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

Copyright

© 2005 – 2017 Amalie Robert Estate, LLC

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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2017 April

Hello and Welcome, 

This is the Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2017 April. 

Well, let’s see, where to begin. It’s been raining. In fact we have received over 50 inches of rain from last October through March, 2017. That is a significant event due to the fact we “normally” receive that amount of rain in a 12 month period. Rain: Over received. 

And it has been unseasonably cold. Starting in mid-December we experienced our first of several arctic blasts and snow accumulations. And then there was the freezing rain. Always an unwelcomed event where tree limbs and power lines grow in close proximity.

The vines, of course, were unfazed. In fact they were still asleep and missed out on all this fine and peasant misery we call winter in wine country. Even a brief sojourn to Texas did not spare us. The arctic air made it down to Austin, and at 27 degrees, gave us a chilly send off back to Oregon. There
really is nothing quite like arriving after dark at the airport to find your car encapsulated in ice due to a week of freezing rain, and the activities that ensue forthwith.

And it was cold and flu season. Those nasty bugs visited themselves upon us. Fortunately we had the proper cold medication on hand, and in good quantity.

Alright, let’s grow some wine! By the time you are reading this, the 55,000 or so vines that make up the vineyard at Amalie Robert Estate have been pruned and are ready to do their part for vintage 2017. Chardonnay, G’wz, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Viognier reporting for duty!




Pruned and tied down properly 



Escaped tie down, but won’t get far

Ernie has put down the first mowjob of the season. This first pass chops up all of last year’s canes from the trellis (browns) and mixes them with the Tall Fescue that he grows between the rows (greens.) These browns and greens make it to the vineyard floor where a host of soil microbes (and worms, don’t forget the worms) are waiting to compost them back into the soil. Waste not, want not.


Another thing you might notice if you happen to be in the neighborhood is that he doesn’t mow the grass in the road ways. He is waiting for it to go to seed and fill in any bare spots. And besides, the quail like fresh grass seed, so we feed them along the way (standard farming procedure.)

And then he starts to open up the nutritional rows to incorporate last fall’s cover crop and put down a summer blend of plants that will nourish our vines. The first pass is with a chisel plow. What a great implement! It’s easy to hook up, hard to break, and cheap, as far as vineyard equipment goes. This pass also has the benefit of pruning off any shallow roots the vines have produced. Of course you don’t have to do this to grow world class Pinot Noir, but someone has to.


    

Click for a few seconds with Ernie. He’s out there all day.

Then the rototiller comes along and makes a fluffed up seed bed. We are just working with about the top 6 inches of soil. That is where the real microbial activity is happening. Finally, the seed drill puts down 7 equally spaced furrows containing our standard blend of Buckwheat and Vetch. Easy on the water during the summer and full of nutrients to be incorporated back into the vineyard after harvest. Mmmm Yummy!


And we had bud break on Earth day, but you already knew that. What you don’t know is how “utterly and completely crappy” (technical farming term) the weather was during this time. Montmorency cherries have a tendency to flower at the same time as Pinot Noir has bud break and they need bees to pollinate. Bad weather and no bees mean not so many cherries this year. It could be the case that cherry pies are going to be hard to come by. We may all have to be “re-accommodated” to apple pie instead.

Attention all number crunchers and scriveners! Bear witness to the first data set for vintage 2017. It’s not a pretty picture, just ask the cherry growers.

The high temperature recorded for April was 67.6 degrees and the low temperature was 30.0 degrees Fahrenheit. The first half of the month recorded no degree days. The second half of the month recorded 1.3 degree days. While that is not much, it is also not nothing. Rain for the month of April totaled 4.80 inches and included the gratuitous hail storm or two.


From Vintage 2016: For the month of April, we accumulated 165.0 degree days. The high temperature was 88.9 degrees on April 19th and the low temperature was 37.8 degrees on April 4th. Once again we see a warm start to the growing season, but at this point on the calendar anything could happen, and most likely will.

From Vintage 2015: We have accumulated 53.6 degree days for the first 30 days of the growing season beginning on day 91 (April 1), 2015. The first half of April did not record any degree days, and therefore, all degree days were recorded in the second half of the month. This is another example of the “mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive” principle.

The high temperature for April was a balmy, if not scorching, 80.1 degrees on April 20, at 4:40 in the afternoon. In farming parlance, this is known as beer’thirty. The morning of April 29 hovered right at 34.2 degrees from 5:40 until 6:40. It was a fine time for a second cup of coffee and a warm slice of 3.14159265358979.


So there it is. Vintage 2017 is off to a slow start but it is too soon to worry - excessively.

Kindest Regards,


Dena & Ernie

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2017 Bud Break

Hello and Welcome, 

This is a 2017 Vintage Update: Bud Break 

Well, hello buddy! Welcome to vintage 2017! After what seemed to be an exceedingly wet, cold and perfectly miserable off season, the vines are back with fresh new buds for the 2017 vintage. Will it be an early harvest? Too soon to say, but these guys are hanging close by just in case.  
That’s the thing about harvest, not all of the harvesters have clippers and buckets…

And today we have a rare sneak peak at the numbers before the full April Climate update is published. But first, a little background on three important dates in the vineyard: Bud Break, Bloom and the Great Cluster Pluck.

Bud Break is the where it all begins for the vine. However, for the humans, we have been working on them since just after harvest. First are the primary cuts we make that allow us to pull last year’s shoots out of the trellis wires – out with old to make room for the new. Then we select a shoot to tie down on the wire and this will become the cane that sports about 12 to 16 buds.





Now after the buds emerge, they grow like crazy and it is our job to harness that growth in the physical implementation of a mental trellis construct. We employ three sets of wires to keep everything “in-line”, so to speak. Flowering starts the timer. In typical years, we need about 105 days from flowering to the Great Cluster Pluck, however these past few years just don’t quite fit that model. The statistical term for these outlying vintages would be “Sampling Error.”

But a lot can happen to befall our efforts between now and then. Not unlike the Jester (who acquired carnal knowledge of the Queen) that pleaded for his life in front of the King. He said he could teach the King’s horse to sing if the King would spare his life for one year. The most favorable outcomes for the Jester would be: The King could die, the horse could die, or the horse could learn how to sing. A lot can happen in a year.

Bud Break has been creeping later and later in the calendar over the last three years. In 2015 we saw the first buds emerge on March 24th. Vintage 2016 buds came out on March 36th, but keep in mind it was a leap year. And this year we saw the first intrepid buds emerge on Earth Day, March 53rd.

Now, let’s have a look at when the vines flowered. The first flowers for 2015 were spotted on May 31st and 2016 saw flowers on May 27th. Even though bud break occurred earlier in 2015, the flowers appeared later. So, logically we can infer that the correlation between bud break and flowering is weak – at best. It all depends on Mother Nature’s mood for the next month or so. The warmer it is, the sooner we see flowers and the sooner we can identify a potential harvest date. Stay tuned…

Wait, is that singing in the background? Why yes, yes it could very well be!

Kindest Regards,


Dena & Ernie