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 – 2021 Amalie Robert Estate, LLC

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate: Easter Culinary Inclinations and The Year of the Dijon Clones

Hello and Welcome, 

Easter is just around the corner. The first Sunday in April this year, but it is not always the first Sunday, and sometimes we have to wait until May. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or just after the spring equinox. This year, the spring equinox happened on Saturday, March 20. The first full moon, the Worm Moon, to occur after that date was Sunday, March 28, so logically, Easter will be Sunday, April 4. Alternatively, there is the Golden Number method



It may seem complicated, but it is clearly more rational than the bespoke “Inner Circle” assembling at Pennsylvania’s Gobbler’s Knob and rousting an oversized rodent to determine how much more winter is coming our way. They call it a ground hog, but it’s really a marmot.
 
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. We are ramping up on FaceBook! (If you don’t like us, we don’t wanna know…)
  
Easter’s culinary inclinations are many and as varied as our diverse cultures. However, there is one universally accepted abstinence for Easter dinner, and that is rabbit. This is quite unfortunate, as small game such as the furry, long eared rabbit is a perfect pairing with Pinot Noir. But alas, it is not to be. Grilled rabbit saddle wrapped in prosciutto will have to wait. Braised rabbit quarters falling off the bone in white beans, with parsnips and chanterelles over creamy roast garlic polenta – not happening. Rabbit stew? Nope. Rabbit paté or terrine? Verboten! That rascally rabbit should have Easter subtitled as World Wabbit Day.
 
 
A duck trying to disguise itself as a rabbit.
 

So, that leaves us with lamb or maybe duck. That’s not so bad. Could be worse. Duck thighs and rabbit hind quarters are kinda the same size and shape, sort of. Better to not risk it. We are going with rack of lamb in a Dijon mustard crust. It ties right into the Year of the Dijon Clones - imagine that, what great timing! Note: this preparation works equally well for a rack of pork. Or maybe beef rib roast, but that is an exercise left to the reader.

 

Are you looking for me?

The first step here is to secure a proper protein specimen from your favorite meat purveyor. Trim off any “excess” fat and slice between the bones up to, but not into, the meat. For the Dijon mustard crust, we like the texture that a coarse stone ground mustard provides. And it makes you feel like you are getting your money’s worth out of the daily flossing routine.
 
Depending on the size and quantity of your protein, start with a few dollops of mustard in a small ramekin and add a pinch of dried Italian herbs, a bit of smoked hot paprika and a little powdered ginger. Optional: you can add a few (or more) drops of sesame or hot chili oil. Mix this all together with a small fork until fully blended in. Depending on the amount of paprika, this will be a yellow/tan mixture or coral pink. Nice!
 
Apply the Dijon mustard crust mixture with the fork horizontally across the meat. This will form small ridges that will add contour to the final presentation. Apply fresh cracked pepper over the mixture, black or white sesame seeds (more grist for the floss) and additional paprika for color matching if desired. People eat with their eyes, usually just as soon as it comes out of the oven. When they say “Damn, that’s HOT!” You can simply say “Yes. I know.”
 
Cook to the proper internal temperature and let rest undisturbed for at least 5 minutes. Place your plates and bowls into the oven to warm them before serving. Move on over to the wine station where your Pinot Noir, cork removal device and appropriate stemware stand ready. This little interlude provides for ample sample time and perhaps a thought to ponder.
 

Dijon Clone 777 Pinot Noir in Amalie Robert Block 2.

The year of the Dijon Clones – What are they and why should I care? We get this question a lot. As a grower of wine, we have to be up on the latest plant material (clones) and the characteristics those clones will impart into our wine. From a consumer point of view, Dijon Clones is a fanciful name that helps keep your cellar records organized. But really, it is so much more.
 
The first misconception we would like to clear up is that these Pinot Noir clones have NOTHING to do with mustard. However, we do hope you find the mustard encrusted culinary inclination pairs quite nicely with our Dijon Clones Pinot Noir. And Willamette rhymes with Janet, damnit!
 
The Dijon clones of Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay) were developed at a research station in Burgundy near the town of Dijon. Each of the clones are numbered, more on that in a bit, and several of them came to the US at the same time. They were collectively referred to as the “Dijon Clones.”
 
Dijon Clone Chardonnay.

Other clones of Pinot Noir were just coming on the scene as well, but without a proven track record of quality, they were left on the grafting bench. Farmers are risk averse people (except for their stated profession – farming) and without a “for sure” buyer they were not going to take a runner on an unproven clone. That is one reason why the Jackson clone of Pinot Noir is not widely planted. However, Ernie has a little of the Beba clone planted.
 
 
“Another Pinot noir clone from that 1951 shipment of grape clones from Europe remains in the FPS grape collection with ambiguity surrounding its origin. The Hewitt import binder and FPS database give the origin of the “Beba” variety in the shipment as “Spain”. Spain has never been noted for its Pinot noir production. Olmo wrote in his journal for the 1951 trip that he did collect cuttings in Spain for a variety known as “Beba”, a white Spanish grapevine variety used to make sherry. Olmo’s journal indicated that he collected the “Beba” cuttings a few miles outside of Seville. The name “Beba” became assigned to Introduction number 804 in the Hewitt import binder at FPS.
 
Pinot noir and Beba are clearly unrelated varieties. The facts suggest a label mixup at some time when the vines were sent from Europe. The plant material with Introduction number 804 was named Beba upon arrival at FPMS and was planted in the foundation vineyard in 1961 under that name. The selection remained on the list of registered vines with the name Beba until 1966, when the name was changed to Pinot noir 07A. The selection was renamed again in 1967 to Pinot noir 10. The variety identification as Pinot noir was made at that time by experts at FPMS using visual identification techniques.”
 
No one has solved the mystery behind the Beba Pinot Noir clone, but what the hell? And then there is Dick Erath’s clone 95, another mystery wrapped in a riddle. Yeah, we grow that too.

Right. What’s a clone? Check your Easter basket. All of those eggs are pretty similar in size and shape, not exactly but close enough – unless you have a mix of chicken, duck, pheasant and quail eggs. These individual species represent the different wine grapes. Within each species, their Easter dye colors are different, and that is what sets them apart. But when you crack one open you know what awaits inside is going to have similarities across that species, or wine varietal. But your fingers will be very colorful for quite some time. Pheasant eggs make a very nice frittata, just saying.
 
Note: This may be a good time to point out that Pinot Noir is one of the few wine grapes that is not a blending grape. Think about that. Do you know of any respected wine growing region that makes a blend of Pinot Noir and another grape? Burgundy does a little blending with Gamay, as does Switzerland, but that is about it. And of course, there is Champagne. You have to have Champagne.
 
 
“Gamay’s stronghold is Beaujolais but it is also grown widely just to the north in the Mâconnais – indeed red Mâcon is usually based on Gamay – although in southern Burgundy, as in Switzerland where quite a bit of Gamay is grown, there is a tradition of blending Pinot Noir and Gamay, specifically in the ubiquitous Dôle. The official Burgundian name for this is Bourgogne Passetoutgrains, a wine of declining interest that is supposed to taste more and more like Pinot with time.”
 
Dijon Clone Pinot Noir Pre-Cluster Pluck.

Wine grapes are a specific type of grape. They have specific sugar and acid profiles that are uniquely suited to wine production. They are different from table grapes or juice grapes or grapes used for raisins such as Thompson Seedless. Although it may be the case where some of these grapes do get made into wine. But thanks to the foresight of the wine growing forefathers and mothers in Oregon, it doesn’t happen in the Willamette Valley. Any wine produced in Oregon with Pinot Noir on the label, MUST contain at least 95% Pinot Noir in the bottle. The federal mandate is only 75%.
 
Thinking and drinking. We can segment wine grapes into varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and then into clones such as Wente (Chardonnay), Pommard, Wadenswil and Dijon Clone 777 (Pinot Noir). Most varieties of wine grapes have several clones. Some have just a single clone such as Viognier. If a new bacteria, fungus, or virus takes a liking to Viognier and eradicates it, well, that's just not good.
 
Within each vine variety, new clones are developed through propagating seeds. Each wine berry typically has 2 or 4 seeds. Much like any offspring, these seeds are genetically similar to the parent, but not exactly the same. And where did Prince Harry get that flaming red hair? The seeds are propagated and new vines are grown - just like in The Matrix.
 
Each of these vines are evaluated for quality. The first step in evaluation is whether the new clone is fruitful. Will the flowers pollinate and set fruit? This has a lot to do with the weather during the flowering period in the region where the varietal is grown. A vine that cannot set fruit is not a contributing member of the trial and is culled. Sorry Coppertop.
 

If the vine does set fruit, then a multiyear trial begins. The vine is evaluated on several factors including, but not limited to, accidentally being left without irrigation over the August holiday period. This is formally known as a “drought tolerance” evaluation. The main factors used to evaluate the production potential of any wine grape clone according to the French Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are:
 
Fertility (F): This is the ratio of the number of clusters produced from the number of buds left on a cane after pruning. We typically leave 12 buds on a 4 foot cane and can expect anywhere from 16 to 30 clusters. An acre of vines at Amalie Robert Estate represents 5,808 lineal feet. Therefore, we have a potential yield of 23,232 – 43,560 clusters per acre. An AVERAGE Pinot Noir cluster comes in at 4 to the pound.
 
Cluster Weight (CW): This is a comparison of the median cluster weight of the specific clone to the entire population of clones within the variety. In other words, how big is a cluster and how many of the flowers on a cluster successfully pollinate and set fruit. Sometimes it only takes 3 clusters to make a pound, sometimes it is 5.
 
Level of Production (LP): This is a function of Fertility and Cluster Weight. Vines that produce small clusters and just a few of them, may produce wines of high-quality that are representative of the variety. The highest quality potential is A and extends down to the lowest which is D.
 
Sugar Content (SC): This is the sugar concentration measured at the time of full aroma and flavor maturity compared to the average of the other clones within the variety. The ideal is that the sugar concentration does not get ahead of the sensory aroma and flavor development.
 
Here it is in tabular form. This is what the researchers get paid the big bucks to figure out. Then it is up to the growers to decide what to grow, usually based on the input from the wineries on what they want to buy. Here is a subset of the Dijon Clones we have chosen to make wine from at Amalie Robert Estate. The decisions to use these clones, along with a selection of rootstocks, was made at the turn of the century, and as is the case with any endeavor – luck favors the prepared mind.
 

Variety

Clone

F

CW

LP

SC

Enological Attributes

Chardonnay

76

Medium

Medium

B

Superior

Well balanced, aromatic

Chardonnay

95

Medium

Medium

B

Superior

Full, rich and balanced

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinot Noir

113

Medium

Medium

B

Superior

Balanced, light wine

Pinot Noir

114

Medium

Medium

B

Superior

Interesting for blending

Pinot Noir

115

Medium

Medium

B

Superior

Typical, rich and bodied

Pinot Noir

667

Medium

Medium

B

Superior

Fine aromatics & tannins

Pinot Noir

777

Medium

Inferior to medium

A

Superior

Very good quality

Source: Catalogue of Selected Wine Grape Varieties and Clones Cultivated in France.
 
The first thing to note is that there is only one ”A” clone and that is Dijon Clone Pinot Noir 777. This attribute was quite the buzz when the vines were first made available in the Willamette Valley. In practice, we find small clusters and typically our yield per vine is less than other clones, except 667.
 
Sugar accumulation is in line with the rest of the Dijon Clones we grow. Rootstocks and placement on the property contribute significant complexing factors, so it is difficult to separate correlation from causation. And if you think this is cool, consider the fact that we grow 3 Syrah “A” clones. Of course, we are not at liberty to divulge which ones…
 
Dijon Clone Pinot Noir Post-Cluster Pluck.

We have been paying attention in the cellar over the past 20 years and have a pretty good feel for what these clones can contribute. Some find their way into our reserve level wines, and some are targeted for a specific blend. We each have our favorites. Dena likes the elegance of 113 and the brawn of 115 – she is a Gemini. Ernie is all about the texture that 114 adds to the mid-palate. The 667 clone adds an almost Syrah like tannin and a depth of color not matched by the other clones. And then there is 777. The only “A” clone. This is a very well balanced clone that hits all the right notes at just the right times. Well deserving of its moniker.
 
The Big Reveal. And that 777 clone only goes one place. It is the base wine of our Dijon Clones Pinot Noir. We blend all of the 777 barrels together and then we add a little bit of each of the other clones to finish the blend. How do you like me now? There is never any Pommard, Wadenswil, or any of that other stuff Ernie grows but never really talks about… You will most likely find that in his Estate Selection bottling.
 
The numbers. We know it is a little early to start on the climate updates. We don’t start analyzing numbers until the growing season officially starts on April Fools’ Day. How apropos. But to get you ready, we have a little exercise on the “Golden Number” in case you want to foretell the date of Easter future.
 
The Golden Number method is kind of a placeholder to tell you where you are in the Metonic cycle. The Golden Number is a value used to show the dates of new moons for each year, following a 19-year cycle. The moon repeats the dates of its phases approximately every 19 years (the Metonic cycle), and the Golden Number represents a year in that cycle. The year of the cycle can then be used to determine the date of Easter.
 
To calculate the Golden Number, add 1 to any given year and divide the result by 19, the remainder is the Golden Number. If there is no remainder, the Golden Number is 19. To calculate the Golden Number for 2021, we take 2021 and add 1, resulting in 2022, then divide it by 19, giving us 106 with a remainder of 8. Therefore, the Golden Number for 2021 is 8, meaning 2021 is the 8th year of the Metonic cycle.
 
Why can’t Easter just be the first Sunday in April every year?
 
Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage 2021: Preview Part II - You Don't Have to be Crazy to Grow Pinot Noir, But It Helps!

Hello and Welcome, 

  
Spring bulbs and their moment in the sun.

Are we there yet? Almost. It won’t be long now. The first day of spring is March 20th. Mother Nature gave us a shot across the bow with a wonderful spring collage of blooming bulbs. What she meant was “Finish your pruning. Right Faming Now!” She has a schedule to keep. You don’t have to be crazy to grow Pinot Noir, but it helps. Just ask the cherry trees. They know we are about there.
 
Here is a shout out for Susan R Lin. Susan is a long time FLOG reader and has recently been named Master of Wine by the Institute of Masters of Wine. She is now one of 56 Masters of Wine in the US, and one of 418 worldwide. And you are going to LOVE her research paper (the third and final stage of the exam), where she explored classical music and champagne perception. We imagine these to be rosé champagnes, or perhaps wines with a strong Pinot Meunier component. Congratulations Susan!
 
Tied down and ready to grow!

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. We are ramping up on FaceBook! (If you don’t like us, we don’t wanna know…)
 
But is has been cold at night. Remarkably cold after our Ice Storm episode. But we do have the trellis repaired and the new vines are in the ground. Most of the downed trees and branches have been cleaned up, but not all of them. There are a few limbs “in waiting” so we are careful to look up as we walk under them. Farming, it’s what we do when we are not growing wine.
 
 
Click on the image to see Ernie on the crawler.

The chisel plow on tracks. Ernie was out on his crawler this week with the chisel plow opening up the vineyard floor for its much-anticipated spring cover crop of buckwheat and vetch. It is his open-air machine that he uses in the spring. He calls it his roadster for the vineyard. There is nothing quite like the smell of freshly turned soil in the morning.
 
Freshly tilled soil in the morning.

The benefit of a machine on tracks is that it spreads the tractor weight out over a larger surface area than 4 tires. The result is less pressure on the soil to avoid compaction. Compaction happens when a downward force compresses and collapses the soil’s air channels thus ruining the soil structure. Vine roots, worms and a whole host of other soil organisms and microorganisms depend on some air in the soil. Compaction is bad, very very bad!

 
Soil aerated by Ernie with the chisel plow.

A properly aerated soil is similar to a meringue. A compacted soil is more like a nougat. Compacted soils hold very little water as we move into the dry summer months. Vines growing in compacted soils will just look at you in disgust as early September rolls around. They will have desiccating wine berries because there is no soil moisture. They know what you did in the spring before they woke up. They are not happy, and when they are not happy, you will not be happy.
 
Freshy chisel plowed rows under the watchful gaze of Mt Jefferson. Smells nice!
 
Busting up any compaction.

Now, consider the chisel plow. This thankless implement opens the soil to improve life for the subterranean soil organisms and microorganisms. It busts up any compaction from the prior year and creates new chambers to hold air and soil moisture. It is also one helluva root pruning device. The benefit to that is no shallow roots. We want deep, deep roots to colonize the soil and extract as much magic as possible for our Estate grown wines.
 
And that is the focus of this FLOG, growing wine. In the Adult Recreational Beverage world, wine is unique in that it is the WINEGROWER that determines the alcohol content. Beer and distilled spirits each in their own way are free to determine the alcohol content of the finished product. Beers can run the gamut from low alcohol summer beers to full-on Doppel Bocks that make it really difficult to stand up and focus after a pint. Whiskey, Bourbon, and Scotch can be 90 proof or cask strength. Ever Clear is made from grain and is bottled at 60%, 75.5%, 94.5% and 95% alcohol by volume - that’s 190 proof! (Don’t ask how Ernie knows this.) The barley, wheat or rye grain were all grown the same.
 
Not so with wine. The Holy Grail of winegrowing is to harvest wine berries at the peak of flavor for the intended wine style with the appropriate level of alcohol potential, aka our old friends Fructose and Glucose. The ideal scenario is that aroma, flavor, texture and tannin are all maturing in step with sugar accumulation. Sugar accumulation is a function of heat during the growing season. Apparently, Mother Nature has not been kept in the loop these last few years…
 
Welcome to Murphy’s world. We stopped counting when we got to a million things that can go wrong in any given vintage. The vagaries of agriculture, and farm equipment in particular, are well documented throughout human history. Fire, smoke, plague and pestilence are all familiar bedfellows to agriculture. And as if right on cue, Brood X cicada nymphs (The Great Eastern Brood) is making its way to the surface right now, en masse. It’s just once every 17 years, but when it happens it covers 15 states!
 
Sunday, March 14th was national Pi (3.14) day. Wednesday, March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day. We would like to point out that Shepard’s Pie is no more of a pie than a cow pie is a pie. Go for the real thing. A nice cherry or peach pie. You will be glad you did!
 
Click on the image to learn about M.C. Escher 

Right, back on point. We know that for Pinot Noir we need 105 days from flowering to fully developed aroma, flavor, texture and tannin. At least we used to know that. And we used to grow a full canopy to achieve compete ripeness in each and every vintage. The world has changed, and we have changed with it.
 
It’s all because of Viognier. That wine berry has a proclivity to produce sugar way in advance of developing aroma and flavor. Aroma and flavor is the whole point of growing Viognier. While we just grow 3 rows of Viognier, this issue has gnawed on Ernie for quite some time.
 
Assuming you are doing the right things with the vineyard floor, such as improving soil structure with cover crops, avoiding compaction and keeping the grass cut short to preserve soil moisture, there are only two places to make adjustments. The canopy and the crop load.
 
Let’s focus on the canopy. The two areas in play are the fruit zone and the top of the canopy. The fruit zone is really important as that is where all the aroma, flavor, texture and tannin are shaped during the growing season. Depending on the variety and the use of whole clusters, we are taking or leaving leaves in the fruit zone to achieve our desired results in the bottle.
 
Dijon Clone Chardonnay ripening in the sun.

Chardonnay and Syrah for example have most of their leaves removed in the fruit zone. This allows for a full expression of those two wines. Pinot Meunier and Noir suffer from overexposure and they can lose their sublime, elegant character so we remove very few leaves.
 
Fermenting with whole clusters also adds texture and tannin structure. Shaded Pinot Noir fermented with whole clusters gives us the sexy midpalate we desire with elegant stem tannins that will soften during bottle maturation. Syrah is our firebrand that sees full-on sun exposure and a significant portion of whole clusters during fermentation. This creates a 25+ year wine, if done properly.
 
Removal of leaves in the fruit zone lowers the alcohol potential. Conversely, if very few leaves are taken due to stylistic choice, alcohol potential is higher. That takes us to the top of the canopy to dial in our alcohol potential.
 
Our vineyard construct is 7.5 feet for Ernie and his now vintage tractors to drive, and 4 feet between each vine. A perfect sunlight capturing ratio is 1:1 for row width to row height. So, mathematically a 7.5 foot row spacing means a 7.5 foot tall canopy will maximize sun exposure. But does that make the best wine? In a cold vintage such as 2011, yes, it is very helpful. But those days are long gone.
 
1967 Dodge Charger. 

A hemispherical combustion chamber typically has a better volumetric efficiency than a more common wedge combustion chamber. But all that extra horsepower is not really very helpful if it is converted into tire smoke. We need to match horsepower potential to our available traction.
 
So, there is the fly in the ointment, as they say. What we have learned is that our leaf removal program in the fruit zone is sacrosanct to our interpretation of the world’s greatest wines. If you mess with too much or too little sun exposure on the wine berries, the wine will not be what you want it to be.
 
Our key to moderating alcohol potential lies at the top of the canopy, assuming all other viticultural inputs including soil moisture preservation (and rootstock choice) are done correctly. Ernie’s hedger is fully adjustable and can cut a canopy to over 7.5 feet tall or as low as 6 feet. He can’t cut any lower than that, because that is how tall the posts are. Most of them anyway, he has been “involuntarily adjusting” the height on a few of them.
 
Of course, the first vineyard hedge happens mid-season so we don’t really know where we are going to end up. This is what it looks like for now, and that is where we are headed. Vintage 2021 will most certainly be the vintage of the year. Oh, look at the time, its 4:26…
 
Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate: 2021 Ice Storm and The Kite Eating Trees

Hello and Welcome, 

 
Unfortunate, but not uncommon. This is an agrarian phrase. It is often used to describe current events by a farmer, or a rancher or anyone else who has a direct reporting relationship to Mother Nature. 
 
If you happen to be one of those people who regularly ignore the “LOW FUEL” indicator, you know what we are talking about.
 
 
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. We are ramping up on FaceBook! (If you don’t like us, we don’t wanna know…)
 
Freezing rain. This phenomenon occurs when raindrops encounter a layer of subfreezing air just above the surface and then cool to a temperature below 32 °F. The supercooled raindrops then land on whatever they can find in the layer of subfreezing air, such as tree branches that are overhanging vineyards or power lines. You see where we are headed here.
 

When these supercooled drops make contact with the trellis, power lines, tree branches, vehicles, or anything else below 32 °F, a portion of the drops instantly freeze, forming a thin film of ice, hence the term freezing rain. The physical process by which this occurs is called nucleation.

This is what it would look like if Dale Chihuly made a glass vineyard.
 
Dale Chihuly Glass Sculpture "Sol D'oro"

Now if allowed to continue, this behavior becomes an ice storm and will form an increasingly thicker and thicker film of ice known as a casing. In our idyllic vineyard setting, we ended up with a little over an inch thickness of ice encasing anything exposed to the freezing rain.
 
The demise of the Kite Eating Trees. These are oak and maple trees in particular, but it is not uncommon for a fir tree to take a kite from time to time. Hardwood species seem to very susceptible to freezing rain. And they let you know it with debris scattered from hell to breakfast.
 
 
And ice is heavy. A cubic foot of ice weighs about 57 pounds. Compare that to a cubic foot of heavy Montana Rocky Mountain snow at about 11 pounds. These trees can only take so much before they start losing limbs. Or if their root system cannot handle the increased, or off-centered, weight then the entire tree comes down. Usually across a road, someone’s fence line, or their preferred target, a power line. A telephone line will do in a pinch. Unfortunate, but…
 

Pacific Power Outage Map Showing Amalie Robert Estate, Outage of 1 and the last to have power restored.

Electricity is like cash money, it does you no good if you don’t have it “on” you. But as a farmer, you have to know how to make your own electricity. To run small appliances like laptop computers and cell phones, Ernie has his handy dandy 12 volt inverter. This plugs into the power outlet in the Big Dodge Diesel Dually and charges these small appliances. We then we have access to our digital world via Wi-Fi, assuming the Wi-Fi networks know how to make their own power.
 

Heat (and food preparation) comes in the form of the downed limbs from past ice storms and our cookstove. The cookstove is a modern implementation of an age-old appliance. Some rules are timeless, such as the 7 second rule. That is the amount of time between just a little char and burnt to a crisp. Ours also has a side water box which conveniently heats water, and melts ice. This is helpful when it comes to flushing the toilets, as we don’t generate the 240 volts required to run the water pump.
 

Ernie Harvesting Ice.

Ice packs from the freezer make it into to the refrigerator. Gallons of drinking water come up from the back room. Candles and flashlights are gathered during the daylight hours. Extra firewood is brought in. Standard Farming Procedure – we have seen this movie before. But after 5 days of hamping (house camping), it was time for a hotel night, and a hot shower.
 
 
The Kite Eating Trees Strike Back. We were making good progress on getting the vineyard pruned and tuned for vintage 2021. Then thanks to the ice storm, we had a week of “pick up sticks”. There was a fair bit of chainsaw work involved first. Kite eating trees make good firewood.
 
Some of these downed branches were quite substantial, measuring over 20 inches in diameter. How many kites does it take to grow a branch that big?
 

The good news is that we only lost about 50 vines and a dozen posts to falling branches. The bad news is that the birds are going to have a tough time of it this year. There will be far fewer places for them to perch and pick off our Pinot Noir wine berries. But more good news is that Ernie’s nursery man was able to send up replacement vines within a week. You see, two out of three - not so bad. We have time to clean up and finish pruning. Will be ready for budbreak.
 
 


National Procrastination Week occurs during the first two weeks of March, more or less. Procrastinators fall into three main types: Delayers, Perfectionists and the easily Distractible. Anything sound familiar here? Maybe it’s time to actually stop and fill up the tank.
 
Year’s Best US Syrah from Wine and Spirits Magazine. Unfortunately, there is not a subsection for cool climate Syrah, so we are grouped in with the warmer growing regions of Southern Oregon, Eastern Washington and California. But no matter, “Year’s Best” is a good moniker to share.
 
Bonus: Peanuts from April 11, 1965. Click on the image to see more kite eating comics.
 

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

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