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

Friday, August 31, 2018

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2018 June, July and August

Hello and Welcome,  
September Spoiler Alert: 
It looks like the first two weeks of September are giving us a spectacular finish to vintage 2018. Our temperatures have moderated down to the low to mid 70s during the day and are dipping into the 30s at night. And get yourself some of this - we have logged a half inch of rain! Surely, you are going to need more Rosé.

Not that we can read the tea leaves, but if we could they would be Darjeeling. We are experiencing a cool weather pattern extending hang time to build elegant aromas and flavors in our wine berries while keeping our sugars in balance. Even the Satisfaction Syrah, which is a manly-man wine, is getting in touch with its feminine side. Well Mr. Beauregard, I do declare!

As a dry farmed vineyard, after so many dry farming days, a half inch of rain is pretty farmin’ nice! Yes, we can break that down using farmer math. There are 13,577 gallons of water in 0.50 inches of rain over 1 acre of land (and Greg, that much rain weighs in at 56.5 tons spread over 43,560 square feet). We have 1,452 vines in any given acre of vineyard, providing a cool and refreshing 9.35 gallons of water per vine. Add some clear skies with a cool breeze and Bob’s your uncle.

And to put that in perspective, we are looking to produce about 1 bottle of wine per vine. That is 25.4 ounces of wine per vine! In case you are new to this FLOG, Ernie is the dry farming farmer who dry farms our vines. And the humor, well, it is as dry as a kidney filtered bottle of Pinot More.

Which is a great segue into the mid-September numbers. We logged 183.76 degree days through September 15th providing a growing season to date total of 2,138.24 degree days. The high temperature was 96.4 degrees on September 5th and the low temperature was a chilly 37.5 degrees on September 9th. Yay SeptemBERRR!

Note: The 2,138.24 degree days represents a total of 20,160 data points. Guess who has been out wading through the minutiae. You know, why be difficult, when with just a little more effort you can be impossible?

And the rains came! We logged 0.51 inches of rain which broke a dry spell all the way back to June 11th and provided a growing season to date rainfall of 7.84 inches. Tune in next time when Ernie will explain how many raindrops that really is. This is excruciating! Yeah, we know…

Now without further ado, onto your regularly scheduled (albeit belated) FLOG.

This is the 2018 June – July – August Climate Update from Amalie Robert Estate. A FLOG communication.

It’s been a while since we have shared this cyber space. And it is a good thing, because two physical objects cannot share the same physical space at the same time. That is why auto insurance was invented.

We hope you enjoyed your respite and are ready for a ONE, a TWO, a THREE month, action packed Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update! To provide added perspective, this Climate Update is being penned from 35,000 feet above the vineyard floor in an Airbus A320 which was built in 1992. Yeah, Ernie doesn’t get off the farm much in the summer, but he does have a keen eye for the esoteric. So, buckle-up, pull a cork and set your mobile device to vineyard mode. Here we go!

The month was June. The season was progressing just fine and then it was time for miles and miles of high tensile wires. We use 14-gauge high tensile wires for our trellis catch wires and we run three pair – Chug-a-lug, Chug-a-lug! The first set is not so bad. The wires are clipped into our conveniently pre-notched galvanized steel posts at 8 inches above the 30 inch fruiting wire providing a comfortable 38 inch working height.

The fruiting wire is where one lucky shoot from last year is wrapped and tied down. All the new shoots for 2018 emerge from this fixed position located 30 inches above the vineyard floor. Except the ones that don’t. Those are called water shoots in most viticultural textbooks. As a practical matter in the vineyard, they are called suckers and emerge from the rootstock graft union that is about 3 inches above the vineyard floor. One deep knee bend later and they are forcibly removed with all the precision and care a sucker can reasonably expect.

Right. Our focus in June is 38 inches off the vineyard floor. We are positioning our shoots in a vertical orientation with wires bedangled to our posts and then and only then do we use New Zealand fence clips to pinch our catch wires together. And we mean close together as a New Zealand fence clip is just one inch wide (that’s 2.54 centimeters or 25.4 millimeters for the metrically oriented among us.) Once those shoots are positioned and clipped into place they have about 4 inches of space to move laterally within the trellis wires. And that’s all they get for the rest of the growing season. Now behave! (Or what?)

We could bore you with how many lineal miles and thousands of clips we deploy (a lot!), but that is not the real focus. The real focus of these catch wires and clips is to contain all of the vine’s growth in a stable and linear trellis design so that Ernie can go and hedge their shoot tips off! But not until all of the shoots have been positioned and the one, the two, the three sets of wires are clipped into place. The last wire is clipped at the top of the post which is 72 inches above the vineyard floor. We give the vines another 18 inches of growth to match the 90” wide rows for a perfect 1:1 vine height to row width ratio.

Shoot positioning is a very important part of canopy management that, if done properly and on time, leads to fully developed wine berry aromatics and flavors at harvest. Canopy management is a means to an end that ends up with a 90 inch tall canopy, unless you are a Viognier vine. Then Ernie has a special program just for you.

And now it’s July, oh my, how the time does fly. A vineyard is quite simply a physical implementation of a mental construct. And Ernie’s mental construct now includes 55,000 vines planted in 44 blocks covering 35 acres over a 20 year span – more or less. Focus and attention to detail can only get you so far. Not knowing what is not possible is the driving force behind any great and monumental endeavor. And luck does favor the prepared mind. Remind me again, how did we get here? And, where exactly is here?

Which brings us to the first hedge of the season. Ernie’s mental construct does not allow for a lot of farmin’ around. During the growing season, time is more of a continuum than a fixed schedule. Up before the sun, or is that a full moon? A steaming bowl of pre-dawn gruel with the obligatory quart of dark monster morning accelerant and he is off burning diesel. Actually, that is bio-diesel in Oregon. So, it should be a surprise to no one that he has the hedger mounted in the front of the tractor and the mower mounted off the back. And then get this, he only drives every other row because his hedger does both sides and the top of the 90 inch tall canopy in a single pass! And he mows the grass and vine cuttings as he goes! Very effective, and more importantly, highly farmin’ efficient.

 Click on the image to watch Ernie in action, hedging and mowing
Click on the image to watch Ernie in action, hedging and mowing.

Time waits for no man, and neither do the vines. Just about as soon as Ernie covers the entire vineyard (about 50 lineal miles over 4 days) with that first hedge, it is time to get back out there – and maybe change the oil. To understand the vine’s growth habit is easy, they are natural born climbers. Vines have tendrils and apical dominance. As humans, we have opposable thumbs and varying degrees of critical reasoning capability as exemplified by our duly elected representatives – from either side of the aisle.

What this means for the vine is that the shoots at the very end of the cane are going to get the most energy (apically dominant) to climb whatever they can find and attach themselves with their tendrils. What this means for the humans is that the first hedging pass just takes off the most intrepid climbers. Once those shoot tips are taken off, the next set of shoots grow into their space at 90 inches above the vineyard floor. Oh my, how you have grown. So, Ernie saddles up for another hedge and mow pass. Rinse and repeat until the vines redirect their energy from growing more leaves to ripening their seeds so they can reproduce. And we can make wine.

August brings a mixed bag of weather conditions and with it a crash course in the jet stream. For those not living on the west coast, you may not get to experience the amazingly stunning sunrises, sunsets and moon shots during fire season. Fire is like water - something to respect and also harness its great power. Left unchecked, these forces of nature are devastating.

Now the jet stream is also what used to be known as the trade winds. The trade winds powered great sailing ships across the vast oceans to new lands where goods (and some inherent services) were traded. Sitting where we do in Oregon, the jet stream is of significant importance to the growth and production of fine wine. Note: Those French oak barrels we use for aging wine are from repurposed oak forests destined to become ship’s masts. That’s why fiberglass and composite metals were invented that eventually evolved into jet aircraft. Giddy-up!

From right after harvest through April, we call the jet stream the Pineapple Express. This is because the winds are blowing from the west, starting just around the island of Kauai, picking up quite a bit of moisture and depositing it onto the freshly burned acreage of the West Coast. We average about 45 inches of rainfall during those months. Timing is everything.

Now the jet stream vacillates quite a bit from as far south as San Francisco and spanning the entire West Coast up to Seattle in the lower 48. Occasionally it is as far north as the Strait of Juan de Fuca and that is when the Canadians get theirs.

The jet stream is the arbiter of nighttime temperatures in the Pacific Northwest. The farther north the jet stream points, the more heat is brought up from the central valley of California. If the jet stream is aimed farther south, this opens up the locker of cold air from the Gulf of Alaska moderating our temperatures and promoting an onshore flow of cool air and humidity.

During the month of August, the jet stream has more impact on our vines and resulting wine than most any other event we can think of, and we do not think of volcanic eruptions – that is right out. The last one was May of 1980 courtesy of Mt. St. Helens and that was a big ash mess!

If the jet stream points north of us, we also experience the after effects of California’s wildfires. The smoke that emanates from hundreds of square miles being burned each year is trapped in the atmosphere. This particulate matter has a whole host of effects including contributing to global warming due to the heat being unable to escape our atmosphere.

The particulate matter, while not smelling of smoke, also contributes to global dimming. The particulate matter prevents the full effect of the sun’s rays from reaching the surface, thus providing less natural light. Have you noticed that every new crop of smartphones has bigger and brighter screens? They seem brighter, right? Or is it just less bright during the day?

In the vineyard this means high daytime, and more importantly, high nighttime temperatures leading to increased growing season heat - aka degree day accumulation. The vine’s response to heat is to increase the rate of sugar accumulation. However, aroma and flavor development is a function of time on the vine. The goal is to plant wine berry varieties in a climate where the wine berry’s sugar accumulation and aroma and flavor development are commensurate. This means harvesting fully expressive aromas and flavors at moderate alcohol potentials (sugar concentrations) at the end of the region’s growing season. Our growing season ends in November when we harvest our Northern Rhône clones of Syrah and Viognier.

The one saving grace is that the smoke aroma has dissipated before the particulate matter gets to Oregon. And, we hope this year our neighbors choose not to light their burn piles until we finish harvesting our wine. Enough, is in fact, enough.

Now let’s swing the other way. If the jet stream points south to San Francisco, we get the cool to cold air coming down from Alaska via Canada and Seattle. This makes for a more classic Oregon vintage. Cool mornings with a bit of onshore flow create fog or a “Marine Layer.” And that tells us that the nighttime temperatures were slowing down the rate of sugar accumulation in the wine berry, thus enabling longer hang time for aroma and flavor development.

But when Canada has wildfires burning, as far away as Saskatoon, we see what’s coming, and check out the moon. And that is how Seattle got pegged with some of the worst air quality on the planet in 2018. The West Coast was burning from both ends and the jet stream delivered all of that particulate matter right to Elliot Bay in Seattle.

And that was pretty much what captivated our attention these past three months, vintage 2018. Oh, and we did pull off a few leaves, some varieties more than others, but not too much and certainly all at the right time. As you read this we are thinning off fruit that we do not want to end up in our fermenters. The wings, of course, are destined for the Bellpine Pearl Rosé

And now, we present the numbers. We are going month by month with rainfall included as we go, concluding with a growing season to date Degree Day chart as a cherry on top. As some of the more astute readers may have noticed, there are times when our numbers are, ah… a little less than precise. A little bit of the fudge you might say. There are three reasons for this:

Rounding Error – This is where numbers with different sets of decimal precision (sig figs) are added together resulting in less than 2 decimal precision. Truncation is also a problem, as most of us know pi to be the two digit 3.14, not the full expression out to 1 million sig figs which you can view here: Check it out on March 14th – national pi day, 3 /14. Or January 23rd, national pie day.

Sampling Error – This covers a wide range of issues, but most often it reflects a bad read from the weather station. We are pretty sure it was not 20 below in July. Or as most engineers will tell you, any data point that is 3 or more standard deviations out of the norm is categorically classified as “Sampling Error” and summarily discarded from the final analysis. What happened to that hockey stick?

Calculation Methodology – In determining our Degree Days, Ernie has devised an awesome set of formulas that calculate degree days from every 12 minute reading the weather station transmits, corrected for sampling error as explained above. The typical month provides 3,600 datapoints (30 days x 24 hours x 5 reads per hour) to better model the 24 hour temperature curve. February provides a new term “Systemic Variability” due to the phenomenon called Leap Year.

That is Ernie’s world. You just get one number to worry about. This may cause some incompatibility when trying to compare our degree day numbers with those who just average the high and low point of the day. Why just average when you can ride the curve?

June was fairly moderate with a high temperature of 98.6 degrees recorded on June 24th and a low temperature of 37.9 degrees recorded on June 1st. The rain was early and often with 0.91 inches failing over three days ending June 11th and another 0.09 inches to close out the month on June 25th. Total rainfall to date was 7.33 inches.

June logged 392.05 degree days, which when added to the 392.30 degree days from April and May gives us a 784.35 degree day growing season total. With that many 392s, there has got to be a Hemi convention going on somewhere.

Now July was a different matter. Our high temperature peaked at 106.9 degrees on July 29th and our low temperature was 41.0 degrees captured on July 3rd. Our rain gauge was dry; we got a whole lot of nothing. July piled on a whopping 611.13 degree days, providing a growing season to date degree day accumulation of 1,395.48. And this is about the time that those forest fires shifted into high gear. Queue the wind…

August was starting to show the pattern we have seen emerge over the past couple of vintages. The heat starts to pull back and we see a little more onshore flow providing moderate daytime temperatures and cool nighttime temperatures. However, we had to wait until September for this weather pattern to emerge in 2016 and 2017.

August added 559.00 degree days for a growing season to date total of 1,954.48 degree days. We had a trace of rain. We know that because we saw a few drops hit the window. We are sticking with 7.33 inches growing season to date.

And here is how the degree days were looking for the growing season through the August period from the past 5 vintages: 1,783 (2017), 1,822 (2016), 1,997 (2015), 1,886 (2014) and 1,737 (2013.)

Now if September continues to be moderate to cool, we could see another extended ripening period that will feature fully developed aromatics, flavors and textures. This may mean less Oregon Rosé is produced.

If September gets back on a tear and runs up the heat, we will most likely have pre-mature fermentation due to excessive sugars and underdeveloped aromas and flavors. Look for more Oregon Rosé in the pipeline.

Either way, we know what the vines are going to do. They are going to go about their business ripening their seeds, building sugars and developing aromas and flavors. And we are about to find out what Mother Nature is going to do. Her play is fairly limited to varying degrees of wind, rain, sun, clouds, heat and cold. But she is unbridled in her combinations and permutations.

That leaves us, the hapless winegrower/winemaker who is positioned as the interpreter of the vintage. Our options, at this point in the growing season, are fairly limited. The one big choice we get to make is when to harvest. Once we make that decision, then things just fall right into place – sort of. What could possibly go wrong?

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Friday, August 3, 2018

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2018 Pinot Noir In Flagrante!

Hello and Welcome,  

This is a 2018 Vintage Update from Amalie Robert Estate. A FLOG communication.  

We have spied the first blazing Pinot Noir berry on Friday, August 3rd - Julien calendar day 215. And it was the cutest thing, ever! All nestled in among the rest of the green berries, our harbinger of the vintage was all aglow.

Why yes, in fact, it was a Wadenswil clone Pinot Noir wine berry. We just love that clone, especially when grafted onto the legendary 5C rootstock. 5C may be slower to mature than those less endowed, shallow rooted rootstocks, but that means longer hang time, more aroma and flavor development and less alcohol potential. Who could ask for anything more?

And now that we have seen that blazing berry, it is time to bait the yellowjacket traps! And let us introduce the little Vespula blighters in their full regalia. And to set the record straight, these are classified as wasps, not hornets. Hornets are a whole other mess of trouble best handled with a flamethrower from a safe distance in suitable protective clothing. That funny guy from Tesla makes one…

If you happen to be stung by one of these Vespula, take a few microseconds to notice the thorax coloring scheme. It could be the sting is not so bad from Vespula atropilosa or Vespula pensylvanica. But if Herr Vespula germanica or Vespula vulgaris tags you, well there is gonna be some extended whoopin’ and a hollerin’ we can tell you that for sure, for sure good buddy!

Now these little wasps pack a punch, but a little research can pay healthy dividends. First off, these insects are ground dwellers. They nest under shrubs and bushes. Their most favorite shrubbery happens to be the ubiquitous blackberry. Not just any blackberry mind you, but the Himalayan or Armenian blackberry - Rubus armeniacus.

The native, and most preferred, culinary blackberry species in the Great Pacific Northwest is the Rubus ursinus. Commonly known as the Pacific Blackberry. Clearly the taxonomy folks were taking a little artistic license from the bears of the Great Pacific Northwest when classifying this plant. So be it – never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Vespula horribilis anyone?

The reason our little Vespula prefers the Rubus from Armenia is that they grow along the ground in a prostrate manner. They cover a tremendous amount of area with large thorny leaves and shoots that deter predators and provide them safe haven. The first, best predator of the Vespula is the common skunk. The risk, apparently, is worth the reward and we give these monochromatic wasp hunters a wide berth.

Right, now we know where they live. The eradication of the Vespula is virtually impossible and while a worthy goal, it is the equivalent of trying to boil the ocean. We are just trying to make wine. So one day, there was some clever fellow who devised a totally tubular yellowjacket trap. Bravo!

What we see depicted here is successful communication. The trap has been baited with a strong yellowjacket aphrodisiac. The yellowjackets are picking up on what’s going down and they want in on the action. All is right with the world. But wait, there is more. Enter the wild Oregon caught Chinook salmon.

You see these traps come from the factory with a synthetic attractant. And while most of the Vespula are good with that Herr Vespula germanica is having none of it. And it just so happens we know his weakness, it is freshly ripened wild Oregon caught Chinook salmon.

Our local fish monger knows when the first Pinot Noir wine berries start to turn color because that is when we show up at his door looking for fresh wild Oregon caught Chinook salmon scraps to trap our little Vespula. Of course, we take a fillet as well to have with Pinot Noir – for quality control purposes, of course.

Alright, let’s bring it home. We start out with about 20 of these totally tubular Vespula condos and start packing them full of salmon scraps. This is best done about an hour before daylight in a Vespula proof enclosure. Then we have specially modified coat hangers that fit through the molded hole at the top of the trap (those guys thought of everything.) Then, just as first light is being cast onto the vineyard we hang the traps on our south facing steel end posts very near the Rubus from Armenia.

It takes a while for the first early adopters to arrive. They buzz around investigating this new addition to their environment. Then around noon time, the sun has warmed up that steel end post and the wild Oregon caught Chinook salmon scraps inside the trap start to “ripen.”

Then look out! Herr Vespula germanica has picked up the scent and he is coming in hot! From this point forward, it is just a matter of hours before the trap is full and we must reload.

While it is quite heartwarming to see these traps fill up so quickly, this in fact is one of the necessary harvest pre-functions. Once all the blackberries are gone, there is only one fruit left to eat and that is the wine berry. The Vespula will attack the wine berry which has done nothing wrong, just ripen in the sun. They will eat all of the pulp inside and leave a hollowed-out skin. They like the sweet, but can’t seem to handle the skin tannin.

The problem arises when the harvest humans start to interact with the Vespula environment while the Vespula is consuming said wine berry. The problem is exacerbated when several Vespula, under the direction of Herr Vespula germanica, are feasting on adjacent clusters. You can hear the distinctive whoopin’ and a hollerin’ from quite a ways off.

So, we have about 45 days of ideal weather to “harvest” as many of these Vespula as we can so that they are not around during harvest operations. The other way to go about this is to use a can of aerosol hair spray and a lighter - mini flamethrower if you will. But as Ernie would remind you, experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want. So we have moved on to the wild Oregon caught Chinook salmon scraps.

We are still predicting a late September to early October start to harvest, but in the agrarian world, anything can happen between now and then - and most likely will. Are we going to get some rain? Oh, we hope so!

Now if you just can’t wait, you can check in on the spaghetti harvest here. While they do not have to contend with the dreaded Vespula, they do have the spaghetti weevil, and Vespas. Watch out!

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2018 Flowers

Hello and Welcome,

This is a Vintage Update from Amalie Robert Estate. A FLOG Communication.

It is just a matter of time now. Some would say time and money, or that time is money. But at the end of the day there will be 105 days’ worth of time to spend the money before we start The Great Cluster Pluck of 2018.

And it was that Chardonnay vine that was first out with flowers again this year. What is it with that grape? But there it is, and soon the other 51,892 vines of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Viognier will be blooming.

At this point in the growing season, everyone wants to know if we are ahead or a behind, so here are the numbers. The first flowers revealed themselves on June 6th, a belated birthday bouquet for Dena. Last year the first flowers were spotted on June 11th, so we are a little ahead of last year. A distinction without a difference.

June 6th is Julian calendar day 157. Note 2018 is not a leap year. If it were a leap year, the flowers would have still appeared on Julian calendar day 157, but it would have been June 5th not June 6th and messed up the entire harvest planning and operations. We most certainly dodged a bullet there.

On average, the vines need 105 days to finish their work. Their job is to ripen up their seeds to reproduce and then go dormant for 6 months. Our job is to look at the end of 105 days to see if we have great aromas and flavors in those little wine berries so we can ferment the shugar out of them.

To put all this into a farming perspective, 105 ARBs are the equivalent of 17.5 six-packs. (ARB – Adult Recreational Beverage. You know, beer!)

Now we do the heavy lifting of adding 105 farming days to Julian calendar day 157 and end up with Julian calendar day 262. So easy a winemaker can do it! And as everyone knows, Julian calendar day 262 is September 19th.

That’s when the potential harvest window will magically appear in the vineyard. And Ernie will be keenly looking through it at the wings of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir to make our Bellpine Pearl Rosé. Dena has informed him, in no uncertain terms, that this year’s Pearl should return to its original Blanc de Noir color from 2015. What a GREAT idea!

Then all manner of grapes will start pouring in. Most probably the G’wzr will be first, followed by some young vine Wadenswil clone along with Dick Erath’s clone 95. Then we will factor in the weather and a little Kentucky windage to bring in the rest of the vineyard.

The last fruit in will most certainly be the Côte Rôtie block. Most likely on Julian calendar day 314. That gives us 52 days of harvest and winemaking operations to get ‘er done before we experience the deluge of winter rains. But for now, it’s looking like an ARB harvest window is about to open.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2018 May

Hello and Welcome,
This is the 2018 May Climate Update from Amalie Robert Estate. A FLOG communication

“The future is grass. Grass, buddy.” Who remembers this quote from the movie Tequila Sunrise? Well, Ernie has been saying it with his best Raul Julia impersonation for the entire month. We have had warm sunny days combined with abundant soil moisture. The grass does not let these conditions go unnoticed. The result was a grass uprising!

The flail mower is a wonderful thing. It is a specialized piece of farm equipment that only does one thing. But it does it really well. And that is to cut a 5 foot wide swath of grass, buddy. And since our vineyard rows are 7.5 feet apart, a 5 foot cut is ideal. As we have proven in a previous post, and Ernie has the empirical evidence to back it up, one pass through the vineyard is about 20 lineal miles – at 3 miles per hour.

Mathematically, this is about 7 hours worth of farming. Farming, by the way, is what you are doing when you are not growing wine. But it’s not 7 hours, It’s more like 10 to 12 hours, and that’s if you can make whatever repairs are needed without leaving the farm for parts. And you have had the forethought to order sufficient diesel to perform said farming. And they deliver once a week – how convenient!

Ernie has made three mowing passes to cut down this grass uprising, and there will be another 3 passes once he starts hedging. That’s a lotta grass, buddy.

And the sock monster has claimed a pair (nonmatching mind you) of socks. We have yet to receive a ransom note, but that should be coming along any day now. In the mean time, this leaves us with a pair of hunting socks. Because we are hunting for the pair that looks just like them!

We have begun training our vines’ newfound Spring growth into the trellis. After just about 20 years of this activity, you would think the vines would have it figured out by now. Not so. They seem to have a classic failing, which we have seen in our previous careers. They lack focus and attention to detail.

But their rate of growth is just astounding! And if you look at it from their perspective, would you want to be constrained in 3 sets of catch wires pinched together with a few plastic clips? Confining your growth to a vertical wall of leaves about 6 inches deep and 60 inches tall to maximize sun exposure and minimize the chance of your wine berries inflicted with mildew or other fungi?

The correct answer is YES! Yes, I want that! But alas, they do not.

If given the chance, they would just grow along the ground like some nondescript ubiquitous vine until they happen upon some unsuspecting tree. Then they would grab on with their tendrils and start growing up the trunk. Meanwhile the wine berries would be on the ground, compromised by some mildew colony where they would rot and meet their unworthy demise. Surely better to be trellised, plucked by hand and then fermented into wine!

Field work is hard, physically demanding work. Field labor is tight at this particular point in history. We can’t tell if there is more agricultural work to be done due to increased acreage under cultivation or there are fewer field workers to do the work. Most likely a bit of both. And it gives us the opportunity to review the law of supply and demand, in situ.

The vines however, are unburdened by this reality. They are just growing and growing and growing. They have forgotten all about the hedger. But Ernie hasn’t. He has dreams about arresting their unbridled growth. It should be just about the end of June, or maybe the start of July. But their day is coming in the form of 10 blades spinning at a bazillion miles per hour. And the flail mower will be hooked on the back mulching the vine cuttings with all that grass, buddy.

An acre of vines at Amalie Robert Estate can be thought of as 5,808 lineal feet. This means if we put all of our vines in one row, an acre’s worth of vines would be 5,808 feet long. If you were to walk a mile that would be 5,280 lineal feet. So, logically, an acre of vines can be thought of as 1.1 miles long. If it helps, bear in mind that a vineyard is just a physical implementation of a mental construct. But the field work is real.

To put this viticultural activity in perspective, we are going to do some farming math. You most likely won’t need your thinking cap, but if it is nearby this would be the time to grab it as you refill your wine glass - even if you must open another bottle to do so.

Now each acre of vines is bedangled with 3 sets of catch wires for a total of 6 wires per acre. These catch wires do the hard work for holding our vines in place so Ernie can go out there and hedge them down to size – repeatedly. Right, so that is 6.6 miles of manually raised catch wires per acre. Note: These wires must also be taken down at the end of the year, but that is too much math to do all at once, and we don’t want anyone’s head to explode. Duct tape can help with that, by the way.

Since we rely on hard working field workers to raise these wires and position the vines’ growth inside of them, this process takes a while. Depending on a wide range of factors that would make your head explode, the average time it takes to put up 3 sets of catch wires is just about 2.5 minutes per vine, based on a 10 year average. Since we have 1,452 vines per acre, that takes us about 3,630 minutes per acre, or about 7.5 field worker days. Pretty easy so far, right?

Now we reveal the magic number: 35.74. That is the number of acres of vines we farm. Using the magic number, we can learn that we have 235.88 miles of wires to raise (and eventually lower.) We can also know that we need about 268 field worker days to raise these wires and harness the vines’ growth. So if you come to visit the winery during the month of June and Ernie asks if you want to take a walk in the vines, now you know what you are really signing up for. As always, you will want to wear comfortable shoes and gloves might be a good idea.

What we cannot know is how many field workers we will have on any given day. Which leads us to not knowing what day the wires will be raised and Ernie can start hedging. Switching from Thinking Cap to Duct Tape, buddy.

And lo and behold we have EVEN MORE numbers! Ernie guessed the rainfall amount from the last day of May would be 0.30 inches. But when Dena checked the rain gauge, she said it was 0.28 inches. Clearly it’s time for Dena’s annual eye exam.

And we have accumulated 282.2 degree days for the month of May. When added to our April degree days of 110.1, this yields 392.3 degree days for the 2018 growing season. The high temperature for the month of May was 93.0 degrees Fahrenheit and the low temperature was 37.2 degrees. A fine start to the year.

Rainfall for the month of May was 0.53 inches if you ask Dena, or 0.55 inches if you ask Ernie. The growing season to date rainfall as collected from April through May is 6.33 inches, more or less.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Monday, April 30, 2018

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: 2018 April

Hello and Welcome, 
This is the 2018 April Climate Update from Amalie Robert Estate. A FLOG communication. 
Springtime in Wine Country is almost as exciting as harvest. There are sunny days and rainy days. Warm temperatures and cool temperatures. Hail is mostly a Springtime event, however we are sure that with all of the uncertainty in the world, that it may very well become a fall event. As in “What the hail!?”

 End posts, they're not just for wires.
Click on the image to see our vineyard floor overseer in action.

And then there is budbreak. This is the sign we are looking for from Mother Nature. It shows us that the vines have wintered over from last year’s Cluster Pluck and they are ready for the growing season. As the first couple of leaves unfurl, the vines look like they are sporting a line of little green butterflies. This lasts about 14.7 seconds, and then they start growing like the fruit bearing vines they are. Raising catch wires is the next task on the horizon and approaching rapidly.

But wait, let’s enjoy the moment. Springtime in wine country also gives us a wonderful palate of blooms on all sorts of plants. Mother Nature really puts on a show! Colors, textures and aromas from all sorts of flora attract the ever busy bee and the cycle of pollination is carried out dutifully.

And Ernie has his own cycle this time of year. His job is to feed our vines. Sounds quite simple, and it is, really. But just like everything in farming, the devil is in the details. Let’s review, shall we?

His first job is to incorporate the cover crops he drilled in last fall. Note this pre-supposes that the cover crop got drilled in last Fall. And it did. Last fall the vineyard was treated to a cover crop blend of Austrian winter peas and barley. The idea here is to have the peas set Nitrogen in the soil and the barley to take it up and hold it until the spring.

Nitrogen is mobile in the soil. That means the winter rains will wash it away if there is not some plant to take it up from the soil. Just think of the peas as a solar panel generating electricity and the barley as the battery that holds that energy until the spring. That’s when Ernie comes along and turns the soil so that the Nitrogen is released into the soil and the vine roots can pick it up. That’s the goal, feeding our vines without the use of chemical fertilizers. These cover crop plants also hold the soil on the hill in the face of daunting winter rains. Ha, it’s a twofer!

So, Ernie’s first pass is with the virtually indestructible chisel plow. What a great piece of farming equipment. It is relatively inexpensive, does not require power from the tractor and is really hard, but not impossible, to break. This implement attaches to the crawler and Ernie drives it about 2 miles per hour through every other row. Ideally these are the rows with the cover crop and not the rows with the permanent grass.

Click on the image to see Ernie and the chisel plow in action.

The chisel plow also performs double duty. The primary objective is to open our silty clay loam Bellpine soil to make it easy for the (easy to break) rototiller pass. Seven shanks go down about 8 to 10 inches and open up the soil.

While those shanks are down there, they also perform a little root pruning. Vines are always trying to find soil moisture and the shallow roots pick up the easy soil moisture during the spring and fall. Ernie is having none of it. He wants deep roots to help the vines find soil moisture during the dry months of August and September. Ernie schedules his annual trip to the dentist after this pass to restore any loose fillings that may have gone missing.

Right, now it is on to the rototiller pass. The first step is to inspect and replace any broken tines from the fall cover crop regime. If he is lucky, he can skate by without having to replace any clutch disks. But this is farming, and usually if not for bad luck, there is no luck at all.

Click on the image to see Ernie and the rototiller in action.

The rototiller, for all its agrarian vagaries, does a very good job of incorporating the nitrogen rich cover crop plants into the soil where all manner of microbes, worms and other no-see-ums are waiting for them. It’s dinner time on the vineyard floor!

And it looks nice, all fluffed up like that. It is important to have a little air exchange in the soil. Most microbes are aerobic and they need oxygen to function properly. The rototiller does this at no extra charge. And it helps to level the rows and our side hills. Ernie had to terrace some parts of the vineyard due to the steep side slopes. The rototiller helps move the soil from the uphill side to the downhill side, making a level surface to drive on. The rototiller is not such a bad implement after all.

Next Ernie hooks up the Schmeiser seed drill! Woohoo! We are going to drill some cover crop now! This is the third and final pass in the cover crop rows, putting down the new summer cover crop seeds.

Click on the image to see Ernie and the Schmeiser in action.

Amalie Robert Estate is a dry farmed vineyard, we are “True to the soil and True to the vintage. ®” So the summer cover crops have to get by on the morning dew we receive from our on-shore flows coming in from the Pacific Ocean. These cover crops also have to provide nutrition for the voracious, carnivorous insects that roam the vineyard.

Lady bugs, earwigs, mites and all other manner of insects are on guard against cane borers and parasitic mites that feed on our vines. These good bugs are the front line of defense in keeping our vines healthy and producing world class wines.
And when they can’t find bad bugs to eat, you still have to feed them. That’s one reason we use Buckwheat and Vetch for our summer cover crop blend. These plants need very little water, produce pollen (which is protein) for our army of good bugs and will set Nitrogen to feed our vines in the fall.

When it is all said and done, Ernie makes 3 passes in every other row to set our vineyard floor straight for the growing season. It’s about 18 acres worth of land, or 20 lineal miles that he is cycling through. Those 3 passes combine to make a total of about 60 lineal miles, at about 2 miles per hour. This saves him from having to use chemical fertilizers to feed our vines, and that is a good thing. And he has to mow the permanent rows, twice, at 3 miles an hours - go speed racer! If you sent Ernie an e-mail in April and did not get a response, now you know why. What a Springtime workload this man has!

Ernie, right in the middle of it.

Now before we get onto the task of shoot positioning, raising catchwires, and harnessing all of the vine’s Springtime growth, let’s do the numbers while we still have time.

The high temperature for April was 82.90 degrees recorded on the 24th at 3:24 pm. The low temperature was 31.50 degrees recorded on the 3rd at midnight. After gently massaging 3,600 data points, we find an April degree day accumulation of 110.10 degree days. The second half of the month was responsible for 71% of the heat accumulation, logging 78.65 degree days.

And we start the 2018 growing season with our soils holding a good amount of moisture. Rainfall for April totaled 5.80 inches. As a dry farmed vineyard, our objective is to manage the available soil moisture through the summer growing season.

If we can make it to September, we usually can get a little rainfall to extend our ripening period into October. As we are all painfully aware after these last few vintages, sugar accumulation is a function of heat, and aroma and flavor are a function of time on the vine.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Friday, April 20, 2018

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2018 Bud Break and Breaking News!

Hello and Welcome to Vintage 2018!

This is an Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update for 2018. A FLOG communication.

The vines are awake and thanks to a blast of near 90-degree heat in mid-April, they are on the move! And they need to be. They only have about 6 months to ripen aromatically stunning and wonderfully expressive aromas and flavors. No time to waste!

And Ernie was right out there in the middle of it. Can you see him in there? His job this time of year is to change out about 18 acres of vineyard floor – about 20 lineal miles worth - at 2 miles per hour. Out with the old Winter cover crop and in with the brand spanking new Spring cover crop.

Farmers do it in the rain!

The purpose is to provide Springtime nutrition to the vines by incorporating the plants we grew over the winter, so we do not need to add chemical fertilizers to our soil. More on that when we FLOG you with the April Climate Update.

Yes, of course, there are numbers involved. We saw the first buds breaking just before Earth Day in the newest Wadenswil Blocks. We are officially calling April 20th the first day of the 2018 growing season. For everyone who wears tin foil hats and pocket protectors like Ernie, that is Julian Calendar day 110.

Breaking News: Côte Rôtie from Oregon
And speaking of numbers we have some breaking news. It seems that impressive 94-point review for Ernie’s 2012 Top Barrel Syrah has even more meaning than we were aware of.

Having not only the highest score, but the first and only 94-point review for an Estate Grown Willamette Valley Syrah was pretty heartwarming, but there is more to the story. A little spelunking in the Vinous Media database revealed something quite stunning. Maybe the Special Counsel should be looking in there…

Ernie’s cool climate Estate Grown Syrah program is styled after his interpretation of Côte Rôtie. The Syrah grown in that part of the Northern Rhône valley is what really trips his trigger. Guigal and Chapoutier were early influencers that have left an indelible mark on his mind, and maybe some brain damage too. And so Dena let him have an acre to see what he could do.

Well, first things first. He called his friend Dick Erath to come walk the property in 2000 after the cherry trees were pulled and the soil was ready for planting. That was early March and Ernie had Dick up on the hill standing where he wanted to plant his Syrah block. Oddly enough, that exact spot is where Ernie would plant his Chardonnay block and Dick would return in 2013 to conspire with Ernie to make Pabuk’s Gift late harvest Chardonnay. Right, back to the main story.

Dick, standing in 20 miles per hour wind gusts with one hand firmly grasping the hat on his head, was not convinced. “What about down there by your house? See those trees down there are not really being affected by this wind.” Dick shouted. “That area is more protected and will be warmer. You will have a better chance of ripening Syrah down there. Not that you will ripen it, but you will have a better chance.” Dick Erath has made a significant impact on the Oregon Wine industry, and at least at Amalie Robert Estate, continues to do so.

Right, so now we know where Ernie’s little Côte Rôtie from Oregon block is going to be planted, but what to plant? Ah, off to France where he would fortuitously meet Marcel Guigal. And so, there we were, tasting the La Turque from barrel in the Guigal cellars. Ernie looked at Dena and said, “Let’s just make this.”

While it is illegal to take cuttings from France and bring them back to Oregon, knowledge transfer is not so encumbered. Clearly Clone 95 (another Dick Erath contribution to the Oregon Wine Industry) is the exception to the rule. You can read the full story at Rusty Gaffney’s PinotFile site. By the way: our Clone 95 block is bearing fruit this year.

At the end of the day, Ernie left the Guigal facility in Ampuis with a bit of a buzz. Clearly from the wine, but also from the time spent with Marcel Guigal where they talked clones. Northern Rhône clones. Ernie settled on the 4 clones most likely suited to make exceptional Côte Rôtie.

The similarities of Côte Rôtie, in the Northern Rhône valley of France and Dallas, Oregon in the great Pacific Northwest of the United States include the relative proximation to the 45th parallel. While Dallas, Oregon is just below the 45th parallel at 44.9193 degrees, Ampuis, at the heart of Côte Rôtie, is at 45.4890 degrees.

We share a cool climate growing season, but the similarities end there. Our sedimentary Bellpine series soil in the Willamette Valley tends to contribute more floral aromatics and is geologically unrelated to the granite and schist soils found in Côte Rôtie. Yeah, no schist.

Back in Oregon, the hunt was on to find these 4 clones. It turned out two were easily sourced from longtime friend Steve Doerner at Cristom. So, Ernie got two clones in the ground straight away. And two were not so easily sourced. Syrah - Why be difficult, with just a little more effort, you can be impossible?

The next two clones took a couple of years to source. “Don’t give up on your dream” was the encouragement offered by the late Witness Tree winemaker Bryce Bagnall. And so, Ernie persevered, holding open a half acre of land destined for 2 more clones of Syrah.

And when he finally got them, he ended up with a little more than he bargained for. The clonally correct Syrah vines he picked up had a few Viognier vines mixed in. The nursery man told him that they had made a mistake when grafting and some Viognier was in the mix.

Ernie was in shock. He had waited, literally, years for this hair brained scheme to hatch and now this. What to do? Well, he reasoned, they have Viognier interplanted in Côte Rôtie, so maybe this is a good thing. It was certainly looking more and more like Côte Rôtie from Oregon. He collected his plants and drove back to the vineyard.

It took three years, but those vines finally produced the fruit he was so eagerly awaiting. And just like the nursery man had foretold, some of those Syrah vines produced white grapes. Ernie doesn’t call it Viognier, he calls it white Syrah. So, you could say he not only co-ferments with Viognier, he co-grows it as well. He won’t say that, but you could.

Nothing is inherently good or bad, except a snakebite, until it gets a name. Our first bottling of Syrah from the 2006 vintage was without a fanciful name. The 2007 vintage (2007? Really? Yes, 2007. Really.) was featured as “Best Domestic Syrah of the Year” by Wine & Spirits Magazine and answered one of our neighbor’s questions. He said, “Yeah, you should plant Syrah and let us know how it works out for you.”

And that is the reason, beginning with the 2008 vintage, that wine has a fanciful name. We call it Satisfaction, because that is how it worked out for us.

So, what about this Top Barrel bottling? The Top Barrel is that moment in the cellar when you thief out a barrel sample and are immediately taken back to the same experience tasting La Turque from barrel at Guigal. Aromas are powerful things and can trigger very vivid memories. The first one of these moments came with the cool and protracted 2010 vintage.

Ernie said, “No Farmin’ Way am I going to blend this barrel away! We are going to bottle this separately. This is World Class, the Real Deal, Côte Rôtie from Oregon!” And it just so happened that the barrel was on the top row of barrels. So, the name became self-evident – Top Barrel.

After making several tractor passes to incorporate the Winter cover crop, prepare the soil for the Spring cover crop and then finally drill in the Spring cover crop, Ernie had some time on his hands. That and it started to rain, so the tractor work was put on hold.

He queried the Vinous Media database for 2012 wines from the Northern Rhône to see how his top scoring and first ever Estate Grown, Willamette Valley 94-point Top Barrel Syrah would stack up. The neat thing about Vinous Media, is that the same reviewer, Josh Raynolds, covers both Oregon and the Northern Rhône. That removes the key variable in comparing and contrasting wines.

Here is what he found out. The top scoring 2012 vintage wine from Côte Rôtie was a 95-point review, and there were 3 of them. Ok, so that told him that his 94-point review was in the ballpark. And it turns out that Guigal had one of those 95-point reviews. It was La Landonne at a stunning $525 (per bottle) release price.

But he also found out that the other two “La La” bottlings, La Mouline and La Turque, each earned a 94-point review from the same reviewer that rated the Top Barrel with a 94-point review.

Here are the Guigal Côte Rôtie from France reviews along with the Amalie Robert Côte Rôtie from Oregon review:

Guigal La Mouline:
Lurid ruby. Heady, intensely perfumed aromas of red fruit preserves, incense, smoky minerals and lavender, accompanied by an Asian spice flourish that builds as the wine opens up. Stains the palate with sweet, seamless raspberry liqueur, spicecake and floral pastille flavors that are lifted and given spine by core of juicy acidity. Puts on weight and spreads out slowly on the strikingly long and precise finish, which features resonating mineral and floral notes. - 94 points, Josh Raynolds, Vinous Media

Guigal La Turque:
Youthful violet. Powerful, smoke- and mineral-accented black and blue fruits and incense on the explosively perfumed nose. Stains the palate with sweet blueberry, cherry, violet pastille and spicecake flavors that show superb depth as well as vivacity. Seamless and alluringly sweet; a core of juicy acidity adds lift and spine. Supple tannins build steadily on an extremely long, focused finish that leaves suave floral and Moroccan spice notes behind. - 94 points, Josh Raynolds, Vinous Media

Amalie Robert Top Barrel:
Brilliant violet. A complex, expansive bouquet evokes ripe black and blue fruits, smoky Indian spices and potpourri, backed by subtle olive and cola nuances. Sweet, sappy and penetrating on the palate, offering intense blueberry, cassis, bitter chocolate and spicecake flavors and a strong suggestion of candied violet. Strongly channels the savory qualities of the northern Rhône and finishes extremely long, smooth and spicy, with subtle tannins building slowly. - 94 points, Josh Raynolds, Vinous Media

“Amalie Robert, whose vineyard is in the western part of the Willamette Valley, makes a very strong case for Syrah, but production of their two graceful wines is painfully small, as in just a few barrels of wine per vintage.” - Josh Raynolds, Oregon’s Expanding Palate of Wines, February 2018, Vinous Media

While it is too soon to make any substantive predictions about vintage 2018, we are hopeful that the crews arrive on time, the tractors all start, the sun shines and the rains fall at the appropriate times and in the correct amounts. That would be the vintage of the year!

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie