Introduction

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!

Rusty

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

- Rusty Gaffney, PinotFile - September 2016

Josh

"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

David

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

- David Schildknecht, The Wine Advocate - October 2013

Wine & Spirits

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

- Luke Sykora, Wine & Spirits Magazine – September 2011

Copyright

© 2005 – 2017 Amalie Robert Estate, LLC

Friday, June 30, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2017 June

Hello and Welcome,

This is the Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update for June 2017.

But let's start with an update from the press room. Wine Enthusiast Magazine, October 2017 issue:

2015 Her Silhouette Chardonnay – 91 points, Editors’ Choice
2016 Pinot in Pink Rosé – 90 points, Editors’ Choice

We dedicate this June climate update to the birds, the bugs and the weeds. Wine berries are self pollinating, so we will leave the bees out for this go ‘round. And we will introduce you to our two pet deer – Hanz and Franz. Hanz is the one with the big ears.


Just like people, there are two kinds of bugs - good bugs and bad bugs. Bad bugs survive from eating parts of our grapevines. During the winter, these bugs can bore into the dormant vine and literally eat what would have become next year’s fruit. When all the other vines are waking up and growing wonderfully healthy green shoots and leaves, the victimized vine has stunted and damaged shoots if any shoots at all. In the plant world, this would be known as a “rude awakening.”

Then there are the bugs that feed off the leaves, draining the vine of its essential vascular fluids. This is no way to live. And let’s not forget the jolly little blighters at harvest time that want to eat the wine berries just before they are cluster plucked and sting anyone who gets near them. These bastards simply must go!

Good bugs are the bugs that eat the bad bugs. There are all manner of good bugs, including spiders that make up the front line of defense for the vines. They are out there every day engaged in mortal combat with the sole purpose of protecting the vines that grow our wines. We love these guys, and gals! And the next time you see a ladybug, just remember there are more than just a few notches on her lipstick case.

In the hopeful event that all of the bad bugs have been vanquished by the good bugs, the good bugs still need to eat. And that is where the weeds come in, “cover crop” to the trained eye, but we can go with “specialized weeds” for now. The most vital thing that these specialized weeds can do is flower. Because when these cover crops flower, they produce pollen. And from a good bug point of view pollen is protein. So logically, when the good bugs can’t find any bad bug protein to eat, they can tide themselves over on some Buckwheat and Vetch pollen. And thus each summer we sustain the 24 by 7, 365 day protection for our vines.


And let’s spend just a minute on our insectary. An insectary is a place to propagate bugs. There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to set aside a plot of land and plant certain flora to attract the bugs you want. The idea is that those bugs will then go forth into the vineyard and do your bidding against those nasty bad bugs. Or, you could do it the Ernie way, which takes longer and costs more money.

The Ernie way involves planting our insectary right in the vineyard. Every other row is planted to season specific cover crops in the spring and fall that foster populations of good bugs. And since they are right in the vineyard, they don’t have far to go to find the bad bugs to sustain them. That and there are places to hide, pollen to eat and the opportunity to propagate even more good bugs. Honey bees like pollen too, and it is nice to encourage their populations as well. And get this – our insectary covers about 17.5 acres. Technically speaking, that’s a lotta bugs. But wait there’s more! The cover crops get tilled into the soil to feed our vines in the spring and the fall. The Ernie way - maybe he is onto something here after all…

And now on to the birds. Once again, we see two distinct categories of bird - the good birds and bad birds. Bad birds are the ones that are out in the vineyard carrying away this year’s harvest. When it’s bad, it’s very, very bad. In 2011 we estimate about 5 tons, or 300 cases of wine just up and flew out of the vineyard. Being the farming geniuses that we are, we have learned how to net our perfect little Pinot Noir clusters and deny the ravenous air assault our precious bounty. But we also encourage a little proactive assault of our own.

The first specimen of good birds we want to encourage are the insect eating variety. The barn swallow and greenback swallow nest in different habitats but we have them both out on daily patrols during the summer. The fly like mini F-16’s and are always around a moving tractor that creates a “target rich environment.” Sayonara Mr. Yellowjacket!

And lastly, we have the raptors – Good birds that eat bad birds. When the bad birds are getting out of hand, we call in for air support. We go from Kestrels to Sharp Shinned Hawks to some relation of the Peregrine Falcon that is so fast we never get a good look at them and finally the majestic Redtail Hawks. The fact that the wild cherry trees still have ripe cherries on them is an indicator that this is working just fine. And the cherries are really, really good!

Ok, so to put that in a nutshell, we had a very good germination of cover crop, our vines are healthy and we haven’t been bothered by birds or bugs. But, we have been fighting the explosive farming growth in the canopy and are behind in harnessing that growth with our 3 sets of catch wires. As a farmer if you are not complaining about something, then you obviously have no idea what is going on.


Catch wires and the hedger are the way we shift the vine from a vegetative state to a ripening state. Vines are in fact vines and they are first and foremost climbers. If left unchecked they could grow 30 foot shoots. This is the vegetative state – growing long, climbing shoots and leaves to support that growth. Their objective is to grow into a sunny spot so that they can ripen their seeds and reproduce. Flora or fauna, we all seem to be after the same thing…

The roots however are in a deep state, and you can learn all about that by watching the circus that is the modern day media.

Right, we need about 5 feet worth of growth. So as the shoots grow, we try and keep pace by putting up the first catch wire at about 8 inches of growth, the second at about 30 inches of growth and then we top out the trellis at 42 inches of growth. The hedger is then set to a maximum height to remove any growth above 60 inches.


What we want is a canopy that is no taller than 90 inches so that we maximize sunlight collection in our solar array, also known as the canopy. We have 60 inches of leafy green canopy that starts at 30 inches above the vineyard floor and that gets us to 90 inches. The hedger makes sure of that.


And here is why: Our rows are 90 inches apart – exactly (Note: Exactly is a relative term when used in farming parlance.) So any shorter and we are not catching all the light we can and any taller we would be shading the next row.


The clusters of wine berries hang somewhere about 36 to 42 inches off the vineyard floor. Right where Hanz and Franz can find them. Now, trust us we have tried to liberate them from our farm, but they will have none of it. One day they are out, and then the next day they are back as if transported by the Enterprise herself. So, we have agreed to adopt them. They are both young bucks and their antlers are still in velvet. They look very cute as they munch on a shoot that eluded the near certain cut of the hedger.




Once the wires are up and the hedger has made its first pass, the season is about half over. We will hedge again, probably twice, and then assess the amount of fruit Mother Nature has bestowed upon us. Of course we have ordered barrels for the new vintage, but really don’t know if we will have the right amount until October…

The next thought process involves determining what the second half of the season will bring and how much fruit we will leave on the vine. If we leave too much, we can’t ripen it all. Leave too little and it will ripen too fast with high alcohol and little aroma or flavor. And then there are the fall rains to ponder. This is usually done over a period of several days and often results in a nap, or an Adult Recreational Beverage (ARB.)

So after much ado, here is what the first half of the growing season looks like. The vines are not as far along as the last few vintages due to cooler temperatures, but unfortunately we are no farther ahead in arresting their growth. While this is an unfortunate set of circumstances, it is not uncommon. It is farming.

We recorded 334.9 degree days for the month of June, providing a vintage to date total of 560.5     degree days. Our high temperature was 99.3 degrees and our low temperature was 44.4 degrees Fahrenheit. We received no measurable rainfall during June.

Comparatively speaking, the 2016 vintage recorded 363.1 degree days for a vintage to date total of a blistering 805.1 degree days.


Future Note: The vineyard will experience a full eclipse on August 21, 2017. This seems to have the humans in a dither, but we are confident that Hanz, Franz and the vines will pull through just fine. Maybe we will have a “Full Eclipse” bottling this year, where the artwork will be black on black.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2017 Flowers

Hello and Welcome, 

As the spring and fall like weather continued to vacillate before the first day of summer arrived on June 20th, we had some intrepid little Chardonnay flowers emerge on Sunday, June 11th – alone and unafraid. 

And then the weather got really bad, as in, “Why The Farm is this inch of rain falling out of the sky in mid-June?” Cool temperatures and gusty winds are, of course, obligatory and they make the field work of putting up catch wires just about as miserable an experience as anyone could ask for.

But the Pommard clone Pinot Noir was holding tight. As in, “Are you farming crazy? We are not going to start blooming in this weather!” And so they waited, but they too have a schedule to keep and so they began to bloom at the transition to nicer weather on June 16th. Somewhat of a fair weather clone, it would seem.


So there, it is. We take mid-June (Julian calendar day 166) and add 105 days to wine berry maturation (more or less) and a harvest window appears in the not too distant future on September 28th (Julian calendar day 271.) We use the Julian calendar for calculating farming dates for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it is easy math and we don’t have that many fingers and toes between us.



While this may (or may not) be the most exciting news you are likely to read today, please note there are a few keen observers of this event who are counting down the days.





Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2017 May

Hello and Welcome, 

This is the Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update for May 2017. 

Hurry up and wait and then get ‘er done “Right Farmin’ Now” so you can wait some more seems to be the way forward this May. And in fact, that is just what we did to get the vineyard floor set with the most exquisite carpet of fully germinated cover crop - EVER. Oh, you should see what it looks like from out here! 

After a very wet spring, a few days of clear blue sky found Ernie clanking up and down the rows with his (somewhat) trusty (though quite finicky) Italian steed with chisel plow in tow. Opening up the soil with the sun and the breeze on your face is a unique farming experience as was the sun and wind burn he was sporting the next several days. Yeah he was beaming, quite literally.

 Click the image above for a few seconds with Ernie. He's out there all day.
Click the image above for a few seconds with Ernie. He's out there all day.



Then it was time for a quick-change from the chisel plow to the rototiller and we wait for another nice day or two to fluff the soil to make a comfy-cozy seed bed for the third pass of our cover crop regime. And the third pass is with the Schmeiser seed drill that puts down about 30 pounds of seed per acre spaced about 3 inches apart in eight equally spaced furrows. And then like all farmers, everywhere, we wait for rain. It is the faith in near term measurable precipitation that that binds us together as a community of the faithful. And two days later, our faith was renewed with about an inch of rain.



It is quite a thing to behold, to see all those estate grown quail out there eating a seed every three inches. And that’s OK, because just before harvest we always thin off some “wings” and that is when they will get theirs. You know, Ernie didn’t get invited to try out for the Olympic shooting team based on his good looks alone.

Of course not everyone feeds their vines with cover crops, but they should. And if they don’t use cover crops, they have to use chemical fertilizers or small to medium sized farm animals – but what do you feed them? You get the idea. Be a steward of the land and feed the soils that feed your vines, or don’t. The next time you make it out into wine country, look around then ask – What are you feeding your vines? The vines know the difference and they will tell on you in the quality of the fruit they produce. In the real world this is akin to “No Coffee, No Workee.”

And then the vines, once they started to bud out, needed to be cleaned up a bit. Often times there are just too many shoots that emerge along the cane and some of them, well, they need to thinned off. Not really their fault, just growing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Along the fruiting wire we like to see a shoot every 4 inches or so. Any closer than that and there is not enough room for what will become a quarter pound worth of an oh-so-spectacular Pinot Noir cluster. Make a hole, as they say in the submariner’s handbook.

Those clusters need to be separated and spaced in the canopy to allow light penetration and good air circulation to fend off against mildew and bunch rot. And on rare occasions, when the moon is just right, the sock monster gets loose from the laundry room… We shudder at the thought.

And we also see some shoots trying to grow out of the graft union that is just about 3 inches off the ground. Yeah, that means about 1,452 deep knee bends per acre. That’s farming, not for the faint of heart or weak of knee.

Then the vines are set – for that particular moment. Much like when the piston hits Top Dead Center of the combustion stroke - it lasts only for an instant. Next up we will be running wires to contain all of the growth that has been focused into these 12 to 14 shoots that we left on the cane. We imagine with all the currently available soil moisture and a few days of summer temperatures, we are going to get quite busy for quite some time.

Here is the math (You can go ahead and wrap your head in duct tape at anytime if you fear it might explode):

Each acre of vines at Amalie Robert Estate is the equivalent of 5,808 lineal feet of canopy if we were to put each row end to end. This is an exercise left for the reader, as we are not going to go and do that for this illustration. And since we have about 35 acres of vines that means we have about 203,280 lineal feet of canopy to manage. Now that is kind of a big number, so let’s convert that to miles. How about 38.5 miles? That is about the average commute these days. That’s better, easier to grasp. And besides, that duct tape was starting to get tight.

But we run wires on both sides of the canopy to catch the shoots in the trellis. So, 38.5 miles of canopy requires 77 miles of wires and enough hands to tuck each and every shoot into its rightful place in the canopy. And then here is the kicker - we run three sets of wires. So this is how 38.5 miles of canopy magically turns into 231 miles of wires to control and manage the canopy at Amalie Robert Estate. (We really shudder at that thought.)

Right. While the duct tape is still in place, let’s run the numbers for May. Then you can get cleaned up and comb your hair back into place before anyone notices the swelling.

The month of May logged 224.3 degree days, with a high temperature of 90.1 and a low temperature of 36.3 degrees Fahrenheit. This brings the growing season to date total from April 1 through May 31 to 225.6 degree days.


The 2017 vintage marks a significant shift to the cool side from the 2016 vintage where May recorded 277 degree days for a growing season to date total of 441.9 degree days. While the data supports no conclusions as of yet, we may be witnessing a return to cool climate viticulture circa 2005 and 2007. If only…

We have had plenty of liquid sunshine so far this year, and the month of May added another 1.23 inches. That’s nice and also very good for the new vines to help establish their root systems. And the cover crop is just growing like the little weeds they are! On the other hand, Ernie has been watching the grass grow out of control. As the sole tractor driver, he also gets to cut the grass. He always remarks on how much grass he has to mow in order to make wine. It just boggles his brain!


Kindest Regards,


Dena & Ernie

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2017 April

Hello and Welcome, 

This is the Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2017 April. 

Well, let’s see, where to begin. It’s been raining. In fact we have received over 50 inches of rain from last October through March, 2017. That is a significant event due to the fact we “normally” receive that amount of rain in a 12 month period. Rain: Over received. 

And it has been unseasonably cold. Starting in mid-December we experienced our first of several arctic blasts and snow accumulations. And then there was the freezing rain. Always an unwelcomed event where tree limbs and power lines grow in close proximity.

The vines, of course, were unfazed. In fact they were still asleep and missed out on all this fine and peasant misery we call winter in wine country. Even a brief sojourn to Texas did not spare us. The arctic air made it down to Austin, and at 27 degrees, gave us a chilly send off back to Oregon. There
really is nothing quite like arriving after dark at the airport to find your car encapsulated in ice due to a week of freezing rain, and the activities that ensue forthwith.

And it was cold and flu season. Those nasty bugs visited themselves upon us. Fortunately we had the proper cold medication on hand, and in good quantity.

Alright, let’s grow some wine! By the time you are reading this, the 55,000 or so vines that make up the vineyard at Amalie Robert Estate have been pruned and are ready to do their part for vintage 2017. Chardonnay, G’wz, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Viognier reporting for duty!




Pruned and tied down properly 



Escaped tie down, but won’t get far

Ernie has put down the first mowjob of the season. This first pass chops up all of last year’s canes from the trellis (browns) and mixes them with the Tall Fescue that he grows between the rows (greens.) These browns and greens make it to the vineyard floor where a host of soil microbes (and worms, don’t forget the worms) are waiting to compost them back into the soil. Waste not, want not.


Another thing you might notice if you happen to be in the neighborhood is that he doesn’t mow the grass in the road ways. He is waiting for it to go to seed and fill in any bare spots. And besides, the quail like fresh grass seed, so we feed them along the way (standard farming procedure.)

And then he starts to open up the nutritional rows to incorporate last fall’s cover crop and put down a summer blend of plants that will nourish our vines. The first pass is with a chisel plow. What a great implement! It’s easy to hook up, hard to break, and cheap, as far as vineyard equipment goes. This pass also has the benefit of pruning off any shallow roots the vines have produced. Of course you don’t have to do this to grow world class Pinot Noir, but someone has to.


    

Click for a few seconds with Ernie. He’s out there all day.

Then the rototiller comes along and makes a fluffed up seed bed. We are just working with about the top 6 inches of soil. That is where the real microbial activity is happening. Finally, the seed drill puts down 7 equally spaced furrows containing our standard blend of Buckwheat and Vetch. Easy on the water during the summer and full of nutrients to be incorporated back into the vineyard after harvest. Mmmm Yummy!


And we had bud break on Earth day, but you already knew that. What you don’t know is how “utterly and completely crappy” (technical farming term) the weather was during this time. Montmorency cherries have a tendency to flower at the same time as Pinot Noir has bud break and they need bees to pollinate. Bad weather and no bees mean not so many cherries this year. It could be the case that cherry pies are going to be hard to come by. We may all have to be “re-accommodated” to apple pie instead.

Attention all number crunchers and scriveners! Bear witness to the first data set for vintage 2017. It’s not a pretty picture, just ask the cherry growers.

The high temperature recorded for April was 67.6 degrees and the low temperature was 30.0 degrees Fahrenheit. The first half of the month recorded no degree days. The second half of the month recorded 1.3 degree days. While that is not much, it is also not nothing. Rain for the month of April totaled 4.80 inches and included the gratuitous hail storm or two.


From Vintage 2016: For the month of April, we accumulated 165.0 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.

From Vintage 2015: We have accumulated 53.6 degree days for the first 30 days of the growing season beginning on day 91 (April 1), 2015. The first half of April did not record any degree days, and therefore, all degree days were recorded in the second half of the month. This is another example of the “mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive” principle.

The high temperature for April was a balmy, if not scorching, 80.1 degrees on April 20, at 4:40 in the afternoon. In farming parlance, this is known as beer’thirty. The morning of April 29 hovered right at 34.2 degrees from 5:40 until 6:40. It was a fine time for a second cup of coffee and a warm slice of 3.14159265358979.


So there it is. Vintage 2017 is off to a slow start but it is too soon to worry - excessively.

Kindest Regards,


Dena & Ernie

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2017 Bud Break

Hello and Welcome, 

This is a 2017 Vintage Update: Bud Break 

Well, hello buddy! Welcome to vintage 2017! After what seemed to be an exceedingly wet, cold and perfectly miserable off season, the vines are back with fresh new buds for the 2017 vintage. Will it be an early harvest? Too soon to say, but these guys are hanging close by just in case.  
That’s the thing about harvest, not all of the harvesters have clippers and buckets…

And today we have a rare sneak peak at the numbers before the full April Climate update is published. But first, a little background on three important dates in the vineyard: Bud Break, Bloom and the Great Cluster Pluck.

Bud Break is the where it all begins for the vine. However, for the humans, we have been working on them since just after harvest. First are the primary cuts we make that allow us to pull last year’s shoots out of the trellis wires – out with old to make room for the new. Then we select a shoot to tie down on the wire and this will become the cane that sports about 12 to 16 buds.





Now after the buds emerge, they grow like crazy and it is our job to harness that growth in the physical implementation of a mental trellis construct. We employ three sets of wires to keep everything “in-line”, so to speak. Flowering starts the timer. In typical years, we need about 105 days from flowering to the Great Cluster Pluck, however these past few years just don’t quite fit that model. The statistical term for these outlying vintages would be “Sampling Error.”

But a lot can happen to befall our efforts between now and then. Not unlike the Jester (who acquired carnal knowledge of the Queen) that pleaded for his life in front of the King. He said he could teach the King’s horse to sing if the King would spare his life for one year. The most favorable outcomes for the Jester would be: The King could die, the horse could die, or the horse could learn how to sing. A lot can happen in a year.

Bud Break has been creeping later and later in the calendar over the last three years. In 2015 we saw the first buds emerge on March 24th. Vintage 2016 buds came out on March 36th, but keep in mind it was a leap year. And this year we saw the first intrepid buds emerge on Earth Day, March 53rd.

Now, let’s have a look at when the vines flowered. The first flowers for 2015 were spotted on May 31st and 2016 saw flowers on May 27th. Even though bud break occurred earlier in 2015, the flowers appeared later. So, logically we can infer that the correlation between bud break and flowering is weak – at best. It all depends on Mother Nature’s mood for the next month or so. The warmer it is, the sooner we see flowers and the sooner we can identify a potential harvest date. Stay tuned…

Wait, is that singing in the background? Why yes, yes it could very well be!

Kindest Regards,


Dena & Ernie

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate 2017 Spring Cellar Report: Interview with a Clone - Wadenswil 2A

Hello and Welcome,

This is the 2017 Spring Cellar Report from Amalie Robert Estate. The 2017 vintage brings us the inaugural “Interview with a Clone – Wadenswil 2A” feature story.

Let’s begin with the status of the cellar – it is cold. And not only is it cold, being encased in 1,200 tons of concrete, it is also damp. That pretty much sums it up: cold and damp, which is ideal if you are an oak barrel entrusted to hold some of the most ethereal and sublime Pinot Noir on the planet (from Willamette) known as Wadenswil clone 2A.

What’s in a name? Some names you have to live with, other names you get to choose. Kind of like the old adage: you pick your friends, but God picks your neighbors. Kind of like trying to name a sub-ava, we can try to gain government approval for a name everyone agreed to use, or we can accept a government issued name that no one wants or agreed to. Hmmm…


The Wadenswil clone was named by the Swiss. That is the origin of the clone as there happens to be a very cute little hamlet in Switzerland outside of Zurich named Wadenswil with a population of around 20,000 people. Which is why you cannot label a wine as Wadenswil, but you can label it as Wadenswil Clone. The umlaut, while serving a phonetically important function in Switzerland, is really just a pain-in-the-ass for most Americans. If it were so important stateside our keyboards would have a key for it. While we respect the Swiss, their language, culture and Wadenswil clone, we have abandoned the umlaut for our domestically produced Wadenswil clone Pinot Noir. We love the clone, but you can keep the umlaut on your side of the pond.

However when the Wadenswil clones were sent to America in 1952 and cataloged by the farming geniuses at the University of California in Davis, they named them clone 1A, 2A and 3A. It seemed that clone 1A was late to ripen and that can cause you trouble in a marginal climate. Clone 2A was more in line with how Pommard (clones 4 and 5) was ripening, however clone 2A was reported to make less compelling wine than clone 1A, in years when clone 1A could be successfully harvested (by humans and not the birds.) Clone 3A was culled from the selections due to virus.


Farmers, being the risk-averse people they are, tended to go with clone 2A. However Pinot Noir growers are a breed unto themselves, and so it was that David Lett came to Oregon in 1965 with a carload of clone 1A cuttings from California. For anyone who has had the pleasure of tasting his 1975 Eyrie South Block Reserve Pinot Noir, you know that he knew what he was doing.

And it is really hard to mention David Lett without referencing his philosophy on Pinot Noir, Wadenswil most likely, so we will do that right here and now. Pinot noir “should be approached like a beautiful woman—with respect, some knowledge and great hopes.”

So that, with a pretty bow on top, is why Wadenswil clone 2A is widely planted at Amalie Robert Estate. But the question that we need answered is: Why Wadenswil clone at all?



Right. Let’s get started with the interview. Here is a nice looking barrel of wine, let’s pull a sample and check it out. What can you tell me about yourself?

Well, it was mid October last year, and I was just hanging out in block 3 with a bunch of other clusters when this guy comes up and snatches me off the vine and drops me in a bucket.

A drop in the bucket? That sounds pretty harsh.

Yeah, well its farming. You should see the hedging machine this guy’s got. We all just pray he gets a good night’s sleep and keeps the tractor centered in the row. So me and about 80 other clusters are sitting in this bucket when someone grabs us and starts spreading us out in a harvest bin. Then this other guy starts turning everyone over, looking at our backsides, and front sides and then he actually plucked a wine berry off one of the other clusters and ate it right there in the vineyard!

And this was harvest, last year?

Yeah man, that was last year. We had an idea what was coming though. There was some of that “Pommard” in block 14 and they took those clusters a few days before us. We had some time to prepare, but when the harvest trailers and crews start rolling up at the end of your rows, you gotta figure your number just came up. And these guys are precise. I mean it was 36 buckets of clusters per bin and that’s it. Full stop. Show’s over, move to the next bin.

I see your point. So how did you get from your harvest bin to this barrel?

Well, once they got us all in our harvest bin, they snapped a lid on us. Something about yellow jackets being around, but they ended up trapping one of them inside with us. That was a big surprise for somebody when they took the lid off at the winery. I can tell you that for sure! And then we all got weighed. That was nice.

Then something very interesting happened. It was all kinda surreal. When it was our turn, we were loaded in this tilter that lifted us above this inclined elevator. It looked more like an escalator, but they called it an elevator. And it had paddles that came up every foot or so. We never saw anything like that all year in the vineyard.

The tilter started to tilt and clusters just started falling into this elevator. The paddles would come up and catch them and take them to the top. I couldn’t see where they went, but I kept hearing this thud, thud, thud. And there were two guys, maybe three, one on each side and they would pull out leaves and other stuff that got in with the clusters. I was holding
my own pretty good for a while, but then I could feel the clusters below me give way and then I fell into the elevator. Those guys on the sides, they were some kind of inspectors. They would pick up random clusters and look them over for mildew or anything they didn’t like. I tried not to make eye contact. Once I made it to the top of the elevator, I found out in a hurry what was making the thud sound – it was me as I dropped into a fermenter! Not everyone made it in, but those of us that did were still intact. We were still whole clusters.

Then everything went full stop. It was break time and they were having coffee and chocolate banana bread. It must have been real good too, because there wasn’t a peep out of anyone. Then things started to move around us. They wheeled this machine over the top of our fermenter and we could hear a motor running. A second motor, not just the elevator.

We found out it was a destemmer and I am glad to tell you we were the first bin to go in the fermenter, because the next 3 bins had it real bad. They raised the elevator as high as it would go, and the clusters would drop into the destemmer. They were trapped in a rotating cage and then a paddle bar would rotate inside the cage. There was no way through without getting knocked off the stem. And that’s what happened. All the berries were de-stemmed and they dropped in on top of us. Their stems were ejected out the backside of the destemmer, and that was the last we saw of them.

For the next four weeks we just sat in that fermenter, stewing in our juices. Once a day they would take our plastic cover off and punch us down. But day by day we were able to mount more and more resistance. You see, we were starting to ferment and I am not so sure they knew we could do it on our own. But we did it. Each day we would form a cap, mostly the de-stemmed berries would do this as the rest of us were trapped at the bottom of the fermenter. By the third week we put up a cap that was about 20 inches thick! Yeah, they were working up quite a sweat trying to put us down.

By the end of the fourth week, we were spent. All of our sugars had fermented out. At the end, I made it to the top of the fermenter and I could see the writing on the wall. We were fermenter Q and we were scheduled to be pressed the next day.

I don’t really remember much about that except I woke up in a very dark and cold place. I later found out I was in this barrel. A guy comes by about once every 3 months or so and tops me up. You know how it is, a little evaporation and maybe a sample or two and then I need to be topped up.

Speaking of barrels, how did you like this barrel? It is a Billion barrel, right?

I don’t really know what kind of barrel I am in. Its all pretty dark in there and I don’t get out all that much. And the guy that tops me off, sometimes he gets my bung pushed in too far, and that is somewhat, ah, uncomfortable.

What has been you favorite part of the process so far?

I still think about our first day at the winery. Getting weighed was the highlight for me.

What about the other clones? Are they all a pretty good lot?

Yeah, well the guy that farms us is pretty strict. If anyone gets out of line, they are more likely than not to be thinned off before harvest. Then you’re farmed off, sitting on the ground, unripe, desiccating in the sun. Not even a raccoon is going to look at you with any interest. Sometimes one of the harvest guys will add one to his bucket, but it gets picked out almost right away at the harvest bin.

Let’s move on and talk about aroma and flavor. You said you were from block 3. That is all sedimentary soil and you are about 1,200 vines grafted onto 101-14 rootstock. Is that right?

You got that right, Leroy! HOOA!

Don’t you mean Hoah?

Do I stutter? Do your ears flap over? I mean HOOA!

Right. Duly noted. So as Wadenswil clone 2A, grown in block 3, what are your most profound characteristics?

Well block 3 happens to be one of the coolest blocks out here in this prized piece of dirt. I mean we are east facing with just a little slope, maybe 3 to 5 degrees. We get the cool morning sun and are protected from the harsh afternoon sun by the virtue of the small forest at the edge of the property. Those Pommard guys in blocks 5 and 6 can get hammered with birds, but we are pretty safe out here. And all that adds up to hang time my friend, sweet and simple hang time.

You see, the cooler it is the longer it takes to build sugars. But our aromas and flavors only develop if we are out here long enough. So hang time in block 3 can mean more aromas and favors at lower sugars. I see those guys in block 15. They are due south facing and they take a lot of heat. They do their best, and they make great wine, but I like it here in block 3. And, get this, our rows run east west, not north south like all of the rest of the Wadenswil clone 2A planted out here. Except block 35, but they are at the top of the vineyard. We can’t see each other, but I know where they live. We call it the “nose bleed” section!

Wow, block 3 sounds like a place I would want to hang out in a warm vintage.

We may be cool, which is certainly to our advantage in a warm year, but we can kick some serious acid in a tough year like 2007. At the end of my barrel maturation period, I am going to end up in some bottle and they are going to stick a label on me. I won’t be able to see it, but the other guys will tell me what it says. Turns out, block 3 was made into a wine called The Reserve back in 2007. And, it was the highest rated Pinot Noir from the vintage racking up 94 points. That was all the points they gave out that year, and we got them all! HOOA!

Alright, this has been very informative. I appreciate your time and I must say what a lovely color. Let’s move over to another rack and see if we can find another block of Wadenswil clone 2A.

This looks like block 10 from Fermenter XX in a first fill barrel. Hello there.

That’s right honey. It’s a brand farming new barrel, so don’t be dripping anything on it. You know, there are some people who come in here and they show respect and they don’t drip and if they do, they clean it up and they apologize. I just want you to know where you are at.

Thank you. It appears that block 10 has an attitude.

Are you showing me lip? It’s OK if you do. I mean you have to if you are going to try the wine. But don’t get all carried away with it.

Certainly. I understand. Now, block 10 is also sedimentary soil, but you are grafted onto 5C rootstock and your rows are oriented north south. Did I miss anything there?

Elevation baby. And aspect. Elevation and aspect. I am a little bit higher in elevation than that crazy block 3 character, but not enough to slow me down in cool vintages. I also face southeast, which is a blessing when you are trying to tease out the seductive and sultry side of Wadenswil. Are you getting me?

Yes. In fact I am getting you right now. Wow. These flavors and aromas are blowing my mind. Tell me how and why this is.

Say it like you mean it, honey! Aroma and flavor, flavor and aroma. That is what I do and I do it really farming well. There are a lot of things happening here, so try and keep up. First off, we have to talk about leaf pull. Even in my particular idiom, I don’t want to over expose my assets, if you know what I mean. A little is fine, but always leave them wanting more. If you take too many, the aromas and flavors move beyond pheromonic and turn gaudy. Not too pretty in Pinot Noir.

And then we need to get down to it, and that means rootstock. Do you know what I am talking about? There are plenty of rootstocks out there, but only one can give me the hang time to get my clusters so amped up. And that rootstock is 5C. Deep rooted? You don’t know the half of it. 5C comes up from Texas, and you know those roots are looking for anything wet they can grow into. And if they can’t find it, they start heading deeper into the soil profile until they get what they are looking for. And that is the story behind developing those sublime olfactory experiences. Let’s just say, I am not the first block to be taken off the field at harvest time. But honey, when it’s good, it is so good. And at about 1,500 vines, there ain’t that much to go around, if you get my drift.

Ok. Thank you. Ah, let’s move along the rack here.

Block 30 is high elevation Wadenswil 2A grafted onto 3309 rootstock facing due south. How are things?

Well, you know he didn’t want me, at first. We were at the nursery when he was loading all of the other vines and I heard the nursery man say the Wadenswil 2A on 101-14 plants had all died. Bad fertilizer or something. But he said he had extra Wadenswil clone 2A on 3309 and he could substitute that. I guess he wanted the vines more than he wanted to keep that acre open, so they loaded me up and brought me home. Things were fine the first three years. All of us upper blocks were planted at the same time and we went from 2-buds, to heads to canes together. The first year we fruited was OK, but I knew he was putting me under a lot of scrutiny.

You see, 3309 rootstock has trouble with nematodes. These are extremely small little worm like creatures that tap into our roots and draw energy from the vine to live. This used to be an old cherry orchard, which are notorious for hosting nematodes. All of the other rootstocks are pretty resistant, but that’s not me. I had nightmares that he was going to rip us out and replant with a different rootstock.

But clearly, that has not been the case. What happened to change his mind.

I am the only Wadenswil grafted onto 3309 out here, and it seems that nobody else can do what I do. And what I can do is deliver the goods in any growing season from hot to cold, dry to wet and anything in between.

I knew we were safe a couple of years back when they had to pick a single barrel of wine for the Salud Pinot Noir auction. It’s got to be the best. People bid on just 5 cases of wine from a single barrel and the rest of that barrel gets blended into a top end wine, like Amalie’s Cuvée or something. That’s some pretty good juice, by the way.

So they picked our barrel a couple of years back. Best of the cellar they said. Turns out their top field guy also happens to like block 30. Sometimes in the morning he sings while he is working with us. It’s really cute. Anyway, our lot was pretty well received, and we earned about $1,500 a case for the Salud cause. That is when I knew were safe, for now. But we could be living on borrowed time.

Well, from what I am getting in this glass, I would have to say you have established yourself as a top performer.

The one thing I can do really well is texture. All of the blocks are different and he tries to farm us to maximize the elegant side of Pinot Noir, but the whole cluster tannin is kind of an unknown variable for each block. It just so happens, that I can get it right more often than not.

You notice whole cluster influence in the aroma as herbal or tea leaf. It’s so funny when he is down here he keeps saying “Darjeeling” like it is some code word for the secret op’s guys. Clearly it’s not. They use “Hashbrowns” but don’t tell anybody.

As the wine starts out, the mid palate and finish are pretty unyielding and show a lot of astringency. Some guys will add an egg white to the barrel to soften the stem tannins before bottling, but not this guy. No way, never, never. So we sit on the stem tannin and let it naturally evolve. I have been here for over a year, and I still have more time to go.

After we all get to bottle for a few years, that’s when it really starts to unwind. The astringency softens and turns into a refined spice, tingly tannin sort of thing. At least that’s what he says, like every damn time! And something about skin tannins are more monolithic and don’t much evolve with time, but stem tannins do. Apparently aged Pinot Noir is really his thing. That and duck, he is always going off about duck and Pinot Noir. As if that’s not bad enough, you should hear him go on and on and on about those Syrah barrels. There is just no end to it.

Block 30, thank you for your insight, and textural connotations.

Final interviewer comments: That wraps up my interview with a clone – Wadenswil 2A, sans umlaut. There were certainly some differences in the clone based on where they were planted and the rootstock they were grafted onto. The barrels obviously impart some influence, if not attitude. All good stuff to be sure.

However, I can’t help but wonder if the guy farming this field just got lucky with his site. Clearly Wadenswil in the Willamette Valley is not that widely planted, certainly not to as much acreage as Pommard. David Lett made it work, but that was with clone 1A. Maybe it’s true, that luck favors the prepared mind and some hard work.

But I think he might be onto something here in light of his experimental planting of Wadenswil clone 2A on 4 rootstocks. And they are all right next to each other. Surely, his regime will be to keep all of those small blocks separate as they ferment and barrel mature. Add in the weather variability from year to year, and these blocks may very well produce some compelling testimonial to Wadenswil clone 2A in the Willamette Valley.

I would very much like to return in a few years time to make the acquaintance of these new in-plants. And it looks like the 3309 in block 30 is going to be hanging tough, but I have a feeling that this grower knows that lightning rarely strikes twice. And if it does strike twice, you had better be ready for it.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie