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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2015 May & June

Hello and Welcome,

This is the integrated May and June Climate Update - it’s a twofer.

April showers bring May flowers and so they did. The month of May is the boring before the bedlam in the institution that is the vineyard at Amalie Robert Estate. The vines look innocent enough as they are starting to fill out the trellis. The spring cover crop of soil conditioning Buckwheat and nitrogen fixing Vetch is drilled in and set to life by a gentle sprinkle, and the odd hailstone or two. There is even time to do a little spring cleaning… and then all that pent up vine energy breaks loose!

June is the month we all get real farmin’ busy. It starts with the vines, as it always does, but this year presented us with yet another unique scenario. Our vines began flowering on May 31, and our first shower of June followed straight away. During those first two days of June, we recorded about 1.24 inches of rain. That put a bit of a damper on pollinating the wee little wineberries.

The 3rd of June began the first heat wave of the month, a condition the vines picked up on without delay. The resulting rate of growth was un-farming-believable. Bear in mind, while we are trying to grow wine, our source material is a grape vine. Their proclivity is to grow into high places, usually up tree trunks, where they can bask in as much sunlight as possible. And they have tendrils to help them do it.

So get this. We had bud break on March 24, day 83 of the Julian calendar. The 30th of June is day 181. In that 98 day period the vines have grown shoots that are about 98 inches long – some more, some less. For purposes of illustration, we see that on average the vines grow shoots at a rate of about an inch a day.

Nessie awash in a sea of green

But they don’t. At the end of May, Julian calendar day 151, our shoots were no more than 30 inches long. So logically, the latest 68 inches of growth (or more) occurred in the last 30 days. No matter how you crunch those numbers, that is over 2 inches of growth per day. And with evening temperatures above 50 degrees they grow at night too!

Welcome to Vintage 2015: Hell-bent for Leather. Let’s start with 1.24 inches of rain. That is 33,671 gallons per acre, and we farm 30 of them. From a vine’s point of view in their individual vineyard placement perspective, that means about 23 gallons of water for each and every one of those “winemakers.” Now let’s turn on the heat, and leave it on. This combination of a downpour followed by “above average low temperatures” and “downright hot high temperatures” in June have the vines kicking our acids!

Unfortunately, vines pre-date trellis designs by quite a few years and subsequently they never evolved to the point of naturally growing into a trellis system. (Don’t tell the natural wine folks.) This is where our superior trellis design and 2 minutes of human hand labor come into play. Multiply that by a factor of 44,000 vines and that is how the month of June disappeared, ipso facto.

America may run on Dunkin’ but farm machinery runs on diesel. With July on the horizon, and another 200 gallons of diesel being delivered next week, we are starting to turn the corner. Once the vines’ growth is harnessed in the trellis, Ernie brings out “The Enforcer.” Hand labor, while extremely important to growing world class wine, is no match for these be-tendrilled vines.

With 10 blades spinning at a bazillion miles an hour, the hedger trims both sides and the top of a row in a single pass. The result is immediate and significant (not unlike pairing Pinot Noir with duck confit.) With the flail mower running behind, the trimmings are incorporated back into the vineyard. Man, that looks oh-soooooo good!

But, the vines have seen this movie before. They take the first hedging pass in stride and just pour all that extra energy into the shorter shoots and up they come. Ernie is waiting for them with pass number two. And as has been the case in the past, a third and usually a fourth pass is required. There goes July.

By removing excess leaf material in a warm year, we help to conserve soil moisture that we will most assuredly need in September. In cool years like 2010 and 2011 we hedge a tall canopy to maximize leaf exposure and photosynthesis. In hot years we hedge a short canopy to minimize leaf exposure, water loss through transpiration and to slow down sugar accumulation to allow flavors and aromas to develop.

Leaves. We’ve all seen them and know that they take that nasty carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. They use it during photosynthesis and this is what gives the vines their life-force and we humans get oxygen. What a deal! But wait there is more, we also get wine! Imagine a life without carbon dioxide - there would be no wine. Love those vines!

Now the hedging pass brings us to the first real winegrowing decision in the vineyard - the leaf pull pass. We pull leaves out of the fruit zone after the first pass with the hedger. The reason for this “viticultrual practice” is to improve the airflow around the wineberries to reduce the chance of mildew or rot. But leaves also influence, to a great degree, how wine feels on your palate.

Before leaf pull

After leaf pull

Leaves perform a very important function of shading the wineberries. The more shade, the more elegant will be the mid-palate experience, all other things being equal – which they never are. While this is especially true for our vineyard at Amalie Robert Estate and Pinot Noir, other varieties benefit from a little more sun exposure. And, as we all know, Cabernet needs all the exposure it can get. Nothing worse than a “weedy cab.” Hey, is that legal now?

But all vineyard sites are not created equal. While we have a terrific aspect with great air drainage and elevation from 650 feet down to 275, some sites have poor air drainage and high humidity levels based on their elevation, location and aspect. Cold and damp air pools just like water and that is the condition that fosters mildew and rot. Vines grown in this condition may have most, if not all of their leaves removed from the fruit zone to try and reduce mildew and rot. And with all those leaves goes an elegant and supple mouth feel in your Pinot Noir.

Tannins. They are those bitter things what give your wine a bit of a back-end bite. A little is good, a lot is kinda harsh. Tannins come from the skins and are a direct result from sun exposure. The more sun, the more bite. But tannins also come from the stems and that is the velvety tannin we like. Stem tannin evolves with bottle maturation and becomes a more refined and perfumed tannin. Seed tannins are right out. We ferment as much whole berry as possible to minimize tannin extraction from the seed. That is some really bad tannin. Skin tannins, while an essential part of wine, are not really going to evolve. But they do provide balance and help to frame the finish, albeit monolithically.

What does all this mean and why should I care?!

Right. We are espousing that a little shade and some whole cluster tannin is how we shape the mid-palate expression of our Pinot Noirs - elegant, lively and with a lingering, scintillating finish. Yeah, that’s our thing and we do it in the vineyard. What about the color? Well, that is Mother Nature’s thing and we don’t mess with her on that.

Kinda like the numbers. All we can do is read ‘em and weep, or sit here and bitch. So without further ado, tuck yourself in for a taste of winegrowing - extreme heat edition.

May was pleasant, and not significantly warmer than May of 2014. Our high temperature was 86.6 degrees Fahrenheit and we logged a low temperature of 34.9. Just enough to avoid any frost damage on our perfectly positioned and well drained piece of dirt. May logged 233.8 degree days for a growing season to date total of 287.4 degree days. We were dry in May without any measurable precipitation.

June was something other. Our high temperature was 97.4 degrees Fahrenheit and we logged a low temperature of 38.9. June logged 511.7 degree days for a growing season to date total of 799.1 degree days. Last June saw an accumulation of 335.1 degree days for a growing season total of 647 degree days. We received 1.24 inches of rain during the first 2 days of June. Our growing season begins on April 1st each year, even with the leap years, and our growing season precipitation total is now 3.92 inches.

The 2015 April – June degree day accumulation is the warmest we have seen in recent memory. The 2009 vintage is not far off the mark either, but closed out the season moderately, unlike 2014. A nice Oregon vintage clocks in around 1,900-2,100 degree days. If July turns in a blistering performance, we are in for a wild ride. Having mastered the Botrytis Chardonnay challenge with Pabuk’s Gift, Ernie is threatening to call the folks in Banyuls for a few tips on making fortified wine – “au naturel.” And if your memory is in need of refreshing you can always check The FLOG or have a look right here:

YTD - July
2007 *
TBFD: To Be Farming Determined
* Miss me yet?

So what does it take to accumulate 511.7 degree days in June? It takes an average temperature for the entire month of 66.9 degrees. For the month of June, we spent 355 hours at or above 66.9 degrees. Conversely, we spent 365 hours below the average of 66.9 degrees. The fact that we spent less time above the average means we were very warm during those hours.

Here is how we break it down:

Note: Some rounding is inevitable, some is intentional, and some is from sampling error.

And if you want to see the heffalump in the room, just look at the amount of time we spent above 50 degrees. The magic number in the vineyard is 50 degrees. Below 50 degrees the vines do not get too much done. Above 50 degrees and they are merrily growing new foliage and proceeding unabated toward harvest. Whoa!

Of the 720 hours available in the month of June, 646 of them were above 50 degrees. There were only 74 hours during June when the vines were not actively growing. If you slept 8 hours a night in June, you were not farming wine. But you had 240 sleeping hours.

Historically Oregon has differentiated itself from Burgundy in precisely this way. Burgundy has more of a continental climate where the evening temperatures are a bit warmer. Oregon has a marine influence that typically manifests itself in cooler evening temperatures.

This is why Burgundy needs only 100 days from flowering to ripeness and Oregon needs 105. They have warmer nighttime temperatures that advance ripening by a few days. They also have rain and hail during the summer. We have the 4th of July and fireworks: Winning!

Spoiler Alert: The first week of July has already seen a high of 97.7 and logged about 100 degree days. But we have had about 90 minutes below 50 degrees…

This communication is provided to you on a “Need to Know” basis. If you know someone who you think needs to know, by all means, please “FLOG a friend.”

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Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2015 June Flowers IRS (Inflorescence Reconnaissance Status)

Hello and Welcome,

For longtime readers of this FLOG, you know Dena’s birthday is the first week of June. This happens to coincide with the wine berry vines going into bloom, aka flowering. Ernie likes to think he gives her the biggest bouquet of flowers every year!

Each of our 43,872 fruiting vines has about 30 inflorescences (potential clusters) that contain about 100 flowers each. A quick sleight of hand with the trusty abacus yields about 131.6 MILLION flowers. That’s one big farmin’ bouquet! And the aroma is just heavenly, almost as nice as Pinot Noir!

On Julian calendar day 151 (May 31) the first intrepid vines to show flowers were Pinot Noir clone 777 grafted onto that soil colonizing 44-53M rootstock. That is the good news. Well that and wine berries are self pollinating. They do not require the wee little honey bee to pollinate the flower and set fruit.

The bad news is that this flowering event was directly followed by about 1.25 inches of rain over the next 2 cold and blustery days. Even the Hummingbirds were grounded. Flowers often times do not pollinate and therefore will not turn into wine berries when the weather turns “carppy.” The result is a winery full of empty wine barrels. That’s bad enough, but just wait until the birds find out there is nothing to raid!

But Mother Nature has a back up plan and it is called a “fruiting tendril” aka the wing. This is a part of the cluster that typically flowers a week or so after the main cluster. The idea is that the weather will “change” (think climate change on a micro timeline) and the flowers on the wing will pollinate and set fruit. Of course the debate is whether the weather will change for the better or worse. And that depends on who you ask.

This is like good judgment, which comes from experience, which often times is the result of bad judgment. Ernie is turning 50 again this year and he has a working theory. More of a case study really.

So, what can we glean from all of this apparent gibberish?

Well (a hole in the ground with water in it,) we can add 105 days of ripening time to day 151 on the Julian calendar to come up with a potential harvest window opening about day 256. This just happens to be Sunday, September 13, 2015. This may be a bit early, but then again it depends on who you ask. As in, “No, I haven’t found the harvest buckets yet!”

Since we write this from an “ex post facto” perspective, we know that on June 4th the weather changed to be dry and sunny with a light breeze. This led to other clones of Pinot Noir opening up their flowers ready to pollinate resulting in the fruit all being set about the same time. This contributes to even ripening on the cluster. And that means uniform and well developed flavors and aromas in the wine berry skins. Even the Viognier won’t be able to hold back.

Taken as a whole and “in situ” we expect fairly uniform ripeness on the cluster and we will snip off the late to ripen wings, as we always do. The birds will arrive late and be forced to eat cake, as all of the wine berries will be harvested. And those that are not will be netted to thwart the little blighters. It will in fact be “The vintage of the year!”

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie