Introduction

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!

Rusty

"This is one of the Willamette Valley’s most distinguished wineries, but not one that is widely known."

- Rusty Gaffney, PinotFile - September 2016

Josh

"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

David

"...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

Friday, July 31, 2015

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2015 July

Hello and Welcome,

This is the Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update for July, 2015.

Farm it like you mean it, or don’t farm it at all!™

Vintage 2015: Hell-bent for Leather: The 2015 growing season has been a story of “Too much, too soon.” Flowering began in May (a couple of weeks early) and was followed by warm and dry June weather resulting in a very bountiful crop. July has proven to be very advanced with all available forecasts showing no break in the historically above average temperatures (day or night) or any discernable rainfall through September. Our last meaningful rainfall was June 1-2 when we recorded 1.24 inches of rain.

Despite our best efforts to increase hang time by managing a short canopy to reduce water loss and slow sugar accumulation and keeping the vineyard floor mown tight and weed free, we estimate our harvest window to open somewhere mid-September. The only effective tool we have to mitigate these climatic factors is our deep roots that come from vine age and dry farming.


So much for the executive summary talking points, let’s get into the dirt. Grape vines are fairly simple plants in their response to heat. The warmer it is the faster they grow, until they run out of available soil moisture. The key phrase here is “available soil moisture” which means moisture in the soil that the vines can translocate from their roots, through their vascular tissue and eventually transpire via the stomata on the underside of their leaves. In other words, they can draw a vacuum, fairly straightforward really.

The vine’s leaves exert negative pressure via the roots to draw moisture into the vine. Some soils are deep and moist, others are shallow and dry. Some can hold a lot of moisture, others can’t hold much at all. Perhaps you are familiar with personal exemplars of these characteristics.

The soils at Amalie Robert Estate are formed from marine sediments. The soil series is called Bellpine and after a 12” topsoil layer (A horizon,) it has an effective rooting depth (B horizon) ranging from about 24 inches down to 36 inches. Below this is the C horizon and that is where things get interesting. Our C horizon is comprised of fractured sandstone and ironstone. The key term here is fractured.


Fractured is good because it allows the vine’s roots to penetrate deep into the ancient clay of the C horizon in their quest for water. Willakenzie, the other marine sediment soil series in the Willamette Valley, has a C horizon that is “weakly to moderately cemented” tuffaceous sandstone that is typically not fractured. This is called a root restrictive layer and is akin to growing vines in a bucket – the roots can’t get out to delve deep for available soil moisture. Something to consider when planning a rooftop vineyard.

The other soil series in the Willamette Valley is derived from volcanic flows and is most well known as the Jory series. This soil is brilliant red from its high iron content and can be deep. Often times Jory soils can be 6 to 8 feet deep or more before hitting a basalt (volcanic rock) layer. And, it just so happens, rock is also root restrictive.

So, the obvious question is “Who has the most available soil moisture?” In the sedimentary series, the root restrictive layer gets weeded out rather quickly in a vintage like 2015. The only saving grace could be (unnatural) irrigation.

That leaves us the marine sediment Bellpine series and the volcanic Jory series. The easiest mental construct for comparative purposes is a sponge – any examplar will do. The amount of water a sponge will hold depends on the size of the pores in said sponge. Jory soils typically have large pores and Bellpine soils have relatively smaller pores. Ergo, Jory soils will hold more water than Bellpine soils per any given inch of the soil profile.

However, the large pores in the Jory soil series have the tendency to lose soil moisture faster than the tighter pores in the Bellpine soil series. You can try this at home with two different sized sponges. Weigh them dry, weigh them fully saturated and then weigh them after you gently and equally squeeze them. The results will be inconclusive, but now you have a better idea of the water holding and retention characteristics of marine sediment soils and volcanic soils.

Note: Be careful how you present this newfound knowledge as there is quite a debate over the virtues and vices of each soil type. There are true believers out there and then there are true believers who grow wine…


Roots are the structures vines use to bring that soil moisture to the surface. Once again we have two camps: the own rooted camp and the newfangled rootstock camp with their fancy names and numbers. And if you want to experience life as a root, insert a very small straw into the aforementioned sponge and “exert negative pressure.” Yes, there are mycorrhiza, but not now.

Own rooted vines are just that and they grow the deepest roots of all. Cuttings were taken from dormant vines, allowed to warm up and form callus tissue and then gently inserted into the soil where the callus tissue would form roots. Often times these vines were planted in very straight rows to allow human interference with trellis structures and mechanization. Other times they were placed just far enough apart to get an oxen or other bovine between them. This may have been the basis of “Natural wines” including their unique “plant nutrition” regime.

Necessity is the mother of invention and that is as true in agrarian endeavors as any other discipline. When the inhabitants of the old world came to the new world they were amazed at all of the unfamiliar flora and fauna. Being humans, with human like tendencies, they returned to the old world with a bit of the new world in their pockets. Who was gonna find out and what could they do anyway?

Well, fate took a hand when they planted all of their newfound booty only to discover a little fauna they hadn’t counted on – phylloxera. That little louse began feeding on all kinds of roots, with grapevine roots being their favorites. The new world roots were used to this and went about their business of callusing over and growing new roots. The old word roots were not so lucky. As the phylloxera tore into their roots, they were unable to form callus tissue to protect themselves from all of the nasty pathogens that live in the soil. Sadly, and rightfully so, the old world vines began to die.


What to do? Well, they decided to head back into the belly of the beast. They returned to the new world with a vengeance and began looking for vines that grew up with phylloxera. They looked at riparian areas where new world vines were growing wild or “naturally” near streams and waterways. They took cuttings and skulked back across the pond.

They grafted these new world roots onto the old world vinifera cuttings and began planting these new “unnatural” vines. And this is how we arrive at the plethora of rootstock choices available today. The key factor in all rootstock choices is that they are tolerant of phylloxera. We say tolerant because phylloxera still attacks rootstocks, but they grew up with phylloxera and can deal with it by forming callus tissue that keeps the nasty soil pathogens at bay. However AXR #1 was not resistant and was perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated on the California wine grower.

“AXR #1 was widely used in California during the planting boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the mid 1980s it was failing to phylloxera as it had in France, Italy and South Africa…  AXR #1's advantages were adaptability, consistent high quality and yields, ease of propagation and relative tolerance to most viruses. However, this rootstock is not phylloxera resistant and should not be planted.”

Rootstocks come in three categories: Small, Medium and Oh My! Wait, that is something else…

The most phylloxera tolerant of all rootstocks is called Riparia Gloire. This rootstock is also known as “RG” and has the shallowest roots of all. This rootstock is sometimes used with the idea of controlling the vine’s growth through irrigation. In other words, someone likes to dress up as Mother Nature.

Next is a series of moderately deep rootstocks known as 101-14Mgt, 3309C, Schwarzmann and 44-53M. These are widely planted in many premium winegrowing regions around the world. Mostly thanks to that New World louse phylloxera. And watch our for those dagger nematodes!

That leaves the deepest rooting rootstocks of all which are best represented by Teleki 5C. The growth habit of this rootstock is the closest thing mankind has found to own rooted vines. It has the deepest root growth of all the aforementioned rootstocks. It is also the most widely planted rootstock at Amalie Robert Estate.

As the days desiccate off the calendar, the continuum of soils, rootstocks and available soil moisture leads us through the ripening curve. Let’s define ripening as producing a viable set of seeds to reproduce, wrapped in an aromatically fragrant and hedonistically sweet wine berry with sugar levels that will produce wines in the 12.5 – 14.0% alcohol range. We know, that’s a lot to ask from a bunch of grapes.

As the soil profile dries from the surface down, the vine’s roots must struggle to extract water. The best case scenario is that as the soils begin to dry out, the wine berries begin to slowly ripen. We know this is happening because we see the berries turn from green to mauve to gunmetal blue and finally Pinot Noir colored, and there is little in the rain gauge, until the season’s end.


As the season progresses, the shallow roots will run out of available soil moisture. This sends a signal to the vine to start ripening up those seeds. The vine’s deeper roots may still have access to soil moisture and that allows the vine to continue to build sugars in the wine berry. The vine handles this dichotomy of signals quite well. It takes the queue from the shallow roots to get with the program, while utilizing the deeper roots to continue ripening their seeds and developing aromas and flavors. Who needs a vineyard manager when you are growing Pinot Noir?

However, once all of the vine’s roots exhaust their available soil moisture the vine will start to relocate water from the wine berries. This is a one way trip, and we all took that trip in 2003. Not everyone will remember, that is how it goes with some trips. Even if late season rains soak the soil, the vine has moved on. The wine berries, sadly, will most likely raisin and not rehydrate. This may result in a good deal of time spent at the sorting table, and perhaps a Port styled wine.

This explains why a little drought stress now to start the ripening process and a little shower later (but not too late) to help the vine complete the ripening process provides the best possible ripening curve – agronomically speaking. But you never know how much you are going to get, when you are going to get it or how long it is going to last.

Ergo, effective rooting depth and available soil moisture will have a dramatic if not traumatic impact on the ripening curve this year. In the dry farmed world, own rooted, phylloxera free vines with significant vine age will certainly have the advantage, followed by vines grafted onto that wonderful Teleki 5C rootstock. If you are farming shallow rooted RG, well that irrigation line could become a lifeline.

But it is not over until it’s over. There are thousands of acres of Pinot Noir grown in the Willamette Valley representing all kinds of soils, elevations, rootstocks and vine age. Some have irrigation while the rest of us go the natural route.

Right. When you are in business with Mother Nature, you pay your money and take your chances. In Vintage 2015: Hell-bent for Leather we are relying on the decisions we made almost 20 years ago and the resulting deep roots that come with dry farmed vine age. We did over 30 soil borings and dug several open pits to learn about the depth of our soils across 30 acres of ultra-premium vineyard land. We knew what we wanted: “Wines true to the soil, Wines true to the vintage®” and therefore we were not going to irrigate. We have some deep soils and some thin soils. Mostly Bellpine, and a wee little bit of Jory. And while the soil is not new, we have a new classification – introducing Windy Gap. This is about three feet of Jory soil sitting on top of marine sediments. Isn’t that crazy?

We laid out the rootstock map over our soil map. We chose RG for a very small but deep and fertile area, and then scattered a little 3309C, 101-14Mgt, Schwarzmann and 44-53M over some moderately deep areas. And that bruiser Teleki 5C went over everything else. Then we began to assign clones onto rootstocks. Put some Chardonnay here, Pinot Meunier there, and we rolled the dice with several small blocks of Pommard, Wadenswil and the Dijon clones. Thanks to Dick Erath and the good folks at Guigal, our Syrah program got all the right clones, on all the right roots, in all the right places.


With scant rainfall in the foreseeable future, we wait and hope our bets pay off. We want those rootstocks pulling up water to sustain the vines and Mother Nature to back off with the heat. A shower or two before harvest would be a miracle. Miracles are not something we hope for. Miracles are something we depend on.

Here is another thing you can depend on, the un-farming believable numbers:

The month of July began with a fine display of triple digit temperatures and ended the month on the same high notes. We recorded a high temperature of 104.4 degrees and a low temperature of 43.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s 40.2 and 6.4 for those of you across the pond with your so called “new world” shrubberies. No hard feelings on the whole phylloxera thing, and thanks for the rootstocks.


We logged 632.1 degree days for the month of July, up 120.4 degree days (23.5%) from the 511.7 degree days in June. And when you add July’s 632.1 degree days to the 799 degree days accumulated through June, you end up with the year to date July degree days, as you might expect. Rainfall was a scant 0.02 inches; 110% humidity was all that was and it didn’t last all that long - hot and bothered…

This is the part of the shpiel where we try and say something funny. But when you look at August coming down the pike, with a historical 600 degree day accumulation and no precipitation, it’s not so farmin’ funny. But this is: Well it’s 40 below and I don’t…

So, we will most likely be around 2,000 degree days and as dry as a popcorn phart as we breach the month of September. But a lot can happen in 30 days.

It reminds us of the court jester accused of adultery (with the Queen no less) who saved his skin by promising the King he could make his prized stallion talk if he could just have 30 days to train him. The King granted his request and a guard led the jester away to the stables.

The guard said “Are you mad? You can never train a horse to talk! What are you going to do?” The jester replied, quite sure of himself, “30 days is a long time. The King could die, I could escape or who knows? The horse could learn to talk.”

In case you wonder why we go to all this effort to inform, educate and (hopefully) entertain, we thought this strip answers that question beautifully:



Kindest Regards,


Dena & Ernie

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2015 Pinot Noir In Flagrante!

Hello and Welcome,    


Vintage 2015: "Hell-bent for Leather" has given us the first indication of an impending harvest. We spied the first "blazing" berry on July 23, 2015 (day 203 of the Julian calendar.) That means we should be commencing harvest operations in about 60 days, more or less. That would be Wednesday, September 23, 2015, or day 263 on the Julian calendar.  

Pinot Noir Dijon Clone 777 grafted onto 44-53 rootstock was the first to show. It was quickly followed by one of Ernie's favorites, block 10 Wadenswil on 5C. Now that these "tastemakers" have been outed, we expect the rest of the vines to bring it on.

Is this early you ask? Farm yes it's early! This is too farmin' soon for our likes, but the grapes are ready when the grapes are ready. 

The only thing that can slow this runaway train is meaningful rainfall. The chance of that happening in the Willamette Valley in July and August is pretty farmin' slim. So slim in fact, there is only one side to it. That's slim.

Speaking of slim, now is the time to set the crop load. The idea here is to remove anything that will not ripen in time for harvest - which is impossible to know, welcome to farming. The other school of thought is to remove everything from the vine that you don't want in your wine.

Things we don't want in our wine, or yours, include the late to ripen wings. We also don't want clusters attached to stunted shoots that don't have enough leaves to ripen them. And we don't want any more than 2 clusters on any one shoot - too much work to ripen that much wine.

Things we do want in our wine include the clusters toward the end of the cane. These clusters have shown to produce superior quality wine. The clusters toward the head, while still viable, are not as enticing. So when we thin, we leave a little more at the end and take a little more from the heads. Not everyone does, but there is the easy way and the Ernie way.

Please join us in a week or so as we detail the month of July. It has been hot, real farmin' hot...

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie