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

Friday, September 16, 2016

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: Special Edition 2016 Mid-September

Hello and Welcome,

This is a Special Edition Mid-September Climate Update.

It used to be that October was the month we needed for Mother Nature to put the finishing touches on the vintage. Patiently, or not, we waited those last few weeks for sun, wind and drizzle to add character to the aroma and flavor of our wines. Well, that month has now become September.

In a year like 2016 (and 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012,) the harvest decisions, while celebrated as highly deliberative and cerebral, really come down to this: “How much longer can we afford to leave the wine berries out there before the sugars are too high?” And the answer to that question is the summation of the type of rootstock used, the age of the vine, the crop load, the depth of soil and the available soil moisture. And while most of those decisions were made when the land was purchased and planted (and the climate somewhat cooler,) the remainder has to do with how the vineyard has been farmed for vintage 2016.

So we focus on what we have in front of us, while keeping the history of the vineyard we planted as our touchstone. And what we see right in front of us is RAIN! That’s right, we have rain for the weekend! It’s just like living back in Seattle, or Ireland, or London. And since canopy management is our mantra, we can afford to have a little moisture rehydrate the soil, reactivate the soil microbes for a little nutrient exchange and in turn hydrate our vines and fruit without concern of rot compromising our wine. So, the call is for rain (See the bottom graph.) We say, “Bring It On! RIGHT FARMING NOW!"

Rain will help rehydrate the wine berries and lower the concentration of sugars - fructose and glucose. That will allow us to hang a little longer to achieve those character building aromas and flavors in our wine berries. And then, and only then, shall we commence THE GREAT CLUSTER PLUCK OF 2016!

But to be fair, we have started harvest a little early, the farming geniuses that we are. Just like the new fangled ritual of early voting by mail instead of waiting in line on the big day. And what we have been harvesting are the late to ripen wings for the Bellpine Pearl. We left the wings on until the last possible moment again this year. While ripe in their own particular idiom, they are not what we want in the fermenters. So we harvest these little knobs, gently press the pale juice from them and make our Blanc de Noir – Bellpine Pearl – Sans gas…

For the first half of September the numbers are small, so we will do this quickly. We have accumulated 170 degree days for the first 15 days of September 2016, yielding a less than expected vintage to date 1,992 degree days. By comparison, we had logged 168 degree days for the fist half of September in 2015 for a growing season to date total of 2,165 degree days. Ceteris Paribus, or so it would seem.

There was no measurable rainfall for the first half of September. But that is about to change.

Kindest Regards,

Dena Drews
VP Sales and Editor in Chief

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2016 July-August

Hello and Welcome,

This is the July-August Climate Update from Amalie Robert Estate (a twofer.)

After a whirlwind April, May and June, the months of July and August gave us a much needed respite. From the heat mind you, not the work. The work continued unabated to meet a compressed growing season timetable. The hand work of putting up miles and miles of catch-wires and clipping them into place preceded the tractor mounted hedging work that allows for the hand work of plucking a few leaves to provide perfect sun exposure to our wine, which happens to still be in berry form at this particular moment.

“You don’t have to be crazy to grow Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, but it helps.” - Ernie Pink referring to vintage 2016

As you read this stream of consciousness, the first day of harvest is rapidly approaching. And from the looks of things it will be from the humans not the birds. Although, it is quite assured that they will find their way into a few clusters before the last chapter on this vintage is written. But as Darwin would point out, only the fittest survive. What he did not elaborate upon was his definition of fittest. (At Ernie’s former employer, it was well understood that it was better to be lucky, than good.)

We employ electronic bird callers to attract raptors of all kinds. These bird callers let the local aviary know this is where the action is. It is a common sight during harvest, and the few weeks preceding, to see various and assorted falcons and hawks cruising the vineyard. The fruit eating robins and starlings not so much, but there are daredevils in any species.

Which brings us right up to the fall weather decline of the yellow jacket. These little earth dwelling blighters are not so much of a problem early in the morning when it is cool. But leave a tote bin of wine berries out in the afternoon sun, and it is a whole different ball game. They know their time is coming to an end, and they have no fear. We are ready for them. We have yellow jacket traps baited with salmon fins and skins that we get from our local fish monger. Add a little sunshine and whew, that smells good! They prefer protein over sugar, so we oblige them.

We know what you are thinking: Once you catch a whole mess of yellow jackets how do you prepare them, and more importantly, what wine do you serve?

It may seem as if we meander somewhat aimlessly, unburdened by reality as it were, but to be clear, we meander with a purpose.

The most important thing to remember about harvest, from the human point of view, is that those grapes are not yours until you get them safely into the winery converting sugar into alcohol in a microbially stable and leak proof vessel. Yeah, it’s a long way to the top if you got some grapes to haul…

July and August, while providing some heat spikes, were fairly temperate and provided a downward shift in trajectory from the first half of the growing season. Why it even rained in both July and August! Not as much as Burgundy, of course, and we missed out on the summer hail, which is always nice.

We recorded 0.69 inches of rain for July and 0.36 inches for August for an April to date growing season total of 6.29 inches. Burgundy will average about 2.5 inches of rain in both July and August. Rain during the summer months, and the resulting humidity, can present the winegrower with mildew and bunch rot challenges.

Lackluster canopy management and ill timed rains can add up to acres of compromised fruit. Factor in the fact that we leave more leaves in the fruit zone to provide shade to temper our tannins and canopy management becomes more of a religion than just a good idea.

The last act of farming before harvest is thinning. This is the act of trimming off a portion of the crop. It is done for a variety of reasons including: A) to meet contractual tons per acre requirements, B) to remove excess crop that has no chance of ripening, especially in a cool to cold vintage, and C) to remove whatever you do not want to end up in the fermenter.

Let’s talk about C. We always clip off the wings before harvest. The wing is a fruiting tendril that fruits about a week after the adjacent main cluster and, ergo, ripens after the main cluster. However we have found a home for a portion of these Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir wings in the Bellpine Pearl Blanc de Noir.

The other thinning targets are short shoots that did not make it to the top of the canopy. Not enough leaves to ripen those clusters, so off they go. Sometimes the vine likes to show off and sport 3 clusters on a singe shoot while all of the other shoots just have 2 clusters. Well, 3 is a crowd and that top cluster will always ripen last, if at all, so off it goes. And sometimes we see a bunch of green berries on a cluster when all of the other clusters have fully turned color. Maybe it didn’t get the memo or just lost track of the days. We have no way of knowing, but we do know that is not something we want in the fermenter. Adios.

Thinning is also a way to influence hang time. Hang time is the time the wine berries need at the end of the season to develop aroma and flavor. The later you thin, the slower the sugars will build and the more hang time you will have. While hang time is generally a good time, you are also developing, or overdeveloping, tannin from the skins. We know we want hang time, but we also know we don’t care for excessive tannins and that is one reason we leave a few extra leaves to keep our Pinot’s elegant. The Syrah, however, is another matter.

And in a vintage like this one we are looking for hang time, but watchful for excessive sugar concentration from desiccation. Desiccation happens when water leaves the wine berry resulting in more concentration of sugar, but not more aroma and flavor development. Desiccation can happen when the vine can’t get enough water from the soil, so it takes it from the wine berry. It can also happen when we experience warm and dry breezes from the east under sunny blue skies. This last condition will also ratchet up tannin (over) development.

As a dry farmed vineyard we don’t pray for miracles, we depend on them. And the miracle we are depending on again this year is a little September rainfall, like in the 1 to 2 inch category. It has happened every year since the warm to hot vintages began in 2012. But like a certain adult recreational activity, you can never really be sure when you are going to get it, how much you are going to get or just how long it is going to last. In fact, premature fermentation appears to be a problem again this year. Not at Amalie Robert Estate of course, but it is out there.

And with that, we will do the numbers.

July is when we started to notice Mother Nature was losing her grip on the throttles. The high temperature for the month was 96.4 and the low temperature was 44.4 degrees Fahrenheit providing a total of 478.05 degree days for July, and a growing season to date total of 1,283. Throw in the sixty-nine hundredths of precipitation and that’s the story, morning glory.

August continued July’s trend, but had a cold snap where Ernie actually built a fire. Ok, it was just a bunch of empty wine boxes, but we still had combustion. The high temperature for the month was 102.4 and the low temperature was 43.4 degrees Fahrenheit providing a total of 538.7 degree days for August, and a growing season to date total of 1,822. Precipitation was 0.36 inches, and is significant in that August is typically dry, Pierre.

So, here we are at the end of August sitting at 1,822 degree days. In retrospect it feels like 2009 where we had an early start to the season, but a moderate summer and cool fall. Or as Ernie recently opined, “It looks like the ass-end is falling out of this vintage.” He’s not really cut out for “prime time.”

If it has been a while, you may want to check out a 2009 Oregon Pinot Noir. That vintage could be coming around again. If you don’t have any, we do. In fact, we have the highest rated 2009 Oregon Pinot Noir - “The Reserve” according to those fine folks over @VinousMedia.

For reference, 2016 ended June with 805 degree days, and was the hottest growing season on record. Now we sit between the 2014 and 2013 vintage. Here are the degree day accumulations through August for the past 4 vintages: 2015: 1,997, 2014: 1,886; 2013: 1,737 and that climatically transitional vintage 2012: 1,474 degree days, which took us from the frigid 2010-2011 vintages to the hotter than Georgia asphalt years. Yowza! What a peach!

And, as we pointed out, there will be September rain, but the when, how much and length of such a tryst is TBD. It will most certainly be a localized event. Your mileage may vary.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

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