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 – 2020 Amalie Robert Estate, LLC

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Amalie Robert Estate: 2019 Spring Cellar Report

Hello and Welcome, 
This is the 2019 Spring Cellar Report from Amalie Robert Estate. A FLOG Communication

It’s pruning time in Oregon wine country and let’s all pay our respects to the field hands that are actually doing the work. It is a cold, rainy, windy, flat out miserable time of year for field work. But a necessary function in the lifecycle of the vine. It is a New Year’s resolution we must keep as winegrowers. But soon enough it will be done, and new growth will emerge signaling the start of our 19th growing season. Of course, your New Year’s resolutions may last longer than our winter pruning, but history and the human condition would not be on your side.

We would also like to open this Spring Cellar Report with a “Thank You” to everyone we have had the pleasure to FLOG this past year. Some of you have enjoyed it more than others and some of you more than you should. So, it should come as no surprise that Ernie has taken stock of all of your feedback and channeled that energy into his new book. You have no one to blame but yourselves.

My First Colonoscopy is a tender, probing, coming of age exposé of a young man relinquishing control to the invasive medical field for the first time. Set inside the healthcare labyrinth of today’s current state of affairs, Ernie relates his journey in excruciating detail from the posterior, first person point of view. As you might expect from Ernie, the appendices include a full and complete compendium of the Supreme Court oral arguments of each healthcare lawsuit adjudicated to date. Until a publisher is found, this will remain an “E-book”. E-book for Ernie, get it?

Right. While we do not have the traditional numbers of a growing season FLOG communication, we do have a single number to share. Standing alone, and unafraid is the number 94. Well actually there are three of them, but each presented individually.

“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, Vinous, February 2018

And this is the segue we were looking for to cover the main topic of this Spring Cellar Report FLOG. Going it alone or blending for complexity – how to decide? When Ernie took the CPA* exam at the University of Montana, seemingly a lifetime ago, it was a 3 day exam. East Coast and West Coast all started at the same physical time, so no one could call to the other coast and reveal the mental horrors that await. Back in the day, the University of Montana did not offer PTSD counseling. But there was the Foresters Ball.

* CPA is a TLA that means Certified Public Accountant, which allows you to guide others out upon the great accountant-sea. FYI - TLA means Three Letter Acronym. Now you know.

The 3 day CPA exam was comprised of the standard multiple choice questions, compare and contrast scenarios, explain this (if you can) in the limited space provided and the ubiquitous true or false. Ah, the binary choice of yes or no, go or no go. Ernie knew of these things as he had already earned a degree in the Byzantine new world of Computer Science. He had been a bit-twiddler for 4 years. They were 1’s and 0’s in the newfangled computer world but still, a binary choice would apply to the second oldest profession. Derivatives be damned!

While we make no secret that the 5 gallon bucket may in fact be the most useful piece of winery equipment we own (just don’t bucket-up), the unadorned quarter is the tool of choice for conquering the true false scenario. The quarter is ideally designed to help you cope with this challenge. It is unambiguous, it leaves no doubt in the course of action to take. Heads it’s true and tails it’s false. Next question, proctor.

These matters are usually handled in a very discreet manner. Typically, the quarter is flipped in such a way that it lands on the back of one’s hand, quietly revealing the correct answer to the flipper. However, at 8:00 am on the third morning after a hard day’s night, the physical dexterity of the college student can falter. It is at this moment you discover, along with the entire population of the exam room, that the hardwood floor, while it is there for you, is not your friend.

Now it is theoretically possible that the quarter may land on its edge and quietly roll away before turning on its side to reveal the correct answer, but that is simply a mathematical construct. Much the same way that the square root of negative 4 includes an imaginary number – how convenient for mathematicians. In other words, it never happens in the real world and certainly not when you would desperately need it to. The proctors usually recover enough quarters over the 3 days to keep them each heavily caffeinated for a week or so.

The barrel room at Amalie Robert Estate provides a similar challenge. There are about 200 barrels of wine each year, more or less depending on the vintage, that need to be blended and bottled. Our job is to find a blend for each barrel. How do we do that, you may be asking yourself. Gird your loins, for the answer is about to be revealed.

It all starts, as you are free to imagine, with the bung hole. The bung hole is typically stoppered with a 2 inch diameter, silicone bung. A little-known fact is that Peanut Butter is colloquially referred to as “Bung Solder” – from Old English. Of course, it doesn’t really fit with the whole PB&J TLA. BS&J anyone? NFW!

The next tool we employ is the wine thief, again from Old English. This is a somewhat slender, one inch diameter glass cylinder that is about 10-18 inches long. Some are curved, some have a bulbous end and some are straight, with a point. However, each are designed for one purpose and one purpose alone, to directly enter the bung hole and “thieve” the contents.

The CBO (Chief Bung Operator) removes the bung from the barrel in question, inserts the wine thief straight down allowing it to fill with wine, and then with the opposing thumb sealing the top end hole, extracts the wine from the barrel. Opposing thumbs are so useful, they keep the rest of the animal kingdom from thieving our wine. That and a security system.

The contents of the cylindrical glass thief are then deposited into a wine glass for a thorough evaluation. Another portion of said contents is reserved for the lab where we will perform analytical analysis to ascertain its chemical composition. All very technical and not unlike the lab report from your annual exam. Milligrams per liter and parts per million, oh my!

Sensory evaluation is what is performed with the contents in the glass. The color of the wine, for everyone captivated by such things, is noted to be particularly red in most cases. Vehemently red in the case of Syrah.

WTF (Waft The Fruit) is a TLA for deploying the olfactory senses to the contents of the glass. This is usually done after one volatizes the esters with a twist of the wrist that sets the wine in motion against the curvature of the glass releasing aroma compounds. That simple procedure will display the vibrant colors of the wine and simultaneously release the captivating bouquet. It’s a twofer at no additional cost, a concept missing from most insurance EOB’s (Explanation of Benefits).

WTF?! Sometimes that TLA means the contents of the glass must stand alone. The wine is just so compelling that it would be a severe injustice to blend the wine from this single barrel with any other wine from the cellar. We mark that barrel as The Reserve in the case of Pinot Noir, or Top Barrel in the case of our Syrah. It is at that point that the winegrower at Amalie Robert Estate is bestowed a special gesture of gratitude.

As we continue to probe each barrel’s bung and examine the contents, we discover that certain barrels appeal to us in different ways. Dena may become very excited about a specific barrel of wine and Ernie, while acknowledging his vinicultural prowess, may find the wine to be very good, but not as compelling. Rinse and repeat and the roles are reversed. This is how Dena chooses her barrels of wine for Amalie’s Cuvée and Ernie marks his territory for Estate Selection.

From the more than you really wanted to know section, we can tell you that each barrel has a purpose in the blend. Mind you that we like to keep our wine in barrel for around 18 to 20 months. Somewhat of a rarity in Oregon Pinot Noir.

Some barrels are first fills. The wine is absorbing the character of the barrel’s newly toasted oak. This can add a pretty aroma and a sense of richness in the wine’s texture, provided the wine itself is up to the task of supporting this concentration of oak aroma and flavor. The amount of oak influence you detect in a wine is often dependent upon the number of first fill barrels in the final blend. Unless you were born upside down*.

Wine from barrels that have been filled 2, 3 or even 4 times still have some oak influence. Their primary contribution to the blend is in the mid-palate and finish. Stem tannins are more present when not masked by first fill barrels and will contribute length and staying power in the blend. These barrels can provide the structure or “back-end” to our blends.

And lastly, we have the Deadwood barrels. These barrels are sourced from the town of Deadwood in the old west. They are coopered out of long ago dead trees and have been preserved for several years in damp cool cellars. The air channels in the staves have been plugged by several generations of indigenous yeast lees to prevent air from coming in contact with the wine as it ages. Deadwood barrels do not impart any new oak aroma or flavor. The outside of the barrel is colonized with a cornucopia of mycelia (aka cellar flora). You never want to touch a Deadwood barrel, and yet we are drawn to them.

The wine in a Deadwood barrel is truly something to behold. No interference from new oak aromas, flavors or textures. The Deadwood barrel bouquet is subtle, savory and sweet, calling forth enduring memories. You are harkened back to summertime and the horse drawn carriages up and down the dirt roads of Deadwood, where street cleaners had yet to be invented.

The palate is ethereal elegance – presence without weight as they say. The wine from Deadwood barrels is simply sublime. Deadwood barrels are used in the blend to soften rough edges and expand the core of richness in the mid-palate. They allow us to complete our blends without the use of modern chemical fining agents or old world additives such as fish bladders, egg whites or ox blood.

We use Deadwood barrels to help us blend for complexity without the use of modern, or medieval chemistry. They are truly the key to our house style.

* Do you ever notice that sometimes when you are tasting wine with a group of people, there is one person that never seems to get on board with the really great wines? Everyone is going off about the wonderful aromas, flavors and texture of the wine. The room is filled with evocative descriptors and high praise. And yet, this person is not engaged. Well, there is a simple explanation for all of this.

That person was born upside down. While a rare phenomenon, it does occur. And when it affects a wine drinker, the results are predictable and well documented. You see, for the person who is born upside down, they are the opposite of the rest of the population - their nose runs and their feet smell. When you come across this person in a wine tasting setting, or locker room, please, be kind.

Moving right along to the edge of the cellar, and what have we here? A single barrel, albeit a very big one, of Chardonnay. As big as that barrel is, it has the same size bung hole as all the other barrels. A deep probing of this barrel results in a sunburst yellow stream filling the glass. The BFC (Barrel Fermented Chardonnay) is a good thing. However, a little stainless steel fermented Chardonnay in the blend helps to rein in the fatness from a new French oak barrel that can arise in the azimuth of the wine. A fat azimuth is not what we are looking for in our BFC.

Now here is an easy one, a gimme. These four barrels, which look like they came over on the Mayflower but are actually from Deadwood, hold Pinot Meunier. The wine came out of a single fermenter from wine berries harvested from a single block. Block 1 for those of you who are tracking and posting such things on social media, or are being tracked and posted on social media without your knowledge or consent by one of an ever growing number of “apps”.

Our goal here is to verify the quality of each barrel. Often times with the Pinot Meunier it takes more than one session to ascertain the quality level in each barrel. This procedure is repeated until Ernie finally says, let’s get this in a tank and bottle it before it is all thieved away and there is nothing left to bottle!

At this point in the cellar discourse, you may be wondering when the ubiquitous quarter will appear. Well, truth be told, it landed on its side and rolled into the farmin’ drain before we could catch up to it. You can only imagine the contortions on Ernie’s face as his eyes tracked that coin and his mind raced back to the shame of losing his quarter during the CPA exam.

However, all is not lost. Excel has a random number generator function that can produce 1’s or 0’s. We know this because we see some of the reviews that come out of the Wine Spectator (not ours, of course). Actually, we just made all that up. We are pretty sure they have a quarter. Full Disclosure: We do not submit wine to the Wine Spectator.

Let’s leave the barrel room for a moment and visit the CGR (Case Goods Room). Here we find our Bellpine Pearl Rosé (Blanc de Noir) and Pinot in Pink Rosé. You may ask yourself how did these wines get here? Why are they bottled just a couple months after harvest? We ask ourselves the same question. Apparently here on planet Earth, the cognoscenti decree that these wines must be consumed within 6 months of harvest date. Horseradish! This is one of the wine world’s greatest disservices to the wine consumer. Great Rosé wines should really be given the opportunity to at least come out of bottle shock, if not allowed to develop somewhat, before they are foisted upon the unsuspecting wine consumer.

And while we are all about transparency, hence the clear glass bottles holding our Rosé’s, we do have another one of Ernie’s experiments to report on. That bucket perched on the lab table holds half of this years G’WZR harvest. Just about 5 gallons, or 2 cases of his latest love of labor. He thinks it is his best ever, pretty farmin’ good he will tell you. Come on by this spring and we will just see about that.

A successful failure is what happens when you do not succeed at your primary goal, however find yourself better off than when you started your endeavor. Put another way, experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.

Well, 2017 gave Ernie a successful failure with his S. Rosie (Syrah Rosé). The good news is that the fermenter of Syrah was great, but the Rosé, well not so much. So he tried again this year deploying his prior year’s experience, and Voila! we have a S. Rosie from 2018. Just 7 bottles (minus 1), that Dena got to bottle by hand, but it is a damn righteous wine. After that bottling, Dena was bestowed a special gesture of gratitude by the winegrower at Amalie Robert Estate.

So, that is a little peek inside the bowels of the cellar at Amalie Robert Estate. They say every picture tells a story and certainly every barrel has a bung (hole). Look out for our upcoming Earth Day Open House E-mail and then come scope us out!

Kindest Regards,

Dena and the Winegrower at Amalie Robert Estate

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