The life trajectory of winemaker George-Anne Robertson, the former estate director of Walla Walla Vintners and a graduate of the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College, took an unexpected turn when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Thanks to her adaptability and willingness to follow the serendipitous tides, Robertson landed a dream job creating sparkling wines for Yellowhawk, Walla Walla’s only dedicated sparkling winery.
George-Anne took a few minutes out of her busy day to talk with us about her life in wine, embracing change and her love of sparkling wines,
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Can you summarize your winemaking history — and what drew you to this field?
I started formally studying wine in 2014 and chose the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) program. Memorization isn’t my strong point, so the Court of Master Sommeliers wasn’t right for me. I found the science of winemaking to be the most interesting part of the CSW course. I decided to apply to the Institute of Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College, and was in school in 2017-2019. This program was a life-changing experience, and my focus quickly became sparkling wine.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your trajectory and lead to a major life pivot?
My life completely changed due to the pandemic. The job I had as estate director dissolved due to the owner stepping up since travel became impossible. I was furloughed for three months and, during that time, I started looking for a new job more involved in wine production. I found a job as a sparkling winemaker in Shizuoka, Japan, and was hired. I flew to Japan in January of 2021. Unfortunately, due to a pandemic rule change mid-flight, I was not permitted to enter the country. While reviewing life options back in Canada, I received a call asking if I was interested in making sparkling wine at Yellowhawk in Walla Walla. I jumped at the opportunity and have been smiling ever since!
Can you briefly describe each of the new sparkling wines released this past July, and explain what makes each one so special?
We were lucky to have a very small production of Estate Sparkling Sémillon going through second fermentation when the ownership of the winery changed to Yellowhawk. I must credit the palate of current managing director and former chef Dan Theissen for the final dosage and keeping this wine an extra brut. It’s a beautiful expression of Traditional Method wine with a tiny production of 155 cases. I put together the “Bubbles” line of wine, which is force-carbonated. I created Red Bubbles that is 100% estate fruit, a unique offering for Walla Walla; White Bubbles that is a crisp and bright blend of Riesling and Pinot Gris from the Columbia Valley; and a slightly complicated GSM blended rosé with grapes from the Rocks [District AVA] and Walla Walla Valley AVA.
In 2022, Yellowhawk will release a white and a rosé all made in Traditional Method — which is the same as Méthode Champenoise — with a staggered release date to deliver wine ranging from crisp to a creamy style. The more time a wine is in contact with the yeast, the more flavors of baked bread, shortbread cookies and graham crackers will be present.
What would you describe as the biggest challenge of creating these new releases — and the biggest joy/reward?
The biggest challenge was the newness of the whole project. I love change, but when everything changes, it can be a challenge. Luckily, it all worked out and those challenges turn into good stories. The biggest joy just happened yesterday — putting together base wine blends for bottling and tirage (next month). I am really proud of these and am excited to finish the wine with a final dosage from reserved juice, instead of sugar. We are going to have some kicking sparkling wine!