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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2016 Harvest After Action Report (AAR)

Hello and Welcome,

This is the 2016 Harvest After Action Report (AAR) from Amalie Robert Estate. Let’s get right to it, then.

 
 

Pinot Noir ready for The Great Cluster Pluck of 2016!

As most of the world is aware the United States held a presidential election in 2016, a leap year. But what you may not be aware of is that while a presidential election occurs every four years, not every presidential election year falls on a leap year. (To everyone who voted in a United States presidential election when it was not a leap year, we salute you!)

The reason is not that farming obvious. This is why we are here, the farming geniuses that we are, to explain the farming significance of these sorts of things. As you know, we farm using the Julian calendar, as do most farmers, where each day is successively numbered and the days in a year total 365 except for the leap year which tallies 366 days. The most important thing to know about a leap year is that you have to work an extra day, usually without extra pay. But each and every year in the fall we get an extra hour, which we bank for harvest.

But the world mostly runs on the Gregorian calendar, which dictates that years marking the end of a century (i.e. multiples of 100) are only leap years if also divisible by 400. The year 1900 was not a leap year, but the year 2000 was. This difference comes from the need to account for the slight rounding error that occurs by counting each year as 365.25 days when it is actually 365.24. Really… And if our orbit around the sun decays, we could be in for more of these leap years. Might we have one for the mid-term elections as well?

By skipping leap years on turns of the century that are not divisible by 400, the Gregorian calendar is able to compensate for the 11 minute loss of accuracy each year. This is an example of where central planning of a calendar provides everyone certainty, while the distributed decision making of daylight savings time keeps everyone guessing. Could daylight savings time be an example of “negotiated reality?”

However, you can make a little extra coin at super trivia with these facts. The presidential elections held in the years 1800 and 1900 were not leap years. The presidential election held in 2000 was a leap year, but the 2100 presidential election will not fall on a leap year. Projections beyond the year 2100 are an exercise left for the reader.

“Why for fifty-three years I've put up with it now…”
- The Grinch on presidential elections.


The Great Cluster Pluck of 2016 commenced on September 23rd, as they always do – in earnest. Once again the rascally little Gewürztraminer was the first grape “in da house.” 2016 was the second year of fruiting and the vines yielded a more sustainable 30 bottle production. As you may recall, the 2015 production amounted to a whopping 9 bottle lot. But then things started to get a bit more serious.

All summer we were seeing a redux of the 2013-2015 vintages – hot and dry. Warm nighttime temperatures again were the norm, and this kept the vines actively ripening their wine berries well into the night when they should have been dormant. That’s their job - responding to their climactic conditions. Our job is to figure out how to farm them, and this year we had the advantage of three years past experience. But three years of experience we did not have. What we had was one year of experience three times.



Vintages that we really cut our teeth on were 2007, 2010 and 2011. These were tough vintages to achieve full ripeness. But we did it by managing the canopy leaf exposure and water usage, adjusting the crop load and using the available soil moisture to the vine roots via the vineyard floor to adjust the ripening curve. When you look in the farming toolbox, those are the tools a dry farmed vineyard has to work with, and maybe some duct tape. So while knowing how and when to employ those tools as well as actually getting the work done on time is important, the thing you must know is when to harvest.



“Well, you have to know these things when you are a king, you know.”


 - King Arthur, as interpreted by Monty Python





First Peasant: Who's that there?
Second Peasant: I don't know... Must be a king.
First Peasant: Why?
Second Peasant: He hasn't got shit all over him.

 - King Arthur seen by his subjects, as interpreted by Monty Python




- But everyone does it a little bit differently, as interpreted by Monty Python





Even if we think we get it right in the vineyard, the true test is pulling a cork 5 to 7+ years after the vintage – leap year or not. We suppose, however, more wine is consumed in leap years than not, especially ones divisible by 400.

But Ceteris Paribus it was not, as 2016 provided a few surprises that we did not have in the three previous years. The foremost was a broken clutch cable on the hedging tractor. Fortunately, Ernie was in the process of completing what would become his last hedging pass, when he pushed the clutch pedal to the floor and it stayed right there on the floor. The tractor, however, kept moving thus providing a sudden sense of urgency and attention to detail focused on arresting forward progress forthwith.

 
The broken clutch cable from the hedging tractor

The hedging tractor in motion – Whoa!

Timing is everything and the field crew was just headed to the barn at the end of their day. With the help of 3 able bodied lads pushing the disabled tractor, Ernie was able to get up enough speed to power shift back to the shop where the tractor would lie in wait for a new clutch cable. Advantage: Vines.


And we earned a 97 point review for The Reserve Pinot Noir. That was new.

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

The vintner’s favorite barrels of the vintage. Whole cluster inclusion and fermentation with feral yeasts. Aged a minimum of 18 months in French oak barrels. Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Exuberant aromas of cherry, wildflower, baking spice and nutty oak. The gorgeous core of black cherry fruit is blessed with supportive, age worthy firm tannins. Flavor notes of exotic spices, vanilla and nutty oak add interest. Long in the mouth and extremely long on the extraordinary finish. A serious, connoisseur's wine that needs time in the cellar for full enjoyment. Even better when tasted several hours later and the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Did I say the finish goes on and on?”

     - William "Rusty" Gaffney, M.D., PinotFile, September 2016 - 97 points


Another significant difference from previous years was that we had a lighter fruit set. That gave us less fruit on the vine to distribute the rapidly accumulating sugars. That fact, combined with the rapidly advancing heat accumulations foretold the story of an impending harvest. But what about the rain, you ask? There’s got to be rain, right?

Apparently, the rain dance manual was revised and Ernie did not get the update. Oh sure, he tried and tried, but the rain we received through mid-September was not enough to hold back the few blocks of young vines we have grafted onto shallow rooting rootstocks. All vines accelerate ripening (aka accumulate sugars) when they run out of available soil moisture in their root zone. Young vines are at a significant disadvantage due to a smaller and shallower root system that has yet to colonize all the available soil profile and extract every last bit of soil moisture.

But wait, there’s more to that story. Once the vines run out of available soil moisture, desiccation sets in and the vines scavenge water from the wine berry. Warm sunny days with warm breezes exacerbate the vines drought condition. From a numbers point of view, the sugars are going up (concentrating) which means the wine berries are ripening. But the acids are going up as well, and that does not mean ripening is advancing. Increased acids along with increased sugars mean the wine berry is losing water to desiccation or the vine is taking it for the leaves. Flavors and aromas are not maturing in a commensurate manner with the sugar accumulation and alcohol potential. When that happens, you gotta pick ‘em. And by then, it’s a full-on cluster pluck.

Now we add in the human factor. There are only so many hands available to pick wine berries on any given day. All the growers whose acreage resides on the same soil type that is farmed pretty much the same way find themselves in a very small available labor pool. While bigger is not necessarily always better, we will go with the bigger labor pool every time. And that paid off handsomely during the last 10 days of our cluster pluck. We had great crews for the very simple fact that no one else was harvesting.

And here is the history lesson for today. Shallow rooted vines such as those grafted onto RG, 101-14, 3309 and Schwarzmann feel the burn before more deeply rooted vines such as those grafted onto 5C. As the north Willamette Valley has always had a marginal climate for Pinot Noir, meaning a cool growing season with fall rains, most growers have tended to plant vines with shallow root systems that will dry out and advance ripening before the ass-end falls out of the vintage. The Drouhins also had a hand in this mentality as they planted shallow rooting rootstocks when they came to Oregon from Burgundy in the 1990s.

As we were planning our vineyard at the turn of the century, Ernie asked Robert Drouhin why they chose the shallow rooting rootstocks that they did, and his reply was, “That’s all we could get.” And the Oregon wine industry mostly followed their lead in rootstock selection. (A parenthetical note: The Drouhins also have irrigation which can extend a hot and dry vintage. Most of the Oregon wine industry does not have irrigation.) Due diligence, you gotta do it…

Ernie with a profile of our sedimentary Bellpine soil  – circa February, 2006

Except Ernie, of course, who planted a significant portion of our vines grafted onto 5C rootstock. Texas born and bred, the 5C rootstock most closely matches how own rooted vines grow in the soil. That drought tolerant rootstock develops root systems that are long, deep and continuously searching for water. That means you will be waiting a bit longer in most vintages to harvest. In warm years this means more hang time for aroma and flavor development with less sugar accumulation that lowers potential alcohols. In cool vintages (2007, 2010 and 2011) those wines are sublime. Love that Bellpine soil!

The first half of September gave us about 0.28 inches of rain. The last half of September is where we started to rekindle a glimmer of hope with 1.55 inches of rain. And then, apparently, Mother Nature got around to Ernie’s improperly formatted requests for rain – all of them. So we then commenced the cluster pluck dance. The second day of October gave us 0.11 inches of rain mostly during the early morning hours. Not too bad and we cluster plucked all day long.

The 2016 Harvest Target Package Map

The third day of October gave us 0.82 inches of rain and we sat that one out. However the vines did not. They were busy rehydrating the wine berries and lowering the alcohol potential of our yet to be picked wines. We sat back and looked over the 60 or so tons left to cluster pluck and thought “If we lived in Dundee, we’d be done by now!” Volcanic soils…. Oh really?





After a few days of cluster plucking, we were right back in the groove just like the movie Groundhog Day. It’s 5:30 am and time for a steaming flagon of Dark Monster morning stimulant. Up to the winery, fire up the Landini (aka landweenie) tractors, check the tires and work the clutch cable – check! The crew (usually) arrives in the predawn glow, and we are ready to go!




Sunrise on the first day of harvest (aka The Great Cluster Pluck of 2016)

First light on the morning of harvest is an awe inspiring experience. Each harvest represents not only a year’s worth of decisions and field work, but also is the culmination of all the efforts a vineyard represents. Deciding vine spacing and clones along with rootstocks, laying out vine rows and then fixing the vine rows to be straight, planting vines, pounding posts, running wires and each year's farming plan represents an enduring physical implementation of an ever evolving mental construct. If you are considering this type of endeavor, may we caution you: Never delegate planning.

We racked up another 0.82 inches of rain to close out the first week of October at 1.64 inches. The vines were responding to the available soil moisture and the berries were rehydrating. The clusters were also starting to soften up which meant it was time to get ‘er done – Right Farmin’ Now! And we had a fairly nice second week to do so with just another 0.08 inches of rain – that’s 1.72 inches, and counting…

It’s just one of those farming things you need to know. An acre inch of water is 27,154 gallons and weighs in at about 113 tons. We have 1,452 vines per acre, so that inch of rain covering a single acre means about 18.7 gallons per vine. So logically, 3.15 inches of rain would mean about 59 gallons of water per vine. That’s how things were looking to start the third week of October.

Chardonnay at first light, ripe and ready to be cluster plucked.

Having lived through the nine inches of rain gifted to us from Typhoon Pabuk in 2013, and making a very scintillating late harvest Botrytis Chardonnay, we decided it was time to take the Chardonnay before that opportunity presented itself again. So we did, first thing in the morning, October 11th when the buckets were clean and then we followed up with the last of the Pinot Noir.

Well let’s see, what’s left? That would be our little acre of Côte Rôtie. We have four clones of Northern Rhône Syrah representing about 1,200 vines with about 300 Viognier vines in the adjacent block. We took those perfectly ripened clusters on Wednesday, October 12th. And that concluded The Great Cluster Pluck of 2016.



However, the rain was not finished with us. Beginning just after we cluster plucked the Syrah and Viognier, the heavens opened and treated us to a wondrous showing of 360 tons of rain on each and every acre! Believe us when we tell you, that’s a lot of farmin’ rain. And there was more, much more to fill out the rest of the month. What a relief to have had the good fortune (aka luck) to cluster pluck all of our fruit and intern it into fermenters and tanks before the torrential rains closed the harvest window.

And now, we present the SPAM (Significant Predetermined Analytical Measurements):

The full rainfall tally for the month of October was 11.02 inches and that represents the second wettest October since records were kept in Oregon. We have only been here since the turn of the century, but it is clear that Ernie is going to get the updated rain dance manual for 2017. Total rainfall for the 2016 growing season was 19.02 inches.

The full month of September degree days totaled 315 bringing the year to date total to 2,137 degree days. Degree days through our last day of harvest on October 12th piled on another 40 for a growing season through harvest total of 2,177 degree days. And while this 2016 degree day accumulation seems innocuous, bear in mind the significant impact of the heat accumulation was felt beginning in July and carried through to September with virtually no meaningful rainfall before harvest.





We now transition from harvest 2016 into renewal for vintage 2017 by pruning the vines and wrapping a cane down on the wire. That cane will sport 12 to 18 shoots that hold the promise of vintage 2017. It’s a big job with over 50,000 vines to prune and tie down, work that is all done by hand. If we are lucky, and good, we will complete this task in mid-March, 2017. Trust us, that’s a lot of hand …  work.

Pinot Noir vines with new spring shoots

Phase I: Pinot Noir vines after the Great Cluster Pluck, just before pruning

Phase II: Pinot Noir vines after pruning and brush pull

Phase III: Pinot Noir vines with canes wrapped on the wire


In this leap year, it is somewhat poignant that the country is also transitioning from one vintage of administration to the next. The most any administration is allowed is 2 vintages. We can only imagine a world in which we would be able to prune the vines just once and get two vintages out of them. Now that would really be something.

And the calls now are to “Drain the swamp!’ Well, we have something to say in that regard: “Been there, done that!”



We took this image from the Lincoln Memorial looking to the Washington Monument and you can plainly see the reflecting pool is drained. It’s no small thing, it’s Yuuge!



Of course after we left it got filled up again, but that was not our doing.

And that’s how the way it was: The Great Cluster Pluck of 2016.



Until we farm again, stewards of the land and fermenters of Pinot Noir, we remain.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

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