Winemaking: The Continuation of Terroir by Other Means.®

Welcome to the Amalie Robert Estate Farming Blog, aka FLOG. By subscribing, you will receive regular FLOGGINGS throughout the growing season. The FLOGGING will begin with the Spring Cellar Report in April. FLOGGINGS will continue each month and detail how the vintage is shaping up. You may also be FLOGGED directly after the big Cluster Pluck with the yearly Harvest After Action Report. Subscribe now and let the FLOGGINGS begin!


"This is one of the Willamette Valley’s most distinguished wineries, but not one that is widely known."

- Rusty Gaffney, PinotFile - September 2016


"Dena Drews and Ernie Pink have been quietly producing some of Oregon's most elegant and perfumed Pinots since the 2004 vintage. Their 30-acre vineyard outside the town of Dallas, abutting the famed Freedom Hill vineyard where Drews and Pink live, is painstakingly farmed and yields are kept low so production of these wines is limited. Winemaking includes abundant use of whole clusters, which is no doubt responsible for the wines' exotic bouquets and sneaky structure…"

- Josh Raynolds, Vinous - October 2015


"...Dallas growers Dena Drews and Ernie Pink... showed me this July three of their reserve bottlings and thereby altered my perception of their endeavors. Since these are produced in only one- or two-barrel quantities, they offer an extreme instance of a phenomenon encountered at numerous Willamette addresses, whose really exciting releases are extremely limited. But they also testify, importantly, to what is possible; and what’s possible from this site in these hands revealed itself to be extraordinary!... And what a Syrah!"

- David Schildknecht, The Wine Advocate - October 2013

Wine & Spirits

"Finding that their whole-cluster tannins take some time to integrate, Pink and Drews hold their wines in barrel for up to 18 months - so Amalie Robert is just releasing its 2008s. And what a stellar group of wines: Bright and tart, they possess both transparency and substance, emphasizing notes of rosehips and sandalwood as much as red berries. The pinot noirs alone would likely have earned Amalie Robert a top 100 nod this year. But the winery also produces cool-climate syrah that rivals the best examples from the Sonoma Coast. And the 2009 Heirloom Cameo, their first attempt at a barrel-fermented chardonnay, turned out to be one of our favorite Oregon chardonnays of the year. Ten vintages in, Amalie Robert has hit its stride."

- Luke Sykora, Wine & Spirits Magazine – September 2011


© 2005 – 2017 Amalie Robert Estate, LLC

Friday, August 3, 2018

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2018 Pinot Noir In Flagrante!

Hello and Welcome,  

This is a 2018 Vintage Update from Amalie Robert Estate. A FLOG communication.  

We have spied the first blazing Pinot Noir berry on Friday, August 3rd - Julien calendar day 215. And it was the cutest thing, ever! All nestled in among the rest of the green berries, our harbinger of the vintage was all aglow.

Why yes, in fact, it was a Wadenswil clone Pinot Noir wine berry. We just love that clone, especially when grafted onto the legendary 5C rootstock. 5C may be slower to mature than those less endowed, shallow rooted rootstocks, but that means longer hang time, more aroma and flavor development and less alcohol potential. Who could ask for anything more?

And now that we have seen that blazing berry, it is time to bait the yellowjacket traps! And let us introduce the little Vespula blighters in their full regalia. And to set the record straight, these are classified as wasps, not hornets. Hornets are a whole other mess of trouble best handled with a flamethrower from a safe distance in suitable protective clothing. That funny guy from Tesla makes one…

If you happen to be stung by one of these Vespula, take a few microseconds to notice the thorax coloring scheme. It could be the sting is not so bad from Vespula atropilosa or Vespula pensylvanica. But if Herr Vespula germanica or Vespula vulgaris tags you, well there is gonna be some extended whoopin’ and a hollerin’ we can tell you that for sure, for sure good buddy!

Now these little wasps pack a punch, but a little research can pay healthy dividends. First off, these insects are ground dwellers. They nest under shrubs and bushes. Their most favorite shrubbery happens to be the ubiquitous blackberry. Not just any blackberry mind you, but the Himalayan or Armenian blackberry - Rubus armeniacus.

The native, and most preferred, culinary blackberry species in the Great Pacific Northwest is the Rubus ursinus. Commonly known as the Pacific Blackberry. Clearly the taxonomy folks were taking a little artistic license from the bears of the Great Pacific Northwest when classifying this plant. So be it – never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Vespula horribilis anyone?

The reason our little Vespula prefers the Rubus from Armenia is that they grow along the ground in a prostrate manner. They cover a tremendous amount of area with large thorny leaves and shoots that deter predators and provide them safe haven. The first, best predator of the Vespula is the common skunk. The risk, apparently, is worth the reward and we give these monochromatic wasp hunters a wide berth.

Right, now we know where they live. The eradication of the Vespula is virtually impossible and while a worthy goal, it is the equivalent of trying to boil the ocean. We are just trying to make wine. So one day, there was some clever fellow who devised a totally tubular yellowjacket trap. Bravo!

What we see depicted here is successful communication. The trap has been baited with a strong yellowjacket aphrodisiac. The yellowjackets are picking up on what’s going down and they want in on the action. All is right with the world. But wait, there is more. Enter the wild Oregon caught Chinook salmon.

You see these traps come from the factory with a synthetic attractant. And while most of the Vespula are good with that Herr Vespula germanica is having none of it. And it just so happens we know his weakness, it is freshly ripened wild Oregon caught Chinook salmon.

Our local fish monger knows when the first Pinot Noir wine berries start to turn color because that is when we show up at his door looking for fresh wild Oregon caught Chinook salmon scraps to trap our little Vespula. Of course, we take a fillet as well to have with Pinot Noir – for quality control purposes, of course.

Alright, let’s bring it home. We start out with about 20 of these totally tubular Vespula condos and start packing them full of salmon scraps. This is best done about an hour before daylight in a Vespula proof enclosure. Then we have specially modified coat hangers that fit through the molded hole at the top of the trap (those guys thought of everything.) Then, just as first light is being cast onto the vineyard we hang the traps on our south facing steel end posts very near the Rubus from Armenia.

It takes a while for the first early adopters to arrive. They buzz around investigating this new addition to their environment. Then around noon time, the sun has warmed up that steel end post and the wild Oregon caught Chinook salmon scraps inside the trap start to “ripen.”

Then look out! Herr Vespula germanica has picked up the scent and he is coming in hot! From this point forward, it is just a matter of hours before the trap is full and we must reload.

While it is quite heartwarming to see these traps fill up so quickly, this in fact is one of the necessary harvest pre-functions. Once all the blackberries are gone, there is only one fruit left to eat and that is the wine berry. The Vespula will attack the wine berry which has done nothing wrong, just ripen in the sun. They will eat all of the pulp inside and leave a hollowed-out skin. They like the sweet, but can’t seem to handle the skin tannin.

The problem arises when the harvest humans start to interact with the Vespula environment while the Vespula is consuming said wine berry. The problem is exacerbated when several Vespula, under the direction of Herr Vespula germanica, are feasting on adjacent clusters. You can hear the distinctive whoopin’ and a hollerin’ from quite a ways off.

So, we have about 45 days of ideal weather to “harvest” as many of these Vespula as we can so that they are not around during harvest operations. The other way to go about this is to use a can of aerosol hair spray and a lighter - mini flamethrower if you will. But as Ernie would remind you, experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want. So we have moved on to the wild Oregon caught Chinook salmon scraps.

We are still predicting a late September to early October start to harvest, but in the agrarian world, anything can happen between now and then - and most likely will. Are we going to get some rain? Oh, we hope so!

Now if you just can’t wait, you can check in on the spaghetti harvest here. While they do not have to contend with the dreaded Vespula, they do have the spaghetti weevil, and Vespas. Watch out!

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2018 Flowers

Hello and Welcome,

This is a Vintage Update from Amalie Robert Estate. A FLOG Communication.

It is just a matter of time now. Some would say time and money, or that time is money. But at the end of the day there will be 105 days’ worth of time to spend the money before we start The Great Cluster Pluck of 2018.

And it was that Chardonnay vine that was first out with flowers again this year. What is it with that grape? But there it is, and soon the other 51,892 vines of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Viognier will be blooming.

At this point in the growing season, everyone wants to know if we are ahead or a behind, so here are the numbers. The first flowers revealed themselves on June 6th, a belated birthday bouquet for Dena. Last year the first flowers were spotted on June 11th, so we are a little ahead of last year. A distinction without a difference.

June 6th is Julian calendar day 157. Note 2018 is not a leap year. If it were a leap year, the flowers would have still appeared on Julian calendar day 157, but it would have been June 5th not June 6th and messed up the entire harvest planning and operations. We most certainly dodged a bullet there.

On average, the vines need 105 days to finish their work. Their job is to ripen up their seeds to reproduce and then go dormant for 6 months. Our job is to look at the end of 105 days to see if we have great aromas and flavors in those little wine berries so we can ferment the shugar out of them.

To put all this into a farming perspective, 105 ARBs are the equivalent of 17.5 six-packs. (ARB – Adult Recreational Beverage. You know, beer!)

Now we do the heavy lifting of adding 105 farming days to Julian calendar day 157 and end up with Julian calendar day 262. So easy a winemaker can do it! And as everyone knows, Julian calendar day 262 is September 19th.

That’s when the potential harvest window will magically appear in the vineyard. And Ernie will be keenly looking through it at the wings of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir to make our Bellpine Pearl Rosé. Dena has informed him, in no uncertain terms, that this year’s Pearl should return to its original Blanc de Noir color from 2015. What a GREAT idea!

Then all manner of grapes will start pouring in. Most probably the G’wzr will be first, followed by some young vine Wadenswil clone along with Dick Erath’s clone 95. Then we will factor in the weather and a little Kentucky windage to bring in the rest of the vineyard.

The last fruit in will most certainly be the Côte Rôtie block. Most likely on Julian calendar day 314. That gives us 52 days of harvest and winemaking operations to get ‘er done before we experience the deluge of winter rains. But for now, it’s looking like an ARB harvest window is about to open.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2018 May

Hello and Welcome,
This is the 2018 May Climate Update from Amalie Robert Estate. A FLOG communication

“The future is grass. Grass, buddy.” Who remembers this quote from the movie Tequila Sunrise? Well, Ernie has been saying it with his best Raul Julia impersonation for the entire month. We have had warm sunny days combined with abundant soil moisture. The grass does not let these conditions go unnoticed. The result was a grass uprising!

The flail mower is a wonderful thing. It is a specialized piece of farm equipment that only does one thing. But it does it really well. And that is to cut a 5 foot wide swath of grass, buddy. And since our vineyard rows are 7.5 feet apart, a 5 foot cut is ideal. As we have proven in a previous post, and Ernie has the empirical evidence to back it up, one pass through the vineyard is about 20 lineal miles – at 3 miles per hour.

Mathematically, this is about 7 hours worth of farming. Farming, by the way, is what you are doing when you are not growing wine. But it’s not 7 hours, It’s more like 10 to 12 hours, and that’s if you can make whatever repairs are needed without leaving the farm for parts. And you have had the forethought to order sufficient diesel to perform said farming. And they deliver once a week – how convenient!

Ernie has made three mowing passes to cut down this grass uprising, and there will be another 3 passes once he starts hedging. That’s a lotta grass, buddy.

And the sock monster has claimed a pair (nonmatching mind you) of socks. We have yet to receive a ransom note, but that should be coming along any day now. In the mean time, this leaves us with a pair of hunting socks. Because we are hunting for the pair that looks just like them!

We have begun training our vines’ newfound Spring growth into the trellis. After just about 20 years of this activity, you would think the vines would have it figured out by now. Not so. They seem to have a classic failing, which we have seen in our previous careers. They lack focus and attention to detail.

But their rate of growth is just astounding! And if you look at it from their perspective, would you want to be constrained in 3 sets of catch wires pinched together with a few plastic clips? Confining your growth to a vertical wall of leaves about 6 inches deep and 60 inches tall to maximize sun exposure and minimize the chance of your wine berries inflicted with mildew or other fungi?

The correct answer is YES! Yes, I want that! But alas, they do not.

If given the chance, they would just grow along the ground like some nondescript ubiquitous vine until they happen upon some unsuspecting tree. Then they would grab on with their tendrils and start growing up the trunk. Meanwhile the wine berries would be on the ground, compromised by some mildew colony where they would rot and meet their unworthy demise. Surely better to be trellised, plucked by hand and then fermented into wine!

Field work is hard, physically demanding work. Field labor is tight at this particular point in history. We can’t tell if there is more agricultural work to be done due to increased acreage under cultivation or there are fewer field workers to do the work. Most likely a bit of both. And it gives us the opportunity to review the law of supply and demand, in situ.

The vines however, are unburdened by this reality. They are just growing and growing and growing. They have forgotten all about the hedger. But Ernie hasn’t. He has dreams about arresting their unbridled growth. It should be just about the end of June, or maybe the start of July. But their day is coming in the form of 10 blades spinning at a bazillion miles per hour. And the flail mower will be hooked on the back mulching the vine cuttings with all that grass, buddy.

An acre of vines at Amalie Robert Estate can be thought of as 5,808 lineal feet. This means if we put all of our vines in one row, an acre’s worth of vines would be 5,808 feet long. If you were to walk a mile that would be 5,280 lineal feet. So, logically, an acre of vines can be thought of as 1.1 miles long. If it helps, bear in mind that a vineyard is just a physical implementation of a mental construct. But the field work is real.

To put this viticultural activity in perspective, we are going to do some farming math. You most likely won’t need your thinking cap, but if it is nearby this would be the time to grab it as you refill your wine glass - even if you must open another bottle to do so.

Now each acre of vines is bedangled with 3 sets of catch wires for a total of 6 wires per acre. These catch wires do the hard work for holding our vines in place so Ernie can go out there and hedge them down to size – repeatedly. Right, so that is 6.6 miles of manually raised catch wires per acre. Note: These wires must also be taken down at the end of the year, but that is too much math to do all at once, and we don’t want anyone’s head to explode. Duct tape can help with that, by the way.

Since we rely on hard working field workers to raise these wires and position the vines’ growth inside of them, this process takes a while. Depending on a wide range of factors that would make your head explode, the average time it takes to put up 3 sets of catch wires is just about 2.5 minutes per vine, based on a 10 year average. Since we have 1,452 vines per acre, that takes us about 3,630 minutes per acre, or about 7.5 field worker days. Pretty easy so far, right?

Now we reveal the magic number: 35.74. That is the number of acres of vines we farm. Using the magic number, we can learn that we have 235.88 miles of wires to raise (and eventually lower.) We can also know that we need about 268 field worker days to raise these wires and harness the vines’ growth. So if you come to visit the winery during the month of June and Ernie asks if you want to take a walk in the vines, now you know what you are really signing up for. As always, you will want to wear comfortable shoes and gloves might be a good idea.

What we cannot know is how many field workers we will have on any given day. Which leads us to not knowing what day the wires will be raised and Ernie can start hedging. Switching from Thinking Cap to Duct Tape, buddy.

And lo and behold we have EVEN MORE numbers! Ernie guessed the rainfall amount from the last day of May would be 0.30 inches. But when Dena checked the rain gauge, she said it was 0.28 inches. Clearly it’s time for Dena’s annual eye exam.

And we have accumulated 282.2 degree days for the month of May. When added to our April degree days of 110.1, this yields 392.3 degree days for the 2018 growing season. The high temperature for the month of May was 93.0 degrees Fahrenheit and the low temperature was 37.2 degrees. A fine start to the year.

Rainfall for the month of May was 0.53 inches if you ask Dena, or 0.55 inches if you ask Ernie. The growing season to date rainfall as collected from April through May is 6.33 inches, more or less.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Monday, April 30, 2018

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2018 April

Hello and Welcome, 
This is the 2018 April Climate Update from Amalie Robert Estate. A FLOG communication. 
Springtime in Wine Country is almost as exciting as harvest. There are sunny days and rainy days. Warm temperatures and cool temperatures. Hail is mostly a Springtime event, however we are sure that with all of the uncertainty in the world, that it may very well become a fall event. As in “What the hail!?”

 End posts, they're not just for wires.
Click on the image to see our vineyard floor overseer in action.

And then there is budbreak. This is the sign we are looking for from Mother Nature. It shows us that the vines have wintered over from last year’s Cluster Pluck and they are ready for the growing season. As the first couple of leaves unfurl, the vines look like they are sporting a line of little green butterflies. This lasts about 14.7 seconds, and then they start growing like the fruit bearing vines they are. Raising catch wires is the next task on the horizon and approaching rapidly.

But wait, let’s enjoy the moment. Springtime in wine country also gives us a wonderful palate of blooms on all sorts of plants. Mother Nature really puts on a show! Colors, textures and aromas from all sorts of flora attract the ever busy bee and the cycle of pollination is carried out dutifully.

And Ernie has his own cycle this time of year. His job is to feed our vines. Sounds quite simple, and it is, really. But just like everything in farming, the devil is in the details. Let’s review, shall we?

His first job is to incorporate the cover crops he drilled in last fall. Note this pre-supposes that the cover crop got drilled in last Fall. And it did. Last fall the vineyard was treated to a cover crop blend of Austrian winter peas and barley. The idea here is to have the peas set Nitrogen in the soil and the barley to take it up and hold it until the spring.

Nitrogen is mobile in the soil. That means the winter rains will wash it away if there is not some plant to take it up from the soil. Just think of the peas as a solar panel generating electricity and the barley as the battery that holds that energy until the spring. That’s when Ernie comes along and turns the soil so that the Nitrogen is released into the soil and the vine roots can pick it up. That’s the goal, feeding our vines without the use of chemical fertilizers. These cover crop plants also hold the soil on the hill in the face of daunting winter rains. Ha, it’s a twofer!

So, Ernie’s first pass is with the virtually indestructible chisel plow. What a great piece of farming equipment. It is relatively inexpensive, does not require power from the tractor and is really hard, but not impossible, to break. This implement attaches to the crawler and Ernie drives it about 2 miles per hour through every other row. Ideally these are the rows with the cover crop and not the rows with the permanent grass.

Click on the image to see Ernie and the chisel plow in action.

The chisel plow also performs double duty. The primary objective is to open our silty clay loam Bellpine soil to make it easy for the (easy to break) rototiller pass. Seven shanks go down about 8 to 10 inches and open up the soil.

While those shanks are down there, they also perform a little root pruning. Vines are always trying to find soil moisture and the shallow roots pick up the easy soil moisture during the spring and fall. Ernie is having none of it. He wants deep roots to help the vines find soil moisture during the dry months of August and September. Ernie schedules his annual trip to the dentist after this pass to restore any loose fillings that may have gone missing.

Right, now it is on to the rototiller pass. The first step is to inspect and replace any broken tines from the fall cover crop regime. If he is lucky, he can skate by without having to replace any clutch disks. But this is farming, and usually if not for bad luck, there is no luck at all.

Click on the image to see Ernie and the rototiller in action.

The rototiller, for all its agrarian vagaries, does a very good job of incorporating the nitrogen rich cover crop plants into the soil where all manner of microbes, worms and other no-see-ums are waiting for them. It’s dinner time on the vineyard floor!

And it looks nice, all fluffed up like that. It is important to have a little air exchange in the soil. Most microbes are aerobic and they need oxygen to function properly. The rototiller does this at no extra charge. And it helps to level the rows and our side hills. Ernie had to terrace some parts of the vineyard due to the steep side slopes. The rototiller helps move the soil from the uphill side to the downhill side, making a level surface to drive on. The rototiller is not such a bad implement after all.

Next Ernie hooks up the Schmeiser seed drill! Woohoo! We are going to drill some cover crop now! This is the third and final pass in the cover crop rows, putting down the new summer cover crop seeds.

Click on the image to see Ernie and the Schmeiser in action.

Amalie Robert Estate is a dry farmed vineyard, we are “True to the soil and True to the vintage. ®” So the summer cover crops have to get by on the morning dew we receive from our on-shore flows coming in from the Pacific Ocean. These cover crops also have to provide nutrition for the voracious, carnivorous insects that roam the vineyard.

Lady bugs, earwigs, mites and all other manner of insects are on guard against cane borers and parasitic mites that feed on our vines. These good bugs are the front line of defense in keeping our vines healthy and producing world class wines.
And when they can’t find bad bugs to eat, you still have to feed them. That’s one reason we use Buckwheat and Vetch for our summer cover crop blend. These plants need very little water, produce pollen (which is protein) for our army of good bugs and will set Nitrogen to feed our vines in the fall.

When it is all said and done, Ernie makes 3 passes in every other row to set our vineyard floor straight for the growing season. It’s about 18 acres worth of land, or 20 lineal miles that he is cycling through. Those 3 passes combine to make a total of about 60 lineal miles, at about 2 miles per hour. This saves him from having to use chemical fertilizers to feed our vines, and that is a good thing. And he has to mow the permanent rows, twice, at 3 miles an hours - go speed racer! If you sent Ernie an e-mail in April and did not get a response, now you know why. What a Springtime workload this man has!

Ernie, right in the middle of it.

Now before we get onto the task of shoot positioning, raising catchwires, and harnessing all of the vine’s Springtime growth, let’s do the numbers while we still have time.

The high temperature for April was 82.90 degrees recorded on the 24th at 3:24 pm. The low temperature was 31.50 degrees recorded on the 3rd at midnight. After gently massaging 3,600 data points, we find an April degree day accumulation of 110.10 degree days. The second half of the month was responsible for 71% of the heat accumulation, logging 78.65 degree days.

And we start the 2018 growing season with our soils holding a good amount of moisture. Rainfall for April totaled 5.80 inches. As a dry farmed vineyard, our objective is to manage the available soil moisture through the summer growing season.

If we can make it to September, we usually can get a little rainfall to extend our ripening period into October. As we are all painfully aware after these last few vintages, sugar accumulation is a function of heat, and aroma and flavor are a function of time on the vine.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Friday, April 20, 2018

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2018 Bud Break and Breaking News!

Hello and Welcome to Vintage 2018!

This is an Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update for 2018. A FLOG communication.

The vines are awake and thanks to a blast of near 90-degree heat in mid-April, they are on the move! And they need to be. They only have about 6 months to ripen aromatically stunning and wonderfully expressive aromas and flavors. No time to waste!

And Ernie was right out there in the middle of it. Can you see him in there? His job this time of year is to change out about 18 acres of vineyard floor – about 20 lineal miles worth - at 2 miles per hour. Out with the old Winter cover crop and in with the brand spanking new Spring cover crop.

Farmers do it in the rain!

The purpose is to provide Springtime nutrition to the vines by incorporating the plants we grew over the winter, so we do not need to add chemical fertilizers to our soil. More on that when we FLOG you with the April Climate Update.

Yes, of course, there are numbers involved. We saw the first buds breaking just before Earth Day in the newest Wadenswil Blocks. We are officially calling April 20th the first day of the 2018 growing season. For everyone who wears tin foil hats and pocket protectors like Ernie, that is Julian Calendar day 110.

Breaking News: Côte Rôtie from Oregon
And speaking of numbers we have some breaking news. It seems that impressive 94-point review for Ernie’s 2012 Top Barrel Syrah has even more meaning than we were aware of.

Having not only the highest score, but the first and only 94-point review for an Estate Grown Willamette Valley Syrah was pretty heartwarming, but there is more to the story. A little spelunking in the Vinous Media database revealed something quite stunning. Maybe the Special Counsel should be looking in there…

Ernie’s cool climate Estate Grown Syrah program is styled after his interpretation of Côte Rôtie. The Syrah grown in that part of the Northern Rhône valley is what really trips his trigger. Guigal and Chapoutier were early influencers that have left an indelible mark on his mind, and maybe some brain damage too. And so Dena let him have an acre to see what he could do.

Well, first things first. He called his friend Dick Erath to come walk the property in 2000 after the cherry trees were pulled and the soil was ready for planting. That was early March and Ernie had Dick up on the hill standing where he wanted to plant his Syrah block. Oddly enough, that exact spot is where Ernie would plant his Chardonnay block and Dick would return in 2013 to conspire with Ernie to make Pabuk’s Gift late harvest Chardonnay. Right, back to the main story.

Dick, standing in 20 miles per hour wind gusts with one hand firmly grasping the hat on his head, was not convinced. “What about down there by your house? See those trees down there are not really being affected by this wind.” Dick shouted. “That area is more protected and will be warmer. You will have a better chance of ripening Syrah down there. Not that you will ripen it, but you will have a better chance.” Dick Erath has made a significant impact on the Oregon Wine industry, and at least at Amalie Robert Estate, continues to do so.

Right, so now we know where Ernie’s little Côte Rôtie from Oregon block is going to be planted, but what to plant? Ah, off to France where he would fortuitously meet Marcel Guigal. And so, there we were, tasting the La Turque from barrel in the Guigal cellars. Ernie looked at Dena and said, “Let’s just make this.”

While it is illegal to take cuttings from France and bring them back to Oregon, knowledge transfer is not so encumbered. Clearly Clone 95 (another Dick Erath contribution to the Oregon Wine Industry) is the exception to the rule. You can read the full story at Rusty Gaffney’s PinotFile site. By the way: our Clone 95 block is bearing fruit this year.

At the end of the day, Ernie left the Guigal facility in Ampuis with a bit of a buzz. Clearly from the wine, but also from the time spent with Marcel Guigal where they talked clones. Northern Rhône clones. Ernie settled on the 4 clones most likely suited to make exceptional Côte Rôtie.

The similarities of Côte Rôtie, in the Northern Rhône valley of France and Dallas, Oregon in the great Pacific Northwest of the United States include the relative proximation to the 45th parallel. While Dallas, Oregon is just below the 45th parallel at 44.9193 degrees, Ampuis, at the heart of Côte Rôtie, is at 45.4890 degrees.

We share a cool climate growing season, but the similarities end there. Our sedimentary Bellpine series soil in the Willamette Valley tends to contribute more floral aromatics and is geologically unrelated to the granite and schist soils found in Côte Rôtie. Yeah, no schist.

Back in Oregon, the hunt was on to find these 4 clones. It turned out two were easily sourced from longtime friend Steve Doerner at Cristom. So, Ernie got two clones in the ground straight away. And two were not so easily sourced. Syrah - Why be difficult, with just a little more effort, you can be impossible?

The next two clones took a couple of years to source. “Don’t give up on your dream” was the encouragement offered by the late Witness Tree winemaker Bryce Bagnall. And so, Ernie persevered, holding open a half acre of land destined for 2 more clones of Syrah.

And when he finally got them, he ended up with a little more than he bargained for. The clonally correct Syrah vines he picked up had a few Viognier vines mixed in. The nursery man told him that they had made a mistake when grafting and some Viognier was in the mix.

Ernie was in shock. He had waited, literally, years for this hair brained scheme to hatch and now this. What to do? Well, he reasoned, they have Viognier interplanted in Côte Rôtie, so maybe this is a good thing. It was certainly looking more and more like Côte Rôtie from Oregon. He collected his plants and drove back to the vineyard.

It took three years, but those vines finally produced the fruit he was so eagerly awaiting. And just like the nursery man had foretold, some of those Syrah vines produced white grapes. Ernie doesn’t call it Viognier, he calls it white Syrah. So, you could say he not only co-ferments with Viognier, he co-grows it as well. He won’t say that, but you could.

Nothing is inherently good or bad, except a snakebite, until it gets a name. Our first bottling of Syrah from the 2006 vintage was without a fanciful name. The 2007 vintage (2007? Really? Yes, 2007. Really.) was featured as “Best Domestic Syrah of the Year” by Wine & Spirits Magazine and answered one of our neighbor’s questions. He said, “Yeah, you should plant Syrah and let us know how it works out for you.”

And that is the reason, beginning with the 2008 vintage, that wine has a fanciful name. We call it Satisfaction, because that is how it worked out for us.

So, what about this Top Barrel bottling? The Top Barrel is that moment in the cellar when you thief out a barrel sample and are immediately taken back to the same experience tasting La Turque from barrel at Guigal. Aromas are powerful things and can trigger very vivid memories. The first one of these moments came with the cool and protracted 2010 vintage.

Ernie said, “No Farmin’ Way am I going to blend this barrel away! We are going to bottle this separately. This is World Class, the Real Deal, Côte Rôtie from Oregon!” And it just so happened that the barrel was on the top row of barrels. So, the name became self-evident – Top Barrel.

After making several tractor passes to incorporate the Winter cover crop, prepare the soil for the Spring cover crop and then finally drill in the Spring cover crop, Ernie had some time on his hands. That and it started to rain, so the tractor work was put on hold.

He queried the Vinous Media database for 2012 wines from the Northern Rhône to see how his top scoring and first ever Estate Grown, Willamette Valley 94-point Top Barrel Syrah would stack up. The neat thing about Vinous Media, is that the same reviewer, Josh Raynolds, covers both Oregon and the Northern Rhône. That removes the key variable in comparing and contrasting wines.

Here is what he found out. The top scoring 2012 vintage wine from Côte Rôtie was a 95-point review, and there were 3 of them. Ok, so that told him that his 94-point review was in the ballpark. And it turns out that Guigal had one of those 95-point reviews. It was La Landonne at a stunning $525 (per bottle) release price.

But he also found out that the other two “La La” bottlings, La Mouline and La Turque, each earned a 94-point review from the same reviewer that rated the Top Barrel with a 94-point review.

Here are the Guigal Côte Rôtie from France reviews along with the Amalie Robert Côte Rôtie from Oregon review:

Guigal La Mouline:
Lurid ruby. Heady, intensely perfumed aromas of red fruit preserves, incense, smoky minerals and lavender, accompanied by an Asian spice flourish that builds as the wine opens up. Stains the palate with sweet, seamless raspberry liqueur, spicecake and floral pastille flavors that are lifted and given spine by core of juicy acidity. Puts on weight and spreads out slowly on the strikingly long and precise finish, which features resonating mineral and floral notes. - 94 points, Josh Raynolds, Vinous Media

Guigal La Turque:
Youthful violet. Powerful, smoke- and mineral-accented black and blue fruits and incense on the explosively perfumed nose. Stains the palate with sweet blueberry, cherry, violet pastille and spicecake flavors that show superb depth as well as vivacity. Seamless and alluringly sweet; a core of juicy acidity adds lift and spine. Supple tannins build steadily on an extremely long, focused finish that leaves suave floral and Moroccan spice notes behind. - 94 points, Josh Raynolds, Vinous Media

Amalie Robert Top Barrel:
Brilliant violet. A complex, expansive bouquet evokes ripe black and blue fruits, smoky Indian spices and potpourri, backed by subtle olive and cola nuances. Sweet, sappy and penetrating on the palate, offering intense blueberry, cassis, bitter chocolate and spicecake flavors and a strong suggestion of candied violet. Strongly channels the savory qualities of the northern Rhône and finishes extremely long, smooth and spicy, with subtle tannins building slowly. - 94 points, Josh Raynolds, Vinous Media

“Amalie Robert, whose vineyard is in the western part of the Willamette Valley, makes a very strong case for Syrah, but production of their two graceful wines is painfully small, as in just a few barrels of wine per vintage.” - Josh Raynolds, Oregon’s Expanding Palate of Wines, February 2018, Vinous Media

While it is too soon to make any substantive predictions about vintage 2018, we are hopeful that the crews arrive on time, the tractors all start, the sun shines and the rains fall at the appropriate times and in the correct amounts. That would be the vintage of the year!

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Amalie Robert Estate: 2016 Wadenswil Selection at the Willamette Valley Winery Association Pinot Noir Auction

Hello and Welcome, 

The 2018 Willamette Valley Winery Association Pinot Noir Auction is this weekend. The pre-event festivities begin Friday, April 6th and the auction takes place Saturday, April 7th. Note: Wine flies free on Alaska Airlines. Just saying... 

Amalie Robert Estate has contributed a very special 10 case lot of Wadenswil clone 2A as our inaugural auction offering. The wine is a single barrel selection from a one acre block of estate grown Wadenswil clone 2A planted at the turn of the century and fermented with indigenous yeast and whole clusters. 

Wadenswil, yeah we do that. And we have been doing it for some time now. Our sedimentary soil series is called Bellpine, a well drained silty clay loam. Wadenswil clone 2A is a Swiss selection of Pinot Noir. Some things just work, and some things are just farming marvelous! This is one of those things.

Where the Wadenswil grows – Ernie and his Bellpine soil

We present the following links, helpful information and Amalie Robert Estate Wadenswil history to fully prepare you for the Wadenswil experience.

What is Wadenswil clone 2A? Read the Amalie Robert Estate: Interview with a Clone - Wadenswil 2A

Tell me more about the Amalie Robert Estate Auction Lot: 2016 Vintage Wadenswil Selection Pinot Noir

Planning to attend? We look forward to sharing our Wadenswil clone 2A with you. And maybe some delicious Chardonnay and top rated cool climate Syrah.

Can't attend, but you simply must have this wine? Please contact Dena at for information on submitting a proxy bid.

Follow this link to learn more about the Willamette Valley Winery Association Pinot Noir Auction: Willamette - The Pinot NoirAuction

Now the good stuff: A historical vertical of Wadenswil clone 2A from Amalie Robert Estate 2007 - 2014 as reviewed by Josh Raynolds.

2014: Amalie Robert Estate Pinot Noir Wadenswil Clone Willamette Valley
Limpid ruby-red. Highly perfumed aromas of black raspberry, cherry cola, exotic spices and sandalwood pick up a floral overtone as the wine stretches out. Palate-staining red berry preserve, blood orange, rose pastille and spicecake flavors become deeper with air while maintaining vivacity. Finishes on a suave floral note, displaying superb clarity, lingering spiciness and silky tannins that merge smoothly into the energetic fruit. 93 Points, Vinous.

2013: Amalie Robert Estate Pinot Noir Wadenswil Clone Willamette Valley
Brilliant red. Spicy and brisk on the nose, displaying lively red fruit, floral and succulent herb character and a hint of vanilla. Juicy, focused and light on its feet, offering energetic raspberry and bitter cherry flavors that take a sweeter turn as the wine opens up. Shows very good depth for the vintage, with no rough edges and a long, subtly tannic finish that leaves notes of cherry pit and star anise behind. 91 Points, Vinous.

2012: Amalie Robert Estate Pinot Noir Wadenswil Clone Willamette Valley
Brilliant red. Potent mineral-tinged aromas of black raspberry, cherry-cola and smoky Indian spices, with a hint of lavender in the background. Concentrated yet lithe on the palate, offering intense dark berry compote and bitter cherry flavors that slowly become sweeter with aeration. Chewy tannins come on late, adding grip to the very long, penetrating, fruit-driven finish. 93 Points, Vinous

2011: Amalie Robert Estate Pinot Noir Wadenswil Clone Willamette Valley
Lucid red. Red and dark berries, incense, lavender and smoky minerals on the pungent, exotically perfumed nose. Juicy black raspberry and cherry flavors are lifted and given spine by juicy acidity and a hint of peppery spices. Finishes lithe, spicy and penetrating, with fine-grained tannins and emphatic floral and cherry pit qualities. 92 Points, Vinous.

2010: Amalie Robert Estate Pinot Noir Wadenswil Clone Willamette Valley
Bright red. High-pitched cherry and Asian spice aromas are deepened by notes of sassafras, woodsmoke and cola. Stains the palate with sappy red and dark berry flavors and tangy acidity adding lift and cut. An exotic floral nuance emerges with air and carries through a long, sweet and persistent finish. While this energetic pinot is built to age, it has a lot of immediate appeal. 93 Points, Vinous.

2009: Amalie Robert Estate Pinot Noir Wadenswil Clone Willamette Valley
Bright red. Heady, exotic aromas of candied red fruits, sandalwood, lavender and rose. Juicy, sweet and focused, offering fresh raspberry and bitter cherry flavors that put on weight with air. Shows an array of spice and floral qualities on the finish, along with notes of candied raspberry and bitter rhubarb. Wild stuff, and balanced to age. 93 Points, Vinous.

2008: Amalie Robert Estate Pinot Noir Wadenswil Clone Willamette Valley
Bright red. Displays an array of red and dark berry scents, along with notes of cherry-cola, pungent herbs and baking spices. Sappy, deeply pitched cherry and black raspberry flavors are well concentrated but surprisingly lively, picking up a zesty mineral quality with air. Dusty tannins add grip to the sweet, incisive finish. This benefits a lot from air; it was fermented with all whole clusters, as are all the pinots here. 91+ Points, Vinous.

2007: Amalie Robert Estate Pinot Noir The Reserve (100% Wadenswil) Willamette Valley
Limpid red. Bright strawberry, raspberry and Asian spices on the nose, with a seductive note of potpourri that gains strength with air. Sappy, spicy, attractively sweet red fruit flavors are energized by tangy blood orange and white pepper nuances, with a note of medicinal cherry adding grip. Plays deep cherry off tangy strawberry on the finish, which is precise, lively and very long. This will age on its energy and balance. 93 Points, Vinous.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Friday, March 16, 2018

Amalie Robert Estate: 2018 Spring Cellar Report

Hello and Welcome,

This is the 2018 Spring Cellar Report from Amalie Robert Estate. A FLOG communication.

There are all sorts of clichés, but in the wine industry we are always looking for our niche. In fact, a niche cliché is what we are looking for today.

At the end of harvesting 100 tons of wine berries over the course of 7 weeks, we were “As delighted as the dog that actually caught the car.” And since we farm on hillsides, we would remind everyone that “ doesn’t run uphill.” But after turning 100 tons of wine berries into about 16,500 gallons of wine, we are leaning-in “Like trying to get a drink out of a fire hose.”

But now that Spring is beginning to emerge, we are onto the next big thing – Blending for Complexity.

We turn back a vintage and begin our quest for the Hers and His reserves. You see we “barrel over”. That is in fact different from “being over a barrel” which seems to be a Hollywood thing.

To “barrel over” means to hold your wine in barrel over the next vintage. At Amalie Robert Estate our Pinot Noir and Syrah are in barrel while the next vintage is coming into the winery. At the end of the day, we are looking to have our Pinot Noir in barrel for around 18 months and our Syrah for closer to 26 months. And yes that requires us to have twice as many barrels, and a place to age them, than wineries that empty their barrels after 11 months so they can refill them with the next vintage.

And there is more than one way around the barn, or through the cellar. There is always a fast way, a wrong way, and the Ernie way. Other than increasing costs, the Ernie way has the added benefit of extended barrel maturation. This allows our whole cluster tannin to soften naturally over time. There is no need to add fining agents that modify the aroma, flavor, taste or texture of our wines. You are getting the real deal from Amalie Robert - time in a bottle. Or think if it as a message in a bottle.

The other way to do it is to add something that will soften the whole cluster astringency and advance the wine’s maturity window. Historically, egg whites and ox blood were used. This continued until winemakers realized that chicken eggs were a lot more economical than other additives. However, fish bladders are still in use for white wines to this day. Hey Google, “What is isinglass?”

By the time we get to blending, our Amalie’s Cuvée (Hers) and Estate Selection (His) Pinot Noir wines have been in the same barrel they were filled into for about a year. No racking from barrel to barrel allowed. The yeast lees that came down from the press with the wine are now settled in the bottom of the barrel. And since our barrels are on their side, the bottom of the barrel is called the bilge. Directly opposite the bilge is the bung. This is how you know the barrel is in the correct wine maturation position.

Our job is to select about 20 or so barrels of wine that contain our favorite wine from the vintage. Since we harvest, ferment and then fill barrels from each of our 42 blocks separately, we have the ability to taste the wines grown from each and every one of our vineyard blocks. This allows us the ultimate flexibility in creating our Hers and His reserve blends. But be careful what you ask for, as that adds up to about 200 and some barrels per year. You can’t boil the ocean.

What we can do is critically evaluate about 10 barrels of wine per session. This is usually an afternoon thing. And we seem to be predisposed to Friday afternoons. It’s just our thing. Oh sure, we can taste wine from more than 10 barrels in an afternoon – no problem there! However, the problem comes the next day when you are trying to decipher the notes of barrel number 16 - what language is that? That is why 10 is the magic number, at 4 pm, on a Friday afternoon.

Some people will take a more technical approach and begin evaluations in the late morning or early afternoon. And that is all well and good. But we blend our wines with an eye toward enjoying them with a meal and with friends. We start to get a little wine craving in the afternoon and feel this is the better time for us to critically evaluate wines. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Once we make the first pass through the cellar, we can usually get our favorites list down to about 20 or so barrels and that is a good place to start. The magic number for the Hers and His Reserves is 12 barrels each, about 300 cases worth. Logistically, this is three of our blending tanks, so even though the 13 barrel blend is good, there is nowhere to put it.

Now comes the hard part, finding which of those 20 barrels of wine are going to make the final cut to get us down to 12. There are plenty of algorithms to use to sort them. From our Computer Science days, we could use a bubble sort, a merge sort or a quick sort. Or we could actually taste them and rank the aroma, flavor, texture and finish. Hopefully this illustrates one of the reasons we left the hi-tech world for wine.

Once all of our barrel samples are ranked on their criteria, we begin blending a few samples together. The joy is when the barrels combine to build enhanced aroma, flavor, texture and finish. We can adjust the blend naturally by including a sample that is more high toned, or contributes more structure. If the finish is too astringent, we can swap out a barrel for something softer. We call this blending for complexity. It does take discipline, attention to detail and several iterations. Another benefit of our approach, is that we do not have to add aforementioned fining agents to modify our wines. We just look to swap a barrel that helps to temper the blend.

And that is how we get from 20 individually stunning barrels of wine, to a blend of 12 that combine into a wine that is as sublime as the day is long. Of course, Dena has veto power. If the blend doesn’t feel just right, then it’s back to the blending bench. Often times this is in the kitchen, which is handy when we are evaluating the blend for its culinary suitability.

And let’s spend a minute on the Farmer barrel. As each vineyard block is harvested, fermented and sent to barrel separately, we can get a read on how Ernie managed the vineyard. And that is where the Farmer barrel comes into focus. We are not giving away any trade secrets here by telling you that each fermenter fills about 4 barrels. The first barrel is brand new each year. The next two barrels have been filled two or three times. And then there is the fourth barrel, the Farmer barrel.

The Farmer barrel is always dead neutral. That means that if it did not come over to the New World on the Mayflower, then it has been filled (and by definition emptied) several times. The result is that there is no oak influence left in the barrel. This barrel, the Farmer barrel, is where we can evaluate how the fruit from the vineyard is showing without any oak influence whatsoever.

This feedback is quite useful to the Ernie who farms our field. He can dial in his vineyard management program of leaf pull, cover crops, hedging, vineyard floor management, thinning and harvest strategy to modify the aroma, flavor, texture and finish of our wines.

Spoiler Alert: All of those aroma, flavor, texture and finish characteristics in the finished wine are a natural evolution from not only the terroir, but also the human factor of what was or was not done as a response to the vintage. And all of our vineyard management techniques and viticultural practices are site specific to Amalie Robert Estate as we farm our own field, and no one else’s. Good to know.

The feedback loop is YUUGE when it comes to our stainless steel fermented whites such as Her Silhouette Chardonnay and Our Muse Viognier. Stainless steel fermented white wines are the most transparent exemplars of terroir you will find. And the GWZ’R Gewürztraminer is coming, so please be patient. It takes a while to build up to critical mass with just 24 vines.

The making of iPinot. So, after the Hers and His, we have a few barrels that are quite pleasurable, but “didn’t make the team” Hers or His. What to do? Ah yes, these reserve level barrels, when blended among themselves make quite a compelling wine from the vintage.

iPinot and the three halves of Pinot Noir. People will tell you there are only two halves to Pinot Noir. It doesn’t have to be that way. Let us explain. The first half of Pinot Noir is the brilliantly elegant color refracting with a simple twist of the wrist releasing a heady bouquet – Very nice indeed.

The second half of Pinot Noir is when it colonizes your palate. Lively, delineated, lithe and tart, supple and sweet - all the things that stunning Pinot Noirs are made from. And then comes the third half of Pinot Noir – the scintillating and enduring finish of refined whole cluster stem tannin.

Fermenting with whole clusters extracts a little tannin from the stems. If you want to experience this for yourself, purchase some table grapes, remove the fruit and chew on the stems. Do it in front of the mirror for the full effect. Wowza!

However, over time, oxygen makes its way to the wine and gently softens this astringency into refined tannins. These refined tannins manifest themselves as a silky mouthfeel contributing length and a more than just subtle grip to the finish. That is the third half of Pinot Noir.

For all of you analytical types out there, try this exercise. Everyone knows that 50 is half of 100. And most people will tell you there are only two halves to a whole. But are there not three 50's in 100? Sure there are: 0 – 50 is a 50; 25 – 75 is a 50; and then there is 50 – 100, the third half! That makes three halves to a whole. Who’s got change for a $100?

iPinot is sold direct from the winery. If some day Apple is looking to acquire a winery, well let’s just say we trademarked iPinot with an eye toward the future.

Now it would not be a FLOG communication from Amalie Robert Estate if we didn’t do the numbers. Let’s see here, how about 94? That’s as good a number as any. It also just happens to be the review Ernie’s 2012 Top Barrel Syrah earned from Vinous in early February 2018. Not only is this the highest score ever for an estate grown Willamette Valley Syrah, it is the first 94. And that is the thing about being the first one, no matter who follows, you are always the first one!

Let's review, shall we:

The stainless steel fermented white wines are a window into our terroir. 2016 Her Silhouette Chardonnay is our Chablis style, stainless steel fermented Chardonnay where we block the malo-lactic conversion.

“Brilliant straw-yellow. High-pitched Meyer lemon and green apple aromas are complemented by suave jasmine and zesty mineral notes. Tangy and focused on the palate, offering bitter citrus zest and pear skin flavors that pick up a gingery accent with air. Shows a hint of fennel on the finish, which lingers with strong, subtly sweet tenacity. 91.” - Vinous, February 8, 2018

2016 Our Muse Viognier is stainless steel fermented Viognier. This is part of Ernie’s Northern Rhône program. The 2016 vintage earns a 93 point review and an “Editors’ Choice” from Wine Enthusiast on April 1, 2018. (Tomorrow’s news today!)

“Pale green-tinged yellow. Bright and precise on the nose, displaying fresh white peach, tangerine and pungent floral qualities along with delicate honey and white pepper flourishes. Juicy, focused on light on its feet, offering juicy orchard and pit fruit flavors that are given tangy cut by an orange zest nuance. Finishes silky and long, featuring lingering florality and a hint of candied citrus fruits. 91.” - Vinous, February 8, 2018

The 2014 Heirloom Cameo Chardonnay is our BFC (Barrel Fermented Chardonnay.) Fermented in a new 500-liter puncheon each year, this is our answer to White Burgundy, Chassagne-Montrachet in particular.

“Limpid yellow. Ripe pear, Meyer lemon, vanilla and smoky minerals on the deeply perfumed nose, along with hints of jasmine and candied ginger that build in the background. Supple and well-concentrated, offering expansive citrus and orchard fruit flavors complemented by brioche and toasty lees nuances. The floral note repeats emphatically on the very long, supple finish, which is energized by a jolt of zesty acidity. 92.” - Vinous, February 8, 2018

Rosé is the newest category in the Amalie Robert Estate portfolio and we have doubled down. Our original Rosé of Pinot Noir is called Pinot in Pink Rosé. Fermented in stainless steel with vivacious acidity to “crush it” on the lanai, or veranda, or even the back patio. Yes, it’s really that versatile.

“Lurid orange-pink. Mineral-accented red berries, citrus fruits and rose pastille on the expressive, sharply focused nose. Juicy and precise on the palate, offering concentrated raspberry and tangerine flavors that show excellent clarity and spicy lift. Powerful yet lithe, delivering strong closing thrust and a lingering suggestion of candied flowers. 91.” - Vinous, February 8, 2018

Our latest effort, 2016 Bellpine Pearl Rosé is where you end up if you are thinking about making a base wine for sparkling wine. This wine is made from the wings of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. In the weeks leading up to harvest, Ernie has the crew thin the wings from the main clusters. After a gentle pass through the press the juice picks up a little color and then is fermented in stainless steel.

“Full orange. Dried red berries, orange pith and pungent flowers on the mineral-accented nose. Concentrated red berry and citrus fruit flavors are accompanied by a spicy element that adds back-end lift and cut. Rich yet lively, delivering solid closing thrust on a long, supple finish that echoes the berry note. 90.” - Vinous, February 8, 2018

The ALT-Reds:

And there is good news for all of you Pinot Meunier fans out there! The 2015 vintage earns another 91 point review from Vinous. The pinnacle for us was the 2014 vintage. Last year the 2014 Pinot Meunier earned the highest rating of any Pinot Meunier from Oregon with a 92. They say it is a fine line between genius and insanity. What a difference a point makes. While the 2015 vintage has “left the building,” the 2016 Pinot Meunier is released and ready to go!

2015 vintage: “Brilliant red. Spice- and herb-tinged cherry and red currant scents, slowly joined by subtle woodsmoke and cola notes. Chewy and focused on entry, offering bitter cherry and rose pastille flavors that flesh out and become sweeter with air. Nicely concentrated but lively as well, showing strong closing thrust, dusty tannins and a lingering cherry note. 91.” - Vinous, February 8, 2018

And that brings us to the Syrah program at Amalie Robert Estate, aka Côte Rôtie from Oregon. Lucky Block 13 has 4 clones of Syrah all sourced from the cool Northern Rhône growing region called Côte Rôtie. Côte Rôtie is often referred to as the “Burgundy of the Rhone.” Hmm, sounds intriguing.

Due to a lack of focus and attention to detail during the grafting process, we have a few Viognier plants interspersed in Lucky Block 13. Sauce for the goose, as they say. Ernie said something quite different the first year he saw the Viognier grapes in his Syrah block. Nonetheless, he took it all in stride and chose not to dig them out. Besides, after three years, they had put down some serious roots. Farmer first, winemaker second, aka Winegrower.

While we harvest, ferment and barrel all of our 30 plus acres of Pinot Noir by block, Ernie drills down to the next level with Syrah. He harvests each row of Syrah separately. This is the only way he can maintain the clonal integrity of the block. Dena just smiles and remembers when they first met. “Yeah, Ernie is wired a little differently.”

About half of all the Syrah berries go in the fermenter on the stem as whole clusters. That’s a lot of astringency in a young wine, and it is going to take a while to unwind, but Ernie loves the tactile structure you can only get from whole cluster fermentation. No matter, these wines are built to slowly unwind over time. And that process starts with about 26 months of barrel maturation encased within 1,200 tons of concrete below grade in the cellar at Amalie Robert Estate.

After that amount of time things have mellowed out, a bit. Then it is time to see just what has evolved over the past couple of years. This is when we find out if we have a “Top Barrel” candidate from the vintage. If so, that single barrel is bottled separately as the Top Barrel Syrah and the remaining barrels are blended to create our Satisfaction Syrah.

2011 vintage Top Barrel Syrah: “In a thrilling cool-climate experiment, the team at Amalie Robert planted syrah and viognier on a single acre in a cool vineyard west of Salem, drawing from the four clones that Marcel Guigal recommended on a visit to Oregon. This wine barely crosses the threshold of 12 per cent alcohol, and in most respects would be thought of as backward. But the aromas - carob, smoke and olive - are resolved and mature, the flavors composed and quiet, dark red fruits marked by charry, mature tannins. Decant it to serve with lamb. 91.” - Year's Best US Syrahs, Patrick J. Comiskey, Wine & Spirits Magazine, February 2018

Included in the recent “Oregon’s Expanding Palette of Wines” from Vinous, February 8, 2018, is a little note about our Syrah program.

“Amalie Robert, whose vineyard is in the western part of the Willamette Valley, makes a very strong case for Syrah, but production of their two graceful wines is painfully small, as in just a few barrels of wine per vintage.”

2012 vintage Top Barrel Syrah: “Brilliant violet. A complex, expansive bouquet evokes ripe black and blue fruits, smoky Indian spices and potpourri, backed by subtle olive and cola nuances. Sweet, sappy and penetrating on the palate, offering intense blueberry, cassis, bitter chocolate and spicecake flavors and a strong suggestion of candied violet. Strongly channels the savory qualities of the northern Rhône and finishes extremely long, smooth and spicy, with subtle tannins building slowly. 94.” - Vinous, February 8, 2018

Please note, the 2012 Top Barrel is the highest rated Syrah from the Willamette Valley and the first to earn a 94 point review from Vinous. So for now, the Top Barrel reigns supreme.

2013 vintage Top Barrel Syrah: “Lurid ruby. Pungent, spice-tinged boysenberry, cherry pit and licorice scents are complemented by suggestions of cracked pepper, violet and woodsmoke. Juicy and focused on the palate, offering bitter cherry and dark berry flavors that unfold slowly on the back half. Decidedly lithe, even Pinot-esque compared to its 2012 sibling, featuring good tension and spicy cut on the very long, gently tannic finish. 92.” - Vinous, February 8, 2018

Ah yes, a Syrah with a Pinot-esque finish. That's how you know your Syrah was made by a Pinot guy. Not to be confused with Pinot made by a Syrah guy. For those of you who demand Satisfaction, here it is!

2011 vintage Satisfaction Syrah: “The 2011 Syrah Satisfaction includes 50% whole-cluster fruit of four Rhône clones (plus a touch of co-planté Viognier vines). Not picked until November 14, it has an attractive bouquet with macerated red cherries, Provençal herbs, juniper berries and a touch of melted wax. The palate is medium bodied with ripe red berry fruit mixed with blueberry, Seville orange marmalade and a healthy pinch of white pepper lending the finish that Rhône “vibe.” Very linear at the moment, the finish is quite tight. I would actually cellar this for one or two years as it should replay handsomely. 91.” - The Wine Advocate, March 2015

2012 vintage Satisfaction Syrah: “Vivid ruby. Heady spice- and mineral-accented raspberry and cherry scents show excellent clarity and pick up subtle woodsmoke and cola nuances as the wine opens up. Alluringly sweet and precise on the palate offering intense red fruit liqueur blood orange spicecake and violet pastille flavors that show a suave blend of richness of vivacity and no rough edges that I can detect. Finishes very long sappy and smooth with fine-grained tannins lending gentle grip. 92.” - Vinous, January 2017

2013 vintage Satisfaction Syrah: “Bright ruby. Fresh cherry and dark berries on the nose, along with hints of incense, olive paste and candied flowers. Energetic and focused in style, offering bitter cherry and cassis flavors and spicy touch of cracked pepper that appears on the back half. Finishes very long and precise, displaying repeating spiciness and dusty tannins that lend gentle grip. 90.” - Vinous, February 8, 2018

And that about wraps it up for the Spring Cellar Report. The Monthly FLOGs will start up again with the April update where we expect an early bud break, despite the late snow fall. That’s Mother Nature's sense of humor for you, what a kick in the pants! As farmers, we have learned it makes a difference which way you stand.

We realize that our communications are a tad bit longer than most that come across your inbox. Kind of like shoving 10 pounds of it in a 5 pound bag. Or as Ernie would tell you, that’s how we get three halves into our Pinot Noirs.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie