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, September 30, 2013

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2013 September

Hello and Welcome,

This is the climate update for the month of September 2013, such that it is.

“From here on in anything could happen and probably will.”
                                    – Amalie Robert Estate Mid-September 2013 Climate Update

There is a technical farming term to accurately and succinctly describe the second half of September. It is not a term we can publish, but we will give you a hint – it rhymes with “Kitty.”

The vintage was rolling right along through the third week of September. We had a little shower early in the month to wash off the dust and give the vines a little soil moisture to finish their work of ripening seeds. A quick cluster sample gave us a clue, we were not ready. That, and the tell tale walnut tree was still holding green. It usually starts to senesce into a beautiful yellow torch when it is time to bring in the fruit.

The cluster sample provided us with a quick reading of sugars and acids. We saw the sugars were moderate in the 22 Brix range. This is the middle ground between 20 and 24 and provides an alcohol estimate of about 13 percent. If you just knew the number without the weather context you would be ready to cluster pluck. The other shoe dropped when we took a look at the pH. It was close to 3.25 which is historically very low (acidic) for our vineyard and the way we grow our wine.

All together now: “What does that mean and why should I care!?

It means that we had another spot of rain before we were able to take the cluster sample. To look at the clusters, you would see the wineberries were fully pumped up with juice. That juice is now containing a higher percentage of water. So instead of reading 25 Brix and making 15% alcohol wines, we are bending the sugar curve down. The water diluted our sugars and we like that.

So why not pick ‘em? The acids as measured by the pH meter are also diluted. A pH of 3.25 is pretty low (acidic) for our Pinot Noir. Now consider where we were before the last cloud outburst. Take a bit of that water out of that berry and you would see a higher concentration of acid, maybe adjusting the pH down to 3.15. This tells us the wineberries have not completed their ripening program as indicated by high acids.

For several reasons, but only one we will elaborate on here, we simply cannot imagine making wine from someone else’s fruit. Each of our 36 blocks has their own little idiosyncrasies and unique characteristics that we are intimately familiar with. These all come into play when making a harvest decision to go or to wait.

One key factor of our winegrowing program has a significant impact on acids and that is our leaf pull regime. We pull very few leaves in our Pinot Noir because we will be fermenting those wineberries with a portion of the stems. Yes, this is a WTF (Waft The Fruit) moment.

Wineberries exposed to the sun develop aromas, flavors and phenolics (tannin.) Like most things in life that taste good, you can have too much of a good thing here. Excessive sun exposure will develop harsh or astringent tannins in the wine. A little more shading will temper this development into more sexy and sublime aromas and flavors with moderate tannins.

Here is where the whole clusters come into play. The stems that the wineberries are maturing on are a woody structure of the vine. We add a portion of our fruit to the fermenter “on the stem.” That means these stems are in the fermenter adding a bit of flavor and tannin complexity of their own. They also add a fair bit of astringency.

You can do this experiment in the privacy of your own home with a bunch of table grapes. Remove the grapes from the stem and chew on it. It should not take long before you will be experiencing the influence of whole cluster fermentation. Remember to say “Kitty!”

OK, let’s bring it home. Shading our fruit allows us to develop a more elegant aroma and flavor profile in our wines without the harsh tannin of overexposed wineberries. The stem adds a little astringent tannin to give our wines a strong backbone. We then go into barrel for 18 months to soften that astringency, a bit. The result is a well balanced tannin structure that, paired with firm acidity, is the secret to long lived wines that will continue to develop intriguing aromas, flavors and textures.

So, what does this have to do with pH? Wineberries grown in a more shaded canopy have a higher pH. We typically see our pH rise to well over 3.50 before harvest. So when we see a pH reading of 3.25, and it is diluted due to a little rain, we know they are not ready for the big cluster pluck.

And of course, there is more to the story. The skins still taste like green bananas when you chew them. The seeds are almost martini olive green, but not quite. And there is still a fair bit of gelatinous pulp around the seeds. This should be mostly gone in a fully flavored and “aroma-ed” wineberry. Ergo, they are not ready

And then it rained.

The old timers around here, after a bit of prodding, will tell you about 1984. That was the year the waterworks started in September and simply did not stop. They will talk about harvesting with “Oregon Buckets.” These are buckets that have drainage holes drilled in the bottoms to let the rainwater out. For you collectors out there, try and find a bottle of 1984 vintage Oregon Pinot Noir. Take your time. If you do find one, it will be a rare treat indeed as very little red wine was made that year. Then again, some things are better to want than to have.

And it kept raining.

It seems the Japanese do have some influence and control over Oregon Pinot Noir. The weather system that provided a seemingly unending supply of rain was fueled by Typhoon Pabuk. Typhoon Pabuk was heading to Japan for a little R&R (rain and ruin.) But, a typhoon is typically not the stealthiest weather pattern and it was detected just in time. A strong weather front gathered itself together from the mainland, pushed over the Sea of Japan and confronted Typhoon Pabuk in the Pacific Ocean. Apparently, there were some issues surrounding diplomatic protocol and bringing in undeclared aquaculture products. In short order, Typhoon Pabuk was sent packing to the northeast.

It was windy too, which brought even more rain.

One man’s northeast is another man’s northwest. And that would happen to be where history found Ernie the weekend of September 28-29, 2013. The good news is the rototilling is all done. The alternate rows are ready for the winter cover crops that are selected to nourish our vines in the Spring and hold the soil in place during the winter rains. The bad news is that the cover crop is sitting in the seed drill waiting to be planted in the vineyard.

It was warm rain. Anyone have a Geiger counter?

And that seems to make sense. Typhoons are tropical events and if they are going to party, it is going to be with warm rain. Warm rain is not so good, and three days of warm rain is really … “Kitty.” Warm rain means we are about to experience a significant Botrytis event.

While we have been trying to keep dry, Botrytis has been loving the wet weather. Sure some of the spores are getting washed off. But the ones that had been on verge of compromising the fruit are well positioned to take over the entire cluster. This will happen the first week of October, when the sun is rumored to appear and crank up the heat. That’s gonna be a real big “Kitty.”

As we harvest, we will be very vigilant in keeping the Botrytis out of the fermenters. In that regard it will be very similar to a Burgundy harvest. The climate there often provides showers during the growing season that helps Botrytis get a foothold. They don’t have anything as cool as Typhoon Pabuk of course, but they do get Botrytis all the same.

At least the nets are up.

After several years of watching the birds feast on the more exposed areas of the vineyard, Ernie stopped wishing they would go away and just netted the vines. This was after abandoning the idea of tenting the vineyard like an aviary – hawks and all. In hindsight, the correct maneuver would have been to tarp the whole field.

The numbers are classified.

Let’s put it this way. If the government can figure out how to keep spending our money unabated, we will show you the numbers. Probably a pretty safe bet.

We are ready for harvest, as much as we can be. Ernie has selected a ¼ inch bit to start drilling holes in the harvest buckets. We have laid in harvest provisions and a 10 pound bag of whole bean “Dark Monster” to brew up every morning. Fresh wool socks and a new pair of Giorgio Farmani boots help keep everything moving along. After 14 years here if you don’t know how to dress for harvest, you don’t know Jac Shirt.

Kindest Regards,

Dena, Ernie and Typhoon Pabuk

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Amalie Robert Climate Update: 2013 Mid-September

Hello and Welcome,

This is the climate update for Mid-September 2013.

We spend a significant amount of time and go to a good deal of trouble to explain what we do in the vineyard and winery. Perhaps we have been going about this all wrong. Why just the other day, and for quite a few days now, we keep hearing about the data collection and data mining efforts that are being undertaken, or just taken, on our behalf. And recently we have had this crazy craving for Russian Caviar.

Soon we will be launching our own “Vineyard Vision.” Ernie has had a few spare moments, and you would be amazed at what he can cobble together out of that old flail mower and a few other pieces of “vintage” farm equipment. Sometime after harvest we will be launching our very own Interactive Communications Uplink (ICU) Satellite. Yep, there will be an app for that, for sure, for sure, good buddy!

Now we know this has been tried before, but with limited success. You see that was before the Smartphone and all those (foreign and domestic) Smartphone apps that are tracking our every move, credit card transaction, conversation, and perhaps image capture as well. And how do they get your driving directions so accurate? This is fertile ground to till, friends.

Meanwhile back on the farm, September has been one heck of a ride! You can see what we mean by going to Google Maps and typing in 13531 Bursell Road, Dallas, Oregon. Try it on your Smartphone…

September has been running hot and warm. We have seen the August trend continue, but with an unexpected shower of about an inch of rain. Ernie was really hoping for some cool rain to slow down the sugar accumulation in the wineberries. What he got was warm rain and plenty of it.

For those of you that are new to this communiqué, hold onto your apps. One inch of rain over an acre of land is 27,150 gallons of water. We received this gift from Mother Nature during the evening hours of September 5th.  This was big water in a short window. Our vines are planted at a density of 1,452 per acre. So you would not be inaccurate to say that each vine just gained access to a little over 18 gallons of water. We like to see the vines produce enough fruit to produce one bottle of wine per vine* – that is about 0.2 gallons. You old timers would know this as “a fifth.”

* Each ton of Pinot Noir harvested produces just about 60 cases of wine. Two tons of Pinot Noir from an acre of land will yield 120 cases (1,440 bottles) of wine from 1,452 vines.

You may be asking yourself where all of that rain is going to go. That would be a very good question, and is exactly what is on Ernie’s mind. There are only 2 places that much water can go:

First and fastest is the grass. Every other row of the vineyard has a permanent grass row. We use Tall Fescue as it has deep roots to survive our dry farmed vineyard in the summer. Now we had a little shot of rain at the end of August, about 0.25 inches. This woke up the grass and it started to green up. That means the grass is ready to take up a portion of this new rainfall. The warm temperatures are also helping it to grow. Nice.

The other half of the vineyard holds our fertilizer for this fall – Vetch to set Nitrogen and Buckwheat to help with Phosphorus uptake in the vines. These are 2 macronutrients the vines need every year. But those plants are pretty much dormant from the dry summer and are not going to take up a significant amount of that water. Not so much.

That leaves us with the water percolating down thorough the soil profile where the roots are waiting. Not much else they can do really. It’s not like they are going to run to town for beers. That’s our job.

The canopy is now in control. The leaves have a capillary ability to pull water from the soil via the roots. As the sun shines down on the leaves they carry out photosynthesis, convert that nasty carbon dioxide into oxygen that we all need and absorb heat. They cool themselves by opening stomata on their backside and release a little water vapor along with the oxygen. This is a very natural and biologically necessary function in most plants and many animals, some more than others – usually the males. So, the more leaves we have and the warmer the temperatures, the more of the available soil moisture will be transpired through the leaves. Very good.

Along with the leaves transpiring this moisture into the atmosphere, the wineberries are strategically positioned between the roots and the leaves to pick up some of this water on the way by. This can be good since the wineberries have had a hot and dry summer where they have desiccated a bit. This means the sugars will read very high because there is very little water left in the berry. High sugar accumulation before flavor development is bad, so we like a little moisture in the wineberries. Good.

However, an inch of rain is not a little moisture. The risk we are now exposed to is split berries and Botrytis bunch rot. As the leaves are pulling up moisture, the berries are packing it in. Late in the season the cell walls in the skins are starting to break down and release aromas that are like pheromones that stimulate the animal urges in … animals. This is good for wine quality as well, especially if you believe that a fine Pinot Noir is the embodiment of sex in a glass. Yeah, I’ll take a piece of that action!

However when these cell walls break down and the skins start to thin out it means too much water can burst the berry. When this happens, the cluster will start to rot with Botrytis. This is not good, as the cluster is now lost. No animal will eat that cluster when the cluster 3 inches away is just fine. Now that cluster is lost as well, and so on. Not so nice.

Ergo, the growing season to date has been quite warm and dry. The wineberries had been reading high sugars that meant an early harvest to keep alcohol levels down, but without great flavor development. This early September soaking has had the effect of diluting those sugars and thereby allowing for a little more hang time to develop those sexy, silky flavors we so desire. Now if they just hold together and don’t split we will be out to get them in a jiffy!

Let’s have a look at the numbers, and maybe a nice cold farming bier. That’s right, Okto-vember is just around the corner!

The first 15 days of September accumulated 248.3 degree days, had a high of 94.9 (recorded on 9/11 at 3:20 pm) and a low of 50.9 (recorded 9/7 at 3:20 am) for a 2013 growing season total of 1,985.3. This number looks a lot like 2,000 degree days which marks a nice cool climate growing season especially suited to Pinot Noir.

And we had rain. The evening of September 5th brought us a full inch, increasing the growing season total to 7.53 inches. Well (a hole in the ground with water in it), the grass certainly has greened up!

From here on in anything could happen and probably will. The warm temperatures up into the 90s after our early September rain event helped to green up the grass and rehydrate the wineberries. The rest of September is looking kinda carppy with miserable little cloud outbursts here and hopefully over there. The good news is that we have finally slowed down the growing season to let the flavors catch up with the sugars. However, we now face the risk of split berries and Botrytis bunch rot. If 2011 was a character building vintage, success in 2013 will be marked by nimble harvest operations ready to go at a moments notice. That’s how the birds do it. Welcome to the advanced class.

Bonus Material: For those of you actually considering getting into growing wine in Oregon, please refresh yourselves on the definitions of the following 2 words: Could and Should. As used in a sentence: “Oh sure, I could grow great wineberries.” And “Growing wineberries and placing my family’s entire financial future in Mother Nature’s hands is not something I should be doing.” May we suggest writing the second sentence on a cocktail napkin and carrying it with you during the evening hours in case the need to use it suddenly arises?

This is what we had to say for Mid-September 2012:
Ah, the numbers. We take a reading mid month in September because we can. It is just another data point along the way and helps us to understand our fruit development coming down the home stretch. Through the 15th of September, we have accumulated 244 Degree Days, for a growing season to date total of 1,718. We are only 4 Degree Days short of the entire 2010 growing season of 1,722! But wait, there's more.

Our high temperature was 97.1 and our low temperature for the month was a brisk 41.0 degrees Fahrenheit. There was no rainfall in the first 15 days of September. Rainfall since April 1st through September 15th remains 8.96 inches. A full and comparative report will be provided at month end.

But heat units aren't the whole story. We need time for the berries to ripen their seeds and ultimately develop stunning flavors and aromas while maintaining vibrant acidity. Besides, the birds aren't here yet. The real excitement begins in the second half of September. We expect a little precipitation, but who knows when.

In the past few cool vintages, it has been the latter half of September and the first half of October that Mother Nature decided to send a little love our way. Then there was 2011, where September felt like April and we burned through all of October to finish our Pinot Noir harvest the first week of November! That tingling sensation originated just below our spines. We think of the 2011 vintage often, but not fondly.

"Lean into it" they say. Yep, that's what’s next - Okto-vember. More than any other time during the year, this 61 day period is when we switch from wine to bier. It's a Germanic thing. See you next month!

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie