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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2013 April

Hello and Welcome,

This is the Climate Update for the month of April 2013.

April has turned out to be a fine month indeed. While the numbers are clearly subject to interpretation, we can report with great confidence that everything felt just about right as we entered the 2013 growing season.

April is the time when all of the previous growing season’s wear and tear becomes evident. Our summer clothes have shrunk, again. Those nice new “Georgio Farmani” boots from last year are looking more like the “Claude Hoppers” of our misspent youth. And for some reason these glasses seem to drift in and out of focus.

The equipment is also looking for a little preventive maintenance, or percussive as the case may be. The flail mower is a piece of equipment that has a very hard life. The flail mower, while not an independent agency, is responsible for mowing all of the vineyard rows, headland spaces at the end of the rows, all roadways, open ground, small and sometimes large tree branches, and the front yard. This implement is also responsible for the majority of Ernie’s repairs and maintenance budget. It eats grease, bearings, flail blades, nuts and bolts, diesel and time, lots and lots of time. But when the flail is dialed in, it can really put down a nice trim.

After a recent gearbox seal replacement Ernie had to refill the gearbox with gear oil. Of course the fill plug is on the side, not the top of the gearbox. Apparently, this is the preferred design of Bondioli & Pavesi. At the same time, the “3 Point” mounting brackets were being reattached and reinforced by a really great friend (people who know how to weld are, by definition, great friends.)

Ernie is now scouring the shop for a funnel with a 90 degree bend and 3/8” outlet. But much like the Grinch searching for Reindeer, there were none to be found. However, after 14 years of farming, Ernie has seen this movie before. As if standing at the top of Mt. Crumpet (where wine critics said to take the 2007 vintage and dump it) he quite proudly announced to his welding buddy:

“Hey, I just made a funnel out of an old business card!” The reply was delivered dry and in perfect cadence: “Yeah, we’re really farmin’ now.”

Which leads us to this inescapable axiom: Farmin’ is what you are doing when you are not growing great wine.

Another curious thing happened this Spring, the vineyard grew! In size that is. Yep, after wishing and waiting and farmin’ all of these years, Ernie finally pulled the trigger and planted a wee little bit of the very fine Gew├╝rztraminer. While this is all very exciting, it will be another 2 years (or more if the deer discover it) before we have wine to enjoy.

As is par for the course, the grassed vineyard rows have received the brown canes and shoots from last year where the flail mower found them and promptly returned them to the soil along with some nice green grass clippings. The “Alternate” rows are where we plant cover crops to feed our vines.

That process is a bit more involved and includes not only the obligatory flail mowing but a pass with the chisel plow as well to open things up. We then hook up the roto-tiller to turn last years cover crop back into the soil and prepare a nice fluffed-up seed bed. The last step is to fill up the seed drill with a summer blend of Buckwheat and Vetch and drill it in. Then there is a bit of tried and true farmin’ – we wait for rain.

These are Buckwheat and Vetch cover crop seeds before and after being drilled into the “Alternate” rows. We consider the soil to be the plants’ stomach. By planting cover crops that add nitrogen to the soil and promote overall soil health, we can avoid the use of chemical fertilizers. These cover crops also provide a nice habitat for beneficial insects (think carnivores) that can help manage the populations of non-beneficial insects (think dinner.)

However interesting these acts of farmin’ may be, the vines are dedicated to a singular purpose: Making us work for it! And that is what’s up next. Each of these precious little “wine makers” are in for a little shoot thinning and trunk suckering. Then we start bringing up the catch wires and clipping their fruit bearing shoots into place. This is followed by more farmin’ as we hope for nice weather while the vines are flowering and hopefully setting a nice crop of wineberries. Wouldn’t that be somethin’?

Well, here are the farmin’ numbers so far this year.

We entered the growing season on April 19 (day 109 of the Julian Calendar) with Budbreak. This is the first marker from the season that lets us know that harvest is happening in the southern Hemisphere and we are a scant 6 months away here.

We look at April in two halves because the first half is usually pretty cold and we have the technology to separate the data. The first half of the month gave us 0.0 degree days, a high of 68.8 (told you it was nice) and a low of 34.9 degrees F.

The second half of the month gave us 51.7 degree days, a high of 80.6 (How’s that for April showing off?) and a low of 32.4 degrees F. Rainfall for the month was 2.22 inches.

Here’s what we had to say last year: “We have recorded about 52.9 degree days from April 1st through April 30th. All of this heat accumulation occurred in the second half of the month. We checked at April 15th, but we had nothing. We reached a high of 81.5 and a low of 31.9 with 3.12 inches of rain directed mostly at Ernie as he drove his crawler through the vineyard.”

Hmm, seems like we may have seen this farmin’ movie before.

If you missed the 2013 Spring Cellar report, you can find that right here: Amalie Robert 2013 Spring Cellar Report

Kindest Regards,

Dena and Ernie

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Amalie Robert Estate: 2013 Spring Cellar Report

Hello and Welcome,

This is the 2013 Spring Cellar Report aka “Vit Lit.”

This fall and winter have been a tough slog here at Rancho Deluge. Why just the other day the sun came out and everyone thought it was just another exploding meteorite. Alas, when we finally did locate the sunscreen it was all for not, not even a rainbow to mark the occasion. We were, however, thankful when our eyesight returned.


Springtime is when the vines wake up and we get back to work in the cellar. The Pinot Noirs and Syrah from that great 2012 vintage are just completing their Malo-lactic conversion, and the stainless steel fermented Chardonnay and Viognier are queued up for bottling. Meanwhile, the 2011 vintage Pinot Noirs are ready for blending trials. This really is the most rewarding part of winemaking for us, blending our single vineyard wines for complexity.

Throughout the growing season we are doing our best to grow our wines on the vine. We think of those grape skins as tannin packed flavor and aroma packets. Our job as winegrowers is to understand the style of wines we want to produce and take specific actions in the vineyard to shape the development of those flavors, aromas and tannins. “Human Terroir” if you will.

This means we pay attention to how much sun exposure the grapes receive by removing just a few leaves for air circulation, but leave enough that provide partial shade. We also thin off the wings that ripen later than the main cluster and can impart green or unripe flavors. The last, most important decision is always harvest. Once the sugars and acids are within acceptable ranges, we start to taste the berries. Specifically, we are tasting for skin development and monitoring the ripeness of the seeds.

The Back Story:
Once in the winery, we ferment some of the grapes on the stems. We also use the yeast they brought with them from the vineyard. This is known as whole cluster fermentation with indigenous yeast. We know that this fermentation style protects the character of the vineyard and will add stem tannin to the finished wine. This tannin is “alive” and will continue to develop character with bottle age. In the cellar we fill the wine into a combination of new and previously filled French oak barrels. We are also experimenting with Hungarian and Russian oak, but don’t tell anybody – it’s a secret!

Think of the barrels as our spice rack. Each cooper has a style, and in fact each individual barrel will impart a unique aroma, flavor and texture profile to the wine. Add the variable of time, and the wines will mature from the aggressive tannins of freshly fermented juice into nuanced and interleaved aroma, flavors, textures and a lengthy finish. That is how we put the “F” in fermentation - it is in the finish.

So, do we engineer our wines? Maybe. But our point is we actually thought about the styles of wine we want to enjoy, and learned the farming and winery practices to create them. Of course, this winegrowing structure is superimposed over Mother Nature’s prerogatives. We know she is never going to be reliable, but she is predicable. Our job is to be ready in a moments notice to snatch our grapes from the jaws of defeat, or 3 inches of rain in week, ceteris paribus.

As we taste the wine in barrel, we review not only the vintage, but how we grew, fermented and barrel aged our wines. We evaluate the aroma, texture and weight on the palate. When we make our blends we seek to present our entire vineyard terroir as well as the human terroir that we have contributed to the wine. A point of clarification here: Don’t ever agree to go barrel tasting in anyone’s cellar. Barrels do not taste good. You want to taste the wine in the barrel. That’s where the action is.

What does this mean and why should I care?
What this means, is we thought about creating our Amalie Robert Estate wines in our own particular idiom – yes, it is the year of the snake, a Python if you will. You should care because in the world of wine, very few wines are offered that represent this level of care, stewardship and dedication by the founders and owners who still are able to do the work.
It was our first piece of intellectual property in the wine business, and we stand by it today: “Wines true to the soil, Wines true to the vintage.” We invite you to experience Amalie Robert Estate wines with friends, food and in moderation.

Current Events:
While we try very hard to be politically tone deaf, it is really difficult to ignore the shenanigans in our great nation’s capital. These “self inflicted wounds” remind us that the fewer facts you have, the more general your knowledge, until you reach the pinnacle of politics whereby you know nothing about everything. This is, in fact, a late life bi-polar response to adolescence where you know everything about nothing.

It was Benjamin Disraeli who said “It is much easier to be critical than correct.” Perhaps true, however it would leave us all significantly less entertained, wine writing included. So in this year of the snake, we take to heart some of the more interesting, and potentially irreverent, concepts of the British comedy troupe Monty Python. To wit: “Message for you sir!” - “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!”

For those unfamiliar with this artform, you may view the unofficial script of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” at this link. You will, of course, have to improvise the audio and video. Note: A fine glass of Pinot Noir may help you in your quest.

Today’s Feature Presentation: Fluid Transfer
While laughter may be the best medicine, wine it is said, is the essence of life. And that brings us to the concept of “Fluid Transfer” which in fact is the essence of life. And as we all know, life is a sexually transmitted condition which may be the result, in certain cases, of consuming wine – perhaps in excess. We will now set about to prove wine is the essence of fluid transfer.

The grail of wine you savor most likely came from a 4,200 degree F. heat formed molten silica sand package - aka a glass bottle. The fluid contents of which were sequestered in said package by a curious piece of tree bark known as a cork, or natural stopper for those into the “natural wine” movement. Clearly there is no fluid here and not the point of today’s commentary. The wine however is fluid, and that is where we begin our journey. (Note: Until man learned how to heat sand to 4,200 F., goat skins were used to package wine – perhaps this is the origin of the natural wine movement. Even today in your local wine purveyor, some wines are sold in a box containing an unnatural plastic bladder that holds “wine.”)

Our 30 acre vineyard is a southern leaning coalition of wine grape vines that strive to transfer water, and with it the essence of the soil, into roughly 750,000 clusters of wine grapes. This is no small task that they are preprogrammed to achieve, however they have from April through October to get the job done. Mother Nature does her part by providing roughly 45 inches of rainfall per year. This fluid transfer from the Heavens to the earth is really the seminal event of the growing season. And there is more than enough to go around.

At an average rainfall of 45 inches per year, we receive about 45 inches x 27,154 gallons/inch per acre = 1,221,930 gallons of water per acre of land. Now on that typical acre of land, we plant about 1,452 vines. That means each vine, in theory, has access to about 845 gallons of water per year. Our typical crop yield results in about a single 750 ml bottle of wine per vine, or about 0.198 gallons. The remainder of the 845 gallons is either leached through the soil, taking our hard earned Nitrogen with it, or transpired through the canopy to cool the leaves during the growing season. However, during the winter months we are slogging through the soil and depend on high quality footwear, aka “work boot style rubber overshoes” or “Wellies”

As the growing season progresses, the vines are ripening up the year’s vintage without too much drama, however we all know “closing time” is on the way. Late September is when all manner of things can happen. We could get a little sprinkle on the fruit that may cause wine reviewers to panic. We could get warm dry days with a little breeze that will desiccate our fruit, aka reverse fluid transfer. Or, things could be just hunky dory – a condition not seen in our lifetime.

We could get a bad “pre-harvest review” from an otherwise intelligent person on the periphery of the wine “business.” This seems to happen more often than not and can clearly point to a very lucrative political career (see above.) Not so much fluid transfer there, but we would recommend keeping your wallet in your front pocket. Please see the harvest review from 1957.

Then before you can say Waft The Fruit, there you are in the biggest cluster pluck you can imagine! Plant by plant is harvested by hand into 5 gallon buckets weighing about 20 pounds – more if the soil is wet and the buckets get muddy. This hand job goes on from sunrise until just after midday. When it is all said and done we will have transferred about 15 tons of skins, seeds, pulp, stems, bugs, mud and grape juice from the vineyard to the winery. It is, in a word, rapture.

What started as an innocent, if not carefree, shower in the spring has produced a beautiful bounty of fruit. While we are basking in the afterglow of a fine performance, there is much work to be done. We begin at the beginning with our first step: “Get the fermentation out of the way!”

Once our grapes have made it to the winery, we believe our job is stewardship. If you have seen our stained hands and bleary eyes in November and December, you can easily understand this is not a hands-off affair. We are to take the fluid from the grapes, ferment the sugars into alcohol, infuse tannins, textures and aromas from the skins, stems and barrels over a period of 18-24 months and then transfer the essence of our vineyard into 750 milliliter bottles, each individually sealed with a cork and capsule (SWACC.)
If wine is the essence of fluid transfer, then variety is the spice. Not only do we grow our own Pinot Noir, we also dabble in Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Viognier. If these wines seem to leave you unfulfilled, we encourage you to seek a glass of Satisfaction, Syrah that is.

We are almost there. All that is left now is to put the stem on the apple, or more accurately, pull the cork from the bottle. Here is where you can get hands-on with wine. If you have read this far, you understand they are all a little bit different. It is not only the shape and size of the bottle but whether or not it has been fitted with a natural cork or a synthetic closure. Some bottles are fitted with a “roll on tamper evident” closure known affectionately as a screwcap or, again for the natural wine movement, a screwoff. Call it what you will, but it costs the winery about 15 cents.

And then there is the capsule. It used to be the case that corks were protected with lead foils or “capsules” during ocean going transport. The idea was to keep shipboard pests from nibbling out the corks and releasing the wine prematurely. Well (a hole in the ground with water in it,) lead is no longer used for this purpose because wine is shipped in sealed, temperature controlled ocean going containers and, more importantly, seamen are afforded shore leave on a more regular basis.

But still to this day, not everyone uses a protective capsule. If you are sure of the brand, and have been enjoying it for some time, the capsule may not be all that important to you. However, if you are trying a new brand for the first time, we encourage you to select a package that has a nice looking, form fitting and functionally protective capsule. Note: Some capsules have little holes in the end that facilitate automated, high throughput installation via electrical appliance. Choose wisely.

Perhaps you are new to the joys of wine, and are not all that familiar with the equipment. With the excitement of trying a new brand, you may well pull the cork right through the capsule. Over time, and with more practice, you will be able to master control. Also, you can avoid significant embarrassment and social stigma by not using a corkscrew on a “roll on tamper evident” screwoff closure before your guests arrive. It will be obvious to everyone right away.

While it has never happened at Amalie Robert Estate, we have heard of wineries sometimes forgetting to put the cork in and just applying the capsule over the top of the bottle - faking it. While there is no way to know this at the time of sale, it is an unfortunate and hopefully uncommon occurrence that can significantly change your perception of that brand.

Fetchez la Vache! This is supposed to mean “Bring me a wine glass.” Instead, it means “Fetch me the cow.” Occasionally Pinot Noir grown in the Burgundy region of France has what is know as “the cows arse” in the aroma, so maybe that is how this got lost in translation.

Much like the differing shapes and sizes of wine bottles, there is virtually an endless array of elegant, sophisticated shapes and styles of glasses designed specifically to receive wine. Most of these glasses are referred to as stemware due to the elongated stem that separates the foot of the glass from the voluptuous bowl. While we often evaluate the complete package, we pay keen attention to length of the stem and specifically the shape of the bowl.

It is a widely accepted fact that sophisticated wine “stems” are high maintenance. To compensate for the extra effort of maintaining the integrity of these delicate stems, a new style of wineglass has been introduced. It is called a “stemless” glass and has all of the virtues of a voluptuous bowl. It is however, lacking the elongated stem and herein lies the issue – there is no place to touch this glass that will preserve its inherent beauty. By the end of the evening, the glass has clearly been well groped and only a forensic lab may be able to determine the interloper.

We are rounding third base and heading for home. While it has been a subliminal exercise for the reader, you should by now have in front of you the following items: a fine bottle of wine from a brand you respect and trust, the proper tool (or in the case of a vintage port, tools,) that can be used to release the wine in a controlled manner (especially important for the disgorgement of sparkling wine,) clean stemware commensurate for the anticipated experience, soothing background music and the swoon worthy embers of a warm fire.

After the potentially awkward moment of pulling the cork, or disgorging as the case may be, the wine gently flows into the elegant and voluptuous stemware. A quick twist of the wrist and the wine swirls and rises to its zenith and gently recedes. The heady aroma fills the air, nostrils flare.

The sophisticated stemware directs the wine to the most sensitive part of your aroused palate. The rush of the aromas, flavors and textures triggers a pulse quickening, primal reaction. You swallow, then slowly a tingling sensation begins to come to the fore of your consciousness. It is your brain reminding you it is time to breathe!

The svelte tannins and lingering acidity continue the full frontal lobe assault. It is at this moment your heightened senses are alerted to the first drops of rain from a spring shower gently pattering against your window. Significant meteorological phenomena are about to be released.

This simply cannot be just any wine; it is the essential wine - Pinot Noir. Ergo, our work here is complete: There can be no doubt that Pinot Noir is the essence of “Fluid Transfer.” Join us next time as we cleverly explain why Chardonnay is the catalyst to “Spontaneous Combustion.” Think Blanc de Blanc.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Friday, April 19, 2013

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2013 Bud Break


Amalie Robert Estate declares Bud Break on day 109 of the 2013 growing season! You may better know this as Friday, April 19, 2013.

This is the earliest we have seen the new growth in the last 3 years. For reference, we declared Bud Break on day 114 in 2012 and 125 in 2011. Note the lavender Lilac bloom is on the same event horizon as Pinot Noir Bud Break. Yeah, there are buds breaking all over the northern hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, they are just wrapping up harvest.

This was a welcome surprise as we began our 14th vineyard anniversary and Earth Day celebration at the Joel Palmer House. In case you could not join us, here is what was on offer.

- First: Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns with Beet Puree paired with 2011 "Our Muse" Viognier

- Second: Carrot and Celery Root Soup with Dungeness Crab paired with 2009 "Heirloom Cameo" Chardonnay

- Third: Morel Risotto paired with 2010 Pinot Meunier

- Fourth: Heidi’s Three Mushroom Tart paired with 2007 “The Reserve” Pinot Noir and 2009 “Wadenswil Clone” Pinot Noir

- Fifth: Rack of Lamb with Pinot Pepper Sauce over Lentils paired with 2010 “Satisfaction” Syrah

- Dessert: Assortment of Candy Cap Mushroom Desserts and Local Cheeses

Growing wine in the Willamette Valley is always an adventure. We are excited about the prospects of a wonderfully expressive vintage punctuated with the vagaries of an agrarian endeavor. With 3 Italian tractors, there is never a dull moment.

Again this year, we will be providing growing season updates beginning with the full April Climate Update in just a week or so. In the meantime, the sun is shinning and the vines are coming out of their winter’s slumber. They look so innocent now, but we know this is only a ruse.

To get an idea of what lies ahead, you can check out the 2012 Julian calendar and photo journal at this link:

Kindest Regards,

Dena and Ernie