Introduction

Winemaking: The Continuation of Terroir by Other Means.®

Welcome to the Amalie Robert Estate Farming Blog, aka FLOG. By subscribing, you will receive regular FLOGGINGS throughout the growing season. The FLOGGING will begin with the Spring Cellar Report in April. FLOGGINGS will continue each month and detail how the vintage is shaping up. You may also be FLOGGED directly after the big Cluster Pluck with the yearly Harvest After Action Report. Subscribe now and let the FLOGGINGS begin!

Rusty

"This is one of the Willamette Valley’s most distinguished wineries, but not one that is widely known."

- Rusty Gaffney, PinotFile - September 2016

Josh

"Dena Drews and Ernie Pink have been quietly producing some of Oregon's most elegant and perfumed Pinots since the 2004 vintage. Their 30-acre vineyard outside the town of Dallas, abutting the famed Freedom Hill vineyard where Drews and Pink live, is painstakingly farmed and yields are kept low so production of these wines is limited. Winemaking includes abundant use of whole clusters, which is no doubt responsible for the wines' exotic bouquets and sneaky structure…"

- Josh Raynolds, Vinous - October 2015

David

"...Dallas growers Dena Drews and Ernie Pink... showed me this July three of their reserve bottlings and thereby altered my perception of their endeavors. Since these are produced in only one- or two-barrel quantities, they offer an extreme instance of a phenomenon encountered at numerous Willamette addresses, whose really exciting releases are extremely limited. But they also testify, importantly, to what is possible; and what’s possible from this site in these hands revealed itself to be extraordinary!... And what a Syrah!"

- David Schildknecht, The Wine Advocate - October 2013

Wine & Spirits

"Finding that their whole-cluster tannins take some time to integrate, Pink and Drews hold their wines in barrel for up to 18 months - so Amalie Robert is just releasing its 2008s. And what a stellar group of wines: Bright and tart, they possess both transparency and substance, emphasizing notes of rosehips and sandalwood as much as red berries. The pinot noirs alone would likely have earned Amalie Robert a top 100 nod this year. But the winery also produces cool-climate syrah that rivals the best examples from the Sonoma Coast. And the 2009 Heirloom Cameo, their first attempt at a barrel-fermented chardonnay, turned out to be one of our favorite Oregon chardonnays of the year. Ten vintages in, Amalie Robert has hit its stride."

- Luke Sykora, Wine & Spirits Magazine – September 2011

Copyright

© 2005 – 2020 Amalie Robert Estate, LLC

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: September Vintage 2020 - Say It Taint So!

Hello and Welcome, 
   
This is an Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: September Vintage 2020. This is the Big One. A Farming bLOG FLOG communication from Dena & Ernie @AmalieRobert Estate. Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. 
 
Pinot Noir awaiting The Great Cluster Pluck, Vintage 2020

September in Willamette Valley wine country, Vintage 2020. We will never know it all, but we now know enough to know - it is not farming good. This communication will lay out the events for the month that provided us all so much Mother Nature  “Mama Drama” and we will endeavor to answer the question that may be on so many minds as we confront harvest, Vintage 2020.
 
What does that mean, and why should I care?
 
A once in a lifetime event
 
The month started out just great and that lasted for the first 7 days. Hey that’s 25% of the game and we will take it. The next 10 days provided a once in a lifetime wildfire and associated smoke event. This was due to the extreme winds originating in the central US blowing with tornado force gusts through Central Oregon. Central Oregon just happened to be ablaze with the Lionhead and Beachie Creek fires at that time. The Beachie Creek fire went from a relatively small fire of 500 acres to over 100,000 acres in the span of 24 hours. Simply unprecedented in living memory.
 
Winds blowing due west toward the Willamette Valley, Sept. 9th at 5:58 am
 
The easterly winds very quickly spanned the 60 miles or so between us and the Beachie Creek fire. The result can best be described as waking up to a full solar eclipse. The smoke remained in the valley and was fed by southwesterly winds for several more days. All vineyard work was ceased due to air quality conditions.
 
The next few days, September 17th - 19th, provided some relief in the form of northwest winds ushering in cool rain – 0.97 inches to be exact. This rain was preceded by a smashing crescendo of thunder and lightning – quite a show to be sure and very hard to miss. Note: Our records indicate Vintage 2019 received exactly 0.97 inches of rain September 16th - 18th. Most likely a glitch in the matrix.
 
The following week, or most of it, was spent assessing the potential impacts of smoke exposure and smoke taint. The short answer is that if you had significant smoke exposure any smoke molecules that landed on the wine berries are now bound up in the skins or more likely bound to a sugar molecule inside the wine berry. This phenomenon does not always lead to smoke taint, but sometimes it does. In past years we have had California smoke (from forest fires) in the air, but no smoke taint.
 
And then there was even MORE rain from September 24th – 26th. We add another 1.87 inches to the previous 0.97 inches and that provides us with 2.84 inches of rain coming up to The Great Cluster Pluck. Available soil moisture to the vines is no longer an issue for Vintage 2020. One less thing to worry about.
 
The rest of the month was much like the first of the month. Very pleasant, cool breezes, high temperatures in the low 80’s and low temperatures in the 40’s. EXACTLY how you want September to pass the torch to Okto-Vember.
 
Ready and waiting to go to the winery to get weighed

Now we get to the essence of winegrowing in a post-apocalyptic environment. What does all of this mean, and why should I care?
 
The first answer is we no longer have to worry about high alcohol wines. Near enough to 3 inches of rain in mid to late September has allowed the vine roots to bring up water that is diluting the sugar concentrations in the wine berry. This is a good thing as high sugar concentrations turn into high alcohol wines. No one likes that, mostly.
 
Diluted sugar concentrations do NOT mean diluted aroma and flavor. Quite the opposite is true. By diluting the sugar concentrations, we can allow the wine berries to hang longer into the growing season to develop MORE aroma and flavor. And the rootstock most adapted to this “win-win” scenario is our old friend 5C. That’s 5C on Bellpine soil mind you. Right here in Dallas, Oregon, zip code 97338.
 
But there is a limit. 3 inches of rain this late in the growing season over a 2 week window awakens our nemesis Botryotinia fuckeliana. The noble version of this mold is responsible for those heavenly sauternes and the once in a lifetime Pabuk’s Gift Late Harvest Chardonnay. But most of the time in the Willamette Valley, we get plebian bunch rot and there is a saying that goes along with it. Specifically (in relation to trying to make wine from the Botryotinia fuckeliana infected wine berries), “You can’t polish a turd.”
 
This means we have about 3 weeks before Botryotinia fuckeliana will compromise the wine berries rendering them unsuitable for ultra-premium wine production. So, we need to get to Cluster Plucking while the Cluster Plucking is good, or we will be fuckeliana’d.
 
In contrast to several recent hot vintages, excess sugar concentrations were forcing early harvest schedules. Now we have the luxury of lower sugar concentrations to gain hangtime, but this is checked by a shortened harvest window due to the threat of developing Botryotinia fuckeliana. Somewhere in all of that from here to mid to late October is a sweet spot where a significant amount of Cluster Plucking would normally occur.
 
Before we dive into the qualitative aspects of Vintage 2020, let’s take a look at the quantitative aspect – The Numbers. September added 435.6 Degree Days to the vintage providing a growing season to date total of 2,210.8 Degree Days.
 
 
The high temperature for the month was 97.7 degrees recorded from 4:00 to 5:15 pm on September 3rd. The low temperature was 44.8 degrees recorded on September 13th from 7:24 to 7:48 am. Rainfall totaled 2.84 inches. While everyone likes to be clean for The Great Cluster Pluck and their trip to the winery to get weighed, we were a little over received on rainfall.
 
But what exactly, are we harvesting? Are these wine berries the sublime and ethereal beginnings of sublime and ethereal wines? Or is the smoke exposure event from mid-September going to reappear at the moment of truth in the glass? No one really knows for sure how this is going to play out. The new buzz word is “Guaiacol.” And, you don’t want any of it in your wine berries.
 
What we do know is that during fermentation the sugar molecules are vanquished and alcohol is produced. If there were smoke molecules bound to a sugar molecule, they are now in the finished wine. Sometimes you can smell and taste them and sometimes you cannot. The only way to know for sure is to send a sample of a fermented wine to a lab to test for certain compounds associated with smoke taint.
 
This means we can know if our wines have the markers for smoke taint, but due to the backlog of everyone else wanting to know the same thing, at the same time, we cannot know before harvest. And here is the thing, the sample has three possibilities. This in itself presents a problem in that the standard 2-bit coin only has 2 sides, even the Vulcan ones. First, there could be no markers of smoke taint. Yippeeee, we are clean. The next thought is that you should have cluster plucked the entire field, not just the good blocks.
 
Shaded fruit zone to impart elegant and refined tannins

The second easy answer is if the smoke taint markers are off the charts. Then you know you are doomed and can go out for tricks and treats with Charlie Brown. Or maybe not. There are ways of removing some of these smoke taint aromas, flavors and textures, but it means doing things. Doing things that we are not willing to do to a wine with our names on it.
 
And third, your results could come back with low levels of smoke taint markers. Then you have to decide how low is low enough. These smoke taint compounds are most likely bound up in the aroma, flavor, texture matrix of the wine and not detectable at this moment. But as the wine ages, those compounds could become volatile and then you can detect them. Hard to say at this point, but time will tell – on you.
 
But our very good industry partner ETS Laboratories run by the man, the myth, the legend Gordon Burns has devised this handy dandy interpretative chart to help guide the wine industry through our own apocalyptic pandemic.
 
As you look at this graphic, there are two red arrows. While they both point to the right, the top one is for samples of wine berries. The unit of measure is micrograms per kilogram. For those of you who no longer wear the white lab coat, a microgram is one millionth of a gram. There are 1,000 grams in a kilogram. That’s not a lot to work with, but it is why we pay Gordon the big bucks.
 
So, logically, if you have just 2 micrograms of Guaiacol in 1,000 grams of wine berries, Botryotinia fuckeliana is no longer your primary concern. And get this, the wine berries taste good! So good in fact, you want to cluster pluck them and ferment the sugar out of them! That is what we have been pruning and preening the vines for all year.
 
And so you do, but only enough to do a microfermentation. This is typically about 20 pounds of wine berries and carries a winery designation such as BF “x.” Where BF represents Bucket Fermentation and “x” is the number of the fermentation in case you are “doing” multiple BF’s at the same time (or maybe just a replicated trial). This is chemistry, and something is bound to give a result that is more confusing than enlightening. So, add more trials and weed out the results that do not fit the standard bell curve. Besides, no one lives at either end of the curve anyway. Right, John?
 
 
After doing your BF, you are at the second red arrow that points to the right. Here we see there is more leeway as we can go up to 6 micrograms of Guaiacol. However, the sample size is now a single liter of wine that has been fermented to dryness – no sugar left for the Guaiacol to bind to. And the Guaiacol is either volatile where it can be detected, or nonvolatile where it cannot be detected - at this time.
 
Gewürztraminer cluster ready to be microfermented

So if your wine sample results come back with a number greater than 1 but less than 3, you have a decision to make. You can harvest the wine berries and hope for the best or you can forgo the vintage and plan for vintage 2021. Ernie’s Gewürztraminer is going to be the test platform for our trials. He ferments it clean in stainless steel with no residual sugar. If there is smoke taint to be found in that wine, he will find it. It may take replicated sensory evaluation trials, but he will find it. Of course, there may not be any wine left to sell but at least we will be confident in our decision.

Kindest Regards,
 
Dena & Ernie

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Sub-AVA Update and Playing Poker with Mother Nature

Hello and Welcome, 

This is a Farming bLOG FLOG communication from Dena & Ernie @AmalieRobert Estate! Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. 

Sub-AVA Update: As many avid readers of the FLOG (Farming bLOG) know, there is a sub Willamette Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) petition for our area in process with the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). This is the second petition from our area. 

The first petition with the name Mt. Pisgah Mistletoe Ridge was unanimously approved by the petitioners’ group in 2016, however it was summarily rejected by the TTB in 2017. In Monty Python parlance it “…caught fire, fell over and then sank into the swamp.”


Welcome to our idiom. The original petition was rejected due to the name submitted. The TTB requires the proposed name of the bounded area to be currently in use to avoid confusion. The name chosen was not currently in use. However, we did consider petitioning the county to change the name of a road to match the proposed bounded area.
 

 

As you might imagine, coming up with a commercially viable name is quite important from a marketing point of view. And it should fit on a label in a font your customers can read. While everyone agreed on the original name, that was not the case on the second name.
 
As part of the TTB rejection process, the TTB had suggested a name that they would accept. That name was Mt. Pisgah, Polk County, Oregon. Polk County is included because there is a Mt. Pisgah in Lane County, Oregon. And Oregon is included because there is a Mt. Pisgah reference in Polk County, Florida. Therefore, Mt. Pisgah, Polk County, Oregon to avoid confusion.


The entire Willamette Valley AVA is 3,438,000 acres. The smallest Willamette Valley sub-AVA is Ribbon Ridge at about 3,500 acres. The remaining Willamette Valley sub-AVA’s are:

 
Chehalem Mountains sub-AVA is about 62,000 acres.
Dundee Hills sub-AVA is about 12,600 acres.
Both the Eola-Amity Hills and McMinville sub-AVA’s are about 39,000 acres.
Van Duzer Corridor sub-AVA is about 60,000 acres.
Yamhill-Carlton District sub-AVA is about 57,000 acres.
 
For the second petition, the bounded area was nearly doubled from its original size of 4,100 acres. Again, not everyone agreed with that action. The original bounded area from the first petition is depicted below. We will refer to this original bounded area as Mt. Pisgah Prime. Follow the red line to trace the boundary and the blue lines to trace the vineyards.
 
 
Due north of Amalie Robert Estate by about 1.25 miles is Mt. Pisgah, Polk County, Oregon standing proud at 835 feet above sea level. Our highest elevation in the vineyard is 654 feet above sea level. The petition is working its way through the bowels of the TTB. As more information becomes available, we will pass that along.
 
Playing Poker with Mother Nature: It’s that special time of year when the Great Pumpkin rises out of the most sincere pumpkin patch and flies through the air… Ok, wait that’s not the right agricultural endeavor.
 
 
We are talking about wine berries and the Great Cluster Pluck! It’s that time of year for harvest, but what exactly are we harvesting? Are these wine berries the sublime and ethereal beginnings of sublime and ethereal wines? Or is the smoke exposure event from mid-September going to reappear at the moment of truth in the glass? No one really knows for sure how this is going to play out. Having the most sincere patch of vines, while a very worthy goal, is not going to help this year…
 
The wildfire smoke that permeated the Willamette Valley this September has most assuredly permeated the wine berry skins. Once that happens the smoke molecules are tightly bound to sugar molecules inside the wine berry. During fermentation the sugar molecules are vanquished, and alcohol is produced.
 
If there were smoke molecules inside the wine berries, they are now most assuredly in the finished wine. If these molecules are volatile, then you can smell and taste them. If they are not volatile you cannot smell and taste them. The only way to know for sure if your wine has these molecules is to send a sample of a fermented wine to a lab to test for certain compounds associated with smoke taint. Here is an image of the ETS Laboratories website at of September 28, 2020.
 
 
The good news is that ETS labs, the “go to” wine lab we rely upon, can test for these compounds. The bad news is that our results would likely come back in November. The harvest window for Pinot Noir will be long closed by then.
 
“We are currently reporting from grape berry smoke impact samples received 28 August, and from wine samples received 3 September. Grape berry samples received early today are projected to be reportable in mid November, and wine samples received early today are projected to be reportable by 7 November…” ETS website September 28, 2020.
 
This means we can know if our wines have the markers for smoke taint, but due to the backlog of everyone else wanting to know the same thing, we cannot know before harvest. And here is the thing, the sample results offer three possibilities. Right away that is a problem because the “industry standard” 2-bit coin only has 2 sides.
 
First, there could be no markers of smoke taint. Yippee, we are clean! The next thought is that you should have cluster plucked the entire field, not just the very best blocks.
 
Second, your results could come back with low levels of smoke taint markers. Then you have to decide how low is low enough. These smoke taint compounds are most likely bound up in the aroma, flavor and texture matrix (components) of the wine and may not be detectable at this moment.
 
But as the wine ages, those compounds could become volatile and rat you out. Hard to say at this point. There are ways of removing some of these smoke taint aromas, flavors and textures, but it means doing things. Doing things that we are not willing to do in a wine with our names on it.
 
The other easy answer is if the smoke taint markers are way off the charts. Then you know you are doomed and can go out for tricks and treats with Charlie Brown while Linus sits in the Pumpkin Patch with Sally – Oh joy!
 
For all of you poker players out there, here is how it breaks down for an Estate winery with their own vineyard. We will use the analogy of 7 card stud poker. Note: If you do not know how to play poker, do NOT agree to accept a free lesson form your friends OR your parents. Free is a relative term…
 
The game starts off with each player contributing a certain sum to the communal money pot that they all hope to collect at the end of the game. This is called the ante. In winery parlance this is the cost of your land, vines and winery. Once everyone ante’s up, the dealer deals three cards to each player. Two face up for all to see, one face down so only the player can see it.
 
 
The person with the worst showing hand is then required to place a bet that allows everyone to see the next card. Everyone around the table contributes an equal amount. Once everyone “ante’s up”, they get to see the fourth card.
 
Once the fourth card is dealt face up, people begin to assess the possibility of having the best hand at the table and winning the pot. They look at their cards and the face up cards around the table. Once again the person with the worst cards showing determines how much they are willing to pay to see the next card.
 
At this point a player can fold their cards and forfeit the money they have bet so far. This allows them to stop paying for more cards when they believe they have a losing hand and thus preserving their capital for the next hand. You win some, you lose some kid.
 
In the wine business, the fourth card is the cost of harvest. Folding this early means you most likely have smoke taint and the cost of harvesting is not warranted. You will skip the vintage.
 
 
Whoever is still in the game contributes the ante and gets to see the fifth card, this one also comes face up for all to see. Once again the worst showing hand makes a determination on the likelihood of wining the hand and determines the amount of money they are willing to pay to see the next card.
 
In the wine business, the fifth card is processing all of the grapes into wine without knowing if the wine will be tainted. Maybe still waiting on the lab.
 
 
Once again, to see the sixth card everyone places a bet or folds their cards. At this point everyone has 6 of the 7 cards they will be dealt. Back in the old days, side arms were at the ready, and Cuervo had been flowing freely.
 
In the wine business, the sixth card represents the cost of putting the wine in barrel and aging it for 12 to 20+ months. Still not knowing it the final wine will be free of taint.
 
 
Once the last bets are down, the dealer surrenders the seventh card. Most players are stone faced, not revealing a single emotion or “tell.”
 
In the wine business, the seventh card represents the cost of blending and bottling the wine. To pay for this step, one would be fairly certain the wine is taint free. Cuervo and side arms may be replaced with Scotch and legal counsel.
 
 
A final round of betting ensues. Sometimes people holding very poor hands will bluff, hoping to scare others into folding before committing anymore money to the pot. Eventually, two players remain and the highest hand wins the pot. Collecting the winnings and leaving the establishment unscathed is a separate matter. It is important to know when to walk away, and know when to run.
 
In the wine business, this last round of betting is focused on knowing if the taint is fully remediated, or not there at all. Or betting that it was of such a low level it may not come back after aging in the bottle. Maybe not even when poured into a glass and tasted after a year or more.
 
But much like in the old Wild West, the wine business has another wildcard. That is the card you pay for if you have to do a product recall because the taint was there the entire time, but no one could discover it – the false negative prognosis. And of course, the associated destruction cost and payment of excise taxes.
 
Kindest Regards,
 
Dena & Ernie

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Special Update: Oregon Wildfires II and Wine Implications

Hello and Welcome, 

Welcome to the first day of fall, September 22, vintage 2020. This is a Special Update: Oregon Wildfires II and Wine Implications. A Farming bLOG FLOG communication from Dena & Ernie @AmalieRobert Estate. Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

The Sun overlooking Clone 95, Amalie Robert Estate September 16


Life is a Beachie Creek fire. As most of the continental United States is aware, the West Coast was set ablaze in spectacular fashion on Monday evening, September 7th. Fanning those Beachie Creek flames and ushering in all of that smoke to the region was a wind event that is predicted to happen 2 or maybe 3 times a CENTURY.
 
We recognize that other parts of the country were and are still dealing with severe fire, smoke, winds, rains, and the fallout from those natural disasters. However, much like the Earth is the only planet that grows wine, the West Coast is a significant contributor to domestic wine production. Vintage 2020, the real VINTAGE of the CENTURY, hangs in the balance.
 
The following smoke maps will give you an idea of how much smoke was produced and the vast expanse that density of smoke covered.

This image is from Saturday, September 12th. Most of the smoke is still confined to the West Coast and is blowing out over the Pacific Ocean.
 

 
This image is from Monday, September 14th. The Jet Stream is starting to distribute the smoke north and east from the West Coast, but no meaningful airflow to the region.
 

 
This is the 97338 zip code (Dallas, OR) Air Quality Index for Monday, September 14th.
 

 
This image is from Wednesday, September 16th. The Jet Stream is starting to distribute the smoke farther afield to the eastern seaboard. Eventually, the entire United States and parts of Canada were able to enjoy some colorful sunscapes due to these fires. The winds are beginning to come from the southwest bringing Northern California smoke into the region and up through into Canada.
 

 
Finally, the winds shifted and brought northwest winds and rain from the Gulf of Alaska into the region beginning September 17th complete with thunder and lightning. Mother Nature certainly put on a show, and with great effect. We received 0.97 inches of rain over those two days. Even though the rain has given the wine berries quite a bath to wash off the ash residue, they have been exposed to a significant amount of smoke from the Beachie Creek Fire.
 
But since then, it has been really nice. We have rejoined a beautiful Willamette Valley wine country fall already in progress. But the damage is done, or is it?
 
WARNING: A little chemistry ahead.
Definition: Volatile = able to detect sensory characteristics.
Definition Nonvolatile = Unable to detect sensory characteristics.

Situational Analysis - What we know. At this point we know we have had the better part of 10 days of smoke EXPOSURE. We know that smoke molecules have most certainly penetrated the skins of the wine berries. We know that once the smoke molecules cross the cell membrane into the juice, they will bind with sugar molecules forming nonvolatile glycosides.
 
Nonvolatile glycosides do not give off any smoke taint aromas, flavors, or textures, hence the modifier nonvolatile. During fermentation and aging, these nonvolatile glycosides may break down and become volatile glycosides. That means they release volatile compounds that are detectable in aroma, flavor and texture.
 
There is more to the story. The nonvolatile glycosides can hold off for quite a while. They may not be broken down until they come in contact with enzymes in saliva. Even though the wine may not have any smoky aroma, it may very well have a tainted flavor and/or texture that is discernable on the palate.
 
That’s all the chemistry we need.
 
Situational Analysis – What we do NOT know. We do not know if our smoke exposed wine berries are smoke TAINTED. Micro-ferments, the false negative and the “GO or NO GO” decision. Syrah is different.
 
Micro-ferments are fermentations on a very small scale – such as in a 5 gallon bucket. These are not difficult to do, and in past vintages Ernie has micro-fermented small lots of Syrah Rosé and Gewürztraminer. To give you some scale, a typical Amalie Robert fermenter holds 3,000 pounds of wine berries, a micro-fermentation (bucket) may hold 20 pounds.
 

Gewürztraminer micro-fermentation


Once a fermentation has completed converting sugar to alcohol, it is time to get 6 to 10 people together to taste the wine. This is the easy part. Everyone wants to taste wine, even experimental wine. As researchers have stated, 25% of the population will not be able to discern smoke taint, so factor that into the result.
 
The false negative. As the wine is poured, swirled, evaluated, and spit out, smoke taint will be detected (positive), or it will not be detected (negative). If not detected, it could be that the 25% of the group that cannot discern smoke taint is actually 100% of the group. Not likely, but not impossible.
 
Also, if not detected it could be that the glycosides identified above are still in the nonvolatile condition – they do not impart any tainted qualities. Or lastly, there are no glycosides present in the finished wine. So far, we are 3 for 3 in the negative column. But just because we cannot detect them, does not mean they are not there. This is the False Negative Scenario.
 
However, what we cannot test for is the aging effect in tanks or barrels and the eventual bottle maturation (time in bottle) that will occur after bottling. Over this maturation period the nonvolatile status may shift to volatile at any time. Then the moment of truth is revealed when the wine is poured into a glass and consumed months or years down the road. What are the chances of that? Maybe 5%, maybe 50%? If it happens to you, it happens 100%.
 
The Syrah wine berries are different. They naturally contain these precursors to taint. So even though they may be tainted, that may simply add to their charm, or may not. Think Botox treatments – a little is OK, but don’t overdo it.
 
Vintage 2020 and The Great Cluster Pluck. The “GO or NO GO” decision. The ultimate answer is to have a professional lab determine if glycosides exist in your wine berries or micro-fermentations. A quick call to the ETS laboratory, which is the winery “go to” lab, revealed they are expecting results in late October from samples they received in August. Right, they are some very busy people with a lot riding on their analysis. The harvest window will be closed by the time we know if we are tainted. We might have better luck taking the “no-win scenario” Kobayashi Maru exercise and then drinking the micro-fermentations.

 
So, we are polishing up the quarter that Ernie saved from taking the CPA exam. So far it is 756 heads we GO and 821 tails we NO GO. We will see who gets to 1,000 first.
 
Before we go, let us add our voice to the national conversation. Are the climate conditions that have spawned these horrific natural disasters including the devastating wildfire and smoke that we have been experiencing over the past few years the new normal? Is this situation our destiny?
 
We are the species that has most evolved. Are we unable to adapt and manage our natural resources in a way that benefits all species on this planet as well as our natural resources and our environment?
 

Sadly, they were unable to adapt to their ever-changing environment.


Kindest Regards,
 
Dena & Ernie

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Portfolio Update: Vinous Edition 2020

Hello and Welcome, 
  
This is an Amalie Robert Estate Portfolio Update: Vinous Edition 2020. A FLOG communication from Dena and Ernie @AmalieRobert. Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. 
  
Let’s just get right into this. All reviews are by Josh Raynolds of Vinous Media from May, August and September 2020. There are all manner of wine reviewers out there, and then there is Vinous Media
 
“Bob, I think I got here too late. You have your cherry orchard on top of my vineyard!"
 
We started with a Montmorency cherry orchard in 1999. We planted our first 10 acres at the turn of the century and have kept at it to get where we are today – 35 acres of producing vines and an Estate winery. We grow, ferment, blend and bottle only Estate Grown wine including Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Viognier. And pre-commercial amounts of Gewürztraminer.
 

 
At this point, it may be worth noting that the wines identified below were grown in our vineyard and our neighbor’s vineyard where the shared property line to our east separates the vines. The sub Willamette Valley AVA petition for our area (Mt. Pisgah Polk County, Oregon which includes our neighbor), is winding its way through the process. As this image of Ernie standing in front of our Bellpine soil reveals, we have some pretty good dirt to work with.
 

 
And it doesn’t seem to matter that much on the clones. Coury, Pommard or Wadenswil can all do well on our sedimentary Bellpine soils. Dena favors the Pommard clone, and Ernie is a Wadenswil man. The jury is still out on Dick Erath’s clone 95, but we will have some of that fermenting up this fall. Who knows, maybe yet another 95 for clone 95 is in the works.
 
 
 
Let’s move right along to the cool climate Syrah program. They say luck favors the prepared mind. At Microsoft it was said, it is better to be lucky than good. A little trip to the Northern Rhône produced a very fortuitous meeting with Marcel Guigal. Somewhere in all those tea leaves the Syrah program took form.
 
“Syrah has emerged as a serious, if obscure, wild card in Oregon, and while there are still just a few examples being produced, some of them are among the best the New World has to offer. Gargantua, a new-ish project from Josh Bergstrom, of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay) fame, is producing a truly stunning Syrah, as are Amalie Robert, Cristom and Penner-Ash. Then there’s the Rogue Valley, which, as I noted above, is solidifying itself as an attention-worthy source for Syrah, especially at Cowhorn.”  - Oregon Outside the Pinot Noir Box. By Josh Raynolds | September 03, 2020
 
The basis of our cool climate Syrah is 4 clones of Syrah that Marcel Guigal had identified to Ernie and a slight mix-up at the grafting bench that introduced Viognier into the mix. Dionysus, the Greek god of all things vinous, must have lent some divine intervention. The net result: Côte Rôtie from Oregon. It is with a great debt of gratitude that we check in on the Guigal single vineyard wines of Côte Rôtie.
 

 
When it comes to Oregon Chardonnay, it’s not just for pirates anymore. The Heirloom Cameo is our BFC. That’s Barrel Fermented Chardonnay for everyone not hip to the cellar lingo. We use a 500 liter puncheon to ferment and mature the Heirloom Cameo for 14 months. A nifty little trick that we lifted off the Burgundians for imparting just the right amount of new oak, while keeping the wine’s focus on the palate texture and elegant but persistent finish.
 

 
Pinot Meunier: The “Champagne Deconstructed” option. While it is true that Dena has a soft spot for Champagne, we have yet to pull the trigger on a secondary fermentation. Oh sure, we have made the base wine from Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir and we label that as the Bellpine Pearl. As a platinum hued white wine, it is our pearl from the soil – without the gas.
 
“Pinot Meunier, a cousin of Pinot Noir, is a no-brainer when it comes to potential in the Willamette Valley, and the examples being made by Eyrie and Amalie Robert speak to the great possibilities that exist here. But given market realities, I’m not holding my breath that many growers will soon turn much of their attention to this variety at the expense of Pinot Noir.” - Oregon Outside the Pinot Noir Box. By Josh Raynolds | September 03, 2020
 
The Pinot Meunier stands alone. One of the most outgoing of the Pinot family of wines and pairs with oh-so-many culinary inclinations. One of the first to grow Pinot Meunier in the Willamette Valley was David Lett. His wine style of this variety always struck us as elegant and perfumed and we were drawn to this style of letting Meunier be Meunier. In other words, don’t muck it up!
 

  
As is de rigueur for these pages, we end with the numbers and a handy scorecard for future reference.
 

 
Club 95. This is the first year we have gained admittance to this exclusive collection of wines. We have three entries from two vintages.
 
2016 Pommard Clone Pinot Noir
2016 Wadenswil Pinot Noir
2014 The Reserve Pinot Noir
 
With a score of 94, we have been here before. Note the Top Barrel Syrah remains the highest rated Willamette Valley Syrah. Our first 94 point Top Barrel Syrah was from the 2012 vintage.
 
2015 Amalie’s Cuvée Pinot Noir
2015 Estate Selection Pinot Noir
2014 Top Barrel Syrah
 
Following closely along in third position is the field of 93’s. Here we see the variety of wines our sedimentary Bellpine soil is able to produce. Maybe that 5C rootstock is all it’s cracked up to be…
 
2015 Heirloom Cameo Chardonnay (BFC)
2015 Dijon Clones Pinot Noir
2015 Satisfaction Syrah
2014 Satisfaction Syrah
 
Here come the sweepers holding a quite respectable position 92.
 
2016 Pinot Meunier (Sold out)
2015 The Uncarved Block Pinot Noir

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Friday, September 11, 2020

Special Update: Oregon Wildfires and Potential Harvest Impacts

Hello and Welcome,  

This is a Special Update covering the Oregon wildfires and potential harvest impacts. A  FLOG communication from Dena and Ernie @AmalieRobert. Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.  

Our last vintage update in August included graphics depicting the smoke dispersion patterns from the California wildfires and a trailing thought: Stay tuned, things are about to get very interesting. 

 

Our last vintage update in August included graphics depicting the smoke dispersion patterns from the California wildfires and a trailing thought: Stay tuned, things are about to get very interesting.

The left graphic shows the jet stream peaking just north of Portland and then dropping steeply into the Midwest. The right graphic shows the smoke generated from the California wildfires being directed into the interior of the United States. As of this week, things just got VERY interesting.
 
 
This graphic gives an atmospheric view of the fires and smoke plumes currently being generated from Oregon wildfires. This major fire and smoke event began on Monday, September 7th. It was due to an atmospheric weather event that is only supposed to occur maybe 2 or 3 times a century. Well, our number just came up.
 
The jet stream shifted way up to the north and its backside came down through the interior of Canada. This produced a high-pressure dome that flooded the Midwest with an arctic blast of air. Denver, Colorado went from the mid 90’s to the mid 30’s in a span of 18 hours. The collateral impact was the displacement of all the Midwest hot, dry air to the West Coast. This is the same West Coast that was already battling wildfires.
 
 
The Beachie Creek and Lionshead Fires collectively known as the Santiam Fire are located about 60 miles west of Amalie Robert Estate near the town of Gates. The east winds heading into Oregon acted like a bellows to significantly inflame the existing wildfires. To imagine using a leaf blower to get your hibachi grill started would seem an extreme exaggeration, but in this case it is a significant understatement. Imagine a typhoon but swap out the rain, then add fire instead. It’s like that.
 
 
Prior to the historic windstorm that arrived in the area on Monday, September 7th, the Beachie Creek Fire was estimated to be 469 acres. The fire grew overnight to over 131,000 acres driven by high winds and extremely dry fuels. As of September 10th, the fire has grown to 182,000 acres and is not estimated to be fully contained until October 30th. The Lionshead Fire adds an additional 109,000 acres and is currently 5% contained with a full containment date of October 30th.
 

This is a GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) posted to Twitter from @NOAA that shows a time lapse of the smoke pattern affecting western Oregon. We are the third fire down on the right. To view, click the image to be directed to Twitter. Or follow this link:
 
A shift in the weather is forecasted to arrive in the next few days. The winds will be from the west and may bring some cool damp air from Alaska. Another possibility is the winds will simply bring back all of the smoke that is currently sitting out over the Pacific Ocean – secondhand smoke, if you will. Lahaina is looking pretty good from here.
 
 
The human factor. The impact of this weather event is being felt far and wide. The entire city of Medford, Oregon was recently evacuated. The first casualties from the Santiam Fire were reported September 10th. California and Washington are also in the throes of battling not only these fires, but COVID-19 and the social unrest gripping the country. When can we expect the 4th horseman of the apocalypse to arrive and what will that bring to bear?
 
Which brings us to harvest 2020. Most of the Willamette Valley wine is hand harvested. And those hands are connected to bodies who breath air. The average person breaths about 3,400 gallons of air a day – and more under strenuous conditions such as harvest. The current Air Quality Index in Dallas, zip code 97338, is “Very Unhealthy”. We will need to wait until the air clears before any safe harvest can occur. This is a dynamic situation, and which way the wind blows matters.
 
 
For now, we are safe and hopeful that the Gulf of Alaska opens up and spills down upon us. Thank you to everyone who has expressed concern for our safety and well-being. Our harvest wish to everyone is stay safe, stay well and be kind to each other. We really are all in the same boat, just with different oars – we are doing our best to keep our oar in the water.
 
Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Climate Update: August 2020

Hello and Welcome, 
 
This is an Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: August 2020. A  FLOG communication from Dena and Ernie @AmalieRobert. Amalie Robert Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. 
  
The Great Cluster Pluck, vintage 2020 is coming into view. Good things might come to those who wait, but not for those who wait too late. In other words, are we there yet?
  
  
The month of August was fairly temperate. Nothing really out of the ordinary from the last 30 year moving average – and that was quite nice. No rain, but that is just fine for our silty clay loam soils, known as Bellpine Series. These are marine sediment-based soils and they are quite miserly with their available soil moisture. In other words, they don’t give it up easily.
 
Ernie knew this when we designed the vineyard, and instead of following conventional wisdom of shallow rooted 101-14 and 3309 rootstocks (ho-hum), he went “all in” with a significant portion of the vineyard grafted onto 5C rootstock. Those roots dive deep, quite similar to own rooted vines, to extract all available soil moisture. This allows our wine berries to hang through the dry spells in August and September without shriveling and desiccation. Instead, the skins develop lovely red fruited aromas and flavors, while keeping our sugar concentrations in check, resulting in lower alcohol wines.
 
It’s a bug’s life. And get this, in our vineyard soil moisture budget we can afford to have grass in our rows. That grass provides the ecosystem necessary to foster good predatory bugs to keep our vines safe from the bad bugs that would do them harm, draining their vascular tissue. Bellpine soil and 5C rootstock. You are going to be hearing more and more about this combination, vis-à-vis Wadenswil.
 
 
The state of the vineyard is good! The clusters are just hanging there, ready to be plucked. Right now we are snipping and thinning off the wine berries that we do not want in the winery. These include the late to ripen wings, excessively green clusters and anything else that seems less than ideal. Then, in addition to the bioacoustics aerial Bird Gard attack, we deploy nets to the vine rows that are close to the forested areas of the vineyard. While originally developed for the fisheries of the world, nets are also very effective on birds. And if a stray coelacanth makes its way into the vineyard, well we are covered for that too.
 
The new normal - Hedging for effect. It is not necessarily the size of your canopy that counts, it is the magic growing in it. This is a pretty simple principle. The more leaves per lineal foot of canopy increases the sugar concentration in the wine berries, resulting in higher alcohol wines, all things being equal – which they never are. Right. So what to do?
 
There are two places where we can and do remove leaves. The first is the top of the canopy and the second is the fruit zone. Our physical layout for the vines is 7.5’ wide for the tractor driver (he uses it all for sure, for sure) and 4’ spacing from each vine. So agronomically speaking a 7.5’ spacing means you optimize sunlight harvesting with a 7.5’ tall canopy. The logic is irrefutable.
 
But if you are trying to shift the ripening curve to lower alcohol and more time on the vine to develop aroma and flavor, maybe that top foot of leaves is not contributing to your goal. Our Muse the Viognier taught Ernie this lesson a few vintages back. And this year he set the hedger low and applied this new learning to the Pinot Noir.
 
 
The second place to remove leaves is the fruit zone. This does not work for our Pinot Noir program as it creates excessive sun exposure on our wine berries resulting in high levels of bitter skin tannin. As we ferment with whole clusters, we look to the wine berries to offer more supple skin tannins, and the stems to provide the astringency that softens with bottle maturation. By leaving leaves, we intertwine and balance those two sources of tannins.
 
 
The answer was there the whole time. But the Syrah and Chardonnay both benefit from increased exposure in the fruit zone. In fact, the combination of a shorter canopy and more leaf removal from the fruit zone keeps our Cool Climate Syrah alcohols in check, as seen in the latest 2016 Satisfaction Syrah boasting a very respectable 12.7%. Yeah, this hedging thing is magic!
 
Here they are – The Numbers. The month of August contributed 537.7 Degree Days to vintage 2020, bringing the growing season total to 1,775.2. The high temperature for the month was just under the century mark at 99.5 degrees recorded on August 15th at 4:24 pm. The low temperature for the month was 45.9 degrees recorded on August 7th at 4:00 am. There was no measurable precipitation.
 
 
Stay tuned, things are about to get very interesting.

Kindest Regards,
 
Dena & Ernie

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

2020 Vintage Update: Earth, Wind, Fire & Smoke

Hello and Welcome, 

This is a 2020 Vintage Update: Earth, Wind, Fire & Smoke. A  FLOG communication from Dena and Ernie @AmalieRobert. Amalie Robert Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

 
 
September is the month where Mother Nature puts the finishing touches on the vintage. She dots the T’s and crosses her I’s or vice versa, depending on her prerogative. And she has all manner of tools at her disposal. Our job is to time the Great Cluster Pluck accordingly.


A westerly or “on-shore flow” will bring westerly cool and humid air down from the Gulf of Alaska – good for hang time and low alcohol wines. It is also good for the humans with cool nights for some much-needed rest before the Great Cluster Pluck kicks into high gear.
 
An “easterly flow” brings hot, dry, desiccating winds from the interior of the western states - and a compressed harvest window – gitter done! This pattern also has the tendency to bring with it dreaded wildfire smoke. And speaking of which, there is the biggest variable of all. The elephant in the room. The Jet Stream.
 
The Jet Stream is the common name for the trade winds. Back in the day, tall ships would sail from the far east to the new world. Actually, they tried to go from Europe to the far east, but instead they “discovered” the new world. Our oldest city is St. Augustine, Florida, founded way back in 1565. From the far east, they would make landfall in Los Angeles, or San Francisco or ports farther north. It mostly had to do with where the trade winds were blowing that week. A lot rested with the skill and ability of the captain in the ways of celestial navigation with his new-fangled sextant – and ability to find the North Star.
 
 
In the Pacific Northwest world of winemaking, we too are keen on navigating the Jet Stream. The Jet Stream has the most significant impact on weather leading up to harvest. And that weather will mostly determine the type of wines we produce from elegant and ethereal to blockbuster and epic. We now rejoin the wildfires and smoke discussion, already in progress…
 
As we all have borne witness, California is wildfire central and has been for some years now. Ernie grew up in Montana, and there were wildfires there too, mostly caused by lightning. And if we have a westerly flow, that smoke might just make it back to the Willamette Valley. You can follow along in near real time with this fire tracker covering the significant fires impacting the west coast, and Oregon Pinot Noir in particular: Wildfire Tracker
 
 
Kickin’ acid and takin’ names. This image best depicts the impact of the Jet Stream on vintage 2020. Here we see the Jet Stream bend the curve way north. This allows all of California’s Central Valley heat to invade the Willamette Valley. And as a double whammy, the smoke particulate hangs in the atmosphere acting as an insulator. In other words, we do not cool off at night and the wine berries continue to develop sugar when they should be holding onto their acidity.
 
 
Where there is smoke, there is smoke taint. But so far, that has not been the case for us because the Jet Stream has been below Oregon. This phenomenon takes all of the California smoke and points it toward the Rocky Mountains as we can see here. Let’s hope that trend continues, or someone has a good recipe for Pinot Noir BBQ sauce.
 
 
So, here is where we stand. California has over 750,000 acres burned with some of the largest wildfires on record still burning. The Jet Stream is working its way north allowing the heat into the Willamette Valley. The wildfire smoke to date, has been directed east and south of us. But all of this could change – quite quickly. And we haven’t even brought up the possibility of RAIN!
 
As we turn into the unknown that is September, we leave you with our inspiration from Earth, Wind and Fire.
 
“And we say
Ba de ya, say do you remember?
Ba de ya, dancing in September
Ba de ya, never was a cloudy day”
 
You can watch the Official Video right here – Highly recommended!

Kindest Regards,
 
Dena & Ernie