Robert Hall Winery’s founding winemaker Don Brady is crafting exciting new wines under the Cavern Select label, available through the tasting room only. This portfolio of small lot production includes impressive Rhône style wines, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, zinfandel — and the new addition of vermentino.
Not many Paso winemakers are producing vermentino, a crisp fresh white wine native to Italy and France’s Provence and Languedoc- Roussilion regions. So I was delighted to stop by recently at Robert Hall’s hospitality center to savor this refreshing wine on a hot Paso afternoon.
The tasting lineup of the Cavern Select portfolio was conducted by assistant winemaker Amanda Gorter (Brady was out of town). Vermentino, I learnt, is Brady’s initial foray into crafting this varietal. He found the fruit in the El Pomar district tucked in the hills behind the winery.
Gorter was joined by Breck O’Neill, general manager and managing director at Robert Hall Winery. In 2016, the winery (including production facilities, hospitality center, inventory, vineyards and brand) was acquired by Larkspur-based O’Neill Vintners & Distillers, the seventh largest wine producer in California by volume. Breck, who’s a fourth-generation vintner is based in San Francisco and makes weekly visits to Paso while overseeing the main winery in Fresno on a monthly basis.
“There’s not much planted in Paso,” Gorter commented on the vermentino, a wine well-suited for Paso’s hot summers as it makes ideal pairing with seafood and salads. The small production (229 cases) of vermentino, available in the tasting room only, is gradually gathering momentum with visitors as an alternative to chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.
The 2017 vintage shines with citrus notes and fragrant aromas of white peach ending with a crisp finish. At 13.5 percent level, it’s also low in alcohol. “We wanted to make sure we respected its varietal expression,” Gorter affirmed.
With an annual production of 3,000 cases, the small lot Cavern Select portfolio is minuscule compared to the approachable white label Robert Hall wines, the workhorse of a brand that’s available in grocery stores.
The difference with Cavern Select lies in vineyard sources from Paso’s top notch vineyards in the Willow Creek, Adelaida and El Pomar regions. Plus the French barrels used are crafted by artisanal coopers for these high-end wines. “They get the best barrels, there’s diligent winemaking practice and we put extra TLC,” O’Neill said. All this effort enhances the wine’s aging potential.
The 2016 vintages of Cavern Select portfolio includes the lush peppery GSM (grenache, syrah mourvedre blend) and a spicy, smoky, full-bodied 2016 mourvedre evoking the essence of Paso garrigue, redolent with traces of wild sagebrush. The restrained zinfandel produced from Dante Dusi vineyard sings with notes of dry herbs and white pepper.
From its estate Monahan Ranch, the 2015 cabernet sauvignon is blended with a splash of merlot and petit verdot. Packed with black currant and cocoa aromas, the wine begs to be opened two hours before drinking.
Through the summer season the hospitality center is rocking with Friday night music series on the scenic terrace. An art exhibit by San Luis Obispo’s Pop Up Phantom Gallery is scheduled through the month of August.
O’Neill is excited about his family’s acquisition of Robert Hall. “Paso fits the bill — you’re getting incredible quality,” he said in comparison to Napa Valley. “That’s why we’re here in Paso, there’s room to grow, quality is getting better and people are great.”