In this episode we had the pleasure of speaking with Breana Royal of Ernest & Julio Gallo. In this episode we speak to Brenae about:
- Drinking Apothic Red and watching Jeopardy
- Having a “seat at the table”
- Tending to 132 year old vines
- Surviving Harvest
- Knowing that she is exactly where she is supposed to be
Brenae Royal grew up in the town of Atwater, in California’s Central Valley. “I come from a family of teachers and doctors, so when I started raising pigs, my family thought, where did she fall off?” Brenae says, laughing. When asked about her first farming memories, she recalls picking weeds and planting flowers with her grandmother. “My grandmother has a ginormous garden.” As the Vineyard Manager for the 575-acre Monte Rosso Vineyard on the eastern hills of Sonoma Valley, one the most acclaimed winegrowing sites in California, Brenae might have her grandmother beat.
Brenae put her passion to action at a young age, joining 4-H at 12 and becoming an officer in the Future Farmers of America when she was 17. The program took her all over California and immersed her in a world she knew she wanted to be a part of for the rest of her life. Brenae studied Crops and Horticulture Science at California State University, Chico and during her senior year, after developing a palate for bold red wines, decided to pursue a career in viticulture.
She joined E. & J. Gallo Winery in 2013 as an Operations and Viticulture Intern and quickly established a relationship with an important mentor, winemaker Deborah Juergenson. “Deb started out as one of the first few women winemakers in a very male-dominated field. It’s been amazing to have her as a mentor, both professionally and personally,” Brenae says. “Viticulture is still very male-dominated, so to drive more inclusion and diversity is very much an uphill battle.” It’s a battle that Brenae has done anything but back down from. Since joining Gallo, Brenae has farmed Monte Rosso Vineyard with increasing levels of responsibility. In addition to her internship, Brenae also served as Viticulture Technician for 11 months before being named Vineyard Manager in 2015.
Monte Rosso is home to some of the oldest producing grapevines in California and has garnered a near- mythic reputation among winemakers. “When I started, it was intimidating. Here I am as this 24-year-old coming into to manage Monte Rosso, a world-renowned vineyard and one of the oldest in the state. It’s difficult and complex. Our vines range from four months old to over 130 years old, so it’s a lot to take on, but I love it,” she says. “We’ve brought a lot of technology and innovation to the vineyard, so much so that we can be farming up to three different wines within the same block.”
Mount Peak Winery, like Brenae, is singularly focused on expressing Monte Rosso’s uniqueness. “When our winemaker Mark Williams visits, it’s not uncommon to hop in my truck and then hike into his favorite blocks. It’s a hands-on approach to winemaking, and he’s very honored to work with the fruit.” When asked how Monte Rosso’s distinct terroir shows up in the bottle, Brenae quickly answers. “Acidity,” she declares, “and minerality and spice.” Part of the vineyard’s mystique is that its signature qualities seem impervious to producer and variety. “You can taste Monte Rosso wines blind and recognize them immediately,” she adds. Brenae is doing everything in her power to keep it that way. “My goal is always to preserve what is special about Monte Rosso,” she says. “Hopefully it will be producing for another 132 years.”
The Last Sip:
When you finish your day and sit down with your favorite glass of wine, what is on your music playlist? Alabama Shakes, Bee Gee’s and 90’s R&B
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