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

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.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?

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

If you know someone who would enjoy this newsletter, please feel free to forward to a friend.