Winemaking: The Continuation of Terroir by Other Means.®

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


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

- Rusty Gaffney, PinotFile - September 2016


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

- Josh Raynolds, Vinous - October 2015


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

- David Schildknecht, The Wine Advocate - October 2013

Wine & Spirits

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

- Luke Sykora, Wine & Spirits Magazine – September 2011


© 2005 – 2017 Amalie Robert Estate, LLC

Monday, October 31, 2011

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2011 Harvest Brief

Hello and Welcome,

This is a brief harvest update covering the last half of October. The weather the last two weeks of October was just as nice as the day is long - we even picked up a few degree days! Harvest began as it always does, in earnest, on Sunday, October 23rd. Once harvest is finished, we will publish a complete harvest "After Action Report" (AAR.)

As we began harvest, our soils had mostly dried out from the early October rains. This was key not only for better concentration of the fruit, but tractor safety. Ernie hauls our hand harvested grapes to the winery using a three "tote bin" trailer. Each tote bin weighs in at about 900 pounds, add the trailer and you are at just about 2 tons. Imagine pulling that load across a 15% side slope on two small trailer tires. Now imagine rainy wet conditions that turn our clay based soils into luge runs. Yeah, it's a long way to the top if you got some grapes to haul...

The 2011 "Cluster Pluck" is winding down. We finished picking all of our Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir on November 2, 2011 (11/02/2011.) The Chardonnay was taken from the vine today, and the Syrah and Viognier, well Ernie just went and bought some bird netting to augment our bird callers. Those grapes are holding tight.

The aroma in the winery is just stunning! We ferment our Pinot Noir in 1.5 ton "Macrobin" fermenters. We sort our fruit in the field and then again when we are loading it into the fermenters. The first portion is the whole clusters, and then we destem the rest of the fruit on top. We add a little Sulfur Dioxide to keep the bad bugs out of the race until our native yeast can dominate the fermentation.

The first week or so is pretty boring, all of the action is at the microbial level. But after that, we can start to smell the sweet perfumed aromas of Pinot Noir. This is unadulterated juice fermented by Amalie Robert Estate native yeast not complicated by oak barrels. We try very hard to steward these aromas through the barrel maturation time and into the bottle. We realize that some folks highly regard the extracted style of Pinot Noir, but we prefer this elegant elixir hands down.

Here are some numbers to chew on - 3.14. This is what we like to start with in the morning. A nice warm slice of peach 3.14. Then there are Brix numbers. Brix is a measure of fermentable sugars. We are seeing Brix levels range from about 20.5 to 22.5. We estimate a 60% conversion rate to alcohol. So lets say we average 21.5 brix for the vintage, then we should see final alcohols in the 12.9% range. Nice.

Next is pH. This is a measure, actually more of a guide at this point, of the juice acidity. This is made up of 2 parts - Malic Acid and Tartaric Acid. We are seeing pH levels in the 3.14 to 3.25 range measured at the end of the day. This is a very nice place to be for several reasons.

The first and most important is for microbial stability in a native fermentation. High pH juice (think sweeter) is easier for spoilage organisms to grow. At Amalie Robert Estate, we like to "tart it up" a bit.

Another benefit of these low pH's is that we are not adding much, if any, Tartaric Acid back to the juice to lower the pH. This should appeal to the so called "Natural Wine" movement.

And finally, the finished wines will benefit from this natural acidity providing the potential for extended bottle development and maturation.

Distill all of this down with another number - 17. That is the number of days we have extended the 2011 harvest window. The longer those grape skins are out in the field, the more interesting flavors and aromas they develop.

We have extended the 2011 harvest window by 2 1/2 weeks. This additional time has been accumulated in the skins, and if handled gently and not over extracted in a hot fermentation or over oaked in the cellar (Parkerized?), will show as layered and nuanced aromas in the finished wines.

Hang time does not in and of itself create bigger wines, but perhaps, just maybe, contributes a bit more complexity and sophistication. We are smelling that now, but you will have to wait a couple of years. On a related note, have you enjoyed any 2007 Pinots lately?

All the best,

Dena and Ernie

Note: The Wine Advocate has just released their review of the latest crop of Oregon Pinot Noirs. This video, while not at all associated with The Wine Advocate (and we didn't make it), may provide some backlighting on the whole "Parker" issue.

Downfall of a Cult Californian Winery

Monday, October 17, 2011

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2011 Mid-October

"Harvest - the final act of farming. Our mission is to boldly wait out the rains and harvest later than anyone has before." (William Shantner voiceover leads to futuristic orchestra score.)

Hello and welcome to uncharted territory,

This is the 2011 mid-October climate update, our first ever. This year we find ourselves on the verge of an unprecedented opportunity. As of October 15th, we have not harvested a single grape. Sure we have plucked a few cluster samples (more on that later), but the winery still longs for the first of the 2011 vintage.

There is good news to report! Ernie saw his shadow on Saturday afternoon, and for that to happen the sun had to shine. Also, we have minimal bird damage to report, the cover crop is germinating and we have logged a few more degree days for the first half of October.

The signs of harvest are certainly on their way. The Walnut tree is starting to senesce and will eventually turn a brilliant sunburst yellow. Follow this link to learn more about "Why Leaves Change Color." The main harvest tractor is slow to turn over, which means the timing is perfect for having to replace the battery mid-harvest. And the grapes themselves are starting to show the character of the vintage. Yes, we have been sampling.

Sampling is one of the more structured ways we determine when to harvest. The other way is less scientific; we just look outside at the weather. Now there are a couple of ways to go about cluster sampling. Ernie relies on his CPA experience in performing audits. Under this approach, he selects one representative cluster from about every 50 plants which is a 2% sample. If a block has 1,000 vines, he has 20 clusters. Our biggest block is about 2,463 vines, so he has closer to 50 clusters.

The other way to go about this selection process is just to walk a few rows and snip a cluster here or there, but that is really more of a cluster pluck than a randomized sample.

When we get our sample clusters back to the winery we remove the juice from the berries by crushing them in a mesh bag. Right away we take note of the color of the juice. Like most wine grapes the color is held in the vacuoles of the skins. The degree to how easy these vacuoles break open and allow the color pigments to escape is a sign of how ripe the fruit is. Insiders note: Some folks believe color is an indicator of great Pinot Noir. We believe color, like irrigation, is Mother Nature's department and we don't mess with it. But some folks do and they "cold soak" with dry ice (frozen CO2) for a few days to burst these vacuoles and release more color from the skins. The result is a darker hued wine.

Then we smell the juice. It should have a heady aroma, while hard to describe, you know it when you smell it. Then we look at the seeds. Bright green seeds mean you did not trim off the wings. Martini olive green means you are getting close and "Grape nuts" cereal brown means get the buckets, let's harvest!

The next thing we should do is run the numbers, but we are usually a little excited by now and we just taste the juice. Hard to believe Ernie would deviate from his structured approach, but harvest (like the Great Pumpkin), only comes around once a year. The taste of the juice will reveal more about the condition of the vintage than any other factor. We look for sweetness and balancing acidity, but more important are the aromas, flavors and textures on the palate.

The longer those skins can hang, the more interesting and complex the aromas and flavors in the juice and resulting wine will be. This holds true as long as the weather is not too hot, nor the soil too dry, otherwise those flavors can shift over to raisins and prunes. Not too much risk of that this year. Also our evening temperatures have not been so cold as to completely shut down the vine. So we look to the second half of October for a little more sunshine to build some sugars and hopefully desiccate the fruit a little bit.

Here is a quick peak at the numbers. First of all, note that our estimated harvest window was to open on day 289. Day 289 was Sunday the 16th of October and was 105 days past flowering. This is typically the amount of time needed for our flavors and aromas to develop. Good news, we have entered the harvest window.

We have recorded about 53 degree days for the first 15 days of October, providing a total of 1,795 degree days since the beginning of the growing season on April 1st. While we may accumulate more degree days this year, we have exceeded the 2010 growing season degree days of 1,722 by a grand total of 73 degree days. I am told that is not the case in the Dundee Hills where they are lagging last year's degree days.

During the first 15 days of October, our highest high was 73.2 and our lowest high was 68.4. Our lowest low was 41.7 and our highest low was 43.9 degrees Fahrenheit.

There was a significant amount of rainfall during the first 15 days of October. We have logged 2.54 inches of rain so far this month. However, that is well short of the 6.22 inches of rain logged in October 2010. This is either a blessing in disguise or something more to look forward to.

Rainfall since April 1st through October 15th is 11.93 inches, and is 11.16 inches less than last year's growing season rainfall of 23.09 inches. The average monthly humidity was 79.61% and the average dew point was 47.87 degrees.

In summary, the 2011 vintage is one of those rare years where we are getting some really nice aroma and flavor development in the skins with unprecedented hang time. Through September the summer was moderate and dry. The weather, while cool and damp during the first part of October, is holding the botrytis at bay and allowing the fruit to continue to develop. We are seeing lower sugar levels that will result in lower alcohol wines. We think 2011 defines "Cool Climate" viticulture and is the reason why we selected the Willamette Valley to grow Pinot Noir. With all of the "press" surrounding this vintage, has anyone really done the investigative journalism necessary to interpret the epic potential we are experiencing? Well, maybe Dana Tims is onto something here.

Moving right along, how does this translate into wine? The first thing to understand is that each and every one of our roughly 600,000 Estate grown clusters is a little bit different - Mother Nature wouldn't have it any other way. We do the best we can all year long to care for them and then make a selection of which ones to thin off the vine so that the rest will ripen their seeds and mature.

As harvest approaches we see that some of the clusters are not going to make the final trip to the winery. For whatever reason, and there are several, some clusters will get left behind. Last year, the birds took a few of our most prized berries and the deer can also have an impact. But the main reason we leave some of the fruit behind is botrytis, aka "bunch rot."

When we see a cluster that looks a little furry, it is rejected at the harvest bin. This is where our first sort has always taken place. The rule is sheer simplicity - "If you are not willing to put it in your mouth, get it out of the harvest bin." It's just that easy!

We think of our entire vineyard as our super set and the clusters we accept into the winery as our subset. The difference is the fruit that is cluster plucked out. At the end of the day, they will decompose providing nutrition to the vines for next year. What we are left with is our selection of the best fruit from the vintage.

Once in the winery, we take another look to insure we are bringing in clean, healthy and mature fruit. We are diligent in reading the ripeness of the stems for our whole cluster fermentations and, as always, we let the yeast from the vineyard ferment our Pinot Noir. We believe our job is to preserve the character of the vintage so when you open a bottle years from now, you can say, "Oh yeah, I remember 2011. Nice!"

In closing, we think back to how we found our vineyard. It was covered with cherry trees in bloom. Ernie said, "Well Bob, it looks like you have your orchard on top of my vineyard." Our definition of luck was, "When opportunity meets a prepared mind."

This year marks our 10th harvest. Certainly we have not seen it all, but we have seen enough to know that in farming "It is better to be lucky than good!"

Thank you all for the positive comments and a special nod to everyone who has been doing the "sun dance."

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie