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

Friday, December 5, 2014

Amalie Robert Estate: Happy Holidays!

As the season turns to friends and family, we would like to extend to you our warmest wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a fruitful New Year. We also welcome new friends to the Amalie Robert Estate community and the "A-List."

The 5th of the month and the repeal of Prohibition! 

The 5th of the month has more significance than Ernie was previously aware. A thirst for knowledge and a little research has greatly expanded his appreciation for the 5th of the month.

January through March is a write-off. We are just too busy working to be bothered. However for some, the 5th of the month is payday.
April 5th is a day we wake up and realize the government is about to get more of our money than ever before. However, we owe ourselves about $18.0 trillion (up from about 17.2 trillion last year), that's just about $56,266 (up from about $54,250 last year) per person living in the United States, and $153,455 per taxpayer. Hmmm, back to work. You can check our progress from time to time right here

As you well know, the holiday Cinco De Mayo is a celebration on the 5th day of the 5th month. The purpose of which is to celebrate the victory by the Mexican Army over the French Army in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Of course, and as always, there is more to the story. Here is a link with more details.

We transition right to June 5th. This date is very significant to Ernie, as it is Dena’s birthday! As many of you know, Dena’s middle name is Amalie and is the palate defining Amalie’s Cuvée.

July 5th is the day we would have declared our Independence, however as Americans, we just couldn’t wait. Somewhat like opening a gift, or maybe two, on Christmas Eve.

August 4th, 2011, again we couldn’t wait, is the first time the US debt exceeded 100% of our Gross Domestic Product - GDP (Gosh Darn Politicians.)

However, August 5th brings little pink berries to our Pinot Noir vines. Ernie likes this, a lot!

September 5th is significant to all children and parents. It usually is about the time the children are going back to school.

October 5th usually finds us in the middle of harvest. Due to the protracted nature of harvesting and fermenting Pinot Noir, Ernie has dubbed the 10th and 11th months “Octo-vember.”

On December 5th we find ourselves at the end of the calendar. 2014 marks the 81st year of the repeal of the social experiment known as Prohibition.

On January 16th, 1919, the United States Congress passed the Volstead Act. The Volstead Act led to the 18th amendment to the Constitution of the United States. This marked the beginning of Prohibition. We wonder what Congress’s approval rating was that year.

This is an excerpt of section 1 of the 18th amendment:

“…the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.”

During the following 13 years, the people of the United States bore witness to the effects of Prohibition. Further, they were able to compare the politicians’ promises and pontifications to the experiences in their daily lives - aka reality.

It was in 1929 that a curious little product was invented and granted trademark protection. Ernie may be deviating from his factual discourse here, but perhaps this product was used in reference to the politicians of the day who could not tell the difference between a good idea and Prohibition. Sometimes it is hard to tell fact from fiction, sometimes not. The product was a shoe wax called Shinola.

Winegrowers of the time were a hearty breed, they had to be. The manufacture, distribution and sale (including export offshore) of alcohol was illegal. If your livelihood depended on growing some 65 tons of grapes and selling the fermented juice, you were out of business (and so was your labor force), or so the politicians thought.

Now, let us introduce the law of Supply and Demand (Note: Much like gravity this is a law not subject to political pressure.) Despite a small minority trying to legislate morality on the entire citizenry, the American public sought to exercise their rights as citizens living in a free country. After all, that’s why they were here.

It turns out that many people had unexplained illnesses during those 13 years. In visiting their family physicians, it seemed the most cost effective treatment was the prescription of alcohol, wine in most cases, for medicinal purposes. Thankfully, there was not a government run healthcare system at the time to prevent such a low cost and effective treatment. It would have been illegal!

Even today, the debate continues over the health benefits of alcohol, red wine in particular and Pinot Noir specifically, for the high content of Resveratrol. If only the ongoing healthcare debates and litigation were this simple. And thanks to Mr. Gruber, we have a little more information to reflect upon. You can learn more about Resveratrol here.

We now come to the presidential election of 1932. FDR, as he was known, achieved many things. The most wide sweeping change affected nearly everyone in the United States and for generations to come, including several of our foreign trading partners. Recall, the importation of Canadian, Irish and Scotch whisky was also illegal. As an aside, Ernie’s time in Ireland taught him that the Scot’s never acknowledged Prohibition and kept the pipeline open.

On December 5th, 1933, the 21st amendment was ratified by the United States Congress. In what may be the most effective and efficient legislation known to this great country, here is Section 1 in its entirety:

“Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.”

As you enjoy the holiday season, please take a moment to reflect on your constitutional right to keep and bear spirits, especially Pinot Noir!

Please enjoy our wines with friends, food and in moderation.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2014 Harvest After Action Report (AAR)

Hello and Welcome,

This is the final FLOG of the 2014 growing season. The 2014 growing season was somewhat akin to dropping a snowball at the top of Mt. Everest and trying to get to the bottom in time to execute a controlled stop. Every year is different, and that is why vintages have consequences in the Willamette Valley. And yes, that is a “Harvest Morning Quicke” in front of the senescing Walnut tree.

The following graphic depicts the total growing season degree days since we have been “growing our own.” We started out hot, gradually began to cool, got downright cold in 2010 and 2011, and then we lit off on a tear for the last 3 vintages.

We will leave the whole global warming v climate change quagmire for the next farmer. But we will say that you can learn a lot just by putting your boots in the vineyard and paying attention to how much sunscreen gets used. What we learned this year was to leave a few extra wineberries on the vine and hedge a bit shorter canopy than usual. We also left a few extra leaves in the fruit zone to prevent the harsh skin tannins that can develop from overexposure. And when you get rain in September, use it.

The real winner this year however, was the Syrah. Ernie was out there ‘most every day after all the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay was in. “Nope, not yet. Not ready,” he would mutter. Dena would soothe him by saying, “Well, if they aren't ready then don’t pick them. Can you go sweep up the front porch?”

Finally the weather began to turn and like it or not it was going to be time, so get farming ready! The heat units through mid-October registered 2,499 and we had accumulated 2.84 inches of rain from mid-September through harvest for a growing season total of 9.63 inches. The heat and rain curves appeared to align and then Ernie had to admit – it was time. We picked these 1,188 vines just as the harvest window was closing on October 19th. Yes, that is a little Viognier to top it off.

Could it be the best Syrah vintage the Willamette Valley has ever seen?  It certainly was a top contender for “Vintage of our Lifetime” here at Amalie Robert Estate. At this point the grapes are in, but the tasting notes are yet to be written. We will know for sure in about 2 years when we take it out of the barrel and put a cork in it.

As the following graphic clearly illustrates, we were battling high sugars before aroma and flavor development was complete. Or were we?

We had a nice Dog Nose Spring (cold and wet) that helped us stitch our new Wadenswil vines into the hill. To the casual observer, it must seem that we are growing milk, but if you look at the shipping manifest you will see that is a rootstock trial. Yep, that Ernie is always trying to learn something. While the clone is all Wadenswil on top, there are 4 different rootstocks grafted on the bottom. It will take a little while, but we will see how the fruit turns out. If nothing else, it will certainly help add a little complexity to the final blend.

Clue #1: Notice the rainfall though July is 6.68 inches. We also had about 20 inches of rain from January through March before the growing season even got started.

It usually happens in April or May that Ernie is out there whipping up some dust and tilling in last years’ cover crops to provide nutrients for our vines. Nitrogen is a macronutrient which means the vines need a fair bit of it. The thing is, Nitrogen gets leached out of the soil profile with all of the winter rains. So if you don’t add a little in the spring, the vines will not be very happy and there may not be any fruit for you.

As always there is the easy way and the Ernie way. The easy way is to add some chemical fertilizer to the soil. The hard way is to drill in cover crops in the spring, till them in the fall, and then drill in more cover crops for the winter. The Ernie way also has a very beneficial impact in that it adds humus to the soil.

Clue #2: Humus significantly influences the bulk density of soil and contributes to moisture and nutrient retention.

As the vines responded to the warming temperatures in May and June, we began weaving a web of catch wires to contain their growth. Oh it is easy at first, with just maybe 10 to 12 inches of growth they are easy to position in the first set of wires.

As we enter flowering in June the vineyard smells of honeysuckle. With over 40,000 vines out there, it is pretty intense. And so is the vine’s desire to outgrow the trellis. While we need to measure to be sure, it is an agreed upon fact that those vines can add an inch a day, or even more. The third wire is at 72 inches and they are all put up by hand. Each vine’s shoots are positioned in their 3 inch wide by 4 foot long plane with the sole purpose of collecting solar radiation. That’s what farmers do, we are light harvesters. So, it seems, are these Ivanpah guys. But you have to admit, wine is a lot more fun.

Then before you know it, it is hedging time. After all the wires are up it is time to hedge our bets. What is the rest of the growing season going to be like? All we know for sure is that there will be sun, heat, cold, rain, wind, some rot, and birds. Get the proportions and timing right and that’s a pretty nice bottle of wine you’ve got yourself there. While we can have an impact in the vineyard, we really have no control. So we plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Clue #3: Hedge a short canopy in warm years to reduce the vine’s water usage and slow down the sugar accumulation.

The hedger is one helluva piece of equipment. Like any true piece of farming equipment, it only does one thing, but it does it well. Ernie’s hedger has several pitch adjustments and a height adjustment. Some hedgers are mounted on a tractor at a fixed height. Others are on two feet.

This adjustment comes in quite handy in years like 2010 and 2011 when we needed all of the energy we could harvest from the sun. But in years like 2013 and 2014 we want a shorter canopy. A short canopy will remove more leaves from the vine. This has the immediate effect of reducing photosynthesis and slowing sugar accumulation.

The leaves also transpire a tremendous amount of water through stomata on the leaf’s underside.  This has the effect of cooling the leaf, and as you would imagine the hotter the day, the more moisture is liberated from the soil through the leaf back into the heavens. In 2014, we didn’t see that much rain to replenish the soil from July through mid-September. We didn’t really need, or want those extra leaves in 2014.

Clue #4: The shorter the grass is mown, the less water it will use.

In addition to the nutrients we grow as cover crops, every other row is planted to grass. We have a strain called Tall Fescue and it is as tough a grass as you could want in the tractor rows. But its roots go deep to help it survive a dry summer and there is some competition with the vines.

The vine’s leaves can exert a tremendous vacuum on the roots to pull water from the soil. This is their main competitive advantage against the grass. We tilt the playing field as well by mowing the grass to within an inch of its roots to minimize its water usage. And we do it at the same time as we are hedging! Now that is really something in farming – doing two tasks in a single vineyard pass. Why that saves Ernie 3 days of his life on each of 3 passes and a fair few gallons of diesel to boot!

Axiom #1: There can be no doubt that great wines are the result of a winegrowers’ astute and timely response to the given year’s growing conditions, and a little luck.

After the vines have had their third, and in some cases fourth hedge, it is time to hurry up and wait for harvest. August is the time of year when Ernie gets down and dirty with the tractors – it is oil changing time. There is a whole checklist. Check the tires, change the battery, replace a clutch, this is widely understood to be the gestalt of farming.

It is not more than a little different from his college days of tuning a huge Holley 4 barrel carburetor, setting a dual point distributor and adjusting the valves on a high compression, over-bored small block Chevy roller motor. Back up onto a sidewalk, remove the exhaust caps and it was off to the strip. A 7,500 rpm redline and 4.11 gears will move you along pretty quickly and about 12 seconds later, at 130 miles per hour, you cross the 1,320 foot line – a quarter mile.

Well, today there are no carburetors to tune (a lost art anyway), the tractors don’t have distributors to set and Ernie can cover a quarter mile in about 7.5 minutes. But tires seem to last a lot longer on the farm…

Clue #5: Timing is everything in farming.

The ideal last act of farming for the season is harvest, and if the timing works out we can drill in the fall cover crop first. 2014 was such a year. We had over an inch of rain in mid-September to soften up the soils. Ernie had the crawler and rototiller ready to go and waiting for such an opportunity. By daybreak that morning he was on it! The soil turned up like fresh double chocolate brownies and that aroma of freshly tilled, high humus content soil just makes you giddy – giddy up!

Giddy up! Because you know that the seed drill has to get out there before the next wave of heat steals all of that wonderful soil moisture. And that is what “back to back” means in the vineyard business. Open up the soil, drill your cover crop in and protect the soil moisture from evaporation. The rototiller is the key to this operation. It breaks the capillary action of water so that it cannot transpire to the surface. Ergo, we keep it for the vines. Good timing. We now have about 20 acres worth of Oats and Peas that will provide nutrients (and humus) for our vines in the spring.

Clue #6: Good things come to those who wait, but not to those who wait too late.

Sure enough, it happened in September. Pinot Noir started making its way up from southern Oregon to waiting wineries in the North. A little warmer they are and when it is time, the vines will not be denied.

We kept an eye on the Granddaddy walnut tree and it was unyielding. We were testing sugars, acids, flavor, and color and found that while many vineyards had picked, it was not our time.

Oh you noticed that, eh? Yes, we care a great deal about the color of juice samples. Color is another indicator that the wineberries are ready to release not only color, but all of that elegant aroma and flavor we have been nurturing all season long. Light colored juice means not so much. However, by waiting too late we run the race against too much sugar accumulation.

This gave us pause to reflect on what we had and had not done during the growing season. The fact that we could hang our fruit a little longer than others to achieve aroma and flavor development was a vindication that we had done something right. Or that two (or more) wrong things may in fact make a right thing. Either way we held fast, as if tied up to the mast.

The rains that doomed the press potential of the 2007 vintage arrived, and we were glad to have them. This water was immediately, if not instantaneously, sucked up by anything that had a root in the ground – including our vines. And here is that 2007 vintage graphic for your viewing pleasure.

Then it was time and the controlled chaos known as “The Great Cluster Pluck of 2014” began, as it always does, in “Earnest.” Monday, September 29, 2014 was the day and the yield was about 15 tons. Harvest operations continued through October 19th when we brought in the buxom berries of block 13. Home at last.

The 2014 vintage will be remembered as the (lucky) 13th harvest at Amalie Robert Estate. We farmed our vines to the best of our abilities with an eye toward elegance, finesse and a true representation of the vintage on our site. Wines true to the soil, wines true to the vintage. ®

Kindest Regards,

Dena and Ernie

BONUS Material: Check out our Twitter account to read our daily harvest tweets.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2014 September

Hello and Welcome,

This is the second and final part of the September Climate Update.

Yes it is true; we open a little something special the night before all the hoopla begins at daybreak. It usually has been around a long while and always has a cage that requires 6 twists to the left. Flutes are involved. While we don’t produce any, we do grow all the components - Champagne Deconstructed. Say what you will, but we call it inspiration.

We held out as long as we could and began harvest operations on Monday, September 29, 2014. The Walnut tree gave us a subtle but recognizable signal that the time had come to pluck those ripe wineberries from the vine. And pluck we did that day with a beautiful 15 ton harvest. That’s 1,500 buckets of hand harvested love!

It was a bittersweet moment that quickly gave way to euphoria. Being the farmers we are, let’s dwell on the bittersweet. The euphoria will have to wait. Our goal is to harvest wineberries when they are at their peak of flavor maturity. We employ several techniques to determine when this azimuth has occurred. Some are technical, some are sensory and some are from the weatherman, which is the least reliable of all three.

Once the decision is made to harvest, you cannot look back. You make the plan the night before of which blocks are going to be picked and in what order. The tractor routes are laid out so that we can always have empty bins ready for the cluster pluckers. (Note: we are referring to the ones on foot, not on wing.)

And then about 3:35 AM you hear that little voice in your head saying that, while it is all good, the weather is going to hold and you could wait a few more days. You must resist this Siren’s song! You don’t want premature vinification, but it gets the wheels turning and the cogs are set in motion. Are we going to miss out on great aromas and flavors if we start plucking away in just about 4 hours?

HA! If you have ever tried to time trades in the stock market, you know exactly what that voice sounds like. That is when we lean back on 15 years of experience here, with this piece of dirt, and say “Farm it!” We are taking that fruit when it’s ready and according to plan. And besides, once the grapes are removed from the vine, there is no going back. You own that decision for the rest of your life, therefore it was the right one – by definition.

Now the euphoria can proceed in full regalia! There is nothing quite like seeing 15 tons of perfectly ripe Pinot Noir laid out in tote bins ready to become wine. Each and every action that we took, and weather event that occurred, is reflected in that fruit. It will make the vintage what it is in the forthcoming wine. And that is how we get to “Winemaking: The Continuation of Terroir by Other Means”®

Let’s have a quick look at the numbers and then we need to get back to do punchdown. Yeah, if the shoe fits, it is a long day for you.

We recorded 180.2 degree days for the second half of September providing a total of 445.6 degree days for the month. Rainfall totaled 1.17 inches beginning on September 18th with the biggest measurement of 1.00 inch on the 24th. The astute reader will note we waited for a little shot of rain before we took our first wineberries. We round out the growing season to date with 2,331.6 degree days and 7.96 inches of rain.

But wait, there is October yet to go and we are still hanging about 60 tons of fruit! Will there be more rain? Maybe some rot? How about the birds, are they early this year? Yeah, it’s going to be a full on Cluster Pluck…

Our final FLOG will be the 2014 Harvest After Action Report where all will be revealed, well mostly. During harvest, Ernie posted daily updates on Twitter. Click here if you want to read the tweets and follow along: Amalie Robert on Twitter.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2014 Mid-September Premature Vinification

Hello and Welcome,

The first half of September is “in the sack,” so to speak. While we have had a warm growing season, we remain vigilant in waiting for our wines to “come of age” on the vine before we take them for our own. Chaste we remain.

Others just could not hold back and released their crews into the fertile fields. They harvested early, certainly in respect to the last several vintages. And why not? The vines were bearing bare, voluptuous clusters sweet with sugar and alluring to the eye. Their firm and youthful berries yielding just slightly to the touch.

Basking in the sun’s morning glow, but before they reached their full zenith, they were plucked from the vine. Maturation Interruptus! On those warm, early September afternoons the clusters with berries just yearning to burst were sent into fermenters for a cold “soak.” People will find out, they always do - it’s going to come out, it always does. There was premature vinification.

It’s OK, really, and quite understandable. Wine is only made once a year, and that is a long dry spell for anyone to not practice their craft. Skills and abilities, as well as a sense of timing, can atrophy without robust exercise and discipline.

So why wait to harvest? What is to be gained by delaying the gratification of denuding the vine and surrendering yourself to all of that wonderful Pinot Noir? If you watch closely in the vineyard, you will see the birds and the bees partaking of this sublime nectar. Why not the humans? We know, this is an argument as old as time. And sometimes we all do the wrong thing for selfish reasons. We’re humans. That’s what we do. Some, more than others…

But Pinot Noir accepts no excuses and in fact will tell on you. Maybe not today or next week, or even in the barrel, but rest assured the day will come when someone smells an underdeveloped expression of Pinot Noir. The discussion will turn to hang time, and that’s when it will come out. As much fun as it was to get them off early, you may be faced with a comment like this from one of your better customers:

“Maturation interruptus leading to premature vinification resulting in an unfinished expression of The Joy of Pinot Noir.”

That’s the main reason we are holding firm – the sugar development is ahead of the aroma and flavor development. The risk we take in waiting is substantial. We could continue to build sugars resulting in high alcohol wines, the birds could ravage the vineyard and we could get unprecedented rain. Well, that just described the last 3 vintages, so no big deal. Been there, had that done to us.

The rewards, on the other hand, are immeasurable. You know that feeling when it is just right. The world is spinning in greased grooves and everything is humming along. A time for everything and everything right on time. That’s what we are bearing down on.

And as you might well expect, we have the numbers to support our voluptuous clusters.

Let’s start with 105. That’s a pretty good number for growing Pinot Noir in Oregon. We know that it takes about 105 days from the time we flower until we develop those striking Oregon aromas and flavors in the skins of our grapes. And 105 days for us is Julian calendar day 262, aka September 19.

We can also factor in 265.4. This represents the Degree Days for the first half of September. While this does not tell the whole story of the vintage, adding it to the tally from August does. We are sitting at 2,151.4 degree days.

Rain for the month of August was 0.11 inches and rain for the first half of September was 0.05 inches. While August had a better showing in the rain department, it ain’t over until the red haired lady lets go. And that’s where we are placing our bets – she can’t hold out much longer.

The next week is calling for some precipitation. We are looking at it like the Ski Resorts do – you don’t know when you are going to get it, or how much you are going to get, but you will be grateful when it happens.

We were in a similar situation in 2012 and 2013 – both warm vintages. Things got a little out of hand in 2013 when we were surprised with 9’’ of rain, but we handled it just fine. Ernie is thinking just an inch or so will do. Dena is thinking a bit more.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2014 August

Hello and Welcome,

There is one word to sum up the month of August and that word is “HOT.” In fact, it’s really farming hot. Too farming hot if you ask us. But as Mother Nature keeps her Stiletto heel firmly on the throttle, she has been restrained enough to keep us under 100, well almost.

This is the magic number for the vines. Below 100 degrees they just keep advancing toward harvest. If the temperature rises above 100, they want to shut down photosynthesis and protect themselves from the heat. So the 97 to 98 degree temperatures we see each afternoon are adding degree days faster than we can say “Pinot in Pink” Rosé!

And then there are the night time temperatures. So much for the diurnal cool climate viticulture of 2007, 2010 and 2011 (yeah, we are still riding those ponies…) No, not this year. Evening temperatures in the mid to upper 50’s and even into the 60’s? For farmin’ out loud woman, cut us some slack! We are just glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife…

But it’s all good. The earth remains firm under our feet. And the Syrah is looking particularly nice this year. We would hazard a guess that there won’t be all that much Rosé produced in 2014 if the lady behind the wheel keeps trying to overtake the pace car.

The big news in the vineyard is we have finally put all the vine shoots we need where they belong and hedged off the rest. It took 4 passes this year with the hedger to control the growth, but it is now finished and we can move on to thinning.

The vines are on this Earth for one thing and one thing only – to reproduce. They want to ripen their seeds and have some bird or other animal deposit them in an undisclosed location. To give themselves the best chance at this, they trained humans to tend to their every need. Then one day, a human came upon a decomposing cluster of grapes (it was actually fermenting) and ate it. As our hero awoke, the search was on for more of these clusters. And that is when the trainer became the trained.

The humans began to remove some clusters of grapes from the vine that didn’t look quite right, or taste very good (that was their first clue.) They selected the green bunches when most of the bunches were deep burgundy in color. They emphatically cut the wings from the cluster which everyone knows ripens a week or so late. They even built structures out of posts and wires to get the clusters up off of the ground to make their work easier.

Soon the vines were trapped in trellis structures and trained to grow in a Vertical Shoot Positioned (VSP) way designed by the humans for one purpose – to produce wine so they could reproduce. The vine was forced to submit, but turned a blind eye to this activity.

In the world of wine quality that is influenced in the vineyard, thinning is where you create the potential for the most superior wines. We say potential because once the grapes leave the vineyard where Mother Nature reigns supreme, they go to the winery where there are humans asserting control. And as we see from the previous example, humans can be a devious sort.

At Amalie Robert Estate, we look at thinning as our opportunity to select the best fruit from our 45,000 vines. And since we grow all of our own fruit it is up to us to get it right.  The theory here is we only want ripe and wonderfully expressive clusters of wineberries to end up in our fermentations. There are several schools of thought on how to select those clusters and differing ways of doing the work. That’s the thing about farming, somebody has to actually do the work.

Well, here is how we do it. First we try and figure out how to get a single bottle of wine from each of our 45,000 little winemaker trainees. This usually means about 2.75 pounds of wineberries per vine. In Pinot Noir we like to see that 2.75 pounds spread over about 10 to 12 clusters of wineberries.

The vines have other designs. Sometimes it takes 20 clusters to get there, other times we can get there with just 8. It all depends on what was happening in June when the vines were flowering and trying to set fruit. So we need to take detailed cluster counts and weights from several samples throughout the vineyard. We might even read the expertly prepared June Climate Update to remind us what was happening.

These cluster counts and corresponding weights go into the random number generator that produces a thinning plan to tell us how many clusters we need to remove per vine “on average.” But in farming there is no “average” vine. The average vine is an imaginary construct to give the humans some reference on what to do. For example, we do not see too many vines out there with 20.58 clusters on them. Its 20 or 21 kid, take your pick.

So let’s say the average vine has 20.58 clusters on it and we need just 14 to get us to one bottle of wine per vine. Here is where you say, “That’s easy! Just cut off 7 clusters per vine and you are there.” And then Ernie says, “Right, but which ones?” Note: This is a far better condition than having 14.2 clusters per vine and needing 16.

And here is where we get down to the cluster cutting. Without going into too much detail, the best clusters on a vine are usually grown at the end of the cane. We know this because Dick Erath said so after he did repeated and replicated trials over several years. ‘nuff said.

So we like to leave those clusters at the end of the vine, unless they are compromised in some way, then they have to go. That means we tend to remove the clusters, with the lowest ripening potential, closest to the head of the vine. And then there are the wings.

The wings always have to go, those little green blighters. They are always a week or so behind. They flower late, they change color late and they sweeten up late, if at all. We just can’t be associated with them so we cut them off. They are akin to the perpetual college student…

So at the end of the cane, our most prized fruit is - at the end of the cane. These are the clusters of wineberries that have the highest quality potential as long as Ernie has his farming plan dialed in – and he does. That man burns Bio-Diesel at 2.5 miles per hour like nobody’s business. The rest is up to that speed crazed woman flogging a hot lap vintage to which we are much more than just casual observers.

“All the world's indeed a stage. And we are merely players. Performers and portrayers. Each another's audience. Outside the gilded cage.” - Rush

Here are the numbers. We ask that you not print this page for fear of spontaneous combustion. Yeah, they’re hot…

We have recorded 615.2 degree days for the month of August, providing a total of 1,886 degree days since the beginning of the growing season on April 1, 2014. The heat accumulation for the 2014 growing season thorough August exceeds the total growing season heat accumulation for two of the last four vintages. And if we were to pontificate on what September holds, which we won’t, but if we did, it could be that the 2014 vintage turns in the most blistering performance since the 2003 vintage tallied 2,699 degree days. Nah, never happen…

But rain it did, just a bit, on the 30th for a little while. Mostly slug and fungus class precipitation, but it prevented another 100 degree day. The last precipitation was during the trundling thunder cloud burst around the middle of month. Other than that it has been dry and dusty. But still, it was a turn, perhaps, for a little coastal influence in the morning to provide some welcome cooling. It could happen or it could rain, or not. But in farming there is no try – you do or you do not.

Some of the more astute readers of this FLOG may well remember September 2013 when we had tropical storm Pabuk dump 9” of rain in the Pacific Northwest in 4 days. Along with the yearly equipment maintenance, this is just a small, but significant part of the inherent joy of farming. Total precipitation for the month of August is 0.11 inches providing a 2014 growing season total of 6.79 inches.

This is what we had to say last August (Pre-Pabuk):
We have recorded 524 degree days for the month of August, providing a total of 1,737 degree days since the beginning of the growing season on April 1, 2013 (Julian calendar day 91.) For analytical comparative purposes only, the 2010 vintage only recorded 1,722 degree days through the end of OctoBERRRR.

So that leaves us with the months of September and maybe October if we can hang it out that long. We have never started harvest here in September, but it could happen this year. We will keep an eye on the tried and true Walnut tree. Nothing gets harvested here until that tree gives us some yellow leaves signaling the harvest window is open.

On the far side of harvest lies the Syrah. Usually a November picking date, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Or maybe we won’t have to wait, we’ll see.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Amalie Robert Vintage Update: 2014 Pinot Noir In Flagrante!

Hello and Welcome,

We have reached the end of the beginning and are now facing the beginning of the end. Sure, things look really nice now with the gentle breeze fondling our Pinot Noir leaves. But we can assure you things look very different at harvest with 70 some tons of Pinot Noir bearing down on you with the ever-present threat of rain looming in the foreground (queue the eerie music.)

But we saw the first intrepid wineberry today, August 2, 2014!! And wouldn’t you know, it was in the last place we looked – and that is because once we found it, we quit looking. Same story with the tractor keys, once you find them you get to go farming!

The Julian Calendar date is 214, 2014. In 2013, day 213 was when we saw the first blazing wineberry. Hmmm…. Typically the average is somewhere around day 228. In 2012 we were right on track at day 229, but it was a leap year. And that character building vintage of 2011 held us out until day 237. Think about this, we are 23 days ahead of where we were in 2011. That was the year we were so far behind, we had to get up before we even had a chance to go to bed!

Back on task. The prized specimen belongs to a Pommard Clone vine of Pinot Noir grafted onto that “Big Daddy” rootstock 5C. The 5C rootstock is an Amalie Robert Estate favorite. We employ several rootstocks to match our soils, but we have found when dry farming, 5C is the dog’s bollocks:-

Of all the rootstocks used in the Willamette Valley, 5C has a reputation for being the latest ripening of all. For this reason most vineyards will not plant it, as they would prefer to harvest their grapes earlier before all the bad-nasty birds and rains come a-calling.

However, as most of you know, Ernie does not run with the traffic. In laying out the vineyard, a significant portion of the vines are grafted onto Big Daddy 5C. In fact, 5C provides the closest ripening curve match to own rooted (non-grafted) vines. The other rootstocks used around the valley have a ripening curve that comes in about 5 to 7 days ahead of own rooted and 5C grafted vines.


Our very best wines always seem to be from blocks where the vines are grafted onto Big Daddy 5C. One thing to consider here is that aromas and flavors are really developing in the skins of the wineberry the last week to 10 days before harvest. With 5C we ripen a bit more slowly, and that allows us to hang a little longer into the abyss.

Since we are building sugars more slowly, we can hang ‘em out there a little longer without worrying about excessive sugars and potential alcohol levels that could force an early harvest on a lesser rootstock. Then we snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with a late harvest day when we can see the harvest window closing in our rear view mirror.

And don’t forget the stems – they love the extra hang time to ripen up. We love it too because whole cluster fermentation means we are putting those clusters in whole, stem and all. What ripe stems provide are fine grained tannins that lengthen the finish of Pinot Noir. Hmm, where did my glass go…?

In that wonderfully cool year 2010, we produced a 2 barrel selection of Pommard Clone and a 2 barrel selection of Wadenswil Clone Pinot Noirs. While these wines are very different, Pommard being from France and Wadenswil from Switzerland, they do have some similarities.

The first thing these two wines have in common is they were both Estate grown on Big Daddy 5C rootstock.

And we just found out the second thing they share is a 93 point rating from Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar.

Go Big Daddy!

2010 Amalie Robert Estate Pinot Noir Pommard Clone Willamette Valley
Bright red.  Vibrant mineral- and spice-laced red berry and floral pastille scents are given depth by notes of licorice and cola.  Lithe and sharply focused on the palate, offering gently sweet strawberry and cherry flavors that put on weight and gain spiciness with aeration.  Pure, focused and lively on the strikingly long finish, which is framed by silky tannins and brightened by a tangy blood orange note. 93 points

2010 Amalie Robert Estate Pinot Noir Wadenswil Clone Willamette Valley
Bright red.  High-pitched cherry and Asian spice aromas are deepened by notes of sassafras, woodsmoke and cola.  Stains the palate with sappy red and dark berry flavors and tangy acidity adding lift and cut.  An exotic floral nuance emerges with air and carries through a long, sweet and persistent finish.  While this energetic pinot is built to age, it has a lot of immediate appeal. 93 points

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2014 July

Hello and Welcome,

The Dog Days of summer appear to be upon us. Sunny warm days and cool crisp nights are the reason Pinot Noir ripens so exceptionally well in the Willamette Valley. It’s nice to see the Pinot Noir leaves being gently caressed by the afternoon breeze. And ya know the resident humans like it too. Yep, it’s pretty farmin’ nice!

A well groomed vineyard is a beautiful thing. We spend much of the month of July tending to the vines’ every need with an eye toward harvest. Our first battle is getting their shoots tucked into the trellis and then clipped into place. They put up a pretty good fight, but at the end of the day we lock them in. This activity alone takes about 2 minutes of hand labor per vine over the course of 3 visits – repeat 45,000 times.

Then Ernie wheels out the hedger for a whole lotta “tough love.” He runs though the vineyard with the sole purpose of removing the growing tips from the shoots. The goal here is to get the vine to redirect its energy into ripening its seeds. At first they don’t get it and just produce more shoots and leaves. Fine.

A second pass starts to bend the curve, but they just keep on pushing. Now the third pass, that one can achieve the result we are looking for. And so it goes, by the end of July the vines have mostly stopped producing new foliage and have begun to direct more energy into ripening their wineberries. And we like it like that!

July is also the time of the growing season when we can impact the “tannin structure,” “mid-palate texture” or “phenolic profile” of our wines. This is all just crazy wine talk for how the wine feels in your mouth. But you can use real words like smooth, elegant, pure, very nice, and yum! The “yum factor” is a real thing and sometimes that’s all you need to say. People may give you the “confused dog look” but we know what you mean: “Amalie’s Cuvée – Yum!”

We get the yum factor in our Pinot Noirs by leaving most of the leaves around the little wineberries attached to the plant. Sure we take some of the bigger leaves off to allow for air circulation and some sun exposure, but not very many. These well positioned leaves also protect our developing wineberries from harsh heat spikes that can come and go depending on Mama’s mood. And if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy…

The alternative is to strip the leaves out of the fruit zone to maximize the sun exposure and “phenolic development” in the wineberries’ skin The resulting wine can be more harsh, bitter and less pleasant to be around. This is kind of like you falling asleep at the beach and not noticing that the umbrella you were napping under was horked by some passing kid. And the dog got your bottoms. Doggone it…

This is part of the “Enhanced Extraction Technique” school of viticulture. And how do you handle those harsh flavors in the winery? Get out the toasty oak barrels, aka burn cream. The oak’s sweetness will temper the wine’s harshness and if done well, this approach can make a very exciting Syrah. May the yum factor be with you.

You can never tell for sure ‘til it’s over, but 2014 is shaping up to be building on the 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2013 warm July vintages. We’ll do the numbers, and then you can do the math.

We logged 624 degree days for the month of July, 2014, with a high of 98.1 and a low of 44.8 degrees Fahrenheit with 0.80 inches of rain. The total degree days for the 2014 growing season now stand at 1,271 with total rainfall at 6.68 inches (that was close!)

Have a look at this Degree Day comparison (which way does the hockey stick go?):

YTD - July
* To Be Farming Determined

Lots and lots of ways to look at this. 2014 has one of the warmer Springs on record at Amalie Robert Estate at 1,271 degree days, and holds the top spot for July at 624 degree days. However, at this point in the growing season, we look a lot like 2006, 2009 and a bit like 2013. Also interesting to note 2007 was ahead of 2008 in July, but that didn’t hold through harvest.

Further detailed analytical and subjective analysis is an exercise left for the reader. If you are missing exemplars of a particular vintage, please contact Dena to secure your specimens. If you are not sure which wine you need, check out the Amalie Robert Estate Scorecard.

And what about 2010? That vintage was so farming cold that the birds got here ahead of schedule - and they stayed. Yep, they feasted on wineberries while we waited for them to ripen. Every day a few more vines were denuded. We estimate our loss to be about 300 cases of wine that just flew right out of the vineyard. Others were hit harder and everyone lost some. But we saved a bunch of money on bottles and corks!

The growing season was a rollercoaster ride with a very nice October. Here is what we said in our 2010 “Harvest After Action Report.”

“The challenge we faced was bringing in 65 tons in short order. While the harvest window looked really nice, it was not going to last forever. There is a funny story about someone who made a substantial sum in the stock market. He was asked how he did it; what was his "secret?" He replied "I sold too soon!"

And so it was as harvest began. People wanted to pick, but they thought it was too soon. The sugars were rising (Brix) and the acids were falling. The planets were beginning to align. The cold 2010 vintage was being redeemed! The weather was stunning and Ernie understood the temptation to wait. But Ernie has lived through the "Dot.Com" bust, and the thought of waiting was never seriously considered. He learned the hard way that those "gains" are not yours until you bring them home.”

You can read the full 2010 “Harvest After Action Report” on our FLOG (Farming bLOG) right here:

So, did we make the right call starting harvest “too soon?” Well, we think it worked out just fine. As most of you know, we like to hold our wines until we think they are drinking well, and providing a substantial “yum factor.” The latest reviews from our most respected Pinot Noir reviewer, Josh Raynolds for Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, were published at the beginning of July. (All reviews: ©2014 WineAccess. All Rights Reserved.) Whaddya think?

2010 Pinot Noir The Reserve Willamette Valley Light, bright red.  Highly perfumed aromas of fresh red berries, potpourri, cinnamon and sandalwood are complemented by deeper-pitched notes of cola and black cardamom.  Shows excellent clarity and lift on the palate, offering spicy raspberry and bitter rhubarb flavors that gain sweetness with air.  Distinctly pure and focused pinot with silky tannins coming on late and adding grip to the long finish. 93

2010 Pinot Noir Amalie's Cuvee Willamette Valley Bright ruby-red.  A complex, expressive bouquet evokes fresh red berries, Asian spices and potpourri, with a hint of smoky minerals emerging with aeration.  Offers juicy, incisive black raspberry and bitter cherry flavors that stretch out and deepen with air while picking up a suave rose pastille nuance.  Shows excellent clarity and drive on the persistent finish, which is firmed by dusty, harmonious tannins and a jolt of blood orange. 93

2010 Pinot Noir Pommard Clone Willamette Valley Bright red.  Vibrant mineral- and spice-laced red berry and floral pastille scents are given depth by notes of licorice and cola.  Lithe and sharply focused on the palate, offering gently sweet strawberry and cherry flavors that put on weight and gain spiciness with aeration.  Pure, focused and lively on the strikingly long finish, which is framed by silky tannins and brightened by a tangy blood orange note. 93

2010 Pinot Noir Estate Selection Willamette Valley Bright red.  Expressive spicy, floral bouquet evokes fresh rose, red berries and incense, with a subtle orange zest note adding lift.  Silky, tangy and precise, offering nervy redcurrant and raspberry flavors that slowly flesh out with air.  Shows outstanding clarity and lift on the long, spicy finish, which betrays just a hint of fine-grained tannins. 92

2010 Pinot Noir Dijon Clones Willamette Valley Bright red.  Heady, exotic aromas of fresh red berries, Asian spices and potpourri, with subtle smoke and mineral nuances adding complexity.  Silky, expansive and appealingly sweet, offering intense raspberry and rose pastille flavors and a strong spicecake quality that builds on the back half.  Pure, focused and strikingly persistent on the finish, which is firmed by fine-grained, harmonious tannins. 92

2010 Ipinot Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Light, bright red.  High-pitched redcurrant, strawberry and orange zest aromas, along with suggestions of dusty minerals and white pepper.  Shows very good clarity and lift to its light-bodied bitter cherry and red berry flavors.  Closes with lingering spiciness, a touch of rose pastille and silky, fine-grained tannins that stay hidden in the background. 91

2012 Pinot Meunier Willamette Valley Vivid red.  Musky red berries and cherry on the fragrant nose, with subtle herbal and floral qualities adding complexity.  Chewy bitter cherry and licorice flavors become sweeter with air while picking up a peppery nuance.  Closes with very good energy, grip and length, leaving a note of white pepper behind.  Shows good delineation for the vintage, with no excess fat. 90

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie