STC Vine Talk: Meet David Rothschild

Over the past few months we’ve had the opportunity to work with our friend and viticultural consultant David Rothschild to assess the health of the vineyards we work with. David has his own vineyard management company called ‘Los Paisanos’ (‘countrymen’ in Spanish) that currently spans across eight vineyard sites in Sonoma County. He worked in fruit and vegetable cultivation in the Central Valley and Sacramento area for several years and eventually made his way into the grape growing world in 2013. By 2020, his individual vineyard management career was underway as he took on the challenge of farming 5-10 acres with some part-time help. Now he farms about 47 acres of land with a full-time crew of four.

David’s farming style has always taken a low-intervention approach as an attempt to mimic natural processes. Although “regenerative” has become quite a big buzzword, the philosophy to work with nature to create more resilient, self-sustaining ecosystems is one of the guiding principles of his work. “Human intervention in agriculture is imperfect” he says, and we’ll always have more to learn from the land and the species that inhabit it. Organic farming is only the minimum. 

Unlike many other companies, David's team prioritizes balanced vines over crop yields. He typically aims to get 2.5-3 tons per acre, as 4+ tons creates the potential for more issues and a decline in grape quality, especially when farming organically and regeneratively. “If you crop heavier when farming organically, you can’t really let nature run its course. With our current crop yields, we don’t have to be as concerned about fungal pressure, we can work more with deficit irrigation, all while achieving high fruit quality and maximum ripening. Grape growing is really about taking the best care of the ground that the vines are on and accepting what you get out of it.”


David also has a lot of experience on the winemaking side and has worked in legendary cellars like Coturri in Sonoma. He’ll be making some of his own wine at the Subject to Change Winery this year with grapes from the sites that he and his team farm. He initially wanted to name one of his cuvées “Los Paisanos” as an ode to his vineyard crew and their ongoing dedication to land stewardship, however the name is already taken by another winery. We’ll have to stay tuned to see what other names he’s got up his sleeve to capture the essence of his grape growing philosophy and winemaking style. 

It’s been incredibly informative for our team to have David’s insight on grape growing. Although the growers we work with have endless knowledge and experience farming their vineyards, it’s nice to be able to compare and contrast practices across different sites and counties. David also gives us in-person farming tutorials on anything and everything from shoot selection and pruning to leafing and disease management, so we’re lucky to have viticultural schooling at our fingertips--especially for those of us who are newer to the world of grape growing. More importantly, our collaboration with David is helping pave the way for some vineyard regeneration projects we’ve been eager to implement and assess. 

One project we’re pretty excited about is our recent collection of petiole samples in two of the vineyards we’re leasing, Open Hand Ranch and Lovett Vineyard, and a few others. Petiole sampling is a process in which one collects the leaves opposite of a cluster during flowering season (typically in May) from a random selection of vines of a particular varietal. The samples are then sent to a lab to determine which nutrients the vines have most access to and if there are any nutrient deficiencies. In a few weeks, David plans to show us how to collect soil samples in these same vineyard sites, so that we can compare the nutrient density of the soil to that of the vines.  Putting these analyses side by side may reveal if there are certain nutrients in the soil that the vines do not have access to. From there, we’ll be able to have more data-driven discussions about where to try to strengthen composting, cover cropping, no-till, and other farming strategies that would benefit the vines most. 

As with most vineyard-health initiatives, significant change cannot be made or seen overnight, or even within the span of a year. We’re grateful to David for all of his knowledge and support thus far, and we’re excited to keep working with him on the long-term vision for the vineyards. Good wine starts in the vineyard. Healthy grapes make stable, delicious wine. In the winery, we don’t have any sneaky tricks up our sleeves, it’s winemaking at its simplest form. Grapes and a lot of muscle power. No funny business.

If you have any questions about farming or vineyards shoot us a message and we’ll do our best to answer them.

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