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

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2012 Harvest After Action Report (AAR)

Hello and Welcome to the “Yearly Show”,
 
We like to take a few megabytes of cloud storage this time of year to recap the growing season’s significant events, trials and tribulations, and other site specific specificities you may not learn about anywhere else. Ernie is on the road sitting in a “Starbucks by day” and “Hotel bar by night” writing this. It is an exercise for the reader to determine the beverage contents. So refresh your beverage, grab a Twinkie while you still can or other kibble of your choice, and read on!

Meanwhile just up the street at our Nation’s Capitol, our elected representatives are discussing our looming Fiscal Cliff. We only know one Cliff and his name is not Fiscal, nor is he looming. Hold on for a Thelma and Louise moment if these knuckleheads agree to disagree. Perhaps you have seen this movie before: “Not always right, but always the boss.”

The 2012 growing season was a return to some semblance of sanity for the winegrower. The growing season did not pose any extraordinary challenges, fruit set was a little light depending on site location, the degree days are similar to some of our favorite vintages including 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009, and harvest arrived either before or after the rains. The 2012 growing season reflects the typicity that propelled Oregon Pinot Noir to critical acclaim.


The devil is in the details, as those fine men and women are discovering at, and around 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Of course, they may choose to take a broader perspective and view the situation from the Hubble telescope (to the extent that is possible.) Based on a couple hundred years of history, whatever solution is proposed will most likely have the following attributes: “Overly burdensome, yet lacks focus and attention to detail.” While it is not a common occurrence in Oregon, we have seen someone put a corkscrew through a screwcap closure. (Part of the upcoming, non-fiction documentary titled “How can this be?”)

On a more positive note, this year’s ¡Salud! Pinot Noir auction was a tremendous success. What we have here is several interested constituencies coming together to find common ground. The result is the finest 6 cases of 2011 vintage Pinot Noir from each of the 42 Vintners Circle wineries being sold to the highest bidders. Note: This is significantly less than the top 1% of Oregon’s Pinot Noir production. We have participated as a Vintners Circle winery for 7 years, and this year was our best effort yet with our top ask bid of $1,063 per 12 bottle case – that felt good, for all the right reasons.

Now, if you “follow the money” from the weekend event, you will discover ¡Salud! is able to leverage this into a substantial medical outreach program. To wit: Isaac Asimov - "Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right.” You can read all about the auction from “The Northwest Wine Anthem.”

Back to the issue at hand. We will spare you the tractor repair issues, shoot positioning logistics, hedging and more hedging, degree day calculations ad nauseam and get right to the heart of the 2012 growing season conversation: When did you harvest and why? Note: If you are into the ad nauseam, you can read the 2012 Julian calendar here, or simply tune into C-Span where you can always catch “Drone v Drone.”

We began harvest after the rains on October 15, 2012, day 288 of the Julian calendar. June brought the last of the spring rains and the first of the fall rains to arrive at Amalie Robert Estate began the evening of October 12th. Mother Nature blessed our vines with 0.86 inches of rain in 24 hours. It seems she was in the neighborhood and couldn’t sleep. Take home message: The first shot of rains was mostly absorbed by the grassed rows, existing cover crops and any roots that were advantageously located in the top 6 inches of soil.

Up until October 12th, Ernie (Chief Farming Officer) was running down the numbers, and they were presenting a pretty clear picture. Sugars were building and pH was dropping. Sure they were. Now the most important thing in any picture is to know who the players are and what they stand for. This is why you will pet a friendly dog, but not an alligator. Clearly, the folks on Capitol Hill have this figured out by now, mostly.

When sugars rise, we see the Brix level increase. Brix is a term used to describe a measurement of fermentable sugars. In wine grapes, we like to harvest when Brix are at least 20 but less than 24. The reason for this is that sugars measured as Brix convert to alcohol at about 60%. So, 20-24 Brix gives us a range of final alcohol in the 12 to 14% range. As the wine berries stay on the vine, the natural tendency is to build sugars, so an increase in Brix is to be expected as we wait for the harvest window to open. OK, that was easy.



One seemingly inconsequential detail of the growing season is relevant here. Fruit set in the Willamette Valley was not all that it could be for Pinot Noir. Fruit set can be described as the conversion of pollinated flowers into wine berries. Sometimes a pollinated flower will set a wine berry that “shatters” and does not mature into a harvestable wine berry. This, in fact, is quite similar to a Borg being separated from the collective.

Case in point, our Pinot Meunier yield was down by about 50%. The fact that some vines were handling the dry spell and a nice warm summer with less than a full crop load exacerbated the harvest decision. (Note that “exacerbated” is not a term we would use as farmers, but we seem to have picked up a few looky-loo’s who like these terms.) From the vine’s point of view, all of that photosynthesis has to go somewhere. And it expediently went into building sugars in the fruit that was hanging.

The more challenging analysis is pH. This is a measure of acidity in the pre-fermented juice. The more acid in any given solution results in a lower pH reading. Less acid in the same given solution results in a higher pH. As the wine berries stay on the vine and ripen, we expect the acids to go down and therefore the pH to rise. However, we were seeing just the opposite effect with pH. The pH was not rising, it was dropping until we received our first fall rains. Note to Quants: Think about the relationship between bond yields v price and this should all make sense.


A lower pH means there was more acid in the solution. It can also mean there is the same amount of acid as before, just less solution. As we witnessed the parched September, the vines were covertly translocating water out of the berries for their own purposes, such as photosynthesis. This resulted in less water per berry to dilute the acids and produce a drop in pH. Ergo, this is counter to the ripening process and more inclined to simply indicate dehydration of the fruit. As Neo discovered, it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

That’s all well and good. We now know not to pet alligators we come across, but what do we do to make the best wine the vintage has to offer? The 2012 Oregon Pinot Noir vintage presented us with a very clear, binary choice: Pick before the rains or wait until we get some rain. If you are a procrastinator by nature, this choice was made for you. If it was a group decision, you may have waited because some guy named Cliff was late to the meeting. But if you were like Ernie, who was predisposed to running the numbers and actually went out and tasted the fruit, you would have waited for a little rain.

A simple cost benefit analysis will help us explain the 2012 harvest.

What is the cost of waiting to harvest?

Since we had entered Okto-vember, the cost of not harvesting was about 2 or 3 biers per person per day. Clearly, a cost we were willing to pay.

We risked the potential combination of birds and rot due to excessive rains. While this can be unfortunate, it is not uncommon. This was a risk we were prepared to take.

The needs of the many berries becoming fully ripe outweigh our desire for an easy harvest. We only get one chance a year to make some really great wine.


What is the benefit of waiting to harvest?

We had a few extra days to catch up on our sleep.

We did not have to add water to our fermenters to dilute the sugars below 24 Brix.

We had extra money to buy bier, because we did not have to buy water.

We did not have to compete with a majority of vineyards for harvest crews.

We enjoyed a few more weeks of hang time that allowed for more interesting flavor and aroma development in the wine berry skins and riper stems for whole cluster fermentation.
These are the decisions of the winegrowers of Amalie Robert Estate. We chose to harvest after a bit of natural irrigation from Mother Nature to rehydrate the wine berries and reap the rewards of increased flavor and aroma development from extended hang time. And then, there was the Syrah and Viognier harvest on November 7th.

Our indigenous fermentations smelled wonderful again this year. The addition of whole clusters adds the youthful backbone tannin that will integrate with firm acidity to prolong the wines’ bottle maturation. After fermentation, the Pinot Noir that came out of the press this year was the most deeply hued we have ever seen. While this observation supports no conclusions at present, it is certainly worth noting as we segue into a slow barrel maturation regime.

After separating the wine from the skins, seeds and stems with the press, our wines gravity flow down to barrel for a soothing malolactic conversion. We taste the wines after the conversion is complete, and sometimes before, to get a sense of where the vintage is headed. Our Pinot Noirs spend 18 moths in barrel before we begin blending and bottling. You can think of that as “term limits” for aging wine.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie