Introduction

Winemaking: The Continuation of Terroir by Other Means.®

Welcome to the Amalie Robert Estate Farming Blog, aka FLOG. By subscribing, you will receive regular FLOGGINGS throughout the growing season. The FLOGGING will begin with the Spring Cellar Report in April. FLOGGINGS will continue each month and detail how the vintage is shaping up. You may also be FLOGGED directly after the big Cluster Pluck with the yearly Harvest After Action Report. Subscribe now and let the FLOGGINGS begin!

Rusty

"This is one of the Willamette Valley’s most distinguished wineries, but not one that is widely known."

- Rusty Gaffney, PinotFile - September 2016

Josh

"Dena Drews and Ernie Pink have been quietly producing some of Oregon's most elegant and perfumed Pinots since the 2004 vintage. Their 30-acre vineyard outside the town of Dallas, abutting the famed Freedom Hill vineyard where Drews and Pink live, is painstakingly farmed and yields are kept low so production of these wines is limited. Winemaking includes abundant use of whole clusters, which is no doubt responsible for the wines' exotic bouquets and sneaky structure…"

- Josh Raynolds, Vinous - October 2015

David

"...Dallas growers Dena Drews and Ernie Pink... showed me this July three of their reserve bottlings and thereby altered my perception of their endeavors. Since these are produced in only one- or two-barrel quantities, they offer an extreme instance of a phenomenon encountered at numerous Willamette addresses, whose really exciting releases are extremely limited. But they also testify, importantly, to what is possible; and what’s possible from this site in these hands revealed itself to be extraordinary!... And what a Syrah!"

- David Schildknecht, The Wine Advocate - October 2013

Wine & Spirits

"Finding that their whole-cluster tannins take some time to integrate, Pink and Drews hold their wines in barrel for up to 18 months - so Amalie Robert is just releasing its 2008s. And what a stellar group of wines: Bright and tart, they possess both transparency and substance, emphasizing notes of rosehips and sandalwood as much as red berries. The pinot noirs alone would likely have earned Amalie Robert a top 100 nod this year. But the winery also produces cool-climate syrah that rivals the best examples from the Sonoma Coast. And the 2009 Heirloom Cameo, their first attempt at a barrel-fermented chardonnay, turned out to be one of our favorite Oregon chardonnays of the year. Ten vintages in, Amalie Robert has hit its stride."

- Luke Sykora, Wine & Spirits Magazine – September 2011

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Amalie Robert Estate: 2014 Spring Cellar Report

Hello and Welcome,

This is the 2014 Amalie Robert Estate Spring Cellar Report – Terroir Driven Edition. It is also our 15th anniversary. So we figured it is about time to dish some dirt with our Terroir.

We are going to spend a significant portion of this communication talking about Terroir. Specifically, we will discuss, elude and most certainly evade any meaningful summation. However, we will be framing the subject in our own individual estate grown vineyard idiom.

Look for the answers to these and several other questions:

Terroir – what is it and how do I know I’ve got it?

We don’t all grow grapes the same way – what impact on Terroir do humans impart?

If you asked 5 winemakers to make 2 finished wines from the same 50 barrels of wine, no two blends would be the same, but would the wines still reflect the Terroir?

Blending for complexity – what does that mean, and where does the Terroir go?

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Let’s get started straight away. First of all, every site that produces an agricultural product has Terroir. This can range from the largest of vineyards to the tiniest of kitchen gardens. The questions to obfuscate are: What is my Terroir good for and, how do I go about marketing it for maximum financial impact? Look for the advanced class called: Monetizing your Terroir for fun and profit.

Let’s say you have a nice little piece of dirt off the back porch and you have a propensity for Grand Cru Burgundy. You have done some basic research, and in the process made your local wine merchant very happy. You have also read the wine reviews in question and are thinking you may be sitting on the next best place to grow Pinot Noir. Either that or you should be turning out compost there. Here is where we discover rule number one about Terroir: No one knows more about your Terroir than you do.

So you get some good advice that maybe you should start small and scale up to full production as your time, money and family will allow. The kitchen herb garden sounds easy so you take that on along with a few tomatoes up in the windowsill. The seeds germinate, little green shoots emerge and voila! You are now a grower!  But will your windowsill tomatoes taste better than the guy next door? It depends, partly, on your Terroir, but mostly on “unbiased” reviews from your family, friends and good buddy Gary at the county fair.


As the summer months approach and the threat of frost diminishes, you put your small garden outside to absorb the natural warmth and life giving force of the sun. The next morning you find that the deer, raccoons and other voracious “pests” just couldn’t wait for the sweet fruit to ripen, let alone bloom, and they nibble your efforts right down to your Terroir. The second rule regarding Terroir is that what you do will either diminish or protect your Terroir. This is called the Human Factor and relies on the following principle: Just because we could doesn’t mean we should.

Now let’s fast forward to today. You have been talked out of investing your family’s life savings with Mother Nature and instead have allocated those funds to “conquer the local Terroir.” You visit several wineries in your area, perhaps the North Willamette Valley, and you discover the third rule of Terroir. First to market defines the market, for a while.


You learn that wine has been grown in various regions for centuries; however Earth, at this point in history, is the only planet to grow wine. We have cornered the intergalactic market on Terroir! You also learn that some countries are better at exporting their Terroir to more economically “fertile fields” abroad. You may recall the imported over oaked, buttered popcorn smell that was sold as Chardonnay. That style of wine was early to market and defined what Chardonnay tasted like in the American market, for a while. Axiom 1: Terroir = (Product + Marketing2) / Timing.

The truth shall set you free and stainless steel fermented Chardonnay did just that. A whole world of fruit driven clarity bloomed from the glass followed by delineated flavors and crisp acidity. People were overheard to be saying “Well it’s certainly not Chardonnay, but I really like it!”

And then, laid bare in a glass was your Inspector Clouseau (Chief Inspector) moment, an unadulterated lesson in Terroir. This style of wine along with Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Viognier to name just a few, can expose the inherent beauty of Terroir. This is when the fourth rule of Terroir hits you; each wine that is grown in its own particular place expresses the culmination of the site, growing season and the farmer’s deft hand, if only allowed to do so.

Soon thereafter, the forward thinking restaurateurs got a hold of stainless steel fermented Chardonnay and leveraged this clean, crisp wine with a plethora of ingredients and preparations. On the plate, this is known as derivative Terroir, and so far anyway, has mostly escaped the “Too Big to Fail” regulatory agencies. Sadly, a favorite poultry liver has been lost in the Golden State. Better get some while you can.

Terroir cannot be discussed, much less in a heated manner, without the discussion of Oak. By Oak we mean catnip for humans. French oak trees that are coopered into wine barrels were originally planted to supply masts for sailing ships. Not today. Those trees command a pretty Euro, and when used properly can add nuance, texture and complexity to wine. But is it Terroir? This brings us to what Ernie’s grandmother, Bertha (Bert for short,) used to say: “Don’t ask questions.”

And that brings us to the human factor, how convenient. The term winemaker is an odd one in American English. In our idiom, there is not a winemaker, but a winegrower. This human has one overall purpose in our vineyard and that is to deliver grapes to a facility (winery) that can steward them into wine. Sounds pretty easy alright, but here is where the human Terroir comes into focus.

The human must understand the style of wine to be enjoyed and tend to the vines in a manner that will produce grapes to create that experience for aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, balance and acidity. The skins hold all of the aroma and flavors, and the human must spend the entire growing season tending to the vines to insure they have developed properly for the desired experience. The logistics alone of delivering 70 tons of perfectly ripened estate grown wine over a 4 week period is not a trivial matter. But does it matter? What if it rains? What if it doesn’t? Will Terroir trump all?

“Anyone can make wine, but if you leave it to God, he will make vinegar.” – Anonymous.


Somewhere along your journey, you discover that truly great wines are grown in very special places all over the world. Your job has been to co-locate yourself near the one that best suits you. The undeniable common denominator among all the wines has been their unique Terroir and the farmer that expresses it. As you sign the papers on your new home you realize the fifth rule of Terroir, not everyone appreciates the same Terroir the way you do. Which is a good thing, as it helps keep home prices down.

Blending for complexity – a primer on expressing Terroir.
Once our wines are harvested, fermented and safely tucked into barrels for their 18 month maturation journey, blending of the prior vintage can begin. We like to age our Pinot Noirs in barrel for at least 18 months before we begin blending and bottling.

There are several reasons for this, but the overriding principle here is a more accessible expression of our Terroir once you remove it from the bottle. And it makes a difference how long that Terroir has been bottled up. Some folks like young Terroir and others like a more mature expression of Terroir. Either way, we are trying to be sure you can fully experience our Terroir every time.

Let’s say you have ingratiated yourself with a winery that is just about to identify a couple of reserve level wines, a  restaurant list wine and a wine to be sold by the glass (BTG.) The cellar holds about 100 barrels of Pinot Noir, about 2,400 cases worth of finished wines. What do you do?

If you said taste some barrels, you would not be asked back. The correct answer is to taste the wine that is in the barrels, that is where the action is. Tasting 100 wines from barrel is not something we do in a typical afternoon, at least not that we can remember.

The blending process starts with what we have to work with. How is our Terroir being expressed in each barrel of wine? A serious day of evaluation will yield 10 – 12 technical evaluations and a couple of OMG’s. Each of these wines will be earmarked for a particular blend or two. Over the course of a year, we have a pretty good idea of where we stand with our Terroir. Occasionally this results in Ernie standing out in the Terroir because he locked his keys in the cellar.

Then it is back in the lab to get an idea of what each of these barrels represents. We harvest all 36 blocks from our 30 acres individually, and Dena takes meticulous notes. Once we find those notes, we can really pinpoint the exact Terroir contained in each barrel of wine. We look at when the block was harvested in relation to the entire vintage, the clone on top and the rootstock on the bottom, the overall ripeness and acidity, and any other notes we may have made, such as the amount of whole clusters in the fermenter.

At Amalie Robert Estate, we discuss, compare notes, haggle and then blend our individual idiom wines called Amalie’s Cuvée and Estate Selection aka “The Hers and His Reserves.” During this process we usually identify The Reserve. This wine is made from the barrel or two that neither one of us is willing to let go of, no matter how much horse trading goes on. This can be quite a long and drawn out affair. Dena can be fairly persuasive, and Ernie must keep vigilant.

With those barrels of wine off the table, we begin looking for the exemplar Terroir of the Pommard and Wadenswil Clone barrels. Usually just two barrels each that really defines and expresses our Terroir through those heritage clones. You may think putting two barrels together would be pretty easy. It is not. That selection must stand the test of time, and there are usually quite a few barrels that make the quality level cut. Often the blend is more interesting than the individual barrels, and that is the goal. Other times it is not. Hey, where did my Terroir go? Trial, error, repeat…

The Dijon Clones is arguably the most fun blend to trial. So many clones, so little time. We have planted 7 clones of Dijon Pinot Noir all over the vineyard. While each block has its own unique Terroir, the blend represents how the vineyard makes wine expressed exclusively through the Dijon Clones. Good Dirt!

The Uncarved Block represents the broadest interpretation of our Terroir. It is an introduction to Amalie Robert Estate, and the farmer who farms it. “... and what a Syrah!

“Brand Terroir” aka Marketing
Over the past 15 years, we have spent most of our mental and physical energy learning how to produce word class wines that express our unique Terroir. Now that we all can agree on what Terroir is, we turn to “Brand Terroir” aka Marketing.

Since the turn of the century we have witnessed a tremendous transformation. What was once a mature Montmorency cherry orchard is now a beautiful 30 acre estate vineyard. Ernie’s hair is much lighter in color, what’s left of it. All the vehicles we drive, on and off road, are diesel powered. And hard to believe, but we are about $17 trillion in debt, well not us personally.

And we have been paying attention, somewhat. As the vineyard started to produce exemplars of our Terroir in 2002, we began writing climate updates for our vineyard customers. Our idea was to catalog the key developments in the vineyard and share those with the winemakers who were purchasing our Terroir. This was most likely the smartest thing we have ever done, agriculturally speaking.

The “Monthly Climate Update” as it is now known provided a segue to collaboration and sharing of ideas with some of our most respected members of the Oregon wine making community including Dick Erath, Bruce Weber, Adam Campbell, Mike Etzel, and Steve Doerner. It was with their tutelage, and in no small part generosity, that we have evolved to the level of community we are in today. And as near as we can tell, it’s a pretty good community to be in.

So without further ado and rampant gibberish, we introduce our Monthly Climate Update Blog with a really cool and legally trademarked name:

(amalierobert.blogspot.com)

This is where you will find the monthly climate updates for the 2014 growing season. And the cool thing about this blog for all you “vintageheads” out there is that you can see the degree days and read the climate updates from past vintages and view the “Scorecard”. Yeah, OK, we also put some press out there – but only the good stuff!




Most of the original text was lost during the (Dijon) Clone wars, but we were able to re-image some of the archived material. There may be a missing link here or there, but all in all, it will give you a pretty fair idea of what each vintage had to offer and how we responded to: “Mother Nature: Call to Harvest.” And there is “Bonus Material!”

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie