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