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

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