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!

"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!..."

- David Schildknecht, The Wine Advocate - October 2013

"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."

- L.S., Wine & Spirits Magazine – September 2011

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2016 Pinot Noir In Flagrante!

Hello and Welcome,

If farm equipment could talk:

“Torque my lugs, change my oil, lube my chain, grease my zerk!” or “Hey, does the lack of air pressure make my tire look fat?” or “You know, that little red light on the fuel gauge means time for more diesel and can save you from a very long walk.” or “It’s just a dipstick, nothing to be afraid of” and “Winegrower? Oh really…”

But it can’t. What it can do is stop working. And that is a language that everyone understands. As in “No coffee, no workee!”

This is why Ernie takes advantage of the small breaks in the farming schedule to perform maintenance. And for the “non-farmers” reading this we would like to point out the two types of farm maintenance. Regularly scheduled maintenance is usually based on hours driven for tractors (think miles for cars and trucks) or a specific period of time such as annually.

Percussive maintenance is just what you think it is and can be performed at any point in the farming cycle. It is usually performed as a response to operating a piece of equipment outside of its designed operating parameters. Or it could be the case that the last regularly scheduled maintenance was performed…never. The result however, is always quite binary:

1) The act of repeatedly applying force (and or heat) over a brief (or extended) period of time has enabled the equipment (or implement) to function, in at least some capacity for a limited amount of time such that farming operations may resume. Pain relievers (and perhaps an ARB) are in your immediate future. OR

0) It has become painfully obvious that the equipment (or implement) has (possibly prematurely) reached the end of its useful life and no amount of percussive maintenance is going to change that sad (and about to get expensive) fact. Fully depreciated, if you will, or just plain old worn out, the only thing you have going for you now is trade in value. In retrospect, you could have done without that bigger hammer. Time to go shopping for farm equipment…

But not today! Today we see another blazing indicator that harvest is on its way. Those little pink wine berries are telling us that it is time to get the harvest equipment “properly” maintained, or replaced, as the case may be.

In your mind’s eye, just imagine how the likes of Dick Erath or David Lett or Dick and Nancy Ponzi or Bruce Weber felt when they saw the very first pink wine berry on their very own vines representing their very first harvest. And you know, it wasn’t all that long ago. We take it for granted now in the Willamette Valley, but it wasn’t always so.

The other thing that we are paying attention to at Amalie Robert Estate is the trending manifestation of this event year over year. This year, we saw the very first wine berries blaze on July 22nd (but it is a leap year.) The 2015 growing season showed its colors on July 23rd. The historical average vacillates around August 15th. Also of note is the comparative degree days from April though June: 2016 has logged 805.1 degree days and 2015 had logged 799.1 degree days.

Pardon us while we bring the elephant into the room. We see the same summer weather pattern that we have seen since 2012. We thought 2012 was a hot year until we farmed each successive vintage afterwards. The humans will most likely notice the high temperatures and marvel at the number of days above 90 degrees. Meh…

The vines will take all of that heat and sun exposure and turn it into energy to ripen their seeds, allowing them to reproduce and then nod off for a 6 month nap. And they will be doing it all night long.

That is the farming difference we see from the most recent vintages compared to say 2007, 2010 and 2011. The cooler vintages are “more cool” because the nighttime temperatures keep the vines’ ripening curve in check. All of that photosynthesis does no good to the vine until it translocates the energy from the leaf. And that translocation slows down significantly when the temperature drops below 50 degrees.

So, the nighttime temperatures are once again telling the story of the vintage. Cool nights mean slower sugar accumulation and more time on the vine to develop aroma and flavor. Warm temperatures speed things along until we find widespread premature fermentation due to harvest decisions being based on sugars to keep the alcohols below 15%. Yeast die at 15.6% alcohol and will leave you with sweet wine – Good to know.

And the most fascinating thing to consider is why does a corkscrew, when inserted properly into a cork, turn in a clockwise manner. From a physics point of view, it could have been made to work just the opposite. Lefty Loosy, Righty Tighty.

And if that cork just won’t give it up, Port Tongs could be in your “percussive maintenance” future. Add fire, and you are going old school now. Note: gloves will be a useful thing to have at the beginning of this process. Welcome to our world.

Blaze on you crazy wine berry.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2016 June

Hello and Welcome,

This is the June 2016 Climate Update from Amalie Robert Estate.

June started out with scorching hot temperatures approaching the century mark and ended the month with a fair shot of rain followed by cooling breezes from the north. As they say “A fast horse don’t run long…”

So, what have we here with this 2016 growing season? So far, the season started off lickety split with a very warm to hot April. May was more in line with the past few vintages, which were also warm, and now June seems to be running out of steam. Based on the flowering date of May 27th plus 105 days, we see a harvest window opening up in mid to late September. That means we have about 75 days of growing season left before the Great Cluster Pluck of 2016 visits itself upon us. But wait for it, and some vintage extending rain, we will.

The month of June is when the crew finished straightening up all of the shoots and clipping the catch wires into place.

That’s when Ernie was finally able to arrest the expletive growth in the canopy. Note: The early season soil moisture and above average heat are two things the vines picked up on RFN (Right Farmin’ Now.) The hedger, aka “The Enforcer,” is the correct tool for the job. With 5 sets of blades spinning at warp 8, Ernie and The Enforcer will not be denied.

It takes him 3 days to make a single pass through the vineyard, but he does mow up the trimmings as he goes. The first hedge is always the most dramatic. The hedged shoots take about a week to ten days before they start to push new shoot tips. This timeframe gives all the shorter shoots that missed out on the first hedging a chance to grow into the “Red Zone.” Then he is back for the second pass.

The hedgings will continue until canopy discipline improves!

And then, suddenly, as if by the sweat of everyone’s collective brow, we are almost caught up. Through this point of the growing season, we have done what had to be done to get the canopy trained and hedged. But now with leaf pulling, we get to do what we want to do. We find ourselves in the winemaker’s role of determining how much skin tannin we want in our wines.

Pulling more leaves means more wine berry exposure and more robust tannins. Pulling fewer leaves means less sun exposure resulting in more elegant and refined tannins. The discretionary role of leaf pull is where the art of winegrowing takes a “leaf” in destiny.

Practically speaking, the choices lay somewhere between completely denuding the vine of its shade providing leaves or to retain all the leaves and provide abundant shade to the wine berries. Depending on the wine and wine style we are producing, we vacillate widely between the two.

And as we all know, it is a very fine and vacillating line between genius and insanity. Which side you come down on is often determined after the fact and dependant, at least to some extent, upon your ARB quotient (Adult Recreational Beverage consumption per hour over body weight.)

Now if we look at the available statistics, we see that wine reviewers also vary widely in their interpretation of genius and insanity. A case in point is our wonderfully expressive 2012 Dijon Clones Pinot Noir. Personally stewarded through the winegrowing, blending and bottling process, we see a Vinous score of 93 points and a Wine Advocate score of 86 points. Within the microcosm of Pinot Noir wine scores, this range represents nearly the full spectrum. While the statistical comparative computations are an exercise left to the reader, we can assure you that this represents more than a couple standard deviations. Waft The Fruit.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but it is worth pointing out that there is a difference between 17 years of experience, and one year of experience 17 times. Ah, the beauty of vintage variation in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

We just look at each other, toast with an ARB and remember that this is why there all kinds of different dogs for all kinds of different people. One person’s “Best in Show” at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is another person’s padoodle. Full disclosure: We do have a dog in the fight. Ernie’s favorite breed, the Labrador Retriever, has never won best of show since the show’s inception in Manhattan, New York in 1877. That, and look how much money we will save in not having to ship our wines to London for a third time. Wit of a banker, so they say. We will, however, continue to FLOG them until they say they have had enough. Shouldn’t be too much longer now…

Please say Hello to our new vines! Wadenswil clone Pinot Noir they are. We finally received our line posts up from California. It seems they were stuck in the Port of Los Angeles for a good (long) time. And of course the time to pound them would have been a wet spring, not a dry summer, but we are farmers first, and endeavor to persevere we do. While it will be some time before their first vintage is under cork, they are busy putting down character building dry farmed roots. First things first.

And the Swallows have arrived. These voracious insectivores are some of the most aerially talented flyers we have in the vineyard. They frequently are crisscrossing and darting in front of the tractor as Ernie is driving the rows. They are harvesting insects that are attracted to the flowering buckwheat summer cover crop. An ecosystem at work is a wonderful thing to behold.

Across the pond in Europe, and the now recently disassociated UK, they have the Common House Martin. Soccer is also a big deal on the other side of the pond, just ask anyone from Iceland. Perhaps Operation Fork is still an unresolved issue, or maybe the Cod Wars

Bonus Feature: This is the last known resting place of the Crimson Permanent Assurance. (Hint: Click on the picture.)

Next up is the prospect of thinning the crop load to match the remainder of the growing season. If it is going to be hot, we leave a few extra clusters. If it is going to be more moderate with a cool fall, then we thin off a few more clusters. If we only knew…

Just like playing chicken, the important thing here is to know when to blink. Because, you see, once you cut the clusters off, you can’t put them back on. And it seems the wings that we used to thin off and drop onto the ground have found a home.

The Bellpine Pearl has been a well received wine, so it is looking like there will be a 2016 offering. The “Pearl” is a Blanc de Noir still white wine made from the late to ripen wings of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. Bellpine is the name given to our sedimentary soil series and the Bellpine Pearl is our pearl from the soil or Pearl de Bellpine.”

Well that about does it, except for the important numbers. The good news is that the growing season to date degree day accumulation through June is still just 3 digits. We fully expect the July growing season to date accumulation to take us well into the 4 digit range. “Mr. Sulu, scan long range sensors…”

The month of June recorded 363.1 degree days providing an April to date growing season total of 805.1 degree days. We remain climactically ahead of all previous degree day accumulations dating back to 2003. But the 2015 vintage is not far behind at 799.1 degree days. A mere 6.0 points (not 7.0) separates these two vintages as of the end of June. Statistically, we could say they are not significantly different when you consider standard deviations and all…

Looking ahead, the evening temperatures will be the elephant in the room. Warm temperatures at night will increase the rate of sugar accumulation while leaving aroma and flavor development wanting. This could mean another early harvest to keep the potential alcohol below 15%.

However, at Amalie Robert Estate we can tell you the secret to vintage 2016 (and the last 4 vintages) is to manage the canopy and vineyard floor water usage. How you actually do that is very site specific. Old vines with deep roots and grizzled growers with several years experience are quintessential. May want to put the kettle on, Polly.

And what is it with the hail this year? We were pelted again this month with those frosty little pellets. It’s as if someone is raising rabbits in the Heavens. Which reminds us of the old adage: “If pigs could fly it would have had a significant and long lasting impact on the fedora industry.” The homburgs, however, were “built to take it.”

All that aside, or above, we logged 1.33 inches of rain for the month of June. This brings the April to date growing season total to 5.24 inches. July is on the horizon and typically is quite dry in the Willamette Valley, unlike Burgundy which seems to log about 50 centimeters of rain during July – they measure things differently over there. More on the contrast of summer rains in Oregon v Burgundy next month.

Right. You have just been FLOG’d, whether you knew it or not. And we are going to do it again. But please, feel free to forward this on and “FLOG a friend!”

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2016 May

Hello and Welcome,

This is the Climate Update for May 2016 from Amalie Robert Estate.

The big news for the month of May is that the vines produced flowers on May 27th. This is a necessary precursor to harvest, however it does not guarantee we will have a harvest. That depends on Mother Nature’s mood during the bloom period. Alternatively, if the vines do not produce flowers, there will be no harvest regardless of the weather during bloom. Logic, while somewhat inconvenient, is your friend. But there is more, oh so much more, to the month of May for the Willamette Valley wine berry grower. Let’s digress, shall we?

Starting at the bottom, we have a lovely spread of cover crops this year. Ernie was able to decode the Spring rain pattern and get those seeds drilled in between the cloudbursts. What we see here are very happy little plants that will fix nitrogen, help condition our soil, provide pollen (protein) for our carnivorous insect friends, seeds for the Quail and then become food for our vines this fall. It’s now legal to grow your own in Oregon, but we have been using cover crops to feed our vines, bugs and birds since the turn of the century.

Moving on up about 34 inches we have our first set of catch wires clipped into place. This is a beautiful thing and the basis for a Vertical Shoot Positioned trellis system. The first set of wires is the most important set of wires as they dictate how the shoots and follow-on clusters will be oriented. We want them separated to promote good airflow that will allow for the evaporation of the morning dew that could allow mildew to take hold. We demand few things from the vines, but discipline in the canopy is one of them.

And just when you think you are ahead of the curve, it is time for the second set of wires to be raised. As we move further into the growing season, the weather generally improves. Warmer temperatures mean the vines grow faster. And that means the shoots get longer – Right Farmin’ Now! If we run the numbers on 45,000 vines with 16 shoots each, assuming a growth rate of an inch per day that would give us about 60,000 lineal feet of growth per day! That’s what we’re talking about! Canopy management is a job done by hand, and that’s a lotta hand “work.”

And somebody has to cut the frickin’ grass. Every other row in the vineyard has Tall Fescue as a permanent cover. This allows Ernie to get through the field in case of a wet and sloppy harvest. But the grass responds to the heat and available soil moisture just like the vines do. Going back to our handy dandy slide rule, we see that 45,000 vines work out to be about 90,000 lineal feet of vineyard rows to mow. Why that’s just about 17 miles worth of driving, at about 2.5 miles per hour. How was your day, honey?

Of course, hot and dry vintages need short grass to preserve soil moisture so there are a couple more mowing passes than what we would see in a wet vintage where we are letting the grass grow tall to deplete excess soil moisture. That’s the thing about viticulture, you gotta pay attention.

But relief is coming into view as Ernie gets ready for his first hedge. Oh sure, the vines have had their way with us up until now, but “The Enforcer” will soon be on the scene. We just need to get that third wire up and clipped into place first…

In light of the recent increase in Internet spamming of business phone numbers, we would like to share our new phone number with everyone. It is the square root of 25,389,796,008,272,100,000. Feel free to leave a message if you like.

And, quite conveniently, here are the numbers for May. While April was one for the record books, May gave us all kinds of fits and starts. We had high temperatures, low temperatures, wind, rain and why the hail was that ice falling out of the sky? It was like how April should have been, but wasn’t.

For the month of May, 2016, we logged 277 degree days with a high temperature of 87.4 and a low temperature of 38.0 degrees Fahrenheit. This provides a May to date growing season total of 441.9 degree days, compared with 287.4 degree days for 2015. The historical May to date growing season degree days are contrasted below:

Rainfall for the month of May totaled 0.77 inches and included a little hail. Fortunately, the hail was before the vines flowered and it was not forceful enough to do significant damage to the new shoots. Rainfall for the month of April has been revised up from 1.57 inches to 3.14 inches and that provides a May to date growing season total of 3.91 inches.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Friday, May 27, 2016

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2016 Flowers and Tight Asstd. Wines

Hello and Welcome,  

The heady scent of pollination is in the air at Amalie Robert Estate. 

We are going to get it on, now! Actually, it will be the vines that will be getting their wine berries on over the next few days, right at the end of their collective pedicels. Here’s how they do it.

First the protective cap, or Calyptra, is cut off from the vascular tissue at the pedicel. As the cap dries up and falls away, the flower is exposed. Pollen grains from the Anther find their way into the Stigma, just as they have for centuries. Wine berries are self pollinating, so the only variable here is Mother Nature.

And it just so happens we are in for a nice warm dry spell which should see uniform pollination and a whole lot of it. This is better than the alternative, at least from a wine growing point of view.

We spied the first flower on the first vine on Friday, May 27th (Julian calendar day 148) in a lovely little block of Pommard clone Pinot Noir grafted onto our beloved 5C rootstock. 5C is the most deeply rooted of all the rootstocks we grow. It most closely resembles the rooting proclivities of own rooted vines.

This is “YUGE!” as a dry farmed vineyard. We like deep rooting rootstocks that can tap into the last of the available soil moisture at the end of the growing season. Because, as everyone knows, irrigation cheats you out of the true character of the vintage.

So, now we have the answer to the first riddle of the 2016 growing season: When are we going to harvest? The answer is “it depends.” But we should certainly have a harvest window starting to open around Julian calendar day 253. In typical Oregon vintages, we need about 105 days from flowering to develop expressive aroma and flavor before The Great Cluster Pluck.

However, any and all manner of atrocities may befall us on the road to harvest. We could even get schlonged. Or it could be nice all the way through, just don’t bet the farm on it. And bear in mind, this is a leap year - it’s “YUGE!”

As summer descends upon us, we would like to remind everyone that we grow and produce an assortment of wines including White, Blanc and Rosé for your enjoyment. All of these wines are fermented in stainless steel and provide a crisp and tight finish.

Collectively, when short on space, we refer to them as our “Tight Asstd. Wines.”

Varietally speaking, we offer the 2015 Her Silhouette Chardonnay and 2014 Our Muse Viognier.

Stylistically, we offer a Blanc de Noir wine, 2015 Bellpine Pearl and our dry Rosé is the 2015 Pinot in Pink Rosé of Pinot Noir.

Follow this link to shop for some Tight Asstd. Wines.

SWAC (Sealed With A Cork.)

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2016 April

Hello and Welcome,

This is the April 2016 Climate Update from Amalie Robert Estate.

April is a cruel month. The vines are just waking up and starting to grow. They have about six months until The Great Cluster Pluck and they are on a tear to “ripen their seeds.” (This is vine code for “reproduce.”) The climate is transitioning from the last of the particularly nasty winter weather including hail, of course, and breaking bad into summer temperatures approaching 90 degrees – in APRIL! Fortunately, we had some measurable precipitation, aka rain, to keep the vineyard floor pliable enough to work in last year’s nitrogen fixing and soil holding fall cover crops of barley and peas and to drill in the nitrogen fixing and moisture sipping spring cover crop blend of buckwheat and vetch.

The vineyard floor is where the real action is happening at Amalie Robert Estate in April. We believe that the soil is the plant’s stomach and if you want to grow the world’s best Pinot Noir, you need to tend to the vines’ appetite.

A primer for nonfarmers: The air we breathe is made up of about 80% nitrogen. Some plants (peas and vetch) are able to “fix” nitrogen out of the atmosphere and make it available in the soil as a nutrient. Winter rains have a tendency to wash away hillside topsoil if you do not use plants with fibrous roots (barley) to help hold the soil in place. Our summers are typically dry and any spring cover crops (buckwheat) have to survive mostly on the gift of morning dew. Shall we proceed?

Nitrogen is a macro nutrient, along with phosphorus and potassium. They are the three main building blocks of all plant life. Phosphorous and potassium are “resident” in the soil year round. These nutrients bind to the soil particles and hang on through the winter rains. Nitrogen does not. And so the 45 inches of rain we get every winter washes nitrogen out of the soil. That means each spring the vines wake up to find there is very little nitrogen available to them. Unless you planted a nitrogen fixing and soil holding fall cover crop the year before.

The view from 10,000 feet is to incorporate the nitrogen fixing and soil holding fall cover crop of barley and peas into the moist spring soil to give the vines nutrients for vintage 2016. And then to follow-on with the spring cover crop of nitrogen fixing and soil sipping buckwheat and vetch to be incorporated into the soil just after harvest to provide nutrients all winter long.

But wait, there is more! The nitrogen fixing and soil holding fall cover crop of barley and peas also gets drilled in just after harvest to complete the cycle for upcoming vintage 2017. In our previous lives, we would have called this an infinite loop where the only way to stop it is to pull the plug. But this is agriculture, and not just agriculture, but wine agriculture, aka viticulture, where if it looks stupid, but it yields positive results, then it is not stupid.

The view from ground level is a little more involved. There are several vineyard passes required to make this happen and all of this work has to be completed before the soil moisture in the top 6 to 10 inches of soil is gone for the year, as there is typically very little rainfall after the end of April. Ernie has 3 tractors, all Italians, and once you can get them started, they can affect significant change. And that brings us to the implements:

First we have the flail mower. It is accurate to say Ernie begins each growing season flailing out in the vineyard. Every other row contains the nitrogen fixing and soil holding fall cover crop that has grown all winter fixing nitrogen right out of the air. The flail mower chops these plants into digestible pieces for the soil.

Yes, it is true. We are growing plants to feed our vines. The alternate approach is applying chemical fertilizers. And when you see a vineyard that has permanent grass in all the rows, it makes you wonder how they are feeding their vines.

Next on the scene is the chisel plow. This is an old school implement whose purpose is to open up and aerate our sedimentary soils and break up any compaction from the tractor tires. Our soil type is Bellpine, a sandy clay loam. After years of experience and countless rototiller tines, Ernie has discovered the rototiller tines live much longer and more productive lives if he opens the soil with a chisel plow first.

And speaking of the rototiller, its main purpose is to lay down a beautiful seedbed for the nitrogen fixing and soil sipping spring cover crop blend. The rototiller also helps seal in the soil moisture. By fluffing the top 4 to 6 inches of soil, it breaks the capillary action of water and prevents the transpiration of soil moisture from the vineyard floor to the atmosphere.

Man that looks nice!

The last pass, and the one that you need to get done just before spring visits its last drizzle of rain upon you, is drilling the water sipping and nitrogen fixing spring cover crop of buckwheat and vetch.

The Schmeiser seed drill is just about as a precision instrument as you will find in the vineyard. Each drill consists of two disc blades to open a furrow and drop seeds at a predetermined rate and then a follower wheel to press it down into the moist soil. You know when that pass is complete as it looks like the rows have been combed. And then Ernie does the rain dance out by block 2 and hopes for germination!

This bi-annual process begins again in late September when the soil sipping and nitrogen fixing spring cover crop is incorporated into the soil and the nitrogen fixing and soil holding fall cover crop takes its place. While they look like dead trunks sticking out of the ground, the vines’ roots are taking up nutrients all winter long with the help of their little friends, the Mycorrhiza.

The month of May is the advanced class of canopy management. Getting those shoots to grow straight up through the trellis is accomplished with hand labor, and a lot of it. Ernie designed his trellis with three sets of moveable wires to catch the explosive spring growth.

The goal here is separation of the clusters to allow for good air circulation and sun exposure that will allow hang time into the fall rains without risk of mildew or bunch rot. If they start to rot before you want to harvest, you have to accept the fact that they are not ripe, but with the rot they are only going to get worse. That is why canopy management in May is oh, so important.

June brings us Dena’s birthday bouquet in the form of a gazillion Pinot Noir flowers adorned with bits of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Syrah, Viognier and 24 vines worth of Gewürztraminer. The vineyard is pungent with the heady scent of pollination. Add 105 days and that gives us an approximate harvest window. No more rain dancing now until after harvest.

July is hedging season. Ernie mounts the Collard hedger on the front of the tractor and takes those unruly vines to task. Cold years require a tall canopy to maximize leaf exposure to ripen our wine. Hot years, like the past two growing seasons, have Ernie dialing down the leaf exposure to slow down sugar accumulation that gives us more hang time into October to develop aroma and flavor on the vine. Early harvests, and the resulting pre-mature fermentation, are typically the result of weak canopy management discipline.

August is when we start to see the little green berries start to blaze “en flagrante!” It is also the time we estimate our crop load and start thinning excess clusters off the vine. “Survivor: Vineyard Edition” so to speak… And of course, this also includes the late to ripen wings. After all of this work, we don’t need unripe flavors from the wings showing up in the wine because we cut corners. No sir, that’s why our labels are square.

September is the “hurry up and wait” phase of winegrowing, usually. The canopy has stopped growing, the crop load is set, the nets are up and the bets are down. We know the flocks of marauding birds, just like the rain, are due anytime now. Nothing but risk as far as the eye can see. So we go to the top of our perfectly positioned hill, take in the expanse of 60 to 70 tons of wine on the vine and marvel in the gift Mother Nature has bestowed upon us.

It is going to happen in October, you can count on it. Maybe we start in the first week or maybe the week before and it goes right on through to November when we bring the Syrah and Viognier home. The Great Cluster Pluck is the culmination of all the decisions and weather events that shape the idiom of each vintage. And while it is true that we harvest all of our fruit by hand, we go to great lengths not to “bucket up.”

The numbers. For those of you just joining us for the 2016 FLOGGING, this is the part of the communiqué where we tell you what just happened, with perfect accuracy, whether you knew it or not.

Degree days, aka heat accumulation, is the way that humans try and understand what the vines are experiencing during the growing season. A growing season at Amalie Robert Estate in the Willamette Valley with around 2,000 degree days is a pretty moderate vintage. Below that mark we typically see wines defined by elegance and brilliant acidity. Above 2,000 degree days we see more expansive wines of great depth and character. And in Oregon we vacillate to both ends of these extremes frequently. This is nice as it gives people the opportunity to discuss the ying and yang of each uniquely Oregon vintage. Something for everyone, you could say.

We come up with these numbers by taking a temperature reading in the vineyard every 12 minutes. At the end of the period, we average those readings and deduct 50 degrees, because below 50 degrees it is too cold for the vine to get much done. We then multiply the average by the number of days in the period. That results in the degree days for that period, typically one month at a time. We accumulate those degree days from April 1st through harvest, or October 30th, whichever comes first. Next month we will explain tractor gearing vis-à-vis ground speed as measured in furlongs per fortnight. This graph depicts the historical degree days specific to Amalie Robert Estate. Note: your mileage may vary:

For the month of April, we accumulated 165 degree days. The high temperature was 88.9 degrees on April 19th and the low temperature was 37.8 degrees on April 4th.  Once again we see a warm start to the growing season, but at this point on the calendar anything could happen, and most likely will.

We will be keeping a keen eye on nighttime temperatures again this year. The 2014 and 2015 vintages saw elevated nighttime temperatures and that was the catalyst that brought early ripening as defined by sugar accumulation. Sugar accumulation is typically a response to heat in the vineyard – the warmer it is, the faster the berries accumulate sugar.

Warm nighttime temperatures are sneaky because the daytime temperatures may not be that hot, but the vines continue ripening the fruit all night long because it is (well) above 50 degrees. And this is relevant because once the berries accumulate 25 brix worth of sugar (15% alcohol), you gotta pick them otherwise the yeast will die before completing fermentation leaving you with a “stickie” Pinot Noir.

Rainfall was perfectly timed to germinate the cover crop with a total of 1.57 inches for the month of April providing a year to date total of 24.34 inches. The year to date number is important because we are dry farmers. We believe the irrigation program is far too important to leave to modern man, so we trust Mother Nature to get it right. However, we always like to start the growing season with the soil fully charged with water.

Please consider joining us at the winery for our Pre-Memorial Day weekend. This event is open to our e-mail list only and is not otherwise publicized. We will be showing, among other things, some of Ernie’s Unicorn wines. Dena will be sending out the details shortly. Not to be missed…

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Friday, April 22, 2016

Amalie Robert Estate: 2016 Spring Cellar Report "Factotums ad Infinitum"

Hello and welcome to the vast array of Spring toiling that is Amalie Robert Estate. While this Spring missive typically deals entirely with subterranean diurnal activities, we will be delving deep into the breadth and depth of toiling required to keep diesel in the tractors. Please be aware, there may very well be some meandering and not everything is as it appears, certainly not linear. Specious is a fairly well befitted adjective to describe the fully vertically-integrated wine industry, such that it is an industry.

Well, you reap what you sow, and in the world of wine, that means planting grafted vines that you ordered (and paid for) the previous year. Sometimes, you can get “lucky” and there are grafted vines available on the “spot market” the same year you want to plant them (please refer to the law of “supply and demand” for pricing.) These are typically over-runs of vines when a nursery happened to have fewer “exceptions” in the grafting process than they anticipated. On the rare occasion, as is one equal to the frequency of winning the lottery, a nursery will have available the exact wine variety and clone grafted onto the exact rootstock that you are looking for. Planting on principle is a costly and time intensive endeavor.

This is why Ernie has his own rootstock block – nobody ever has any extra of what he is looking for because nobody else seems to grow it. The road less travelled is an altruistic concept, and a befitting one, but Dena simply says, “When I first met Ernie it was clear right off the bat, he didn’t run with the traffic. It almost got him killed in Ireland until he learned how to look on the “left” side of the road for the oncoming bus.” Of course their idea of a highway is called the “Dual Carriageway” and that should also tell you something.

Once you have placed your order, paid your money and waited about a year, your vines (or a portion of them) may, or may not, be ready. Some of you reading this may recall sending in two box tops and a dollar to cover postage and handling. Ordering vines is the adult, agrarian version of this toil. You pay your money and you take your chances.

When the much anticipated nursery truck shows up, you take their manifest and compare it to your order, or at Amalie Robert Estate we use the ubiquitous “Control Sheet.” Despite your best laid plans, this is when you find out what in fact you will be planting on that wonderfully manicured, perfectly positioned “Last Best Place to Grow Pinot Noir ™” hillside.

You point out to the driver the fact that the manifest of vines does not match your order. By the look he gives you, it is clear he has been in this position before. “Ah yeah, so you want for me to put these vines back in the truck, or do you want to go and plant that hillside?” So Ernie took those vines, along with the invaluable lesson he just learned, and planted his own rootstock block so that he was never again put in that unenviable position.

The hardest part about planting vines is everything, like preparing that old cherry orchard to accept vines and then getting the aforementioned correct vines. Then there is layout. This is the never-ending process of getting straight AND parallel lines over the top of a surface that more resembles the topography of your fist than a flat plane. You rely on a 400’ aircraft cable pulled as tight as you can muster and popsicle sticks placed in the uneven soil every 4’ apart. Yeah, Ernie packs them in tight. Then we move over 7.5’ and do it again – 1,452 vines per 43,560 square feet (that’s an acre, folks.) The vineyard is currently 129 rows wide, and still going… Sometimes we can see each other at the end of the rows, and sometimes there is a rise between us. If you wonder where the complexity in our wines comes from, we can tell you it literally starts in the field.

Ernie performs QC with the tractor. That first run through all the rows will reveal just how straight and parallel they are. The tractor rows are 90” wide and the widest tractor Ernie drives is on tracks - at 68” wide. In the “epic fail” scenario, the rows hourglass to the point where the tractor will not pass. Double, double toil and trouble…

But in the ground those plants go, usually during the wind and the rain. This makes for a nice day of toiling. As a dry farmed Estate, we have learned how to plant water with our vines. We use a substance that absorbs water during the rainy season and then releases it to the vines throughout the dry growing season. Watering vines is simply a toil we cannot stand in the least.

Bottling is another way we toil away the New Year. Nearly every bottle of Amalie Robert Estate wine will reveal both Dena’s and Ernie’s fingerprints. We are the factotums - bottling team edition. No fancy bottling truck and “rent-a-crew” here. Oh no, can’t have that. The bottling trucks can do well in excess of the 50 cases an hour we can handle. Ernie fills them two at a time, and Dena squeezes in that 75 cent piece of tree bark, under vacuum, of course. And all of our bottles are shipped with a free cork, which is not always the case with the “rent-a-crew.” “Hey, do you have any more corks? This thing is empty…” But they still look nice with the foil covering the void.

Once the wine has rested comfortably on its cork through the bottle shock phase Dena will order labels. While not as arduous and time consuming of a process as ordering vines, the art department can, and often does, see things differently than you would like. The result is toiling over seemingly endless revisions. You can’t sell a wine without a label, and that is when Fedex “Same Day” service can help, aka Fedex EMERGENCY.

Another seemingly endless toil is labeling and foiling. With the help of a small air compressor and a 220 volt motor, Ernie can apply labels and foils at a rate of about 35 cases per hour. Note:  He does not differentiate between red and white wine. Stack them on a pallet 14 cases per layer and 4 layers later, well that’s a 56 case pallet of wine. Whew, time for a Dog-nose beer! (Cold and wet.)

And then there are wine sales. While we do our best to present a professional image in the marketplace, by the third afternoon things can get a little loose. As is the case in this brief exchange - picture this:

Ernie was sitting at a restaurant bar counter with a tall glass of ice water. The restaurant’s wine buyer had not yet come down from a meeting and the distribution representative who was selling our wine that day (let’s just call him Mike) had run off to the restroom. When Mike returned, the barman asked Mike if wanted anything to drink while we waited.

Mike said “Sure, I’ll just have what Ernie is having.”

“Well Mike,” Ernie informed him, “That’s an awful lot of vodka for someone your size.”

Blending is by far and away the most engaging toil we perform. It is not nearly as cerebral as people might think. We believe wine is a luxury product that should provide you pleasure, and we approach it as such both personally and professionally.

I could toil away the hours, conferrin' with the flowers
Consultin' with the rain.
And my head I'd be scratchin' while
my thoughts were busy hatchin'
If I only had a brain.

Why just last month we had two Pommard Clone blends we were evaluating. At just two barrels each, not only were they hard to find among the 500 barrels of pure magic we have lurking in the cellar, but both blends were equally stunning. They both displayed the three halves of Pinot Noir, and were great on their own and with dinner, but which blend to choose? After that first blending trial it was clear, we were in for a considerable and extended toil.

We finally chose a blend, albeit after significant toiling. Note: Dena is a whole lot better at “rock-paper-scissors” than she lets on. Typically, a two barrel blend will produce about 50 cases of wine. Well, let’s just say for this blend we will be saving a couple of bucks on glass and corks.

And that leads us right into the growing season. Ernie is just about to strap on a tractor, he has three of them, and get to farmin’! Once again this year, the FLOG will keep you up to date and in good stead with the growing season. As you are enjoying your FLOG, we suggest you “drink ‘em if you got ‘em.” And if you need some, we can help. Just click your red heels together three times and say “Send me some wine, Fedex Emergency!”

If you are not getting FLOG’d, please sign up. If you are getting flogged and would like to receive our FLOG, you can do that too. And be sure to FLOG a friend!

Toiling, we remain, Factotums ad Infinitum,

Dena & Ernie

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2016 Bud Break

Hello and Welcome, 
Here they come! It’s that time of year again – Bud Break. The first intrepid vines to show off some new leaves did so on April 5th, 2016. This is a little later than March 24th, 2015, but closer to the historical average of April 15th. While we need to wait until we see the vines flower before we can predict a harvest date, we can certainly deploy the first stages of the farming plan. 

The vineyard floor is where it all begins with the Spring mow job. All of the prior year shoots have been removed from the trellis wires and placed in the alternating permanent grass rows. Ernie’s first task is to run the flail mower through these rows to chop up the dried canes and mix them with the fresh grass clippings – Browns and Greens.

This begins the nutrient recycle program at Amalie Robert Estate. The soil is the vine’s stomach and every other row represents the “chow line.” The astute reader will notice that by placing the canes in every other row, Ernie only has to drive half the vineyard, saving not only diesel and time, but also a trip to the back cracker. The therapy sessions, however, continue unabated.

And this being a leap year, we also bear witness to the spectacle that is the race for the highest office of the land. Since the citizenry chose leap year for this extravaganza, we are all exposed to an extra day of disturbation surrounding these events. (Yes, this is a word. At least it was in Webster’s 1913 dictionary.)

And the first week of April saw record high temperatures in the Willamette Valley. We are talking about unprecedented heat in the 90 degree range. All we can say is that is quite a bit of hot air making its way into the valley. But the ebbs and flows of farming take it all in stride. At least the mowing tractor started this year, without a new battery.

Prepare to be FLOG’d! Each month, as the growing season unfolds leading up to the great cluster pluck, we will be updating our Farming bLOG (aka FLOG) with pertinent, relevant and somewhat irreverent updates to the 2016 vintage. We are just farmin’ it like it is, so don’t shoot the messenger.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie