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

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2014 April & May

Hello and Welcome,

Please excuse the tardiness of this FLOG (Farming bLOG,) as Springtime in the Willamette Valley is a very busy time of year for the winegrower. There are some occupations where a fixed amount of work is spread over an allotted time to complete it – for example, completing the national mathematics exam form 1040. In farming, we have the situation where there is a fixed amount of time and an unlimited amount of work to complete. Many hours of which are spent behind the wheel of a tractor at about 2 miles per…

And to make matters worse, Ernie decided to add to the workload. While those are in fact milk cartons, we are not growing milk. There are little Wadenswil vines in those “vine shelters.” And the timing couldn’t have been better – for the plants. We stitched those little vines into the hill under the most intense rainstorm of the year.

The humans, however, were mired in fully saturated Bellpine soil. Yeah, it’s good dirt and if you are a vine, it’s where you want to be!

Well let’s see now, where did we leave off? We finished harvest, including the Botryotinia Fuckeliana Chardonnay and tucked our newly fermented wines into the cellar. The cover crop Ernie drilled into the vineyard emerged to provide nutrition for the vines in the Spring and that is where we begin today’s FLOGGING.

We think of the soil as the plant’s stomach. Every other vineyard row is planted to permanent grass, and the remaining rows are used to grow cover crops to feed the vines. To feed the vines we grow a blend of plants that will fix nitrogen right out of thin air (which is about 80% nitrogen) and something to hold that nitrogen until we (Ernie) can come back around and till it into the soil. As these plants decompose, the vine roots are right there to take up all the available nutrients. That is how we are able to feed our vines without the use of chemical fertilizers.

Here is the action plan to achieve this result:

  • Wait for a day when it is not raining

  • Start the tractor - This often requires some light maintenance, such as a new battery, adding air to the tires and removing the rodent nest from the cab of the tractor. Time estimate: 2 hours.

  • Attach the new flail mower, grease it and top off the fuel tank with diesel. Time estimate: 1 hour.

  • Mow the cover crop rows – We have about 43,552 producing vines spread over 30 acres. The vines are spaced 4 feet apart, except for one Wadenswil plant that is only 2 feet away from its rowmates. This provides about 174,208 lineal feet of vines. But wait; there’s more – the roadways. After about 400 feet of vineyard row, we usually have a roadway that is 28 feet wide adding another 6,994 lineal feet. Finally, we use the space at the ends of the rows to turn around. This adds another 26,752 lineal feet for a grand total of 181,202 lineal feet or 34.32 miles. Since we are only mowing the cover crop rows, the distance is cut in half, just 17.16 miles. Driving time estimate: 8.58 hours at 2 miles per.

If the weather cooperates and the equipment works, this is a 2 day adventure in the vines, but not necessarily consecutive.

  • Chisel plow the cover crop rows – Here we switch to the crawler. Ernie thinks of it as his Roadster for the vineyard. It has no cab so it is open air and you can feel the wind in your hair, the sun on your back and the soil in your teeth. However, on this machine the suspension is fixed, that means the only shock absorber is you. Same prep work as above. Driving time estimate: about 11 hours at less than 2 miles per.

If Ernie’s back holds together and we don’t run out of diesel or ibuprofen, this can be completed in 3 grueling days.

  • Rototil the cover crop rows – The Rototiller has a thankless task and it is good at it. This machine has quite an appetite for clutch discs (two at a time), tines and the occasional U-joint like this year. Lead time on the clutch discs is about a week, so Ernie always has a couple on hand. The tines are consumed after about 2 years due to our sedimentary soil. That is why the Chisel Plow makes a pass to loosen things up a bit. It takes about a day to get this implement ready to flog the soil. The Rototiller is mounted on a wheel tractor and running speed is back to about 2 miles per hour. Driving time estimate: 8.58 hours.

It is best to wait for a little rain to soften the soil, but that was not the case this year. Fortunately, all Ernie’s fillings remained intact and a 3 day investment in the soil is complete.

  • Drill in the spring cover crop – This is it folks. This is the last pass to set the vineyard floor for the growing season. Ernie decides the cover crops to grow for the Spring, determines the pounds of seed per acre per crop and multiplies by 15 acres. Out comes the handy dandy Schmeiser seed drill and off he goes! The most important thing about the seed drill is to not run out of seed. So this pass requires a few return trips to the shop for more seed. Driving time estimate: 8.58 hours at 2 miles per.

The associated task here is to wait for rain and we are still waiting, but we do multitask.

  • Mow the grassed rows – By now the permanent grass rows have responded to the great weather and have grown about a foot, or two. Time to order a diesel delivery and make one more pass. Driving time estimate: 8.58 hours at 2 miles per.

So there it is. Five passes through the vineyard total about 90 miles. Elapsed time to implement this action plan is about a month and factors in waiting for the right weather conditions, dealing with the vagaries of farm equipment, diesel deliveries, equipment repairs and some sleep.

Yeah, who’s your farmer?

Meanwhile the vines are doing their very best to escape the bondage known as the trellis. The trellis represents control and structure. The vines want nothing to do with that. They want to be free to grow and frolic in the warm summer breeze. Ernie has a plan and it involves catch wires and clips.

Our vines typically start the growing season in April with a single 4 foot cane wrapped around a fruiting wire at about 30 inches off the vineyard floor. As the buds begin to burst, leaves unfurl and the shoots elongate. Everything is right with the world for a few weeks as the shoots remain mostly in a vertical stance. Then when you are making that rototiller pass, it hits you. We are behind!

Our first set of catch wires are deployed at 8 inches above the fruiting wire. What this means is we need at least 10 inches of growth before we can raise the first set of wires. After 15 years here, the vines have figured this out. Some shoots grow 15 to 20 inches and are out of control. Others grow just 6 or 7 inches and are too small to be captured by the catch wires – for now. What’s a grower to do?

Tough love. We catch most of the shoots that will be bearing fruit, align them vertically and clip them into place. They just sway in the breeze looking at you, trying to lure you closer where they can get their tendrils wrapped around you. You should see what they do to the posts!

They know that this is just the first wire and there are two more to go. They have been monitoring the weather and have calculated that they will be growing about an inch a day now. There are about 44,000 of them and they communicate – it’s called a grapevine for a reason. They figure that we can’t catch them all at the second wire and certainly they will outgrow the third wire position before we regain control.

Maybe. We have been at this awhile as well. We know it takes just about a minute per plant to get those second wires in place and capture any rogue shoots we might have missed. Then the third set of wires is up before you know it. By the next time we FLOG, Ernie will have mounted the hedger. This machine makes order out of chaos and enforces discipline.

The numbers
If this is your first FLOG, you may want to familiarize yourself with the concepts of a Degree Day and a Julian Calendar. You can find out all about it in our FAQ section.

April was pretty farming nice and that is because the showers showed up in May. But that was OK too, as we took that rain down to the root zone for our new “Upper West Side” planting of Wadenswil clone Pinot Noir. Look for the first harvest of that fruit in 2016.

We entered the growing season on April 19 (day 101 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. Last year we saw bud break on day 109.

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 39.2 degree days, a high of 72.9 and a low of 37.8 degrees F. Certainly off to a good start.

The second half of the month gave us 8.8 degree days, a high of 83.5 and a frosty low of 31.0 degrees F. Rainfall for the month was 2.81 inches. The only logical way to explain a cooler second half of the month would appear to be climate change.

The month of May accumulated 264.1 degree days, had a high of 88.0 and a low of 34.9 with 1.97 inches of rain. This brings the 2014 growing season up to 312.1 degree days and is 30.7 degree days ahead of the 281.4 degree days recorded during the same period last year. Rainfall for the growing season beginning April 1 is now up to 4.78 inches.

We hope you enjoyed your first FLOG of the 2014 growing season.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie