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, December 5, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate: 2017 Happy Holidays!

As the season turns to friends and family, we would like to extend to you our warmest wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a fruitful New Year. We would also like to take this opportunity to welcome new friends to the Amalie Robert Estate FLOG

 The 5th of the month and the repeal of Prohibition! 

The 5th of the month has more significance than Ernie was previously aware. A thirst for knowledge and a little research has greatly expanded his appreciation for the 5th of the month.

January through March is a write-off. We are just too busy working to be bothered. However for some, the 5th of the month is payday.

April 5th is a day we wake up and realize the government is about to get more of our money than ever before. However, we owe ourselves about $20.6 trillion (up from about $19.9 trillion last year), that's just about $63,048 (up from about $61,315 last year) per person living in the United States, and $170,291 per taxpayer. Hmmm, back to work. You can check our progress from time to time right here.

As you well know, the holiday Cinco De Mayo is a celebration on the 5th day of the 5th month. The purpose of which is to celebrate the victory by the Mexican Army over the French Army in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Of course, and as always, there is more to the story. Here is a link with more details.

We transition right to June 5th. This date is very significant to Ernie, as it is Dena’s birthday! As many of you know, Dena’s middle name is Amalie and is the palate defining Amalie’s Cuvée.

July 5th is the day we would have declared our Independence, however as Americans, we just couldn’t wait. Somewhat like opening a gift, or maybe two, on Christmas Eve.

August 4th, 2011, again we couldn’t wait, is the first time the US debt exceeded 100% of our Gross Domestic Product - GDP (Gosh Darn Politicians.)

However, August 5th brings little pink berries to our Pinot Noir vines. Ernie likes this, a lot!

September 5th is significant to all children and especially their parents. It usually is about the time the children are going back to school.

October 5th usually finds us in the middle of harvest. Due to the protracted nature of harvesting and fermenting Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Viognier and now that little rascal Gewürztraminer, Ernie has dubbed the 10th and 11th months to be “Octo-vem-BIER.”

On December 5th we find ourselves at the end of the calendar. 2017 marks the 84th year of the repeal of the social experiment known as Prohibition.

On January 16th, 1919, the United States Congress passed the Volstead Act. The Volstead Act led to the 18th amendment to the Constitution of the United States. This marked the beginning of Prohibition. We wonder what Congress’s approval rating was that year.

This is an excerpt of section 1 of the 18th amendment:

“…the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.”

During the following 13 years, the people of the United States bore witness to the effects of Prohibition. Further, they were able to compare the politicians’ promises and pontifications to the experiences in their own daily lives - aka reality. This phenomenon has persisted in each and every congress since and can lead to the malady known as cognitive dissonance. Ernie calls it “Negotiated Reality.”

It was in 1929 that a curious little product was invented and granted trademark protection. Ernie may be deviating from his factual discourse here, but perhaps this product was used in reference to the politicians of the day who could not tell the difference between a good idea and Prohibition. Sometimes it is hard to tell fact from fiction, sometimes not. The product was a shoe wax called Shinola.

Winegrowers of the time were a hearty breed, they had to be. The manufacture, distribution and sale (including export offshore) of alcohol was illegal. If your livelihood depended on growing some 100 tons of grapes and selling the fermented juice, you were out of business (and so was your labor force), or so the politicians thought.

Now, let us introduce the law of Supply and Demand (Note: Much like gravity this is a law not subject to political pressure.) Despite a small minority trying to legislate morality on the entire citizenry, the American public sought to exercise their rights as citizens living in a free country. After all, that’s why they were here.

It turns out that many people had unexplained illnesses during those 13 years. In visiting their family physicians, it seemed the most cost effective treatment was the prescription of alcohol, wine in most cases, for medicinal purposes. Thankfully, there was not a government run healthcare system at the time to prevent such a low cost and effective treatment. It would have been illegal and besides, that’s what the bootleggers were for!

Even today, the debate continues over the health benefits of alcohol, red wine in particular and Pinot Noir specifically, for the high content of Resveratrol. If only the perennial healthcare debates and litigation were this simple. You can learn more about Resveratrol here.

We now come to the presidential election of 1932. FDR, as he was known, achieved many things. The most wide sweeping change affected nearly everyone in the United States and for generations to come, including several of our foreign trading partners. Recall, the importation of Canadian, Irish and Scotch whisky was also illegal. As an aside, Ernie’s time in Ireland taught him that the Scot’s never acknowledged Prohibition and kept the pipeline open.

On December 5th, 1933, the 21st amendment was ratified by the United States Congress. In what may be the most effective and efficient legislation known to this great country, here is Section 1 in its entirety:

“Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.”

We see here that sweeping changes in legislation, or repeal of them, may be difficult, but certainty not impossible.

As you enjoy the holiday season, please take a moment to reflect on your constitutional right to grow, produce, blend, bottle, sell/purchase and consume wine, especially Pinot Noir! And if you find yourself in need of a little good cheer to celebrate this momentous occasion, then please visit yourself upon the Amalie Robert Company store. UPS drivers are standing by.

When the time is right, please enjoy our wines with friends, food and in moderation.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2017 September

This is the September 2017 Climate Update from Amalie Robert Estate. A FLOG communication.

And since the holidays are just up ahead of us, we would like to share an early Christmas gift with everyone.

Once again, Amalie Robert Estate finds itself on a Top 100 list. This year we have earned the top Pinot Noir spot with 93 points for the 2012 The Uncarved Block from Wine & Spirits “Top 100 Best Buys of the Year!”

The Master Farmer (MF) exam is scheduled to begin in October, and Ernie has been preparing for it since he drilled in the winter cover crop last fall.

Every year about this time, winegrowers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley take this exam. Unlike other wine accreditations such as MW, MS, WSET et al, the MF must achieve a passing grade each year. It’s really quite a Cluster Pluck when you get right down to it.

A MF must deliver healthy, mature wine berries that have stunning aromas and flavors regardless of the degree day accumulations, expected or unexpected rainfall, and be pristine exemplars of the variety with balanced acids (malic and tartaric) and sugars (glucose and fructose.) This is a pretty tall order to fill each year at Amalie Robert Estate that includes 6 varieties of wine berries covering 35 acres represented by about 55,000 vines. That’s roughly 800,000 clusters to be plucked, all by hand. Yeah, it’s a long way to the top if you got some grapes to haul.

At first light of the first morning of The Great Cluster Pluck, the MF’s plan is revealed for all to see. Well maintained tractors sporting fully inflated tires and full tanks of diesel are hitched to harvest trailers containing clean harvest bins with lids (to keep the rain and yellow jackets out) and buckets and extra buckets. Humans from all walks of life descend upon the vineyard with harvest shears at the ready. Clipboards with color coded control sheets and extra pens are clearly evident. The First Aid and water stations are mobile and always very close by. We are about to get it on, or get them off. Either is acceptable nomenclature.

The MF knows each block’s clone and rootstock combination and he is familiar with the soils they are planted into. He knows which blocks mature early. He knows if given the opportunity, which blocks to let hang a little longer. He knows a mug of steaming morning accelerant with dark chocolate is the best way to quietly watch the sunrise.

And so it goes, each day the MF has a new harvest target package identifying the blocks to be Cluster Plucked and in what order. When it is time to take the Chardonnay, the MF knows to start with the white wine berries while the buckets are clean before moving to the red wine berries. However, the interplanted Viognier is co-plucked with the Syrah. He knows that too and he knows why.

After the wine berries are delivered for the day, the MF collects the harvest buckets and does not let them be stacked. The juice will dry and permanently adhere the buckets into a 20 foot column of useless plastic. Tires are checked with more than just a swift kick, fuel tanks are filled and walk around inspections detect any loss of vital fluids, such as brake fluid. The MF likes a Dog Nose Beer (cold and wet) to celebrate the bounty of the harvest and skating past the pitfalls Mother Nature has set for him.

The MF is more than just connected with the land – it owns him. He is the steward of the mental construct that he has implemented to the best of his ability. The MF does not understand irrigation; he leaves that duty to Mother Nature. He does his best to preserve available soil moisture to keep the vine canopy functioning with the goal of achieving optimal aroma and flavor development for each variety of wine he grows. However, the MF understands erosion and erosion control with nutrient fixing cover crops. The MF performs tractor maintenance, knows when something should be fixed and when it should be replaced. Everything he drives runs on diesel.

The Master Farmer exam is administered over approximately 6 weeks (24x7) and concludes with the Syrah planted in lucky block 13. Then preparations begin for the 2018 Master Farmer exam with pruning.

The MF understands numbers. The MF knows they can be a guide, rules of the road that in some cases must be adhered to and in other cases, such as the speed limit, are more subject to interpretation. The MF knows to never pass on the opportunity to utilize the facilities.

We accumulated 426.4 degree days for September, which is “just fine.” The high temperature was 98.6 and the low temperature was 41.0. This brings the 2017 growing season to date degree days to 2,209.1. And that is right in the Master Farmer’s wheel house.

However, the big news is the lashing rain we received around midmonth. This was a variable rain event in that the rain received varied by the location. We were fortunate to receive about 2.7 inches over the course of 5 days. This rain event allowed the vines to rehydrate and lower the sugar concentration in the wine berries. The net effect was to allow more hang time to fully develop aromas and flavors without excess alcohol potential. Total rain for the month of September was 3.13 inches and the growing season to date total is 9.40 inches.

Then, as if pre-ordained, sunny, breezy and dry conditions prevailed as we began the Master Farmer exam aka The Great Cluster Pluck of 2017. Drama ensued forthwith in the form of a terminal well pump, loss of power at the winery and a broken clutch return spring on the tractor. All par for the course and fair game for the Master Farmer exam.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2017 August

Hello and Welcome, 

This is the Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update for August 2017. A FLOG communication

Well, it came and went. The full solar eclipse cast its shadow of totality right across the vineyard. Some people wondered what that event would do to the wine berries, so we have posted before and after images that allow you to assess the full impact - in its totality. Say what you will, but the vines seemed quite oblivious to the whole event. 

Pinot Noir Clusters Before Eclipse

Pinot Noir Clusters After Eclipse

But what should really be consuming those brain cycles is the impact that leap year has on all of us in conjunction with those parts of the world that observe daylight savings time, in particular those that adjust in 30 minute increments. So do we harvest a day later every 4 years or just 6 hours earlier 3 years out of 4? Maybe a minute should just be 59 seconds and that would do away with this whole leaping year thing every 1 in 4.

While you ponder that range of possibilities, here is what the path of totality looked like through a welding helmet as captured on a cell phone.

Photo by Vincent Cantwell

Right. Back to the wine berries and vintage 2017. As we look at the vintage from our unique perspective, it appears that our “Sweet 16” harvest is laid out before us in perfectly straight rows that are 7.5 feet apart and about 400 feet long, mostly. That seems like easy pickin’s until you realize they are just 30 inches off the vineyard floor. We will bring in about 100 tons of delectable wine berries, packaged in about 800,000 clusters, more or less. And that’s when it hits us (in the lower back) – we didn’t used to be this old!

So, things were going pretty good thus far and we were reminiscing about the great, cool climate vintages of 2005, 2007 and 2010. Then August made its way onto the platform. Without any ado whatsoever, the first week brought us record breaking temperatures topping out at 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Then the following week we were topping out in the 70s, and then back in the 90s. The month vacillated so, and even gave us a wee little drizzle.

But the vines, those rascals, were holding on to all the available soil moisture from the incredible soaking we took last winter. We took in over 50 inches of rain during the 6 month dormant period which is equal to what an entire year would bring us. And God bless Texas. And through the month of August anyway, the vines are holding their own with a lush green canopy and a leisurely ripening period.

We, however, are on the move. Crop estimation is that quasi-scientific thing we do to maximize the aroma, flavor and taste of our wine berries during the remainder of the ripening period until The Great Cluster Pluck visits itself upon us. We make a very exacting calculation of how many pounds of wine berries each plant has bedangled itself with. We look to the growing season to date, as documented on the FLOG, to see how far along the ripening curve we are as based on our tried and true 104.5 day ripening average from flowering to Cluster Plucking. We apply a little Kentucky Windage to that based on the factual degree day accumulation to date, the functional condition of the canopy, and the gut feel for the upcoming rain patterns and amounts. We have experience at this, and it is worth reminding everyone that experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.

It’s all fairly academic and left brained until you are standing in front of a vine and start cutting off fruit, watching it drop to the ground. Some vines need it more than others. Syrah is the vine that takes it the hardest. That vine can set 10 tons of wine berries per acre. Ernie can ripen about 2 to 3 of them. The difference hits the ground as compost. And we have finally got the Viognier program figured out after 16 years - maybe.

So at about 70 seconds per vine (10 year average) we are thinning the crop load down, removing the late to ripen wings, and snipping off anything that looks to be a bit suspect. The result is some pretty farming fine looking clusters that are awaiting The Great Cluster Pluck of 2017. Of course, not everyone does it this way. Your mileage may vary.

So, just how hot was August 2017 in the last, best place to grow wine? Seek below and ye shall find!

The month of August 2017 recorded 688.7 degree days with a high temperature of 104.5 and a low temperature of 47.5 degrees Fahrenheit. This brings the 2017 growing season to date to 1,782.7 Degree Days.

The 4 prior vintage Degree Day accumulations are as follows 1,822 (2016), 1,997 (2015), 1,886 (2014) and 1,737 (2013.) Tack on another 300 Degree Days for September and we top out just under 2,100 Degree Days for the vintage and that is just about as farming fine as it gets.

We received 0.24 inches of measurable precipitation during the month bringing the growing season to date total up to 6.27 inches. We received no measurable precipitation during June and July. It looks like September will give us something. Hopefully enough to rinse the dust of the wine berries and quell some forest fires. They are getting out of hand, time for Mother Nature to start putting out.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2017 Pinot Noir In Flagrante!

Hello and Welcome, 

We just saw our first legitimate “Blazing” pink wine berries that signal The Great Cluster Pluck of 2017 is no longer just an abstract notion, it’s really gonna happen! Sure they are small, but there are enough ¼ pound clusters out there to make up about 75 tons. Yeah, that’s about 600,000 clusters of wine berries. So, ah, what are you doing the first couple weeks of Octo-Vember?

But there was also some “Fake News.” Every once in a while some mauve colored wine berries catch your eye and you think, wow they are really starting to color up quick. Of course we are talking about Pinot Noir, not Chardonnay. Mauve colored Chardonnay is what we see at the end of the season with just a Mother’s touch of Botrytis.

These dark wine berries are “push outs” or in today’s vernacular “Fake News.” This is how it happens. As the wine berries on the cluster start to increase in size, there is just not enough room on the stem to hold them all. Eventually, a set of 5 or 6 wine berries get pushed away from the stem by the other wine berries and they break the vascular connection to the stem. When that happens, they desiccate and turn purple. Their development is arrested at that point and they will never ripen. While this is an unfortunate event, it is not uncommon. Nothing personal, just farming.

Now consider that other vine fruit that everyone who doesn’t read our FLOG thinks is a vegetable. The ubiquitous tomato can be separated from the mother vine and the fruit will ripen up just fine. Not so with wine berries. Once you cut them, you own them and they will not continue to develop aroma and flavor or sugar for that matter. So we invest a little extra time to be sure. Think twice and cut once.

The first real blazing wine berry was spotted on Julian Calendar day 218 in block 25, which is Dijon clone 777 grafted onto 44-53 rootstock (August 6th, 2017.) This is a couple weeks later than the past three inferno-like vintages. However, August 2017 has crossed the 104 degree line more than once. We think this was the coaxing these wine berries needed to show “a little skin.”

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Monday, July 31, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2017 July

Hello and Welcome, 

This is the Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update for July 2017. 

Farming wine berries during July in the Willamette Valley is like driving through Two Dot Montana – Blink and you just might miss it. Not that there is nothing to see, but July is the month that all that wonderful canopy growth needs to be “managed.” That’s what is called “Canopy Management.”

What it means is putting up three sets of wires by hand (if you can find any hands) and clipping them into place, hedging and mowing, and hedging again and again. You have to make progress every day just to keep up to where you were yesterday. The humans get tired, the tractors need maintenance, but the vines are relentless. Please read thorough the May FLOG to see how 38.5 miles of vines turns into 231 miles of wires to implement our “Canopy Management” strategy.


Then, you wake up one morning and it’s August. Look in the mirror, and well, somebody needs a shave and a haircut. Waft The Fruit!

The good news is we have not had to deal with the insane heat of the last three summers, yet. But one look at the weather map and it is pretty farming obvious that we are about to get Red Farming Hot!

So you may ask yourself, or Ernie - the farming farmer who farms our farm, why go through all of this detailed shoot positioning and hedging and canopy management. The answer is hang time to develop aroma and flavor. If you take care of the canopy and open it up so there is good airflow and moderate sun exposure, those awful-bad-nasty mildew and Botrytis spores will not be able to rot your pristine Pinot Noir clusters, or any other estate grown clusters we happen to be farming.

Because even though it looks nice now, it is going to rain. Always has, always will. And it is going to rain before harvest. And as much as dry farmed vineyards love rain, that very same rain is the enabler of rot. But if you have taken care of your canopy, you can take some rain with confidence that your clusters will come through it uncompromised.

That allows us to wait and harvest when we want to based on aroma and flavor, as opposed to having to harvest because the fruit is starting to rot. In that situation, the fruit is not great, but with each passing day it just gets worse.

Then there was 2013 when Typhoon Pabuk dumped 9 inches of rain on us just before harvest in the short period of 4 days. No matter, we made a Trockenbeerenauslese style Chardonnay and named it – Pabuk’s Gift. Yeah, bring it on.

So, that was July. August is going to bring the heat. That is when we will start our thinning program. A snip here a clip there, we remove the wings and the other bits and pieces we don’t need. You can think of it as a “Mani Pedi” for the vines. Once the crop is set, there is really not too much more to do - except wait and worry. Ah, the gestalt of farming.

So let’s have a look at the numbers and then we can compare and contrast or just pontificate ad nauseam the 2017 vintage compared to prior years. If you are in need of some back vintages to complete your analysis, you can E-mail Dena to see what she has tucked away in the library.

Right. So on and so forth we go. The month of July recorded 529.9 degree days with a high temperature of 94.6 degrees and a low temperature of 46.2 degrees. This brings the 2017 vintage to date accumulation up to 1,094.4 degree days. There was no measurable precipitation.

You may notice some other vintages that are clustered about the 1,100 degree day mark at the end of July including 2005 (Suite!), 2007 (Hey!), 2009 (Who knew?), and 2012 (Close enough.)

However, as foretold by the weather map, August is bringing the heat. Or as the saying goes, Hell is coming to breakfast. We’ll have the kettle on.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Friday, June 30, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2017 June

Hello and Welcome,

This is the Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update for June 2017.

But let's start with an update from the press room. Wine Enthusiast Magazine, October 2017 issue:

2015 Her Silhouette Chardonnay – 91 points, Editors’ Choice
2016 Pinot in Pink Rosé – 90 points, Editors’ Choice

We dedicate this June climate update to the birds, the bugs and the weeds. Wine berries are self pollinating, so we will leave the bees out for this go ‘round. And we will introduce you to our two pet deer – Hanz and Franz. Hanz is the one with the big ears.

Just like people, there are two kinds of bugs - good bugs and bad bugs. Bad bugs survive from eating parts of our grapevines. During the winter, these bugs can bore into the dormant vine and literally eat what would have become next year’s fruit. When all the other vines are waking up and growing wonderfully healthy green shoots and leaves, the victimized vine has stunted and damaged shoots if any shoots at all. In the plant world, this would be known as a “rude awakening.”

Then there are the bugs that feed off the leaves, draining the vine of its essential vascular fluids. This is no way to live. And let’s not forget the jolly little blighters at harvest time that want to eat the wine berries just before they are cluster plucked and sting anyone who gets near them. These bastards simply must go!

Good bugs are the bugs that eat the bad bugs. There are all manner of good bugs, including spiders that make up the front line of defense for the vines. They are out there every day engaged in mortal combat with the sole purpose of protecting the vines that grow our wines. We love these guys, and gals! And the next time you see a ladybug, just remember there are more than just a few notches on her lipstick case.

In the hopeful event that all of the bad bugs have been vanquished by the good bugs, the good bugs still need to eat. And that is where the weeds come in, “cover crop” to the trained eye, but we can go with “specialized weeds” for now. The most vital thing that these specialized weeds can do is flower. Because when these cover crops flower, they produce pollen. And from a good bug point of view pollen is protein. So logically, when the good bugs can’t find any bad bug protein to eat, they can tide themselves over on some Buckwheat and Vetch pollen. And thus each summer we sustain the 24 by 7, 365 day protection for our vines.

And let’s spend just a minute on our insectary. An insectary is a place to propagate bugs. There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to set aside a plot of land and plant certain flora to attract the bugs you want. The idea is that those bugs will then go forth into the vineyard and do your bidding against those nasty bad bugs. Or, you could do it the Ernie way, which takes longer and costs more money.

The Ernie way involves planting our insectary right in the vineyard. Every other row is planted to season specific cover crops in the spring and fall that foster populations of good bugs. And since they are right in the vineyard, they don’t have far to go to find the bad bugs to sustain them. That and there are places to hide, pollen to eat and the opportunity to propagate even more good bugs. Honey bees like pollen too, and it is nice to encourage their populations as well. And get this – our insectary covers about 17.5 acres. Technically speaking, that’s a lotta bugs. But wait there’s more! The cover crops get tilled into the soil to feed our vines in the spring and the fall. The Ernie way - maybe he is onto something here after all…

And now on to the birds. Once again, we see two distinct categories of bird - the good birds and bad birds. Bad birds are the ones that are out in the vineyard carrying away this year’s harvest. When it’s bad, it’s very, very bad. In 2011 we estimate about 5 tons, or 300 cases of wine just up and flew out of the vineyard. Being the farming geniuses that we are, we have learned how to net our perfect little Pinot Noir clusters and deny the ravenous air assault our precious bounty. But we also encourage a little proactive assault of our own.

The first specimen of good birds we want to encourage are the insect eating variety. The barn swallow and greenback swallow nest in different habitats but we have them both out on daily patrols during the summer. The fly like mini F-16’s and are always around a moving tractor that creates a “target rich environment.” Sayonara Mr. Yellowjacket!

And lastly, we have the raptors – Good birds that eat bad birds. When the bad birds are getting out of hand, we call in for air support. We go from Kestrels to Sharp Shinned Hawks to some relation of the Peregrine Falcon that is so fast we never get a good look at them and finally the majestic Redtail Hawks. The fact that the wild cherry trees still have ripe cherries on them is an indicator that this is working just fine. And the cherries are really, really good!

Ok, so to put that in a nutshell, we had a very good germination of cover crop, our vines are healthy and we haven’t been bothered by birds or bugs. But, we have been fighting the explosive farming growth in the canopy and are behind in harnessing that growth with our 3 sets of catch wires. As a farmer if you are not complaining about something, then you obviously have no idea what is going on.

Catch wires and the hedger are the way we shift the vine from a vegetative state to a ripening state. Vines are in fact vines and they are first and foremost climbers. If left unchecked they could grow 30 foot shoots. This is the vegetative state – growing long, climbing shoots and leaves to support that growth. Their objective is to grow into a sunny spot so that they can ripen their seeds and reproduce. Flora or fauna, we all seem to be after the same thing…

The roots however are in a deep state, and you can learn all about that by watching the circus that is the modern day media.

Right, we need about 5 feet worth of growth. So as the shoots grow, we try and keep pace by putting up the first catch wire at about 8 inches of growth, the second at about 30 inches of growth and then we top out the trellis at 42 inches of growth. The hedger is then set to a maximum height to remove any growth above 60 inches.

What we want is a canopy that is no taller than 90 inches so that we maximize sunlight collection in our solar array, also known as the canopy. We have 60 inches of leafy green canopy that starts at 30 inches above the vineyard floor and that gets us to 90 inches. The hedger makes sure of that.

And here is why: Our rows are 90 inches apart – exactly (Note: Exactly is a relative term when used in farming parlance.) So any shorter and we are not catching all the light we can and any taller we would be shading the next row.

The clusters of wine berries hang somewhere about 36 to 42 inches off the vineyard floor. Right where Hanz and Franz can find them. Now, trust us we have tried to liberate them from our farm, but they will have none of it. One day they are out, and then the next day they are back as if transported by the Enterprise herself. So, we have agreed to adopt them. They are both young bucks and their antlers are still in velvet. They look very cute as they munch on a shoot that eluded the near certain cut of the hedger.

Once the wires are up and the hedger has made its first pass, the season is about half over. We will hedge again, probably twice, and then assess the amount of fruit Mother Nature has bestowed upon us. Of course we have ordered barrels for the new vintage, but really don’t know if we will have the right amount until October…

The next thought process involves determining what the second half of the season will bring and how much fruit we will leave on the vine. If we leave too much, we can’t ripen it all. Leave too little and it will ripen too fast with high alcohol and little aroma or flavor. And then there are the fall rains to ponder. This is usually done over a period of several days and often results in a nap, or an Adult Recreational Beverage (ARB.)

So after much ado, here is what the first half of the growing season looks like. The vines are not as far along as the last few vintages due to cooler temperatures, but unfortunately we are no farther ahead in arresting their growth. While this is an unfortunate set of circumstances, it is not uncommon. It is farming.

We recorded 334.9 degree days for the month of June, providing a vintage to date total of 560.5     degree days. Our high temperature was 99.3 degrees and our low temperature was 44.4 degrees Fahrenheit. We received no measurable rainfall during June.

Comparatively speaking, the 2016 vintage recorded 363.1 degree days for a vintage to date total of a blistering 805.1 degree days.

Future Note: The vineyard will experience a full eclipse on August 21, 2017. This seems to have the humans in a dither, but we are confident that Hanz, Franz and the vines will pull through just fine. Maybe we will have a “Full Eclipse” bottling this year, where the artwork will be black on black.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2017 Flowers

Hello and Welcome, 

As the spring and fall like weather continued to vacillate before the first day of summer arrived on June 20th, we had some intrepid little Chardonnay flowers emerge on Sunday, June 11th – alone and unafraid. 

And then the weather got really bad, as in, “Why The Farm is this inch of rain falling out of the sky in mid-June?” Cool temperatures and gusty winds are, of course, obligatory and they make the field work of putting up catch wires just about as miserable an experience as anyone could ask for.

But the Pommard clone Pinot Noir was holding tight. As in, “Are you farming crazy? We are not going to start blooming in this weather!” And so they waited, but they too have a schedule to keep and so they began to bloom at the transition to nicer weather on June 16th. Somewhat of a fair weather clone, it would seem.

So there, it is. We take mid-June (Julian calendar day 166) and add 105 days to wine berry maturation (more or less) and a harvest window appears in the not too distant future on September 28th (Julian calendar day 271.) We use the Julian calendar for calculating farming dates for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it is easy math and we don’t have that many fingers and toes between us.

While this may (or may not) be the most exciting news you are likely to read today, please note there are a few keen observers of this event who are counting down the days.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2017 May

Hello and Welcome, 

This is the Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update for May 2017. 

Hurry up and wait and then get ‘er done “Right Farmin’ Now” so you can wait some more seems to be the way forward this May. And in fact, that is just what we did to get the vineyard floor set with the most exquisite carpet of fully germinated cover crop - EVER. Oh, you should see what it looks like from out here! 

After a very wet spring, a few days of clear blue sky found Ernie clanking up and down the rows with his (somewhat) trusty (though quite finicky) Italian steed with chisel plow in tow. Opening up the soil with the sun and the breeze on your face is a unique farming experience as was the sun and wind burn he was sporting the next several days. Yeah he was beaming, quite literally.

 Click the image above for a few seconds with Ernie. He's out there all day.
Click the image above for a few seconds with Ernie. He's out there all day.

Then it was time for a quick-change from the chisel plow to the rototiller and we wait for another nice day or two to fluff the soil to make a comfy-cozy seed bed for the third pass of our cover crop regime. And the third pass is with the Schmeiser seed drill that puts down about 30 pounds of seed per acre spaced about 3 inches apart in eight equally spaced furrows. And then like all farmers, everywhere, we wait for rain. It is the faith in near term measurable precipitation that that binds us together as a community of the faithful. And two days later, our faith was renewed with about an inch of rain.

It is quite a thing to behold, to see all those estate grown quail out there eating a seed every three inches. And that’s OK, because just before harvest we always thin off some “wings” and that is when they will get theirs. You know, Ernie didn’t get invited to try out for the Olympic shooting team based on his good looks alone.

Of course not everyone feeds their vines with cover crops, but they should. And if they don’t use cover crops, they have to use chemical fertilizers or small to medium sized farm animals – but what do you feed them? You get the idea. Be a steward of the land and feed the soils that feed your vines, or don’t. The next time you make it out into wine country, look around then ask – What are you feeding your vines? The vines know the difference and they will tell on you in the quality of the fruit they produce. In the real world this is akin to “No Coffee, No Workee.”

And then the vines, once they started to bud out, needed to be cleaned up a bit. Often times there are just too many shoots that emerge along the cane and some of them, well, they need to thinned off. Not really their fault, just growing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Along the fruiting wire we like to see a shoot every 4 inches or so. Any closer than that and there is not enough room for what will become a quarter pound worth of an oh-so-spectacular Pinot Noir cluster. Make a hole, as they say in the submariner’s handbook.

Those clusters need to be separated and spaced in the canopy to allow light penetration and good air circulation to fend off against mildew and bunch rot. And on rare occasions, when the moon is just right, the sock monster gets loose from the laundry room… We shudder at the thought.

And we also see some shoots trying to grow out of the graft union that is just about 3 inches off the ground. Yeah, that means about 1,452 deep knee bends per acre. That’s farming, not for the faint of heart or weak of knee.

Then the vines are set – for that particular moment. Much like when the piston hits Top Dead Center of the combustion stroke - it lasts only for an instant. Next up we will be running wires to contain all of the growth that has been focused into these 12 to 14 shoots that we left on the cane. We imagine with all the currently available soil moisture and a few days of summer temperatures, we are going to get quite busy for quite some time.

Here is the math (You can go ahead and wrap your head in duct tape at anytime if you fear it might explode):

Each acre of vines at Amalie Robert Estate is the equivalent of 5,808 lineal feet of canopy if we were to put each row end to end. This is an exercise left for the reader, as we are not going to go and do that for this illustration. And since we have about 35 acres of vines that means we have about 203,280 lineal feet of canopy to manage. Now that is kind of a big number, so let’s convert that to miles. How about 38.5 miles? That is about the average commute these days. That’s better, easier to grasp. And besides, that duct tape was starting to get tight.

But we run wires on both sides of the canopy to catch the shoots in the trellis. So, 38.5 miles of canopy requires 77 miles of wires and enough hands to tuck each and every shoot into its rightful place in the canopy. And then here is the kicker - we run three sets of wires. So this is how 38.5 miles of canopy magically turns into 231 miles of wires to control and manage the canopy at Amalie Robert Estate. (We really shudder at that thought.)

Right. While the duct tape is still in place, let’s run the numbers for May. Then you can get cleaned up and comb your hair back into place before anyone notices the swelling.

The month of May logged 224.3 degree days, with a high temperature of 90.1 and a low temperature of 36.3 degrees Fahrenheit. This brings the growing season to date total from April 1 through May 31 to 225.6 degree days.

The 2017 vintage marks a significant shift to the cool side from the 2016 vintage where May recorded 277 degree days for a growing season to date total of 441.9 degree days. While the data supports no conclusions as of yet, we may be witnessing a return to cool climate viticulture circa 2005 and 2007. If only…

We have had plenty of liquid sunshine so far this year, and the month of May added another 1.23 inches. That’s nice and also very good for the new vines to help establish their root systems. And the cover crop is just growing like the little weeds they are! On the other hand, Ernie has been watching the grass grow out of control. As the sole tractor driver, he also gets to cut the grass. He always remarks on how much grass he has to mow in order to make wine. It just boggles his brain!

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie