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

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate: 2021 February Pre-Vintage Pruning Update

Hello and Welcome, 

 

It is the dormant season in wine country. The first day of spring is not until March 20th, but believe it or not, it is coming up fast. Witness the daffodils and crocus in the garden providing the early, wonderfully colorful signs of agricultural life below ground. This is their one time a year to “rise and shine” brightening up our disposition. And they are certainly a most welcome development, especially this year. 


A FLOG communication (Farming bLOG) by Dena & Ernie from Amalie Robert Estate. Oregon Willamette Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Have a look and see what we see on Instagram @AmalieRobert Estate.



The vines may appear dormant, but that’s just a disguise. There is plenty of work being done inside the vine and below ground in the root zone. Their big day is bud break, and they are making all of the necessary preparations for the big reveal. And just like you toiling in your garden, it is our job to get our garden, the “vine-yard” ready to grow. We will begin with what we can see, and that is the transformation from last year’s canopy to a new start for vintage 2021.

Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells and one farming eggplant!

A new start, how refreshing. Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up one morning and find the to-do list from yesterday is gone? Just GONE! Or the first day back from vacation (or staycation to the back garden, or vine-yard as the case may be) and you find that your E-mail file has been corrupted. No old E-mails. No new E-mails, No follow-up E-mails. No back-ups and no farming E-mail whatsoever! NONE! Well if you were a vine, spring is just like that. No hold over from the past vintage to distract you or keep you from your dedicated purpose – which is to ripen your seeds and reproduce! If only…

They cannot do it alone. Actually they can, they are self-pollinating. But if left on their own, they just sprawl all over the ground. Not an ideal situation to produce top quality wine, which is our dedicated purpose.

So we have implemented a Vertical Shoot Positioning trellis system in which to manage their development during the growing season. During a typical harvest, sans smoke taint, we denude the vines of their wine berries and ferment the sugar out of them. What is leftover is the vertically “hand positioned” shoots of the prior vintage.


Vertical Shoot Position Trellis with Catch Clip.

Out with the old, in with the new growth. In preparation for vintage 2021 we have 4 “by hand” vine related tasks to complete: Removing the trellis wire catch clips, about 14 seconds per plant, making the primary pruning cuts separating last year’s cane from the trunk, about 30 seconds per plant, pulling the brush out of the trellis wires which is the physical equivalent to punch down in the winery, about 32 seconds per plant. And finally wrapping a new cane on the fruiting wire that will bear vintage 2021 wine berries, about 70 seconds per plant. This last task involves the use of a very low-tech bread twist-tie. Remember those? And then we wait (fixing whatever it is that still needs to be fixed) just as patiently as farmers do, for bud break.


Primary Cut Separating Last Year's Cane from the Trunk.
 


Brush Pulled Out of Trellis Wires.
 


New Cane for 2021 Wrapped on the Fruiting Wire and Tied with a Green Twist-tie.
 

In the vineyard it is true - No passengers, all crew. Ernie works in a little tractor time between the rain showers when he can. His job is to mow up all the canes from last year along with the tall fescue (Hey that’s grass, buddy). This mix of browns and greens puts the worms and soil microbes back to work returning nutrients to our sedimentary Bellpine soil. Everybody and everything has a job to do. It takes about 3 tractor passes with the flail mower to fully mulch last year’s canes into the vineyard floor. About once every 2-3 weeks or so is good timing due to the grass’s unrelenting spring growth rate.


Canes Ready for Ernie to Mow.

Rust on the tractor never sleeps and our army of beneficial insects never get a day off. There are good bugs and there are bad bugs. Good bugs eat the bad bugs that want to eat our vines. Good bugs are the ever-voracious ladybug, earwig, various and assorted spiders, and the praying mantis. The praying mantis is a special case. If you see a piece of straw fluttering in the breeze, watch where it lands. It could very well be a praying mantis. They are said to be good luck in a vineyard, unless you are trying to mate with one.

The NUMBER ONE bad bug is the Willamette spider mite. A subspecies of spider mites, this particular mite feeds off the vascular tissue of the leaves, thus draining the life force of the vine. The leaves turn rust colored and significantly reduce photosynthetic output. The antidote, other than the previously listed good bugs, is the Predatory mite.

Live Predatory Mites. Get them on AMAZON. Sold in lots of 2,000, more or less…

Fun Fact: Until relatively recently in the evolution of the human condition, leeches were thought by some practitioners to provide medicinal benefits. We now know that not to be true. Wine may or may not provide medicinal benefits, but from a chemistry point of view, it is a solution.

Here is the odd thing, both mites co-exist simultaneously among the vines. They both winter over in the bark of the trunks and just before bud break, they emerge to feed. The Willamette mite tries to eat the buds before they can burst forth with new life. If there is a significant population and they succeed in devouring all of the buds on a new cane, the vine could die. The Predatory mite is our first line of defense against this unwanted activity. But nobody batts a thousand.

What does that mean, and why should I care? This is an excellent time to point out that we do not use insecticides in the vineyard. Some wine growing regions are more prone to insect pressure than others. Due to our reasonable cold winters, the most harmful species cannot overwinter. The yellowjacket (and its natural predator, the flame thrower) is an unfortunate exception. While some chemical companies offer products to eradicate bad mites, and it is tempting to consider, these products are effective against all mites – the good, the bad and well they are all kinda ugly. So we let nature take its course. Each year we see some damage, sometimes more in a very hot and dry vintage.

And if you happen to see a dirt clod that just flew away, well then it wasn’t really a dirt clod after all but maybe a well camouflaged small raptor harvesting up a vineyard vole. Voles, along with pocket gophers do their business underground. By that we mean they are feasting on the vine’s roots. Very bad, very very bad!

The vine has no natural defense against such an unprovoked attack. But the aerial squadron of raptors that we have fostered provide a first line of defense. From the Enterprise class red-tailed hawk, through the mid-range Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks down to the Kestrel, they all contribute to the overall vineyard health, and get fed doing it – so they can reproduce!

It’s a bug’s life. The good bugs are out there 24x7 and are constantly “harvesting” bad bugs. When they can’t find bad bugs (protein), they are on the hunt for pollen. Pollen is their vegan solution to protein. And that is where our cover crops from last fall come into play.

We plant winter peas and cereal rye to hold the soil during the rainy season and also set nitrogen for the vines. Cereal rye takes up nitrogen and stores it for the spring when it is turned back into the soil as natural fertilizer. Winter peas are just that, they flower and produce pea pods during the cold winter months. Somewhere along the way, their program got messed up. But that is good for us and our battalion of vineyard insects.

Thinking and drinking. About now your left brain is running the vineyard pruning numbers and trying to determine how long it takes to get 55,000 vines ready for vintage 2021. And your right brain is ready for a little more wine. If you need some live Predatory mites for YOUR garden, you can order those from Amazon. No kidding!

PRO Tip: If you have wine in a cup and pretend to blow on it during your online audio video streaming (Zoom or DUO) session, people may think it is a cup of hot tea. Either way, tea or wine, it is a “best practice” to wear pants, in case you spill and need to stand up in a hurry. What you do on your personal time is your business.

The total elapsed time to complete the “by hand” vineyard pruning at Amalie Robert Estate is about 2,300 human hours. This estimate is based on a 4 year moving average that takes into account the vintage and crew variances in the vineyard. And while this is good to know, it is certainly only one piece of the puzzle. To put that in perspective, 2,300 human hours is 8 hours per day for 286 working days. A typical work year is 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, 2,080 hours. Now we are getting somewhere.

Pay it forward. Pruning can start as soon as all of the leaves have senesced and fallen to the vineyard floor where they will become nutrients for the next vintage. The primary pruning cuts can happen independently of the other 3 tasks. However, the other three tasks of removing catch clips, pulling last year’s canes from the trellis and then wrapping a new cane on the fruiting wire must occur in sequence. The proof of such is left as an exercise for the reader.

So, logically, we have one very well experienced and trusted person making all of the primary pruning cuts in the vineyard. We also have a small, but dedicated vineyard crew following in sequence performing the remaining tasks. Ernie’s contribution is to source 55,000 green twist ties. Dena orders diesel for the tractor. We have already covered the raptor, insect and cover crop contributions.

Now the big question – how many calendar days do we need in order to get 286 working days? In a typical office environment, this is 5 working days for every 7 calendar days, excluding holidays, sick days, snow days, vacation days and now COVID-19 days. The working days are then factored by adding humans to reduce the elapsed number of days available to accomplish the work in the time allotted. And after all of that, it’s still farming and we will still be behind.

Agricultural work is a very unique proposition. Most of the time we work when we need to and other times we work when environmental conditions allow. Clearly one supersedes the other. While not a daily occurrence in the Willamette Valley, we do see snow and freezing temperatures that are not safe vineyard working conditions. This reduces the potential number of work days by an unknown factor.

Growing icicles – February 2021

Not to mention we are in a rural area where snow removal equipment is heard in the distance, but not seen in practice. So, not only being able to work, but being able to get to work are all part of the solution matrix. And of course, we have COVID-19 to deal with, just like every other community in the world. While not at all like taking the subway to go work in an office building, at the end of the day the results are not dissimilar. Except, you cannot do vineyard work from home. But you can get that back garden ready for springtime entertaining!

And pruning needs to be completed before the vines wake up and open their new little buds to greet vintage 2021. While this is not a fixed date, it usually occurs around the 15th of April plus or minus a week or maybe two. Kind of like Easter, it varies from year to year.
 
Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate: 2021 The Feast of St. Valentine's Day Survival Guide

Hello and Welcome, 

We have a VERY SPECIAL gift to celebrate in the year 2021 and that is Valentine’s Day is on a Sunday! Instead of a hustle and bustle last minute event, you have ALL DAY to celebrate! And we have a few tips and ideas to share on how to do just that. Our first suggestion is to not lose your head. 
 
A FLOG communication (Farming bLOG) by Dena & Ernie from Amalie Robert Estate. Oregon Willamette Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Have a look and see what we see on Instagram @AmalieRobert Estate. 
 
The feast of St. Valentine of February 14 was first established in 496 AD by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among all those "... whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God." And this is the very reason that prior to 2021, indoor dining on February 14th was so very popular. This year, indoor dining will still be popular, just that it will be in-house indoor dining. 
 
Well, some of those acts of Valentine were also known to Claudius the Cruel of Rome. Sometime around the year 270 AD, Claudius the Cruel was in the conquering business and to be successful, he needed a strong army. However, he was having a difficult time finding volunteers for his campaigns. He reasoned that the young men of Rome were unwilling to join his army due to the strong attachment to their loved ones. A reasonable conclusion to be sure.
 
Claudius chose to rectify this problem by banning all marriages and engagements in Rome. While somewhat of a non sequitur, still that did not send the young men of Rome flocking to join with him. After some time, Claudius discovered he had a priest undermining his efforts. It was in fact true that the soon to be martyred St. Valentine was continuing to perform marriages.
 
Certainly not an indecisive man, Claudius ordered Valentine arrested and put to death. But not before being beaten with clubs, stoned (in the historical sense) and then decapitated. This last step was most likely meant to send a strong message that further activity of this nature would be frowned upon.
 
While awaiting his fate, Valentine is rumored to have written a farewell note. The note was to the jailer’s daughter which had looked after him during his brief incarceration. Kind of a pre-Stockholm Syndrome sort of relationship it would seem. He signed the note “From Your Valentine.” That phrase is in common use today and now you know where it may have originated.
 
 
Valentine was put to death on February 14th in the year 270 AD. But it seems Claudius could not let him go, as is evidenced by him keeping Valentine’s head. Eventually, St. Valentine's remains were deposited in St Anton's Church, Madrid, where they have lain since the late 1700’s. They were a present from the Pope to King Carlos IV and have been displayed publicly since 1984. Please let this bit of history inform your gift giving choices this Valentine’s Day.
 
 
 
Being Sunday and all, your feast of St. Valentine’s Day begins with brunch! Brunch is that luxurious word that means so many things that are just inherently understood. Leisure on display with a late alarm, deliciously sweet and savory pastries, fresh fruits, eggs extraordinaire and perhaps a glass of Champagne to greet the afternoon. And most of all, a little gift tucked into the mid-morning rapture. Choose wisely.
 
 
Somewhere along the way, Ernie picked up a set of heart shaped ramekins. These are the perfect vessels to deliver a bouffant “egg extraordinaire.” This will take a little forethought and some advance preparation. As this is an annual event, you will have time. Since there is no such thing as left-over hash browns, roast a couple extra “creamer” red potatoes the night before and retrieve them while they are still a bit firm.
 
Here we go. In a medium skillet, add a dollop of duck fat, butter or olive oil. (Note: Lipitor is now widely available in generic form with little or no co-pay.) Cube the potatoes in ¼ inch squares and add them to the pan over medium heat. Add your intended’s choice of preferred omelet vegetables diced small, such as peppers, onions and mushrooms. Add a dash of smoked HOT paprika for color and heat. Turn, flip or mix to cook evenly, but not overly so. Is that a Champagne pop I heard? No? Why not?
 
While this mixture is heating, grab a mason jar with a sealing ring and lid. Crack 2 eggs, sans shell, and add a dollop of sour cream. Ernie likes to add some broccoli bits at this stage, but YOU certainly do not have to. Attach the sealing apparatus and pretend you are making an evening martini. Any more than 30 seconds though and the show gets kinda boring.
 
Remove the ramekins from the preheated oven. Split the potato and vegetable mixture evenly between the two ramekins, paying special attention that the are only about 75% full. The reason for this will become important soon. But don’t worry if they are too full, that is what’s known as a self-correcting situation.
 
Give your mason jar a final shake and then pour the contents all over the first ramekin. Crack another pair of eggs, shake and repeat. Top with a little freshly cracked black pepper and a dusting of paprika for color. Return to the oven and bake at 325 until you have achieved maximum bouffant! When they are bouff’d to your satisfaction, set them on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes before separating. This will take a total of about 30-45 minutes or so.
 
Everyone has moved on from the orange juice, so now would be a good time to sample the Champagne and prepare your desired breakfast animals (in whatever form they may take.) Fresh local fruits may be hard to find, so adopt a tropical locale with mangos, pineapple, strawberries and whatever else you can fit into a Champagne flute. Remember, fresh fruit is good for you and Champagne is the perfect delivery beverage.
 
And now the moment of truth - A card and a small gift. If executed properly, now might be the right time for a “nap” before dinner…
 
 
A Valentine’s Feast with the Hers and His Reserves – Amalie’s Cuvée and Estate Selection.
 
After having skillfully delivered brunch and engaging in a leisurely afternoon activity, thoughts turn to the Valentine’s Day dinner. Our suggestion for this menu is to stick with the tried-and-true cool climate varietals of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
 

Let’s Get Started. Smoked salmon, either hard smoked Alaskan salmon or lox style Atlantic salmon lend their charms to garlic parmesan crostini with fresh dill aioli and capers. Add a little soft blue cheese and things get a little funky-good as the salt from the cheese works its magic on the acid in the wine. This course pairs nicely with a BFC such as the Heirloom Cameo Chardonnay. Alternatively, a more steely interpretation of Chardonnay, the Dijon Clones, brings a little more focus and acidity to the event. This is a “hands-on” course, and we find that if you can eat it with your fingers, it just tastes better. The candles are a nice touch.
 
The Hers course is stuffed quail. There are all manner of combinations to choose from here, but there are three key components to any good stuffing. The first is the enticement and we like chanterelle or morel mushrooms for this. The next is the bitter green such as spinach or anything along those lines, maybe even kale. And we need a binder to hold this all together such as quinoa or polenta. A little manchego in the mix helps hold it all together and can dual as a snacking cheese. Munge all of that together with an optional egg, and you are ready to stuff the birds. Treat them to an olive oil spritz and a dusting of paprika on the way to the oven.
 
Amalie’s Cuvée is a natural pairing for this dish. You can trust that we have run repeated and replicated trials. Each and every vintage we put to the test comes through with flying colors. Amalie’s Cuvée is Dena’s barrel selection from our 35 acre estate vineyard that she helped plant back at the turn of the century. That should tell you two things. First thing is she has met the farming challenge head-on, and second, she knows where the Pommard is planted.
 
Yep, she is a Pommard girl – and you could be too! Every vintage we taste the wines in barrel to sort out who gets what. Each day that we taste, we focus on one of the three main clones we grow: Dijon clones, Pommard clone or Wadenswil clone. When it is all said and done, Pommard is the dominate clone in her blend with a little Dijon clone for texture and some Wadenswil clone to bring out her wild side. And its personal, Amalie is her middle name.
 
The His course is Steak Diane (from the Goddess of the hunt of Roman mythology.) While the preparation remains mostly the same, the protein can vary widely from beef to venison or buffalo. Since Ernie grew up in Montana where the buffalo roam, we are going to go with buffalo.
 
The advance ingredient preparation for Steak Diane allows for a table side implementation. A bit of strut, pomp and circumstance if you will. That being said, open flame in a confined space can have immediate and long-lasting consequences. Marriage proposals get delivered this way. Diana was also goddess of the moon. Recognize and respect that this is pretty powerful stuff we are offering up here.
 
Estate Selection is a masculine wine in touch with its feminine side, which is why it is the perfect pairing for Steak Diane, and candlelit settings. Ernie favors the wild side of Pinot Noir and that comes from his errant youth. Wadenswil clone provides that “color outside the lines” type palate profile. However as time has taken its toll, Ernie discovered the soothing nature that a little Pommard clone can offer. Add a little Dijon clone 667, which is the black sheep of the Dijon clone family, and that is a good first step in the blending trials. Of course, Dena has VETO power. So you know if the blend made it to the bottle, it has her stamp of approval. She is also the one person who runs the corker. We don’t get anywhere without her say so.
 
Chardonnay is not just for brunch in your Champagne. The variety that started the morning festivities, may also be the segue to the rest of your evening. We are talking about the once in a lifetime wine Pabuk’s Gift Late Harvest (Botrytis) Chardonnay.
 
This is going to take a little more than a little effort, so you may want to get started right away. The easy pairing is a blue cheese such as Stilton, or our preference Shropshire. But there is so much more that this wine has to offer.
 
Think goat cheese. Now think patisserie. Now put that together and start imagining goat cheese cheesecake with seared pineapple topping. Or a goat cheese flan on a cinnamon graham crust topped with Seville orange marmalade. People eat with their eyes first so your presentation and delivery, along with that very romantic card that you didn’t forget, are paramount.
 
While making this wine, Ernie implored the help of Dick Erath. The 2013 vintage provided the naturally occurring environmental factors to make an ethereal late harvest wine. Never before, and hopefully never again, will those growing conditions be repeated. With Dick as his conspiring winemaker, Ernie forged ahead with harvesting desiccated Chardonnay berries from the vines in November. Once in the press, it was a tough shlog, as raisins don’t put out a lot of juice. Undaunted he continued, as fools press on where angels fear to tread.
 
The juice was 44 Brix, for those who keep track. Ernie had experienced some out of this world Trockenbeerenauslese wines and they typically run in the 10% alcohol range. That was good enough for him and he arrested the fermentation with dry ice. Yeast don’t really care for that and they kinda packed it in right then and there. All went pretty well and soon it was time to bottle.
 
So Dick made the trek back to the winery with his girlfriend to see how Ernie’s effort had turned out. The look and smell of the wine passed muster and then everyone took a sip. Dick appeared pleasantly surprised and his girlfriend was complimentary. Ernie was beaming as his conspiring winemaker and early mentor had given him the nod for an effort that was far from guaranteed to succeed.
 
Dick then tilted his head and with a twinkle in his eye, looked at Ernie, then his girlfriend and said, “You know, this is the kind of wine that can be applied topically and removed orally.” And so, it is. Good luck Mr. and Mrs. Gorsky.
 
Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Friday, January 22, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate Culinary Inclinations Series Part V: Fruits of the Sea and a Bottle of BFC

Hello and Welcome, 

  
It is winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and the rainy season in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. What a perfect time to imagine a sunny (and dry) adventure at the other end of the world. Freshly caught and expertly prepared wild seafood and a bottle of Chardonnay will set you right. Please join us for our Culinary Inclinations Series Part V: Fruits of the Sea with a Bottle of BFC.
 
A FLOG communication (Farming bLOG) by Dena & Ernie from Amalie Robert Estate. Oregon Willamette Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Have a look and see what we see on Instagram @AmalieRobert Estate.
 
“Hanging out” at the Boat Shed Café, South Island, NZ
 
Do you kinda wish you were someplace other than here? Jimmy Buffet sang about it on his White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean album. Seems apropos. You don’t have to stay home, but you can’t come here. While that may be so 2020, it still happens to be true if you want to travel and dine at the White House. That’s the one in New Zealand, on the north end of the North Island.
 
And if you do get to New Zealand, check out the Boat Shed Café at the north end of the South Island. They are quite literally “hanging out” over the bay. You can stay just down the road with the Honest Lawyer, ask for the bus driver’s suite. It is just about as cozy as 35 square feet can be! Been there, had that done to us. And while it was FANTASTIC, you have to leave the room if you want to change your mind. Yeah, it’s that small. The room, not your mind.
 
 
Dining at Home with Thoughts from Afar.
 
But no matter, you are there trying to make the best of it. We are here, trying to make it better. Freshly caught and Southern Hemisphere inspired seafood is our culinary inclination for today. Or “fruits de mer” (fruits of the sea) for those of you coping with current events in a French idiom.
 
 
Chardonnay is the world’s most abundantly planted wine grape variety. And for good reason. It can be one of the most enjoyable wines on the planet. Either by itself as we denude ourselves from the responsibilities of the world at large or indulge in a fabulous meal to celebrate simply being alive here in this place, at this time. And it just so happens that Chardonnay rhymes with Tuesday, and Wednesday and… No wonder it is so popular, it is a wine for all week. Truly a Festivus miracle!
 
The term Barrel FERMENTED Chardonnay (BFC) is somewhat cumbersome, so we use a TLA. Our BFC is called the Heirloom Cameo. One of the other alternatives is SFC, which you may have guessed is Stainless Steel Fermented Chardonnay. We do that too, and that wine is our Dijon Clones Chardonnay. (TLA is an acronym for Three Letter Acronym.) Our BFC is akin to White Burgundy, where the SFC is stylistically closer to Chablis.
 
Before we get too much farther down the rabbit hole, you may find yourself looking for a little inspiration. So chill, and maintain your BFC at an approximate temperature of 55 degrees, or SFC at about 45 degrees. When you feel the moment is right, pull the cork and enjoy the pleasures of BF or SF Chardonnay.
 
Barrel v Stainless Steel fermentation – what’s the difference and why should I care? Stylistically the SFC is clean, crisp and laser focused with palate cleansing acidity. A great wine to have at the raw bar with oysters, chilled shrimp or Uni, although this last one may be an acquired taste.
 
The BFC is like the old “E” ticket at Disney World, it can take you anywhere you want to go. Barrel fermentation adds scintillating aroma, breadth and depth to the palate and maintains the core of fruit, while tempering and lengthening the finish. Over the course of a meal, the BFC changes and develops more complexity. Due to this evolution, you never finish a meal with the same wine you start with. And that is a journey well worth savoring.
 
 
If you’ve got a minute, with nothin’ to lose, let us take you on a BFC Cruise. It’s a Deep Dive into cool climate Oregon Chardonnay. Or skip down and look for the pirate. We’ll catch up with you there.
 
 
We grow our Chardonnay in block 24, which is actually 5 rows of Dijon Clone Chardonnay 76 and 6 rows of Dijon Clone Chardonnay 95. All vines are grafted onto 5C rootstock and our soil is Bellpine series marine sediments. That becomes important at the end of the growing season when those deep roots are still pulling up water to keep our wine berries from desiccating. Nearing harvest, shallow rooted vines have a tendency to starve the vine for water and that results in the vine taking water from the wine berries. The sugar is still there, but there is less water resulting in a higher concentration of sugar and that converts to higher alcohol levels in the finished wines. That is not the desired result in either a SFC or BFC. If this triggers any wine growing related questions, you can click here to “Ask a Farmer”.
 
 
 
All of our Chardonnay wine berries are cluster plucked during the same harvest window and are field sorted. Then Ernie hauls only the best clusters up to the winery to get weighed. From there they are sorted and loaded into the press. There is NO CRUSHING. Our Chardonnay is whole cluster pressed. This processing method leads to less potassium in the juice resulting in a firmer, natural acidity in the finished wine. While it is true, crushing before pressing and using rice hulls in the press will give higher yields of juice, we feel it is lower quality juice.
 
Now this is the important part, pre-fermentation oxidation. Once all of the juice is pressed into a single tank, it settles for a couple of days. The juice is a very dark brown due to the bruising effect of the press and oxidation. Think of a piece of fruit that has been dropped, it turns brown in that spot AFTER you get it home. Especially pears and bananas as they look like they got caught in a street fight. A press is really a great big bruiser that also happens to extract the juice.
 
The idea is that you want all of this browning and oxidation to occur BEFORE the fermentation begins. The alternative is to have this process happen after fermentation - in the bottle. The French producers of White Burgundy have tried the other way and discovered Premature Oxidation. Premature Oxidation occurs when the juice was not permitted to complete oxidation before fermentation. This resulted in off color and aroma in the bottle, hence the term PREMOX.
 
Right. Now it is time to run the hose through the holes in the fermentation floor and gravity fill our 500 liter puncheon for the BFC and a couple of 1,000 liter stainless steel tanks for the SFC. Fermentation begins forthwith with the help of a fish tank heater to keep the yeast active until all of the glucose and fructose is converted to ethanol – no residual sugar. Then we add a little specialized bacteria to convert the malic acid to lactic acid. Once this malo-lactic (ML) conversion is complete (about 6 weeks or so) the wines take two completely different paths to bottling.
 
The SFC is separated from the yeast lees and moved up to the unheated fermentation area to begin cold stabilization. There is no further yeast lees contact. During the winter months, temperatures drop into the mid 20’s to lower 30’s and the wine goes through cold stabilization. The effect on the wine is to form little potassium crystals, known as wine diamonds. You may have seen these crystals in a bottle of white wine after it has been refrigerated. It happens, but we like it to happen before we bottle the wine. Next is a pass through a polish filter of 0.5 microns, then Ernie is filling bottles and Dena is stuffing in corks.
 
BFC 500 liter puncheon.
 
The BFC is in so such hurry. It is resting comfortably on its lees below ground along with about 400 barrels of Pinot Noir, Syrah and a few neutral barrels holding Pinot Meunier. But the BFC reigns supreme with the biggest barrel at 500 liters. Everything else is just 225 liters. The barrel maturation period lasts about a year, then it follows the same path to bottling as the SFC. As far as the bottling process goes, we begin with the current vintage SFC and follow with the prior vintage BFC.
 
Congratulations, you made it! Take a breath, or a sip as the case may be. We now return you to our Culinary Inclinations Series Part V: Fruits of the Sea with a Bottle of BFC.

 
 
Secrets of culinary inclinations were often spread by troubadours, roving medicine shows selling (snake oil) elixirs and other travelers. For people who inhabited far away islands, pirates were often a source of culinary information, along with the usual pillage and plunder. Maybe even pandemics. While COVID19 is not the world’s first pandemic, our global response to it is unique to our time. As we used to say, the questions don’t change but the answers do.
 
One thing that may surprise you is that the New Zealand Rock Lobsters (called crayfish by the Kiwis) have no claws. This is good and bad. Good in that after you handle a few live specimens, you will still be able to count to ten using only your fingers. Bad in that you are missing out on that excellent lobster claw meat. And good in that you will be able to prepare the rest of the meal employing fully functioning opposable thumbs.
 
Thanks to the pandemic, or tariffs and trade wars, or whatever, the Australians seem to be awash in these crustaceans. They lost access to an exceptionally large market and the locals are trying to pick up the slack.
 
Supply and demand, not just a good idea, but in fact an unwritten law, is taking its toll. Let’s try and help them if we can. Here’s how.
 
The first thing you will need to do is co-locate with your whole crayfish. We suggest a local purveyor, or you can harness the power of the internet to find suitable specimens that can be shipped directly to your door. And since it happens to be cold in most of the Northern Hemisphere, this should not pose a spoilage problem.
 
We are going to end up under the broiler, or out on the grill after someone scrapes off the snow, but first we are going to make a stop in a steaming pot of water. The secret to an irresistible cray tail is to give it a little time in steaming hot water. This method allows for the meat to cook through, thus preventing a disruption of your evening plan with trip to the emergency room.

Once thawed, anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes in about 2 inches of steaming hot water is just about right, depending on size. This leaves the meat slightly translucent, an ideal condition to finish under the broiler, unless you can actually get the grill to light. “When was the last time the propane tank was filled? Did you check the regulator? Maybe it is frozen.”
 
This next step is where we separate the gut line from the prized tail. Cut your cray lengthwise through the tail and remove the gut line. The meat should still be just a little underdone. The wine, chilling nicely at 55 degrees, most likely needs to be refreshed as you toast to your achievement. “It sure looks cold out there. Any luck with the grill, honey or should I just use the broiler?”
 
You may be in a holding pattern as the grill is yet to be confirmed. Use these few minutes to whip up a homemade aioli. Add a little Dijon mustard, white balsamic vinegar, raw egg yolk and roasted garlic to the blender. Have your best quality olive oil at the ready as you activate the blender. Slowly pour in the olive oil to ensure it is being incorporated and stop when you achieve the desired consistency. While the chances of getting the proportions and timing exactly right on the first attempt are not zero, they are very close to it. We suggest making a few trial attempts, with a sip of SFC inspiration, before the main event.
 
It’s time to make the call. This is your “grumpy lobster boat captain” Bill Belichick moment. While you have great confidence in the offense, 4
th and 20 from your own 15 yard line is not the time to go for it. You start the broiler and lure your grill mate back into the warm house. A little BFC will go a long way to provide soothing comfort. “No one will even notice. Your left eyebrow will grow back in no time.” You may need to find that reserve bottle, already at chill, in case you have to share.
 
Other culinary inclinations that do not lend themselves to the outdoor grilling experience (and the ensuing machinations) include pan seared scallops over black truffle risotto. There are only about 15 million Gordon Ramsey videos that demonstrate how to properly sear a scallop. Fried or baked sea salt and black pepper calamari with roasted red pepper aioli is another excellent pairing with your SFC.
 
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you can occasionally find white Chinook salmon. These are real Chinook salmon, but they do not process the color pigments from the crustaceans in their natural diet. This affects about 1 in 20 fish. The result is that their meat is milk white, but oh so delicious. Another Pacific Northwest favorite is steelhead. These are ocean going trout that swim back into fresh water to spawn. Norway and Scotland raise these fish for export and fresh fillets may be available in your local market. After planning the revolution, you may find frogs legs, Burgundy snails or a bucket of steamed mussels with crusty French bread to be in order. The use of excess butter and garlic is the key.
 
And let’s not forget the tastiest crustacean of all, the king crab. A product of cold Alaska waters these crabs make the meals of marriage proposals. To be offered sparingly and with a dedicated purpose in mind. Dungeness and other crabs are available seasonally in local markets. Crab cakes are another way to add your signature preparation to this delicious meat. Soft shell crabs are a once-a-year thing, so you will need to plan ahead. They do.
 
While a bit of a master class in execution, skewered prawns interleaved with prosciutto finished under the broiler are a tried-and-true way to get that new living room set, or big screen TV you have been eyeing all year. However, skewered prawns can be finished on the grill, so a little pre-planning is in order. An empty propane tank is probably the most effective deterrent to the entire grill saga. Strategy suggests letting the first glass of SFC work its magic before pointing out the empty propane tank situation.
 
Now the aioli is perfect and the table is set with the appropriate tools, accoutrements and BF or SF Chardonnay. The broiler is glowing red and ready to receive your bisected cray’s.
 
A little olive oil and a dusting of smoked paprika on the translucent meat is all you need to create the perfect presentation. A quick sip and in they go. This may not take much time, so be near the broiler with hot pads at the ready.
 
The sweet succulent meat separates easily from the shell, the wine gravity flows from bottle to glass, and you have just received notification that the grill sold on eBay. Well done. “Look outside honey. It is starting to snow, again…”
 
Chardonnay is there for you. Add a harvest bounty from the sea and let your culinary genius run wild.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage 2021: A Year in Preview

Hello and Welcome, 

 
As the taint of vintage 2020 slowly begins to dissipate, we turn to face the opportunities and challenges that await us in vintage 2021. But as we do, there is value in applying the lessons of vintages past as we look to Vintage 2021: A Year in Preview. 
 
In other words, as we approach the other end of the tunnel it is nice to know what is making that light. “This year can’t be any worse than last year,” said no farmer ever. A FLOG communication (Farming bLOG) by Dena & Ernie from Amalie Robert Estate. Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot Noir. Have a look and see what we see on Instagram @AmalieRobert
 

Sunrise harvest morning, vintage 2015.

First Quarter: January through March - Rain and Renewal. The 30 year average annual rainfall is about 45 inches at our 35 acre vineyard. That rainfall starts around harvest time with a shower here or there, and then really gets with the program from November through March. So, you may want to know just much rain is that? How do you put that in perspective? How do I impress my friends and persuade my boss to give me a raise?
 
Just ask a farmer. An inch of rain over a single acre of ground is 27,154 gallons and weighs 113 tons. Here at the farm, a five minute shower uses about 10 to 25 gallons. However at Ernie’s age, the time is reduced, as is his use of shampoo. Your mileage may vary, but over time the curve skews downward. And speaking of downward, all of those cover crop seeds of rye grain and winter peas are just laying there in the soil soaking it all up. That’s their job, to develop fibrous roots that will hold the soil onto the hill during the winter months. And to fix nitrogen to feed our vines come springtime. More on that in the second quarter.
 

35 acres of producing vines and there's Ernie right in the middle.
 
So logically, a 35 acre vineyard that receives 45 inches of rain per year is getting 42,767,550 gallons of rainwater, weighing in at 177,485 tons. And at a vine spacing of 7.5’ for the tractor and 4’ between vines yielding a vine density of 1,452 vines per acre, each vine receives 841 gallons of rainwater each year. And that is enough for 35 to 84 showers a year, average about 60.
 
And we are dry farmed, meaning the only irrigation our vines receive is from Mother Nature. So you could say that our vines get about 60 “human equivalent” showers a year, where humans are more likely to get around 360 showers per year. To summarize, an inch of rain is about 20 gallons of water per vine. See if that little kernel of wine knowledge doesn’t make you the popular one.
 
This is also the time for renewal. More commonly known as pruning. The idea is to get the vines ready to bear fruit and ripen their seeds without succumbing to mildew or bunch rot. And it is a nasty time of year with the wind and driving rain soaking the vineyard workers to the core.
 
Intelligence and experience is needed to prune the vines properly. A properly pruned vine is a joy to work and a pleasure to the eye during the canopy management portion of the winegrowing program. If you mess up pruning and make the wrong cuts, you get to live with those decisions all year long right up through harvest. This is just the opposite of a bad haircut that will grow out. Not that it really bothers you, as it’s everyone else that has to look at it. No, you get to live with bad pruning decisions all year, and potentially impacting the follow-on year.
 
It takes about 15 pruning cuts per vine to remove last year’s canopy growth and tie down a single cane for the new growing season. Multiplied by 50 some thousand vines, that is about 750 thousand pruning cuts – by hand. We understand carpal tunnel syndrome is real. But you may want to think twice before you accept a thumb wrestle challenge from a professional vineyard worker. Maybe just a handshake will do. Or the newfangled elbow bump…
 
The vineyard before pruning.

We have a brief set of videos on the renewal process. The first step is to remove the little catch clips that hold last year’s perfectly positioned shoots into three sets of catch wires. Each vine gets about 5 of these across the three wires. They go on in the spring and come off in the winter. By hand.
 
Click on the picture or this link to see catch clip removal. (10 seconds)

The next phase is to make the primary cuts. This is where we determine which canes will stay for the new growing season, and which ones will be returned to the vineyard floor. Ernie mows these with the tall grass, thereby returning the nutrients to the soil. Waste not want not.
 
Click on the picture or this link to see primary cuts. (21 seconds)

Then there is the arduous task of pulling the brush from the canopy. There is a lot of talk about drones and self-driving tractors in the field. What we really need is an automated solution to this task.
 
Click on the picture or this link to see brush pull. (22 seconds)

And finally, we have a new cane to tie down to the wire. This single cane carries all the vines hopes, dreams and aspirations to ripen their seeds and reproduce in vintage 2021. They don’t know we are making wine. It’s our little secret.
 
Click on the picture or this link to see tie down. (34 seconds)

Meanwhile, Ernie is in the tractor shop changing oil, repairing this AND that, torqueing lug nuts and generally getting ready for the growing season. The best kind of tractor to have is the one that starts when you want it to. Ernie sees to that this time of year. It’s called percussive maintenance. In extreme cases it can lead to new equipment purchases with the section 179 deduction. And potentially a visit to the ER, with a moderate co-pay.
 
Remember, 2021 started on a FRIDAY! Is this going to be a great year, or what?
 
Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Amalie Robert Estate Culinary Inclinations Series Part IV: Rhône Inspires with Black Cod Palmiers and Rack of Spring Lamb

Hello and Welcome, 

 
It’s spring lamb season somewhere. And thanks to the invention of vacuum packaging and cold chain logistics, it can be spring lamb season, right here, right now! This is the fourth segment in our Culinary Inclinations Series: Rhône Inspires with Black Cod Palmiers and Rack of Spring Lamb. A FLOG communication (Farming bLOG) from Dena & Ernie @AmalieRobert Estate. Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot Noir. 
 
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the lower 48 in particular, we have just had an election. And pretty soon they are going to tell us who won. Not all of the races everywhere of course, but most of them. Enough to get an idea of what the next couple of years might look like. The judiciary is engaged as is “de rigueur” and the electorate is warming up for January 5th. If you live in Georgia, you don’t need us to tell you that the circus has come to town. They are all there, with lawyers in tow.
 
We are blessed to have the Christmas holiday during the winter solstice. Not so for the folks Down Under. “Chrissy” as it is known, arrives with a sleigh full of gifts in the middle of the summer. It’s shrimps on the barbie and a pint of lager!
 
To celebrate the holidays, some choose to bring the great outdoors indoors. This often takes the form of a fir, pine or spruce tree. And depending on where said tree is in its lifecycle, it could be a beautifully adorned festive tree with lights and ornaments, or a more practical yuletide log. Either way, it is nice to curl up next to your implementation of the holiday tree with a glass of wine and a nice book or FLOG post as the case may be today.
 
He who travels fastest, travels alone. And that is how Santa gets everything delivered in one night. Of course, he has several time zones strategically mapped out and works both sides of the equator at the same time. By now, you would have to believe Rudolph has the route down cold. You can even track him on Google while they track you! And check out all of the cool games.

This would seem to be the perfect segue to delve into Viognier. That beautifully textured, heady white wine from the Northern Rhône Valley that Ernie grows right here in block 12, all 297 vines worth. Block 12, as you might imagine is planted east of, and adjacent to, the Syrah block, which is lucky block 13.
 
All told this is 1,485 vines, about 1.02 acres worth of Northern Rhône inspired viticulture. These vines are surrounded by the most coveted Wadenswil clone Pinot Noir to the north in block 21 and to the east in block 10. Covering the southern flank is Dijon clone 115 and looking to the west, it is Pommard clone that provides cover from the late afternoon sun.
 
But that was not the original plan. Ernie had those vines penciled in “way the hell and gone” on the other side of the field. Fortunately, and just before it was mostly too late, Dick Erath showed Ernie the error in this thinking.
 
We didn’t have to dig up that many vines, but that is how you “move” a vineyard block. Once that chore was completed, Ernie promptly invested in a new thinking cap. Dena picked it out. It has a nice pattern but not too flashy. It fits pretty snug and has a side binder to lock it in place. That’s just in case it were to slip off as we approach a critical decision point. Farming thinking caps are different. They just are…
 
In the winery, we abbreviate Our Muse Viognier as VIOGxx where the xx reflects the vintage. So for the latest release of Viognier we have VIOG19. This is not to be confused with the COVID19 vaccine that just is being released nationwide. However, we do share the same shipping lanes, and they are about to get really busy. So if you are thinking about holiday gift giving, it’s time for you to get busy. Or your gift giving options could be less than optimal.
 
VIOG19 and smoked black cod palmiers. Our interpretation of this culinary inclination is a savory. We consider a puff pastry to be the perfect delivery vehicle for exquisite smoked black cod and herbed goat cheese.
 
This is a sheet of thawed puff pastry shmeared with herbed goat cheese and then topped with smoked black cod. Alternatively, you could use lox style smoked salmon on one side. You then roll the opposing sides to the center, much like an ancient scroll. A quick brush of egg wash, slice them about 3/8” of an inch thick, then a run through the oven with a fresh sprig of rosemary at the very end, and out they come just as pretty as you please.
 
And you can accessorize! A creamy cucumber dill sauce served chilled adds sophistication from the “afternoon high tea” theme. Pesto is a classic accoutrement, however we are not so keen on pine nuts. Our interpretation of this classic substitutes almonds, and we add sun dried tomatoes including a little of the olive oil to the mix. And then there is aioli, lots and lots of ways to go and none of them are wrong. To round out the colors we suggest a roasted red pepper and garlic aioli. Yes, that should do it, very nice indeed!
 
A note on serving Viognier. We often find Viogner to have a very narrow serving temperature range. Slightly cooler than Pinot Noir, but not so cool as to lose the scintillating aromas that only Viognier can provide. We suggest starting off cool and letting the wine warm in your glass until you achieve maximum olfactory and frontal lobe satisfaction. You will know it when you find it. “Oh, did I say that out loud?” Yeah, that happens…
 
As your guests are polishing off the palmier plate, quite literally, and have found your last stashed bottle of Our Muse Viognier, it is time to move onto the main course. Lamb rack, or crown roast of lamb for a much more stunning presentation, and Satisfaction Syrah. Often times dressing can be made and cooked separately or in the middle of the roast. We prefer cooking any dressing separately, to ensure the correct temperatures of both dishes are achieved at the proper time. Otherwise, one is left cold, waiting for the other to finish.

One of your first decisions in approaching this culinary inclination is whether to decant the wine, and if so when to do it? Whether you are contemplating our Satisfaction or Top Barrel Syrah, we encourage decanting this wine before serving. And more importantly, here is why.
 
Wine decanting and whole cluster fermentation. The decision to decant a wine is really all about exposing the wine to air to allow it to evolve into a more enjoyable experience. In most dining situations, air is defined as 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% of the stuff that is most likely going to get us all. Let’s concern ourselves with the 21%.
 
During the winemaking process, we limit the amount of air exposure in our wines. Once fermentation is complete, the wines have a high concentration of carbon dioxide. This is a preservative, and over time this will dissipate. Sulfur dioxide is also a preservative that will dissipate over time and is added to the wine as it matures in barrel. And we do not transfer or rack our wines from barrel to barrel. In the case of our Syrah, once the barrels are filled, that is their home for the next two and half years until we gently transfer the wine to tank and use gravity to bottle – no pumping.
 
That means your bottle of Amalie Robert Syrah has had very little air exposure. In fact, the only air exposure would have come through that wee little piece of tree bark we use as the cork. And that is by design, we use natural corks precisely because we want that air exchange. While each cork is unique in its air exchange properties, we do know that some oxygen is getting through the cork and interacting with the wine. As air interacts with the wine, its first target is tannin. Oxygen degrades (softens) tannin.
 
Here is where it gets interesting. Whole cluster fermentations add tannins to the wines from the stems. Stem tannin is different from skin tannin and that’s the only way to get stem tannin - from the stems. And we ferment Syrah with whole clusters. A whole lot of whole clusters, about half the fruit in the fermenter is still attached to the stem. Add about five to seven years in the bottle and that little bit of air that has been slowly softening those stem tannins, has evolved them into spice and texture and length of finish. No other winemaking technique can provide such pleasure, but you have to wait for it to happen in the bottle.
 
So we say: Hell yes, decant that wine! But do it gently. We recommend sitting the bottle upright for at least 24 hours in a slightly cool area. Pour the wine from the bottle down the side of the decanter trying not to splash the wine. Toward the end of the pour look down through the neck of the bottle for sediment and stop pouring if it becomes excessive. It is harmless, but will make the wine appear cloudy in your glass.
 

Now you must wait, or plan ahead and decant so the wine is ready when the crown roast and dressing are ready. A good place to start is about an hour before serving time. You can stopper the decanter or use cling wrap to close off the top. There is plenty of air in the decanter to achieve the desired result. They design them that way. Of course, periodic sampling is in order. Be diligent as time permits.
 
By now your lamb should be making its way to the carving station. If it is an herb encrusted rack of lamb, it should be looking something like this.
 
Roast winter squash, garlic braised broccolini and sautéed Chanterelle or Morel mushrooms are at the ready. The cheese course should be out of the refrigerator and prepared for service.
 
Internal temperature is another point of contention among diners. When is it done? How much is too much? What if it is still moving? Here is a handy visual aid to give you a guide to internal temperatures. While this is handy to look at, it is the texture of the meat that is most affected by temperature. That and let the roast set on the carvery for at least 5-10 minutes before carving.
 
Final Note: We have taken up the practice of washing the dishes and rinsing the stemware the night of, and then washing the stemware the following morning. We find we get more uses from the stemware this way. 

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie