers to recycle up to 80 million gallons of water a year. And these worms will convert the nutrients from the wastewater into worm castings, a soil amendment sought after by growers for its microbial activity, nutrient levels and ability to improve soil health.

In addition, O’Neill Vintners has a 5,000-panel solar farm that produces approximately 1.037 mil kWh annually. They have introduced a grower certification program that certifies growers who follow sustainability principles, with the goal to purchase 100% of their grapes from certified growers by 2022.

Robert Hall Winery is certified sustainable and all the growers they work with must also be sustainable, organic or biodynamic certified. Robert Hall is also working towards zero waste, being carbon neutral and getting their B-Corp certification.

A regenerative farming case study: Robert Hall Winery looks ahead to the next 20 years

With sustainability a key principle to Robert Hall Winery and O’Neill Vintners, Caine Thompson, sustainability lead for O’Neill Vintners & Distillers and managing director at Robert Hall Winery, explained, “We need to do more than the just the status quo.”

He said they are always looking for ways to minimize their environmental impact and overall carbon footprint and he sees regenerative farming as more than a fad. “It is changing the way to farm.”

The new buzzword
Regenerative farming, the new buzzword in the wine industry, is more than a marketing term. Regenerative is a new movement that is more stringent than sustainable, more holistic than organic. And it does not include the esoteric elements of biodynamics.

Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) was established in 2017 by the Regenerative Organic Alliance, a group consisting of a group of farmers, business leaders, and experts in soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness.

There are three pillars of regenerative farming – soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness. Regenerative farming promotes biodiversity. No pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or synthetic inputs are used. Cover crops are utilized to sequester carbon. Tilling is minimized or eliminated so to not disturb the soil as the key is to hold nutrients while pulling carbon out.

A regenerative farming case study: Robert Hall Winery looks ahead to the next 20 years

Robert Hall Winery has initiated a living case study for the wider wine community to learn about regenerative viticulture through biodynamic farming techniques. One-third of the vineyards are undergoing trials in regeneration farming.

The study will take place over three years, comparing all aspects of growing under regenerative viticulture versus sustainably-farmed vineyards. The study aims to understand regenerative farming practices and their effect on the vineyards’ ability to sequester carbon and overall quality effects on soil, fruit, and wine.

Robert Hall Winery has completed the first year of the regenerative viticulture study.

“While the official data is not in, in this first year of the O’Neill Vintners & Distillers Regenerative Viticulture Study we have seen a full canopy, less water usage, and beautiful fruit on the vines,” said Caine Thompson. “We look forward to seeing what the official data shows in the years to come.”

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.