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, December 12, 2015

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2015 Harvest After Action Report (AAR)

Hello and Welcome,

This is the Amalie Robert Estate 2015 Harvest After Action Report (AAR.)

If you are reading this communiqué, you have most likely reached the age where you accept that the facts, however interesting they may be, are irrelevant. So to spare you from having to read all of the remaining drivel, you can relax and watch an Amalie Robert Estate Harvest here.

We will fondly refer to this growing season as “Vintage 2015: Hell-bent for Leather” and rightly so. And not just because Frank would have been 100 this year, no that‘s not it. It’s because it was too damn hot! Wait, is that the girl from Ipanema!?

When she walks she's like a samba
That swings so cool and sways so gentle

All through the vintages of 2007-2011 we were subjugated to the global warming dogma. And yet, collectively and exhaustively, those were the coldest farming vintages in recent memory. We understand we are aging gracefully, and mental recall is not what it once was, but that’s why we write it down, and can back it up.

That, and we can still read a chart. Now consider the vintages from 2012 to 2015. “Hotter than the hubs of Hell!” Ernie’s grandmother, “Bert” used to say. You want some global warming? Well, we’ve got your global warming right farming here! Nope. We have moved on to “climate change.” And when you are farming wine it is pointless to dispute the fact that the climate changes during the growing season.

The vines notice climate change and act accordingly to ripen their seeds and reproduce before they run out of growing season. The humans notice the ripening grapes that they can ferment into wine and use in mating rituals. That is why we have a harvest, to make wine and (potentially) mate – think about that. No climate change means no harvest and no harvest means no wine. And everyone knows what that means… So, logically, we could contend that climate change is good for the human race.

However the fundamental, and often passed by, question remains: Is the current period of climate change making good or bad wine? Ask many of the local resident humans and they will tell you we had a great summer! The tomatoes were early and tasted wonderful, shorts and tank tops started to appear in June. And the winegrowing community experienced one of the earliest harvests in recorded history – mid-August for some vineyards. If you asked Frank, he might say:

“It was just, one of those years… just one of those crazy years.
If we'd thought a bit about the end of it,
we'd have been aware that it was just too hot… to cool down.”

Now that we have covered the basic construct of why we grow wine (Note that poppy cultivation is still illegal and there are no poppy fields to run through), let’s delve into how we responded to this year’s climate change. The first thing to acknowledge is how little we know about what is going on inside the vine, and the corollary of how little it matters.

Case in point: Driving a car in Ballard, Washington is something you should witness (from the curb) but never do. If you wait a few minutes, you will soon see a so-called “vehicle” proceeding in a less than prudent manner with a turn signal on. That turn signal has been on since 1972 and will remain on indefinitely. You don’t need to know why; you just need to know what you are going to do. How you will respond to that signal?

As a wine consumer, you assume the position of the curbside observer. You see the brand names, the vintage year and Pinot Noir. Great – Waft The Fruit. You have very little idea of how these wines were grown or by whom. And the chance that you are going to be picking up stakes and growing your own 35 acres of wine in your next career is almost zero, but not zero. Trust us, we are here and have done that math.

So what you really want to know is does that car ever turn? Yes, but just like relying on the weather forecaster, you are just as surprised as they are.

Back in the day when there were books that were actually printed on paper made from trees, and bread cost $1 for a baguette, there were motivational business books. One lesson Ernie squirreled away was to start with the end in mind. This may in fact be the pre-thought behind the term “asshat” but you never know.

If you have one of those newfangled phones with speech recognition say “asset” very slowly and see what it comes back with. Today and toady are also a bit tricky for the speech recognition software. Either that or they are programmed to get it wrong from time to time as in: “I hope you sell a lot of wine toady.”

Right. Back on point. So we know that when harvest visits upon us, we will be bringing in about 65 tons of hand harvested, pre-fermented nectar suitable for just about any mating ritual you can devise. Did we ever say great Pinot Noir is like sex in a glass? Don’t forget the candles.

Farmer graffiti – tagging the harvest wall

Logistically, we need a few things to make that happen, like tractors and harvest bins and buckets, clippers and harvesters with hands to harvest. We do have other harvesters and they are adorned with things like wings and hooves and antlers. Not that conducive to winemaking, but they certainly do their part – blighters…

Qualitatively, we need wonderfully expressive aroma and flavor packets filled with a perfect blend of acid, sugar, pulp, water and seeds attached to a woody structure known as a stem. The vine does nearly all of the work here and we would be remiss if we said otherwise. But left out to fend for themselves they would be sprawled out all over the ground with unripe and rotted fruit. So, it appears, the winegrower plays more of an instrumental role and is not just a tool.

Hey Nelson, riddle me this: Who’s your Winegrower?

Critical success factors are things winegrowers purposefully do, or do not do, to maximize wine quality potential. The decision points surrounding these factors (excluding harvest) are, in reverse order, crop thinning, leaf plucking, hedging, shoot positioning and catch wires. We will cover these topics just now in excruciating detail. Marketing can also help to maximize/monetize wine quality potential, but usually only after the fact.

Things like vineyard layout and vine spacing along with the correct clone and rootstock selections are fairly long term and strategic decisions that cannot be overemphasized. Wine growing is not like commodities farming where you rotate from soybeans to corn to winter wheat, sometimes all in the same year. No, you want those vines to put down deep roots, because you knew when you bought that hillside piece of dirt that you were going to rely on Mother Nature for the irrigation program. How did that out work out for us this year Frank?

“I got plenty of nothin’ and nothin’s plenty for me.”

Crop thinning is a fancy way to say we are going to go out and cut some fruit off of those vines. Crop thinning can occur for a variety of reasons to maximize wine quality potential. It can also occur if there is a misunderstanding in the vineyard and that typically does not improve wine quality, but it certainly can impact wine quantity. That’s farmin’, where accuracy and precision are acknowledged concepts, but are given a very wide implementation berth.

As Vintage 2015: Hell-bent for Leather was drawing to its foregone conclusion we decided to delay our crop thinning to maximize wine quality potential. All through July and August the heat was intense and we were building sugars very quickly. By removing crop during those months, the vine would have taken all of the energy from the leaves and concentrated it into fewer berries resulting in unbalanced and high alcohol potential wine.

However, when the first bout of showers blew through in late August, Ernie said it was now or never and it was to be now. We took the wings first. These are berries that are formed on the late to bloom, and ripen, tendril adjacent to the main cluster. We left them on to help absorb the excess sugars the vines were producing in hopes of having less sugar in the main cluster, and more uniform ripeness in our wines. The wings were sacrificed to buy time for the main clusters to develop aroma and flavor and moderate sugar concentration. Sometimes farmin’ just ain’t pretty.

Pinot Noir cluster with wing

The Pinot Meunier has always presented an open-ended proposition that Ernie had never accepted, until this year. It is no secret that we planted Pinot Meunier to satisfy Dena’s addiction to great Champagne. So when it was time to take the underripe wings, Ernie said “Harvest ‘em in buckets and I will ferment them.” And so we did. That and a block of Pommard had its wings clipped as well.

There’s wings in them thar bins!

It’s too soon to say for sure, but Ernie has crafted a nice little “blanc de noir” rosé base wine that could be bottled as a still wine, or perhaps not. The blend is unique in that it is about 50/50 Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. Unique for a still wine, but not necessarily for Champagne. We will know more, but have less of this wine, when we pen the Spring Cellar Report. The underlying principle here is called “destructive sampling.” It’s a quality control thing.

We also thinned off clusters of fruit that were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Clusters that grow together and do not allow for air circulation are the primary targets. If you were a cluster of grapes hanging out on the vine, then that old Microsoft adage ‘It’s better to be lucky than good” came into play. Imagine that, hi-tech meets winegrowing!

Now another reason for crop thinning has a quantitative impact on wine quality potential and that centers around the concept of fermentation capacity. If you can’t ferment them, then there is no wine quality to worry about. Around July, Ernie had a feeling that we were going to see this heat continue and that might mean a larger harvest. So he banked a few more fermenters just in case.

After the first week of harvest it became exceeding obvious that we would need those new fermenters “and then some.” Note: This is a technical farming term that means you are “on the short end of the stick” which is also a technical farming term that means “it’s your turn in the barrel” which is derived (allegedly) from the logging and mining camps of old.

Of course the chance of finding new fermenters to buy during harvest approaches zero, but it is not zero. Ernie mapped out the fermentation floor and said “I can take 10 more, but that’s it. We will be wall to wall.” So the next morning he made the call and low and behold there were 14 available. Miracles are not something we pray for, we depend on them.

He said “I’ll take 10.” The response was “Are you sure you don’t want the rest? They will be gone within the hour.” “No. I only have enough floor space for 10 more and you can’t punch them down if you stack ‘em.” But he did get the quantity discount and that covered the delivery fee. Farmer first, winemaker second.

That brought us up to 65 fermenters and we filled them all, plus a couple odd balls we dusted off from the back room. This would eventually lead to a serious amount of punchdown, but you cannot punchdown what you do not ferment. And the first rule of punchdown is that nobody talks about punchdown.

Before we thin the crop, we pluck a few leaves out of the fruit zone. Arguably, this is the most important factor affecting the way a wine feels on your palate. The texture, to a great degree, is determined by the amount of sun the wee little wine berries are exposed to and when.

Soon after flowering, depending on the weather, the vines may set fruit. That means that a portion of the flowers on any given vine were successfully pollinated and will produce a wine berry. Since wine berries are self pollinating, it is not that great of an intellectual leap to deduce it is Mother Nature’s desire that we make wine each and every year. And not just for medicinal purposes as was the case under the Volstead Act.

This year saw that a disproportionately large percentage of flowers successfully pollinated – which is better than the opposite outcome. This may be considered the human equivalent of getting to “first base.” But just because the flowers have been pollinated it does not mean they will “go all the way” to harvest.

So we wait a couple of weeks or so after the flowers have been pollinated and we see the wee little green wine berries beginning to form. This is the time to pluck off a few leaves. The reasons for plucking around the wine berries are many and can include:

  • Better airflow and sun exposure to dry off the morning dew or rainfall that can enable rot to compromise the fruit.

  • Improved sun exposure on the fruit to develop aroma, flavor and tannin in the skins as a natural response to said sun exposure.

  • To make it easier to thin the crop and subsequently get them ready for their big day – The Great Cluster Pluck!

As winegrowers, we are most concerned with the second point. First up is timing – Frank had impeccable timing. We pluck off the leaves after the wine berries have formed all the cells they are going to form. They need the energy from the nearby leaves to help the cells form, so we wait about 2 weeks for that to happen.

Next we have to decide how many leaves we are going to remove. Conversely from the vines point of view, we are determining how much sun exposure we are going to allow. The primary factor in determining the leaf pluck program is wine style and mid-palate texture. Elegant, perfumed ethereal Pinot Noir wines keep their leaves on, leaving a bit to the imagination. Aromas and flavors develop a bit more slowly and avoid the harsh consequences of overexposure.

Pinot Noir clusters after having their wings thinned off

It’s like humans getting a beautiful tan. If done properly, it happens a little bit each day until you achieve the perfect patina. Then do your hair and take the picture to send to all your friends! Wines that are more forward and brash are prone to being overexposed in their fruit zone like that hussy Cabernet. While we don’t drink it anymore, you usually have a pretty good idea what you are getting yourself into. Frank had a thing for a Gardner once and he knew a bit about this:

And each time I do just the thought of you
Makes me stop before I begin…
‘cause I’ve got you, under my skin

An integral part of this discussion is whole cluster fermentation. This means we leave some of the wine berries on the stem when we ferment. The result is that we extract some tannin from the stems and that tannin along with the tannin from the skins forms the mid-palate texture of our wines. Stem tannins also provide a long crescendo culminating in a very satisfying and enduring finish.

If you want to experience this first hand at home try this. Go to the store and pluck a cluster of red grapes. When you get home, take some grapes off the stem as gently as possible. Hint: Don’t buy the biggest cluster you can find. Size doesn’t really matter.

Now remove the skin from the pulp and seeds of about 10 grapes. Put the skins in your mouth and chew them while you observe the person in the mirror. That look on your face is skin tannin and it is a direct response to how much sun the grapes were, or were not, exposed to before they were plucked by someone before you plucked them. Note: You can rest assured that at Amalie Robert Estate nobody is plucking our grapes before we do. A little sampling maybe, but no plucking.

Now try something you most likely have not done before. Start by removing the remaining grapes from the stem. Stand in front of someone with a camera to record this because you will want to watch this. Chew the stem vigorously and feel the astringent drying that is now encasing your palate. You have just experienced stem tannin in your own unique idiom. Post it on-line if you like.

What this trial hopefully demonstrated is that if you are going to use some stem tannin in your wine, be sure to dial back the skin tannin intensity. And you do that by shading the skins from excessive sun exposure. Of course the more stems you add, the more tannin you will get, so there is a whole cluster balance to be found there as well.

All of this tannin business comes together and begins to work itself out about 5 to 7 years after the vintage. Patient cellar aging will integrate skin tannins and transform stem tannins into a cascading and expansive spice finish that will curl your toes and leave you with a little Alpenglow. You can experience this phenomenon now with a great bottle of 2007 vintage “Amalie’s Cuvée.” Or maybe just settle in with a book, a really good book.

Now as we all know, and it really goes without saying, the ratio of leaf pull to stem inclusion is an ever moving target with climate change.

Off with their heads! Aka Hedging is up next, or actually just before leaf plucking. Hedging is the act of removing green, leafy material from the canopy. As vines grow, they are always trying to escape the bondage known as the trellis. Sure some shoots like the restraint and control, but others are growing out into the “no fly zone” and that is where the hedger enforces discipline.

Other than keeping the vines neatly trimmed, the hedging pass has the effect of redirecting and focusing the vine’s energy from growing more foliage to ripening seeds to reproduce. Is that second base coming into view?

As the story goes, when monks were growing vines to make wine there was a wayward goat that kept nibbling the succulent shoot tips in a corner of the yard where the vines grew. It turns out that the vines in that part of the yard ripened before the other vines in the rest of the yard. Hence and Soforth were sent out into the vine yard to pluck the clusters and it was determined that the earlier ripening vines made better wine. This inductive reasoning was quite similar to how the Bordelais came up with their classification system in 1855 – and it is still used today. That’s the fact, Jacques!

June and July are the months where we typically do the most hedging. But with all the heat accumulation and lack of rain to date we were thinking about ways to slow things down. So instead of making 4 hedging passes to accelerate ripening, we choose to do just 2. This had the effect of growing more of a bushy canopy, and we don’t have a goat, so the result was slower ripening leading to longer hang time.

Back in July we couldn’t see all the way to harvest, but we knew we were going to get some rain. It was going to happen, but we didn’t know when, how much or how long it was going last. But we figured if we could slow the vines down enough to hold out for some rain, we would see the vines rehydrate and ”go all the way” to finish the job of developing expressive aromas and flavors while diluting the high sugar concentration. Yeah, that would be a humdinger.

But we had to hold out. Some vine yards couldn’t wait that long. Some of those deep Jory soils demonstrated what we knew – they can’t hold their water. Jory soils are relatively new volcanic soils that are hued red due to the high iron content. They are deep, homogenous soils that have large pores to hold a lot of water per inch of soil profile. In some cases, those large pores turned out to be their Achilles heel as they also allowed the vines to take up water unabated and deplete the soils. A fast horse doesn’t run long, allegedly.

Our sedimentary soils are some of the oldest soils in the Willamette Valley, geologically speaking. We have about 3 feet of effective rooting depth and a deep repository of fractured sandstone beneath that. Our pores may be small, but we have a lot of them – and they are miserly with water helping to keep the vines hydrated late into the growing season.

The one constant we have from growing season to growing season is our vines. We are all estate grown meaning we are not scrambling from one vineyard source to another every year. And our vines just keep getting older with each passing year. In a year like Vintage 2015: Hell-bent for Leather, vine age and deep rooted rootstocks were the key to holding out for some mid-September rain.

Rainfall is the key to understanding Vintage 2015: Hell-bent for Leather. Nothing happens in farming without some rainfall and the resulting available soil moisture. Rainfall is the business equivalent to the budget sphincter and the resulting available funds.

We received 0.96 inches of rain in the second half of September and that was one of the signals we needed to see, along with the walnut tree showing full color change, before engaging the Great Cluster Pluck of 2015. 

Adding the 0.23 inches of rainfall for the first half of the month provides a total September rainfall of 1.19 inches and a growing season total of 5.72 inches through September. Almost 20% of the entire growing season rainfall through September fell in the last half of September. Hey Frank, what if you plucked before then?

It was great fun, but it was just one of those years…

Chardonnay - "going all the way"

Shoot positioning, putting up catch wires and whipping the vineyard floor into shape in April is when the time critical vineyard work starts. Throughout the summer heat, we continued our canopy management and vineyard floor practices to minimize the loss of available soil moisture. Alas, these tasks, while time consuming and expensive, can have only a moderate impact. But they are the fundamental vineyard practices that paid great dividends at the end of a hot, dry vintage.

So we are back to where we began. The Great Cluster Pluck of Vintage 2015: Hell-bent for Leather began, as it always does, in earnest but with some new friends – 159 of them to be exact. Say hello to our newest variety – Gewürztraminer. Ernie grew 159 clusters of this little rascal and that bucket and a half of grapes fermented out to just about 11 bottles of wine. To all of you home winemakers out there, he feels your pain.

The big debate that seems to take a lot of air out of the room this time of year is plucking on flavors v plucking by the numbers. We always pluck by the numbers because we numbered our blocks. How else would the analytical “A Type” layout his farm? Numerically, block by farming block. Of course we taste the fruit first to decide which blocks to pluck.

Once we decide which blocks are ready to go, our thoughts turn to cluster pluckers. To achieve the maximum impact in the field we are looking for 20 to 25 people a day to bring in the harvest. Anything less than that and, really, you are just farmin’ around.

By the first week of October we had gotten a couple more showers and a fair chunk of land plucked, but there was another “Special Project” hanging out there. The Syrah is always late and, by definition, harvested right on time.

One of Ernie’s micro-projects is his cool climate Syrah. He has 4 clones planted with a few vines of Viognier scattered throughout the block. Syrah likes heat and plenty of it. But to keep its cool climate vibrancy it also wants a cool end to the growing season. Well, sometimes it is better to want than to have.

Syrah wine berries in the raw

And the Syrah block, like every other block, is always plucked on aromas and flavors. Ernie thinks about plucking it frequently throughout harvest:

And each time I do just the thought of you
Makes me stop before I begin

So he waits. The good news is Syrah doesn’t really rot. It has thick skins and can take a bit of rain. Not like that other noir grape, Pinot, who can dish the dirt, but can’t take the damp. So we are sitting back and thinking with this warm and dry year, maybe our cool climate Syrah vines are basking in the vintage of their lifetime. With just 1,188 vines, this is a cluster pluck he needed to get right.

At this point, it’s all over but the numbers. Note: Vintage 2015: Hell-bent for Leather numbers will be presented in a mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive manner with a multi-year, graphic summation for your connivance. We just don’t want to know about it.

During the second half of September we accumulated 138 degree days. Our high temperature was 91.4 degrees and our low temperature was a nippy 34.9 degrees. Adding that to the 168 degree days from the first half of September yields 306 degree days. Growing season degree day accumulation through September stands at 2,303 degree days. September rainfall was 1.19 inches for a growing season to date total of 5.72 inches.

But it’s not over until Kate Smith sings “God Bless America.” This, allegedly, was Yogi Berra’s reference to knowing when it was, allegedly, over. Our Vintage 2015: Hell-bent for Leather Cluster Pluck was one for the record books. Extra tons and encores had us in the field for what seemed like here to eternity. We plucked the last bucket of Syrah grapes on October 15th and, after a full and bountiful 30 days, left the harvest stage.

But we returned on the 28th
For that we are certain
We plucked the Late Harvest Viognier
Without coercion

And that fact leads us to yet another set of numbers that may be uniquely our own. We accumulated an additional 112 degree days through the first half of October bringing our Vintage 2015: Hell-bent for Leather total to 2,415 degree days. Our high temperature was 91.8 and our low temperature was 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit. We received 0.32 inches of rain through the 11th of October bringing our growing season to date total to 6.04 inches.

To think we did all that;
And may we say - not in a shy way,
More, much more than this
We did it our way.

Thank you Frank for letting us hang out on your star.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Amalie Robert Estate: 2015 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 $18.7 trillion (up from about 18.0 trillion last year), that's just about $58,601 (up from about $56,266 last year) per person living in the United States, and $156,647 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-vem-bier.”

On December 5th we find ourselves at the end of the calendar. 2015 marks the 82nd 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. Snowden, 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.”

We see here that sweeping changes in legislation, or repeal of them, may be difficult, but certainty not impossible.

As you enjoy the holiday season, please take a moment to reflect on your constitutional right to keep and bear spirits, especially Pinot Noir! And if you find yourself in need of a little Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay or Viognier or Pinot Meunier or Syrah, then trip on over to the Amalie Robert Company store.

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

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Amalie Robert Estate: 2015 Salud Pinot Noir Auction

Hello and Welcome,

The ¡Salud! Pinot Noir auction is nearly here! The event is being held this coming weekend, November 13th and 14th. As many of you know, this event intends to showcase 44 of the top Oregon Pinot Noir producers who donate just 5 cases of their best wine for this auction. The only way to get one, or two, of these cases is to participate in the Big Board auction. This wine is not otherwise for sale.

Our quest for the best wine in our cellar ends where your quest for acquisition begins. We encourage you to enjoy the Friday tasting and partake of the Big Board with vigor. The Big Board will be your only opportunity to acquire the Amalie Robert Estate ¡Salud! Cuvée.

Can’t make it to the event, but still want the wine? That’s easy! Just download the sealed bid form and submit it to the ¡Salud! office before Friday, November 13th.

Now, here’s the insider story on this year’s Amalie Robert Estate ¡Salud! Cuvée.

 2014 ¡Salud! Cuvée Pinot Noir


The 2014 vintage ¡Salud! Cuvée is 60 bottles of pure magic from a single barrel of one of our most coveted blocks of Pommard clone. The wine is 100% estate grown and hand harvested Pinot Noir that was fermented in a small 1.5 ton fermenter with estate grown indigenous yeast and about 25% whole clusters. The wine will continue to mature in barrel until early 2016, and may be bottled in 750 or 1,500 ml bottles according to each successful bidder’s preference.

Our soil parent material is sedimentary and the soil series is “Bellpine” - a well drained silty clay loam comprised of about 24-36 inches of effective rooting depth. The vines are oriented due south on a protected southwest aspect from about 450 to 500 foot elevation and densely planted at 1,452 vines per acre. The trellis is VSP and the canopy is managed to within an inch of perfection. We are located in the last best place to grow Pinot Noir™.

The fruit for this year’s ¡Salud! Cuvée was grown exclusively in block 26, which we personally planted at the turn of the century. Block 26 represents just a half acre of Pommard clone vines grafted onto that bruiser 5C rootstock. Pommard clone on 5C is a magical combination in our vineyard. So magical in fact that it has produced the best barrel in our cellar.

And if you want to taste where the rest of this barrel is destined, you may want to check out our top bottling called The Reserve. From our initial bottling through the latest 2010 release, The Reserve Pinot Noir has owned the top score of the vintage in 3 of its 5 releases. And the two years it did not earn the top spot, it missed by a single point. Source: Vinous Media.

"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

One of the many benefits of growing our own wine is the understanding of how the fruit is maturing. Among all of the most important decisions we must make each year, when to harvest is clearly the most important. Harvesting the fruit when the aromas and flavors are at their optimal ripeness is our goal. Bear in mind, optimal is a relative term, but it is vintage specific.

You can read all about it in the 2014 “After Action Report” here:

The 2014 vintage ¡Salud! Cuvée is a purposeful expression of Amalie Robert Estate. The soils, climate and winegrowing are all balanced and in tune with the vintage – Wines true to the soil, Wines true to the vintage®. A quintessential exemplar of the vintage, this wine delivers a full frontal lobe experience.

Our quest for the best wine in our cellar ends where your quest for acquisition begins. The Big Board auction will be your only opportunity to acquire the 2014 vintage Amalie Robert Estate ¡Salud! Cuvée. If you are attending the event on Friday, November 13th we look forward to pouring this wine for you.

However, if you are not attending the event, you can still lay claim to a case or two of our best Pinot Noir from the wildly expressive 2014 vintage with a sealed bid.

A sealed bid allows you to participate in the Salud Big Board auction without attending the event. There are only 5 cases available and the minimum bid this year for a 9 liter case (12 x 750ML or 6 x 1.5L bottles) is $600. That’s just $50 a bottle! But the bids only go up from there.

Please download the sealed bid form and show your support for the best of the best Oregon Pinot Noir!

We encourage everyone to “Bid early, Bid eagerly and Bid often!”


Dena & Ernie

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2015 Mid-September

Hello and Welcome,

This is the abbreviated Mid-September Climate Update. We wrote it quick, so you can read it quick.

We have survived the calm before the storm, the storm, and we shall now begin the Great Cluster Pluck of 2015! If our calculations are correct, we will begin harvest about a week in advance of the Great Cluster Pluck of 2014.

The first half of September continued to show warm days and warm nights, but also started the transition to Okto-vember. Okto-vember is that wondrous 61 day period when we rejoice the year’s bounty and consume an inordinate amount of ARBs (Adult Recreational Beverages.) And duck. There will most assuredly be duck. And maybe a bit of foraged fungus. Yes, duck and fungus – that’s the ticket!

The vines have also picked up on this signal. That and the 0.83 inches of rain we received in the last week or so. As was the case in 2012, 2013 and 2014, Ernie has waited for a little rain before he pulled in any fruit. This allows time for the vines to rehydrate and complete all the internal and external gyrations needed to fully ripen our wine berries. And maybe an ARB to hydrate the harvest team.

Specifically, this means the high concentrations of sugar in the desiccated wine berries have been diluted, all the while allowing for additional hang time to develop aromas and flavors that you can enjoy in the resulting lower alcohol wine. All we can say is that great wines are made in the vineyard. Not so great wines are “fixed” in the winery. Yeah, who’s your farmer?

Now we know that others have started earlier and some have even finished by now. That’s called pre-mature fermentation. But that is good news for us because it means the fixed labor pool of harvesters may be more available to meet our harvest schedule. Don’tcha just love it when a great plan comes together!

And then there is the walnut tree. It channels Mother Nature and gives us the sign that it is time to harvest our wine berries. The yellowing leaves are an age old indicator that it is time to get them off. So we wash the bins and buckets and we select the blocks for our first harvest target package - some Dijon Clones and Pommard. The Wadenswil is special and we are gonna hang that just a bit longer. 

And it’s really not all that hard. The vines are all laid out in a grid like pattern and we have the map.We know where they grow and we’re comin’ to collect!

The numbers, while mostly academic at this point are presented in a fair and balanced way, not subject to debate. They are the A.R.E. numbers and that, from our modest point of view, trumps all. And they show a bit of temperament that seems to be lacking in the media frenzy at this particular time of year. Could the 2015 Hell-bent for Leather vintage be showing a little subtlety? Maybe not yet, but a really sweet spot of ripening is just ahead, on the horizon, not far from here in a reality near you, unless you couldn't wait and have prematurely fermented. Not the master of your own domain? Hmm...

We have recorded 168 degree days for the first 15 days of September, 2015. The growing season to-date has now accumulated a total of 2,165 degree days. Our high temperature was a “blistering” 97.2 degrees and our low temperature was a “cold shoulder” 37.6 degrees. But here is the real reason we have tempered the vintage, in a word, rain.

It started off slow, with a 0.23 inch teaser during the first week of September, but that was not even enough to keep the dust down. But then at the mid-month mark, we collected a nice little shower over a 48 hour period. Long, cool and continuous rain left us with about 0.60 inches in the rain gauge. When we add our 0.83 inches of rain for the first half of September to our August to-date total of 4.53 inches, we finish with 5.36 inches for the growing season to-date. And we still have the rest of September to go with typical showers in the forecast. We should easily get up to 6 inches.

Now, as you find yourself heading into Okto-vember with an ARB firmly in your grasp, you can just imagine all the fun we are having harvesting wine. In fact, you can sing along right here: Now we’re at the seasons’ end with winds and rain, you bet!

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Monday, August 31, 2015

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2015 August

Hello and Welcome.

This is the 2015 August Climate Update – Pre-Cluster Pluck Edition

As you read this, “The Great Cluster Pluck of 2015” has visited itself upon the Willamette Valley, as has “the greatest show on earth.” And whether you are stumpin’ for Trump or sidin’ with Biden you have a front row seat to these two wondrous spectacles. As the late, great George Carlin would say, “Every 4 years these guys get the runs.”

Harvesting in August, unlike politicking, is a significant event - which leads to premature fermentation which is not a significant event. Even car companies wait until September to reveal their new models and some vehicles too. Historically speaking, people are picking earlier than any harvest we can recall. And it’s kinda like noses, as soon as one person starts to pick, everybody wants to pick.

But is it time to pick? We will explore that topic and more as we shine some light on the topic of Hang Time: What is it, how do I know if I have it, and what difference, at this point, does it make? This is a continuation of the “wineversation” that started with canopy management and flavor development, progressed into soils and rootstocks,  delved deep into crop thinningand available soil moisture and now confronts the final act of wine growing – the Great Cluster Pluck. This is part of the upcoming Master Class series offered by the School of Hard Knocks where enrollment is always open.

While we are not there yet, here’s what The Great Cluster Pluck looks like at Amalie Robert Estate.

Hang time can be defined as the time that elapses while a grower of wine berries and a buyer of wine berries quibble as to when to harvest. Typically, the grower would like to see the wine berries harvested RFN (Right Farming Now) before any birds show up to feast upon, or seasonally rainy weather arrives to rot the crop. The buyer would like to see a little more flavor development and wait unit the last possible second to harvest. It is during this negotiated timeframe that hang time occurs and Mother Nature puts her final touches on the vintage. When the relationship between grower and buyer becomes untenable, the wine berries will have had sufficient hang time and therefore may be considered “well hung” and harvest may commence forthwith. Albeit with a bit of swagger…

Now, 105 days is the average number of days after flowering that we see great aroma and flavor development in our Pinot Noir. Since we started flowering on May 31st (Julian calendar day 151) we should expect our harvest window to open around Julian calendar day 256 (September 13th.) And at this point, that is what Ernie the winegrower and Ernie the winemaker are thinking. Great minds think alike, especially when they are housed within the same cranium. And if we need a third opinion, we turn to guy in the mirror.

All fruits need hang time to ripen. Some fruits give pretty easy clues as to when they are ready and when they are not. The ubiquitous tomato is one such be-vined fruit. Oh yes, despite what classification the follow-on products are, the tomato in all of its colors, shapes and sizes is a fruit – at least while it is still on the vine.

When the typical red tomato is ripe it should be, red. We can clearly see in this image that the tomatoes on offer here are not yet ripe. They are not well hung.

Now if you were growing your own, you would give them more hang time. But not everybody grows their own: tomatoes or wine berries. But the tomato, given time and a paper bag, will ripen on its own. Not so with wine berries, primarily because we ferment them just as quickly as we can after harvest.

Wine berries are also a be-vined fruit. However, they do not so easily give up their secrets. Sure they look purple and are just hanging there ready to be plucked. But should you? Pluck it? That kinda depends on how much hang time they have had, and what the upcoming weather pattern holds. Can you get a harvest crew? Tomorrow - maybe? If not, then you are just hanging’ around, getting a little more hang time.

So to determine how well hung the wine berries are, and if they need more hang time, we can employ a number of varying analytical tools. The most primal tool at our disposal is one we share with creature’s great and small - we eat one. If they are sweet with sugar and not to acidic, we can give them good marks.

Next we chew the skins and if they taste like a green banana, that is potassium being released and may suggest the flavors are not yet fully developed. Then we look at the seed. The gelatinous pulp of young berries encasing their seeds should be gone. Fluorescent green means not mature, while “Grape-Nuts” cereal brown means the seeds are fully mature.

If the wine berries pass all of the primal benchmarks, then it is time to employ our technical tools. We first “hunt and gather” a sample that is representative of the block we are considering cluster plucking. The sample we collect is comprised of entire clusters and not individual berries.

Long ago the vines made a concession to the humans that were tending them. You see, it was quite an arduous task to cut each individual berry from all over the vine. So, the vine agreed to “cluster” the grapes onto some tendrils that were growing within easy reach of the humans. You may disagree, but just remember, you weren’t there.

We put the wine berries, still on the stem, in a mesh bag and slowly but firmly squeeze the juice out of them into a clean white bucket. We then transfer the juice to a clear glass vessel and look at the color.

Very pale cotton candy color tells us that the aromas and flavors are still locked in the skins and are not ready to be released into the juice. And if they don’t get into the juice, they won’t be in the wine. A deeply hued mauve indicates that it is time to stick your nose into the sampling vessel. If a heady bouquet greats your olfactory senses, then it is time to calibrate the machines.

The pH meter, next to the coffee machine, is one of the most important machines in the lab. However, it is quite the joker. Not only does it need to be calibrated every farming day to give you a true reading of acidity, but it needs to be constantly checked to be sure it is performing its task with precision. Not unlike the invasive colonoscopy, we extend the probe into the juice and have a look. While the numbers are site and variety specific, we like to see something greater than 3 but less than 4 with two sig-figs.

Then comes the Brix test. The berries have studied all year for this one and are ready for their numbers. Brix is a measure of fermentable sugars, and when you multiply Brix by 0.60, you get an approximate, potential alcohol percent. If you are seeing 20 Brix, then you are looking at about 12% alcohol – nice for cool climate Syrah. The over achieving wine berry will register at 25 Brix, or greater, for a potential alcohol around 15%.

With all of this analysis complete, it is now time to decide to “go or no go.” Bring them in or leave them out for more hang time – and live with that decision forever. But wait, there is more information to consider. Mother Nature has quite a role to play when you are ready to cluster pluck. A little rain will dilute high sugars, but may segue to rot. Warm, breezy dry days may desiccate the wine berries and raise already high sugar levels without commensurate aroma and flavor development. If you want to make Mother Nature laugh, announce your harvest schedule in advance.

And then there are the logistics of harvesting and fermenting. Harvesting at Amalie Robert Estate is done by hand, vine by vine and block by block. While some of the Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley is harvested by machine, most is harvested by hand. And there are only so many hands to go around. So just because you are ready to go, doesn’t mean that a harvest crew is in your future. That’s when you say “bucket!” and try for the next day. Is that rain in the forecast?

Fermenting is not that complicated. We put 3,000 pounds of grapes in very close proximity with a little sulfur dioxide and they can take it from there. It is not unlike lining up all the men in class on one side of the gym and all of the women on the other. Have them advance until they close the distance between them by half. Repeat as many times as you like, but they will never touch. However, they will be close enough for all practical purposes.

The trick though is to be sure you have enough fermentation capacity for all of the wine you have grown. If not, you will have to re-use the fermenters, which usually means starting the cluster pluck a little early, like maybe in August, and bear the shame of premature fermentation. Then after a few weeks, past the prime harvest window, return to the field to harvest the remaining crop.

So after a few years at this, we have determined that the facts, however interesting they may be, are often irrelevant. It’s fharming dharling and it has its own unique set of realities.

And the reality of 2015 is that we are on fire! Well, actually that is the neighbors pasture, but you get the idea, it’s has been hot and dry. But turning the corner we are. Despite the Hell-bent for Leather growing season to date, September brings with it shorter days. And it would seem that the forecast suggests cooler day time temperatures and lows all the way down into the 40s. And that, coupled with the late August and early September showers, means a little more hang time for the dry farmed wine berries at Amalie Robert Estate.

This is the part of the Climate Update where we switch from the random character generator (RCG) to the random number generator (RNG.)

We have recorded 565.9 degree days for the month of August, providing a total of 1,997 degree days since the beginning of the growing season on April 1, 2015. Our high temperature was 103.0 degrees and our low temperature was 43.2 degrees.

This represents a trajectorial shift from 2014 which recorded 615.2 degree days and had accumulated 1,886 degree days through August, but finished up the growing season at whopping 2,499 degree days. The difference seems to be that 2014 started cooler and finished in a blaze of glory, while 2015 started hot and may finish with a long, cool ripening period yielding very well hung wines. Could the 2015 Hell-bent for Leather vintage turn out to be Delish?

With 0.59 inches of rain arriving on the 28th of August and a bit more on the way for the beginning of September, it could happen. Unless you have already plucked your clusters, and if so, well, there’s always next year. We have endured 88 consecutive days without rain, and that is quite a dry spell for us. The last rain event of 1.24 inches was recorded on the morning of June 2nd. Our growing season to date rainfall is 4.53 inches.

And so we do what farmers do – we keep ourselves busy running the numbers until we see the “steal home plate” sign from Mother Nature. We gotta admit, she looks pretty good in a ball cap; all that red hair flowing in the gale force wind and driving rain.

September, gird thee loins, for we intend to reign harvest down upon you!

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie