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

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

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