Brooke Robertson 2021 Sabbatical

In January of 2022, I left the frigid cold of Walla Walla to visit my friends in California and
bask in their knowledge of head-trained vines. Not too long past the COVID era, and with
protocols still mostly in place, I decided to stay stateside for my Sabbatical and go down
the coast to where grapevines have been growing since the late 1800s. Napa, Sonoma,
Lodi, Paso Robles, and Edna Valley. North and Central California. Arguably where the wine
industry began in the United States.

I visited vineyards with winegrowers who had been working with those properties for many
years, and in a few scenarios, multiple generations. The high reputation for quality and
notoriety of the vineyard first is what I am hoping to emulate in our own small corner of the
world here in The Rocks District.

The point of my research was to figure out the best way to grow wine grapes with the goal of
longevity. My suspicion was that head-trained/ goblet/ bush vine training systems were the
way to achieve this; and I was absolutely proved right.
There is no other vine structure in the world that is still producing ultra-premium fruit at
advanced vine ages than the head-training method. No matter if that vine is low to the
ground, at a standard cordon head height, or in a ladder formation; tightly spaced, or on a
12×12 grid; these vines are surviving and thriving through disease pressure, climactic
intensity, and human error.

The 3-D nature of growing wine grapes this way yields itself to a diUerent approach of
almost every task performed in the vineyard. From bud-break to canopy management and
harvest, each task requires less and less input as the vine ages and grows into the space.
Creating space for the spurs to grow and the fruit to hang, is paramount to this training
form, and why pruning is arguably the most important job in the vineyard.
If you can set a vine up for success from the base structure forward, it will require less
manipulation during the season. Varietal choice is also incredibly important to these
structures, and their ability to hold up the weight of larger sized clusters. Rhône varieties
being particularly large sized (on average) lend themselves to this training form perfectly.

Echoing what I heard from more than one of the friends I spoke with (Tegan Passalacqua,
Robert Biale, Phil Coturri, and John Alban, to name a few); a blend is so much more than
the sum of its parts. The Field Blend in particular. Some of the vines planted amongst
blocks of Grenache are actually Cinsault… some of the Zinfandel, are in fact Petit Sirah,
etc. This aids in the complexity of the wine and in most cases helps to retain the acidity for
otherwise particularly over-ripe varieties. In some cases, the grower has no idea what the
actual varieties are in the block. Do they always get ripe? No. Does this matter? No.
The goal at the end of the day is to craft a wine that will age, and a vineyard that will outlive
its current owner.
What a fantastic European ideal.

Brooke Delmas Robertson
May 2024

Thanks to WSU PhD graduate Geraldine, I was put in contact with her previous viticulture Professor in Spain, Jose Ramon Lisarrague. Jose owns a vineyard consulting company out of Madrid called GIVITI. He has taught for many years and has clients in every wine region I wanted to visit.

I started in Madrid, visited the city center to understand the history and food in the area. I believe that inspiration for quality wines first starts with cultural surroundings and food. I was able to dine in beautiful restaurants trying new to me dishes that featured seafood and flavors I had never had before. After Madrid I made my way to El Bierzo. This region is world renown for growing Godello and Mencia. I visited vineyards that were over 100 years old which gave me a fresh perspective on farming practices for longevity. In this wine region irrigation is prohibited and many farmers aim for sustainable biodynamic, and organic vineyards. Due to the amount of precipitation this region receives, Powdery Mildew is the biggest pest viticulturist have to be mindful of. In Bierzo I met with the winemaking consultant, Olga Verde who has farmed and vinified wines for Godellia for the last 10 years.

After my visit in El Bierzo I traveled to Galicia, a province in the Riax Biaxias. The main grape grown in this area Is Albarino. The region is Seaside and also receives a lot of rain. So much so that in some vineyards I witnessed Snails climbing up the trunk of pergola trained vines. During bud break this is especially bad as the snails start to feed on the buds, removing fruit from this year and stunting the fruit for next year’s crop. Currently the only way to maintain this issue is hand removal which is very costly. In Galicia I visited the vineyards of Martin Codax and Bodegas Fillaboa. Fillaboa was one of the most stunning experiences. Museum quality art lives in the tasting room that is exclusive to wine professionals. The vineyard is planted on steep slopes near an abundance of water flowing through a local river. I spent the afternoon discussing soils, tasting through aged albarinos hand crafted by the enologist, Isabel Salgado.

La Rioja stretches just shy of 7 hours east of the country from Galicia. I was able to visit Heredez Lopez y Tondonia and Bodegas Muga. La Rioja is full of people who are prideful of the crop bearing land that looks stoically desert like with its giant surrounding rock features. I loved seeing life push its way through the rocky, iron rich, soils.

Continuing to head east, I entered Catalonia in the Lleida province to visit Raimat. With nearly 3000 hectares of vineyards, it is the largest biodynamic vineyard in Europe and possibly the world. Often it is described as a new world vineyard settled in the old world. Raimat is vigorous with many scientific trials from different cover crops, trellis systems, PRD irrigation to implementing the planting of varieties that have never grown in that part of Catalonia.

On one of my final days in Spain I traveled to Penedes where I visited Pares Balta who host the winemaker of the year Marta Casas. The property is lush and full of history. Marta shared Cava with us and the origin of the family-owned winery. My last stop for vineyard peering was Albet I Noya, where the focus is not only growing 25 different varieties but grafting crosses between different vine species in hopes to find natural resistance to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew and downy mildew. I was blown away when told they mentioned 4,000 crosses to date.

My last day is Spain was spent in Barcelona where I stayed seaside in and out of food coma, visiting the historic gothic district with its beautiful architecture.


More News