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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2015 April

Hello and Welcome,

This is the April Climate Update from Amalie Robert Estate.

The 2015 vintage is “on-line!” The vines are all sporting new shoots and they are growing at an incredible rate. The spring cover crop mix of Buckwheat and Vetch has also taken hold and will become food for our vines in the fall. Between the fits and starts of rain, wind, hail and sun, we have been pounding posts in the new Wadenswil block, by hand. And oddly enough, once Ernie tightened up the alternator belt in the tractor, the battery has been staying charged up. Hmm, success leaves clues…

Generally speaking, it has been a pretty nice April to get some farming done. Farming, we should point out, is what you are doing when you are not growing wine. Farming includes things like mowing the grass - repeatedly, scheduled equipment maintenance like changing the oil, and
unscheduled equipment maintenance like tightening the alternator belt. Pounding posts is considered
farming, as is moving a few new vines into the vine row because the layout cable looked like a left parenthesis. The objective is to get most of the farming done during the slack time, so that we can focus on growing wine the rest of the summer.

WTH?NFW! is a farming lexicon and it means “What The Hail? No Farming Way!” But it’s true, we had hail during April and below freezing temperatures. The worst thing that can happen is that the pea sized hail can hit the new shoot with such force as to remove it from the vine, and there goes this year’s crop of wine berries. And whatever is left behind is fair game for Jack Frost. If those hearty shoots survive the hail, below freezing temperatures can lead to the same result – no wine berries for you! If that happens to your vineyard site, then you have all summer to go “farming.” And that is why vineyard site selection is all about strategy first and monetizing your terroir second. That’s Ernie in the tractor getting a first hand look at April hail.

So, we are in “good shape” to start growing wine. The late April and early May tasks include removing “double” shoots from the cane that will crowd the canopy and make shoot positioning an even more arduous task than it already has to be. We also remove the water sprouts (aka suckers) at the graft union where the rootstock meets the vinifera.

During the grafting process, these two pieces of plant material form new parenchyma tissue (typically composed of living cells that are thin-walled, unspecialized in structure, and therefore adaptable) that will grow together and fuse the vine into a single plant. In farming terms this is called callusing. It is at this graft union, about 5” off the ground that the suckers will grow. Doing about 1,452 deep knee bends per acre can get you in “good shape.”

Then in May we can look forward to the Oregon Strawberries, shoot positioning, and catch wires. Every May the prized little Oregon Strawberries hit the market. They last just a few weeks and then they are gone for another year. If you are local, then you know. If you are visiting, seek them out. Oh yeah, shoot positioning and catch wires, yum.

A vineyard is a physical implementation of a mental construct. Looking at a vineyard affords the opportunity to look into a farmer’s mind. Before we decided on how to layout our vineyard we read, studied, talked to people, and performed the ultimate research with finished wines grown on a variety of trellis designs and vine layouts. Our brains were collecting and processing data constantly. We thought our heads would explode - and here is yet another use for duct tape.

Then we fell into analysis paralysis, but only for a minute or two. We had no time for that, we had to get to farmin’! So we decided to space our vines 4 feet apart and leave 7 ½ feet for Ernie to run the tractor through the rows. The posts are all steel; we are “Heavy Metal” farmers. It was a good decision that has minimized tractor blight to the posts, vines, tractor, implements and operator.

The finest engine in the world is no more than a boat anchor if you can’t tune it for the race you are running. The trellis is where we separate the farmers from the wine growers. A trellis consists of two end assemblies, intermediate line posts, and miles and miles of wire. Each row of our vines is trellised using VSP (Vertical Shoot Positioning) and needs to support about 3 pounds of fruit per vine along with all the vines’ leaves to ripen it. A row of 100 vines yields about 300 pounds of fruit. And it needs to stand up to wind gusts, freezing rain and all of the other vagaries of “farming.”

VSP@ARE means “Vertical Shoot Positioning at Amalie Robert Estate” where each plant has its shoots tucked into 3 sets of catch wires over about a 6 week period of time by a crew of humans. Now, the guy who used to own this piece of dirt grew Montmorency cherries, which required very little hand work, if at all. He patiently listened as Ernie shared his mental construct. At the end he smiled and said, “Well Mr. Pink, you are going to be busy.”

Growing wine keeps you busy. We now have just about 44,000 fruiting vines that include Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Viognier. There are a few Gewürztraminer vines too, but don’t tell anybody. It’s a secret. And each vine has about 16 shoots we need to tuck into those wires. So some simple farming math leads us to about 704,000 shoots to tuck by hand. And we make three passes because we have 3 sets of wires. And we use about 5 clips per vine to hold everything in place. A quick check of the abacus yields 2.1 million “touches.” Spread that out over 6 weeks and it’s not so bad.

Good separation in the canopy helps keep our fruit healthy to hang through the fall weather and develop those signature ARE aromas and flavors in our wines. The result is exemplified in this physical implementation:

That enables this mental construct:

And now it’s time for the numbers! Numbers are what you use when conveying something that is more than “hardly any” but not quite as much as a country mile. Numbers add a sense of comfort in knowing that you have defined something right down to the gnat’s ass. For example, everyone knows the 15th digit of PI is 9, but 3.14 will most likely get you where you need to be. If the opportunity ever presents itself, ask the folks at Intel about the Pentium chip and “rounding error.”

Q:  How many Pentium designers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A:  1.99904274017, but that's close enough for non-technical people.

We have accumulated 53.6 degree days for the first 30 days of the growing season beginning on day 91 (April 1), 2015. The first half of April did not record any degree days, and therefore, all degree days were recorded in the second half of the month. This is another example of the “mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive” principle.

The high temperature for April was a balmy, if not scorching, 80.1 degrees on April 20, at 4:40 in the afternoon. In farming parlance, this is known as beer’thirty. The morning of April 29 hovered right at 34.2 degrees from 5:40 until 6:40. It was a fine time for a second cup of coffee and a warm slice of 3.14159265358979.

And it rained, and it hailed, and there was morning dew in the grass. We collected, and then returned to the soil, 0.78 inches of rain for the second half of April, bringing the farming total to 2.68 inches for the month. And if you multiply 2.68 inches of rain over the acres we farm, you will see that we received 2,462,628.85 gallons of water, depending on your processor.

To give this some perspective, 2.68 inches of rain here on the farm is the equivalent of about a million cases of wine. See if you can implement your own physical interpretation of that mental construct. We aren’t psychic, but we do see a corkscrew in your future – it is very close by.

Until we FLOG again, for most assuredly we will, winegrowers we remain.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Amalie Robert Estate: 2015 Spring Cellar Report

Hello and Welcome,

This is the 2015 Spring Cellar Report from Amalie Robert Estate in Dallas, Oregon.

We have just been “Advocated.” And as it is the case with most things, this is not inherently good or bad. We have been Advocated before, and it was pretty good. In fact, we liked it so much we would like to share it with you here:

"...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!"

That was last time. And it brought with it a 94 point review for our 2007 The Reserve Pinot Noir. It’s worth mentioning that the 2007 vintage is rated as 84T in the eRobertParker Vintage Chart. It is also worth mentioning that 94 was the top score awarded for the vintage.

Here is this time with a different reviewer: “…Amalie's Cuvée Pinot Noir 2010 showed some lovely varietal expression that you might well mistake for a good Pommard. Their Syrah Satisfaction 2011 lived up to its name during my tasting that did not fully convince me that the variety has a home in Oregon, while their Heirloom Cameo Chardonnay 2011 was one of those "minimal" varietals that you have a sneaky suspicion will age with ease. I think there is better to come as those vines increase in age and knowledge deepens, but broadly speaking this was a good show.”

As most of the wine consuming inhabitants of this planet know, The Wine Advocate is an institution. It was founded by a dedicated man with passion and unquestionable morals. For several years, he alone tasted and reviewed wines accepting no advertising revenue whatsoever. There could never be any suggestion that his reviews were anything other than his objective opinion. Whether you agreed with his opinions or not, they were as true to him as the day is long.

Things change. Today the Wine Advocate (under different management/ownership) has more than a single voice and a few of those voices have recently changed. Some of the world’s wine regions have found themselves with different wine reviewers. Oregon is one of them, and now shares a reviewer with Bordeaux. At this juncture it is important to remember the words of Dr. Kaufman, “Wait! I’m just a professional doing a job.”

Tomorrow never dies and this institution will survive. Whether you preferred Connery to Craig, or Kirk to Picard, there will always be a familiar place for “007” and the Captain ofthe Enterprise. And that is why there are all kinds of wine reviewers for all kinds of wine consumers.

Vintages change. In fact the only constant in the wine world seems to be change. Take climate change for example. Is that inherently good or bad? And the ‘tator, same question. And if you are not reading the “Hosemaster of Wine” from time to time, you are taking this wine thing a little too seriously. Honestly, you have to accept the fact that some people have a palate for wine like Van Gogh had an ear for music.

There will eventually come a day when we will no longer personally farm our 38 lineal miles worth of vines. We will then be looking for someone who shares our values and that can carry on the stewardship of our land. As we look toward that eventual change we can, in some respects, see what Mr. Parker had been searching for. Change is hard.

Enough of the glib remarks, let’s get to the cellar!

When the barrels are first filled they hold the promise of the vintage. Those young wines are the vines’ response to the ever changing climate and the actions we took in growing them. They are inherently good.

While it is hard to see, there is a tremendous amount of work happening below grade. Our barrel room is ensconced in about 1,200 tons of concrete. Here our wines will mature in barrel until Dena or Ernie start attributing them to certain blends.

Over time the barrels allow a small amount of air to pass through the staves and reach the wine. This “micro oxidation” will have the effect of slowly maturing our whole cluster fermented stem tannins and integrating the aromas, flavors and textures. New oak barrels will also impart a flavor into the wine. Someone once called new oak barrels “catnip for humans” and we can understand that. New wood is inherently good, and expensive.

However some of our most incredible experiences have been with wines from barrels that have long lost their expression. The barrel becomes a transparent vessel that allows the wine to be the focal point. In that wine, at that moment, you experience the purest expression of the vintage.

Blending is our final act of wine growing. After that, it is just filling bottles and stuffing corks in them. Yeah, put a cork in it… Somebody’s got to do it. And since we do that work in house, Dena ends up with that chore.

As we begin to taste our Pinot Noirs from barrel, we are cognizant of David Lett’s words from so many years ago “…it should be approached like a beautiful woman – with respect, some knowledge, and great hopes.” This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of David and Diana Lett’s Pinot Noir planting in the Willamette Valley. Thank you.

It is remarkable how each barrel of wine can be so similar and yet have nuances all its own – no two are ever the same (somewhat like corks, but we will get to that soon enough.) Some aromas and flavors tease at the edge of your perception. They exist only for a moment and then are available to you only as a memory. And they seem to be for you and you alone. Some people, like Dena, can taste in color. Wine is a uniquely personal experience.

Once this discovery phase has been completed, we each locate our individual favorite barrels of wine. Once we find them we mark the barrel head with chalk and exclaim “Mine!” This is also inherently good.

The wonderment ends and the puzzlement begins when we try blending our favorite barrels together. You know instantly when something has gone awry. What happened to the magic? That finish is all wrong! Did you pull the right barrel? It becomes trial and error, barrel by barrel.

But when it is good, it is soooooo really good. And while we are clearly experiencing our own individual nuances, we know how good it is for the other. Yeah, let’s do that again… right now! This is when you experience the transformation of a recreational beverage into a procreational one.

Then the strangest thing happens – Bottle Shock. Right after bottling the wine seems to go dormant. There is no aroma or flavor and it is all a juxtaposed mess. It seems coming out of a 225 liter barrel, being mixed up with a bunch of other wine and then gravity filled into a 750 milliliter bottle and topped off with a bit of tree bark can put a hitch in your get along.

But after a few months time the magic reemerges and the process of bottle maturation can begin. While the experience of blending is committed to memory, bottle maturation is a whole new journey. The micro oxidation that occurred in the barrel is now occurring through the cork, but (hopefully) at a much slower rate. This bottle maturation process lasts years and can transform a brash young wine into a suave and refined experience. This is not unlike the aging of some men.

That is if you are using a bit of tree bark that will let in an undisclosed amount of air to help soften and mature the wine. Cans, synthetics and screw-offs are another matter and are left as an exercise for the reader.

There are plenty of things to know, and if you want to know most of them you can just use Google. In fact you can Google people, like Parker. And you can be Googled, just like you can be Advocated. Been there, had that done to us.

But one thing you cannot know is how much air is going to go through that cork to meet up with the wine. But you can know the reason that you cannot know. The reason you cannot know how much air is going to go through that cork to meet up with the wine is that the cork is a unique, one-off piece of tree bark. Until you test it “in situ” you can never know. And once it is tested, it cannot be used again. This is called DPA or Destructive Physical Analysis. Sadly, and to the detriment of the bottom line, DPA is also used to diagnose farm equipment problems. Google it if you like.

This is one reason why cans, synthetics and screw-offs are so popular (low cost is another.) You can know how much air is going to meet up with the wine. Cans seem like a no brainer, literally. There is no air getting to the wine. Synthetics and screw-offs, however pose a different challenge.

It is like posing a simple arithmetic question to an attorney and instead of getting a number, you get this response instead, “Well, what number would you like it to be?” Since we are humans, we have developed these closures in such a manner that allows some air to pass through them and interact with the wine. The question is, “How much should that be?”

How much air do you want to pass through to the wine and over what amount of time? Clearly the right answer is, “Just the right amount until I open it.” That is not one of the available options when you are considering these closures. And as a consumer who was not privy to that decision, we are back to the same quandary, “How can you know?”

So, in response to the timeless question of “When is the perfect time to open this wine?” the correct answer is “Just before you want to drink it.” It’s a crap shoot. You can never really know for sure. But you can make a reasonably educated guess.

The primary purpose of bottle maturation for Amalie Robert Estate Pinot Noir and Syrah is the refinement of stem tannins, integration of textures, and the development of bottle bouquet. It’s those whole clusters we use during fermentation that impart astringent tannin in our young wines. After 18 to 24 mounts of micro oxidation in barrel, the tannins have softened enough to go to bottle without the use of fining agents*. Then over the next 3 to 5 years the micro oxidation through the cork slowly (or not so much) allows the maturation process to continue in the bottle softening the tannins and building bouquet.

*Fining agents are “things” added to a wine to modify its aroma, flavor or texture. Fining agents can, and have included egg whites, fish bladders, and ox blood. You can read moreabout that here.

Young wines have what is considered “primary fruit” characters, aka cherry/berry. These are inherently good. Most wine consumers are familiar with these flavors as we are human and are prone to consume wine just about as soon as we acquire it. This is yet another reason we do not use cans or screw-offs, nor do we include straws with your purchase.

But sometimes things do not go according to plan. Sometimes we find a bottle that has been “squired away” in a cool space under the stairs for a few years. Hmmm, what’s this? Could it also be inherently good? Before that bottle makes it into the recycling bin, try this.

Set it upright on the kitchen counter, out of the sun, for a couple of days to let any sediment find its way to the bottom of the bottle. Select the appropriate stemware and a decanter and wash them with non-chlorinated water. You can use bottled water if you wish. Carefully remove the cork and in one gentle but deliberate motion pour the wine slowly down the side of the decanter. Do not splash the wine. Stop pouring when you see sediment enter the neck of the decanter. Now pour the wine gently into the stemware, give it a little swirl and bring it up to your nose. This is best done along with an approved taster. Call it a “replicated trial” if you will.

If things go according to plan, you are about to experience the 3 halves of Pinot Noir. The first half is when you smell the bouquet. It should be intriguing with “secondary aromas” that scintillate and are not easy to describe, yet are wonderfully expressive. As the wine explores your palate, you are experiencing the second half of Pinot Noir. The wine should be lithe and elegant yet restrained by refined tannins and firm acidity. It should give you pleasure. When you finally swallow the wine, the third half of Pinot Noir emerges. The remnant flavors and textures linger to give the wine staying power.

The third half of Pinot Noir, that lingering finish, is what bottle matured stem tannins contribute to the Amalie Robert Estate Pinot Noir experience. And with that precious little bit of deepened knowledge, we hope you have enjoyed this FLOG. 

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2015 Mid-April

Hello and Welcome,

This is the Mid-April Climate Update from Amalie Robert Estate in Dallas, Oregon.

The 2015 vintage is off to an early start. The weather here in the Willamette Valley has been unseasonably warm and dry. We experienced bud break early this year - March 24th, Julian calendar day 83. But now that the buds are showing along the cane, it has turned seasonably cool and wet – Dog Nose weather. And there was a spot of hail, thrice.

No matter, as farmers we opportunistically take advantage of whatever weather breaks we can get, especially around harvest. This year that means Ernie was able to start opening up the vineyard floor with the chisel plow a little early. This task is part of our vine nutrition program where we plant cover crops to feed our vines, not chemical fertilizers. Note: this is Ernie’s view from the tractor seat for the remainder of the growing season…

The next pass is with the rototiller to incorporate all the cover crop that was drilled in last fall. Ernie is not great at forecasting the weather, but he has forecasted the chance of rototiller repairs this year at about 85%. The rototiller also makes a nice seed bed for the new cover crop.

Then he calls up Leonard for a truckload of Buckwheat and Common Vetch, mounts the drill and plants the spring cover crop blend. Add a shower or two in the last half of April; yeah that’s a sure thing, and Voila!, we have fertilizer for the fall feeding of our vines.

Meanwhile all of last years’ canes have been pulled out of the trellis, placed in the permanent grassed rows and flail mowed. This mixing of “greens and browns” will also return nutrients to the soil, which is the plants’ stomach. The annual “Rites of Spring” trellis repairs have also been completed.

If you like Pinot, and you want to go on a picnic, why not join us at the IPNiC? The International Pinot Noir Celebration is turning 29 this year, just for the first time though, and we were invited! And 29 was a fun year (what we can remember,) we have seen the pictures. Then just like that, BAM, 39! We knew better, but still didn’t care.

The IPNC brings together “70 of the worlds top Pinot Noir wineries” for a 3 day celebration of the heartbreak grape – Pinot Noir. You can view the list of this year’s wineries here: Featured Wineries. And they expect you to pay attention and learn something.

As you can see, this truly is an international event. Pinot Noir, more so than any other grape, uniquely expresses where it was grown. This year’s crop of wineries are from as close by as Dallas, Oregon, from as far away as Beaune in the heart of Burgundy, and Sam Neill will be joining us from NewZealand.

If people from New Zealand are called New Zealanders, would you call someone from Beaune a Beauner? Attend IPNC this year and you can find out!

You know what happens next, it’s numbers time!

We start tracking the growing season, officially, on April Fools Day every year. That should tell you something about farming and numbers. It is also Julian calendar day 91, unless it is a leap year and then the first day of the growing season is 92. Those farming numbers…

However, that is the agreed upon parameter in the northern hemisphere, so we go with it. Unofficially, we keep any eye on the number of “nice days” during February and March. And this year is was really nice in February and March, technically speaking.

But now that everything (literally) is being recorded and on the record (except some unnamed E-mails,) April has shown us a bit of a cold shoulder. What a tease… We have managed to see a high of 66.8 degrees on April 9th at just about 4 pm. Then on April 15th, if not a frosty enough day in its own right, we plunged down to 29.9 degrees. We were below freezing for about 6 hours beginning at 1:00 am. We will be on the lookout for some frost damage. Alas, we will not record any degree days for the first half of April.

But we will log the rainfall! We have received 16.68 inches of rain for the pre-measurement period of January – March. This is good in that Amalie Robert Estate is dry farmed and we like to see the soil fully charged as we move into the growing season. The first half of April has brought us 1.90 inches of rain.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie