Winemaking: The Continuation of Terroir by Other Means.®

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


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

- Rusty Gaffney, PinotFile - September 2016


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

- Josh Raynolds, Vinous - October 2015


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

- David Schildknecht, The Wine Advocate - October 2013

Wine & Spirits

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

- Luke Sykora, Wine & Spirits Magazine – September 2011


© 2005 – 2021 Amalie Robert Estate, LLC

Friday, April 1, 2022

Amalie Robert Estate: Vintage 2022 Starts Today!

Hello and Welcome, 


The kitchen sprayer strikes again! 
April 1st is the official start to the growing season. It is also April Fools’ Day. After 20 some years of farming in the Willamette Valley, we do not believe this to be a coincidence. Whatever pranks you have planned for the day, we can assure you Vintage 2022 will be full of surprises, and not the same surprises as last year. Just like the pranks, the agrarian challenges get better and better each year. You don’t have to be crazy to grow Pinot Noir, but it helps.
April 1st Vintage 2022 is Julian calendar day 91. Assuming we survive this year’s onslaught (a large quantity of people and/or things that is difficult to cope with), we should be harvesting wine berries somewhere around Julian calendar day 274. That gives us about 183 days to get it together, however harvest dates can vary greatly. The vines know this, and they are pre-ordained to ripen their seeds in the limited time allowed. It is our job to harvest the wine berries enshrining these seeds at the most optimal point in time to produce the most exemplary wines. Godspeed.
BTW: The rubber band used to bundle asparagus is the best for the kitchen sprayer prank, so we’ve heard…

The BIG Picture

Ernie preparing the vineyard floor for Vintage 2022. 
Ernie preparing the vineyard floor for Vintage 2022.
You have to start somewhere, and in the Willamette Valley, the vineyard floor is usually a good place to start. After lifting the fog each morning, Ernie’s next job in the spring is to rototill in last fall’s cover crop. By incorporating these plants into soil, we feed the soil microbes, and a whole host of other soil borne life that will digest this organic matter into food for our vines. And then just as quick as a mousetrap hidden in the cupboard next to the coffee, Ernie is right back out there drilling in the spring cover crop blend of Buckwheat and Common Vetch. Yeah, he is always growing nitrogen.
Grassed rows of Tall Fescue before flailing.
Grassed rows of Tall Fescue before flailing, in the rain.

But there are goings on in the “alternate” rows as well. These are the grassed rows, or what we call permanent cover. We use fescue, Tall Fescue. These rows hold the canes pulled out of the trellis from last year’s growing season. Using his handy dandy flail mower, Ernie shreds these brown canes along with about a foot tall stand of green grass. That provides about 16 acres of buffet line, giving a little diversity for the soil inhabitants.
Grassed rows of Tall Fescue after flailing.
Grassed rows of Tall Fescue after flailing, in the rain.

But there is a little strip of land just under the vines, and that is where the magic is right now...
Winemaking: The Continuation of Terroir by Other Means. ® by Dena & Ernie from Amalie Robert Estate. Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Chardonnay et al. A FLOG communication (Farming bLOG). You can keep up with our Willamette Valley Vintage 2022 by visiting our Instagram account @AmalieRobert.
And we have moved! Won’t the neighbors be surprised. Actually, we have just moved the FLOG. We have moved the FLOG from Google Blogger to a new platform called Substack. If you visit Substack you can subscribe to our FLOG – and it’s FREE. While you are there, you can view any and all of our previous 210 FLOGs. This may take you some time, and more than a few ARBs (Adult Recreational Beverages).
Are They Weeds or Are They Cover Crops?
They say there is a fine line between genius and insanity. Doing the same thing over and over, expecting the same result is called farming. Expecting a different result is called insanity. So we ask you, what is a weed?

Is this your definition of a weed?

The farming answer is that a weed is a plant growing somewhere you don’t want it growing. These could be dandelions in your yard, or that big oak tree whose branch befell your 20 year old Pommard vines. No matter the size, if they are growing where you don’t want them, then they are weeds. Ernie used to think Common Groundsel was an uncontrollable weed…
Oak tree branch fallen on Pommard Clone Pint Noir during the Ice Storm of 2011.
Oak tree branch fallen on Pommard Clone Pint Noir during the Ice Storm of 2011.

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) is a ubiquitous winter annual broadleaf. This little plant grows directly under the vines. It has strategically located itself such that it is not in the rototiller rows, nor in the mowing rows. It therefore grows unabated, much like a weed. But is it a weed?
Common Groundsel flowers very early in the year. In the Willamette Valley it begins to flower in February and continues through March and April. And as it flowers, it produces pollen, which is protein. That is the attribute that changes Common Groundsel from a weed into a highly regarded, naturally occurring winter cover crop. Note: While Creeping Groundsel is closely related, it is still considered a weed. A creepy weed…

What Does This Mean and Why Should I Care?

Got beneficial insects? Common Groundsel grows at the base of the vine. And when it flowers it attracts insects. If you are a carnivorous insect in the Willamette Valley you are either preying on other hapless insects, or if you can’t find any other insects, consuming plant-based protein, aka pollen. Plant-based protein was cool before plant-based protein became cool. Just a different target audience today. Now that’s called marketing!

Common Groundsel growing at the base of a vine.

Common Groundsel is where the cool bugs hang out. All manner of spiders, ladybugs, earwigs and whatever you have. They have a sip of morning dew and a bit of pollen to start their day. Then it is off to hunt for rust mites, spider mites or cane borers. And since Common Groundsel is growing right at the vine’s trunk, it is a short walk to work.

Ladybug on her way to work! 

This insect damaged shoot will not produce fruit, no wine!
Now, the bad bugs that want to consume the newly emerging growth from the vine spend their winter season in the bark of the vine’s trunk. When the weather warms up enough, they make their way up the trunk and out onto the cane. And that is where they do their damage. They begin to bore into the new buds and eat the pre-emergent shoots. Or they move to the underside of the leaves and feed on the vascular tissue of the vine. Blighters one and all!
Not on my watch. Ernie takes great care to encourage Common Groundsel. It is the earliest flowering plant in the vineyard. It produces protein rich pollen to sustain our battalions of beneficial insects. You want a significant advantage of good bugs over bad bugs to protect the vineyard. Some people espouse an “insectary plot” where they grow flowering plants, but they are usually located a fair distance from the vines. We want our beneficial insects embedded where their primary target species live.
And what do the experts have to say about eradicating your bad bugs? Read this:
Once again, we see that sometimes the old ways are the best. That’s farming, slow to evolve and hard to change. Some years we have the upper hand in the balance of good bugs to bad, and some years we don’t. That is natural selection. But we never use pesticides to alter the balance of power. We do take every opportunity to try and encourage as many beneficial insects as possible. That is our primary defense, a strong offense.
And speaking of offense, Brady is back! No foolin’! Check out the TB12 Plant Based Protein or an Anti-Inflammatory Turmeric Smoothie! As our Chief Farming Officer ages, he has discovered the anti-inflammatory properties of several non-alcoholic foods and beverages including turmeric. And here is a fun prank to share with the kids...

Culinary Prank: Carmel dipped onions, instead of apples.
These plant-based products are pretty amazing, and they are certainly gaining attention and respect. At this point we would like to remind everyone, that wine is in fact a plant-based product. Even the cork is fashioned from tree bark. Or as we like to say, there is a free cork in every bottle!

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage 2022 Pre-view: Spring Renewal

Hello and Welcome, 


Crocus, Daffodil and Grape Hyacinth – Welcome Spring! 

This is the Vintage 2022 Preview – aka Spring Renewal. That ties right in with our other Spring theme, Spring Lamb. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Winemaking: The Continuation of Terroir by Other Means. ® by Dena & Ernie from Amalie Robert Estate. Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, et al. A FLOG communication (Farming bLOG). You can keep up with vintage 2022 by subscribing to our Instagram account @AmalieRobert.
Many people see each vintage as a new beginning, and when it comes to the wine it certainly is. However, farmers, and wine growers in particular, are perennials. Sure, there are some aging baby boomers, GEN Xer’s and Millennials in the group, but if you are growing wine, you pick up from where you left off last fall with vineyard pruning.
The art of vineyard pruning is to cut away the unnecessary dormant canes from last year, pull those canes out of the trellis wires (without breaking the wires) and then wrapping a cane down on the fruiting wire for vintage 2022 fruit production. In theory this Spring Renewal is done before Daylight Savings Time kicks in, where we lose an hour. Lost time is never found.

Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir at Amalie Robert before pruning.

First cuts are done.

Canes pulled out of the trellis wires.

Pinot Noir wrapped on the fruiting wire and ready for Spring Renewal!

Vineyard pruning in the Willamette Valley is an arduous winter task. Your day is confined to a few acres of dormant vines, a pair of 30 inch loppers, raingear, gloves and boots with soggy socks in a windy, rainy vineyard where the highlight of your day may be getting to see a rainbow. If you leave your lunch unprotected, then it will mostly likely be detected by some squirrel or weasel making a long day an even longer day for you. No matter how you spin it, pruning (generally speaking) draws a vacuum. But it does get you out in the open air, without a mask…
Unlike annual crops that don’t need to be pruned, vines put down deep roots. Vine age, root depth and soil colonization are very highly regarded traits of an “old vine” vineyard. These established vines and root systems are less susceptible to surface level drought and excessive rains. Old vines are battle tested and resilient. As we look forward to our second 20 years of wine growing, these old vines from the turn of the century are impressive to see.

Old Vine Pinot Noir at Amalie Robert. 

Spring is About to Spring!
Astronomically speaking, the Willamette Valley 2022 Spring Equinox occurs at 8:33 am PST on Sunday, March 20th. Be sure to set your clocks, you won’t want to miss the first day of Spring!
But it has been a long time getting here. On February 2nd, that oversized rodent Punxsutawney Phil predicted 6 more weeks of winter, and we have had it! As this US weather temperature graphic shows, it has been a grueling winter season, masks and all. Maybe what we need to do is change out that rodent…

Click on this link to check the current temperatures
There is good news on the horizon. That is where you always find it, on the horizon. The foretold additional winter and associated mask mandates are coming to an end. We know this because Groundhog Day plus 6 more weeks of winter adds up to the first day of Spring! (That, and no one wants a mask mandate revolt on the first day of Spring. ”Let them truckers roll, 10-4.”)
Ready to Drink (RTD) Cocktails are something that this country embraced during the height of the pandemic. But they are not new. Quite recently, the old school implementation has been revived in the Ukrainian alcohol space. As we can see in this video, Ready to Deploy  Molotov Cocktails are experiencing a strong resurgence.

Wrapped and ready to deploy!
What you do when no one is looking matters.
The definition of integrity, according to C.S. Lewis, “is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” Cover crops are vineyard inputs that most people are unfamiliar with. But they are the unsung heroes of winegrowing
Cover crops are working while the vines are sleeping. Just like rust is always working. If you live in a state where salt is used on winter roads to melt the ice, you know what we are talking about. Please give our regards to Phil, the rodent.
Cover crop plants hit the ground running, sort of speak. Once the seeds are under about a quarter inch of soil and get a little rainfall they germinate. This is what they are pre-programmed to do. They grow roots to help hold our soil onto the hill during winter rains. Depending on the plants you have chosen, they can also impart nutrients into the soil to feed the vines the following spring. They may also bloom, which provides much needed pollen (protein) to feed our battalions of predatory vineyard insects.

Cover crop in bloom.

Nitrogen is always a limiting factor in vine growth. Nitrogen is a macro nutrient along with Phosphorous and Potassium. Think of the three main inputs to a bread dough recipe. Once you run out of one, you are done making bread. A lack of any of the three macro nutrients limits vine growth.
Phosphorus and Potassium bind to the colloids in the soil like a Syrah stain on your favorite sweater. Nitrogen is a special case. Unlike Phosphorus and Potassium, winter rains will wash Nitrogen out of the soil. The vines awaken to their Spring renewal and find the soil is fairly well depleted of Nitrogen.
Our part of the Willamette Valley receives about 45 inches of rain each fall (and virtually no rain during the summer). Our objective with cover crops is to always use a plant that will “fix” Nitrogen in the soil. Legumes such as winter peas or summer crops such as Vetch will fix Nitrogen in the soil.
When we use the term “fix” we mean that the plant will take Nitrogen out of the atmosphere and translocate it to its roots. Nitrogen fixation is often seen as small nodules on the root system. Turning these plants into the soil in Springtime will release the Nitrogen so that the vine roots can uptake it for the current growing season. Think of it as “Just in Time” fertilization. Not to worry about the atmosphere, about 78% of the air we breathe is Nitrogen, the remaining 21% is oxygen and that last 1% depends on your specific location in the world.
The alternative is not to plant cover crops. This leaves the soil on the vineyard floor undisturbed and there are benefits to that – especially if you are a worm, or know someone who is. Typically, grass is grown in each row to prevent soil erosion. The grass will compete with the vines for water and nutrients. That means that the vines will be getting their nutrients from a source other than cover crops.
A third possibility is to leave the vineyard floor clean cultivated. This means that all of the plants are gone, and the soil is completely bare and exposed. This may be a condition left over from the growing season where all of the plants are tilled into the soil to reduce water competition to young vines or vines grafted onto rootstocks producing shallow root systems. It may be intentional, or it could be that the tractor broke down before the cover crop could be planted and then the rains set in. Either way, it is the least desirable condition for the vineyard floor as we begin the growing season.
What does this mean and why should I care?
Have you ever tasted a wine and thought, well, it’s pleasant enough but something is lacking? Maybe it was filtered before being bottled and that took out some of the magic. Or maybe, the grapes were a little starved for nutrients when they were on the vine. Hmm… The first clue would be to look for signs of cover crops, or empty bags of (Ukrainian) fertilizer. Watson, get your boots. We are going sleuthing!
Assessing a vine’s nutritional health as it contributes to wine quality is a difficult task. Each vine is contributing to wine quality. The difficult part is finding the vines that are not contributing in a positive way. Imagine conducting 52,000 individual performance evaluations each year. It’s kinda like that.
Sometimes an issue arises and affects a certain section of the vineyard. In this case it is most likely something in the soil at that particular location such as a winter high water table that is drowning the roots. Or it could be a specific clone and rootstock combination under attack. Monocultures in agriculture are a risky thing.
Consider the Irish Potato Famine. The Irish Lumper was a very prolific potato and a staple in in many Irish households. It also just happened to be susceptible to a water mold that destroyed the plant and the potatoes. Sadly, this variety was virtually a monoculture throughout Ireland. After two growing seasons, the Irish Lumper was all but wiped out. On the bright side, an Irish farmer has re-introduced the Irish Lumper. That is going to require a well thought out marketing plan. Good luck with that.
Sometimes you do see a vine’s plea for help. This can occur after an incident of tractor blight. Tractor blight occurs when the vine and the tractor try to occupy the same physical space at the same time. The resulting blight is clearly visible and in most cases the vine can recover.
Other times it is the leaves that are making the ask. Nutrient deficiencies can manifest themselves through leaf discoloration. We have a known Magnesium deficiency when vines are grafted onto 44-53M rootstock. The leaves show a specific chlorosis that indicates the vine is lacking Magnesium. Other nutrients have specific “tells” that discolor the leaves indicating the specific nutritional deficiency.

Magnesium deficiency in a grapevine leaf.
And then there is mite damage. These little insects feed on the vascular tissue of the vine robbing it of its precious fluids. Cover crops, as detailed above, can help increase your predatory insect population that will decrease the unwanted mite population. And we may take a brief moment to point out “Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

Major Kong Rides The Bomb in Dr. Strangelove
When you discover a deficiency during the growing season, what to do? If you passed on the cover crops last fall, well, as Tanya Tucker sang. “It's a little too late to do the right thing now.” As always in farming, doing nothing is an option. Applying some form of fertilizer to feed the deficiency is the other option. But the underlying question is seldom addressed, what does this mean for wine quality?
Some clones have their own issues in the form of being virused. No matter what you do, the vine has an internal issue that manifests itself during the growing season. For Pinot Noir clone 667, this usually means the vine looks completely stressed weeks before harvest. No human input of fertilizer or cover crop regime will solve what ails this vine. The resulting wine from this clone is distinctive and can easily be identified in the cellar. As for the quality of the wine, it is often exemplary.
So if it works, do we have to fix it? We have adopted the position that a healthy vine with access to naturally formed nutrients is the first best path to wine quality. Every growing season is unique in the Willamette Valley and deficiencies can happen. Lack of soil moisture is a common theme in the summer and has been more pronounced in recent vintages. But does this mean we should start irrigating our dry farmed vineyards? Of course not. We recognize the vintage variations of a marginal climate and celebrate the fact that our wines do reflect the ever-changing climate. Our long-term objective however, is to have grown the best wine on the planet, for as long as we have a planet to grow wine on.
Live from New York!
The numbers this month come from New York where Vinous Media is published. Our 2016 “Hers and His” reserve Pinot Noir wines were just reviewed. And they went right down the line: 93 points Amalie’s Cuvee, 94 points Estate Selection and 95 points for the 2015 The Reserve. You can check out our updated Vintage Scorecard here:

Amalie's Cuvée - 93 points
Deep, shimmering crimson. Spice-tinged red and blue fruit scents, along with hints of musky earth and candied flowers. Juicy and expansive on the palate, offering concentrated cherry cola, blueberry and spicecake flavors braced by a core of juicy acidity. Shows fine definition and repeating florality on the persistent finish, which is framed by well-integrated, discreet tannins.
Estate Selection - 94 points
Limpid ruby-red. Highly perfumed, mineral-accented aromas of raspberry, cherry cola and spicecake show fine detail and take on a floral overtone with aeration. Juicy and penetrating on the palate, offering juicy red and blue fruit preserve, rose pastille and candied licorice flavors and a touch of vanilla. Finishes very long and smooth, with repeating florality and discreet tannins that fold smoothly into the vibrant fruit.
The Reserve – 95 points
Full garnet. Vibrant, finely etched red berry, cherry, blood orange and exotic spice scents are complemented by a floral note and a hint of smoky minerality. Stains the palate with intense raspberry, cherry cola, allspice and rose pastille flavors that convey a suave blend of power and finesse. Smooth tannins build slowly on the impressively persistent finish, which emphatically echoes the floral and spice notes.
"Dena Drews and Ernie Pink are in no hurry to release their wines. If you know the wines and how they age, it makes great sense for the buyer, but it’s a pretty amazing sacrifice on the part of the winery. The vineyard is located just outside of Dallas, at the western end of the Willamette Valley. Their 35 acres directly abut the legendary Freedom Hill vineyard, which should give an idea of the quality of this location. This is a very low-profile operation, by design, but the consistently high quality of its wines has earned it a loyal, almost secret-handshake following that goes back to when Drews and Pink set up shop in 1999. The winemaking here is decidedly low-impact, and the resulting wines are elegant, focused and understated, with the balance to age gracefully (hence the late release policy) and positively. There aren’t many “insider” wineries left in this increasingly popular and well-traveled region, but Amalie Robert definitely qualifies." - Josh Raynolds, Vinous Media, February 2022

Culinary Inclinations Spring 2022
Spring Lamb is our Spring culinary inclination. For such a small animal, there are a wide variety of preparations. These include rack of lamb, braised lamb shanks, lamb chops or T-bones and ground lamb seasoned and filled into pinwheels or purses. Pinot Noir may not be the most obvious choice, but it shines mightily.
And there is a world of accoutrements and spices going well beyond salt, pepper and mint jelly. Moroccan spices on ground lamb pinwheels or purses with a side of mango chutney. Cucumber and yogurt join forces with garlic and olive oil as the base for Tzatziki. Roasted red pepper aioli with smoked paprika and Meyer lemon infused olive will add color and flair. What a conundrum, what to do, where to start?
There are alternatives as well. For those who find lamb to be a little too intense in flavor and aroma, we suggest venison as an alternative. We realize that not everyone is going out to the back 40 to harvest their own venison, as fun as that might be. Besides, it's the off season in the northern hemisphere, but down under...

A small herd of New Zealand deer. They heard you were coming.
The venison we are referring to is sourced from Silver Fern Farms in New Zealand. The animals are raised by Ben and Raewyn Gaddum, Tuapae Farms, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. And if your post-COVID wanderlust is taking you to Hawke's Bay, we recommend a few lovely days and nights in the Art Deco city of Napier. You will never see water quite so blue as from the balcony of the County Hotel.

The County Hotel, Napier New Zealand
Our introduction to Tuapae Farms venison happened in Birmingham, Alabama. Of all places that are food and wine, Birmingham is THE place. (The Gulf and LA (Lower Alabama) have their own cool vibe). The cut was rack of venison. Rack of venison is midway between the size of a rack of pork and a rack of lamb. Each rib chop was sliced about ¾ of an inch thick with a very generous portion of rib cap. Roasted to perfection and served aside roast winter vegetables and braised bitter greens.
The wine? Oh yes, the wine was Satisfaction Syrah, vintage 2015. The venue was a country club with about 50 guests. While it was a good crowd with a fair bit of interaction throughout the evening, the room drew quiet during this course. That was testament to the excellent preparation of the venison, and we hope a harmonious pairing with the wine.
We add Silver Fern Farms to our highly recommended list of purveyors which also includes White Pekin duck from Maple leaf Farms. You can check out their shopping carts here: Silver Fern Farms and Maple Leaf Farms.
Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate: 2021 Happy Holidays!

Hello and Welcome, 

2021 Happy Holidays from Amalie Robert Estate!


As the season turns to friends and family, we would like to extend to you our warmest wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a fruitful New Year. We would also like to take this opportunity to welcome new friends to the Amalie Robert Estate FLOG as we celebrate the passage of the 21st amendment and the repeal of the 18th Amendment aka Prohibition! And while the 21st is not going away anytime soon, its interpretation is being re-imagined. As in the review of several laws that may have lost their relevance in the COVID reality.

Winemaking: The Continuation of Terroir by Other Means. ®
 A FLOG communication (Farming bLOG) by Dena & Ernie from Amalie Robert Estate. Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Have a look and see what we see on Instagram @AmalieRobert Estate. We are posting on Facebook and LinkedIn. Check us out if you can. We can use all the likes we can get… Want to learn more about Amalie Robert? Take the Tour!

The 5th of the month and the repeal of Prohibition!
The 5th of the month has more significance than Ernie was previously aware. A thirst for knowledge and a little research has greatly expanded his appreciation for the 5th of the month.
January through March is a write-off. We are just too busy working to be bothered. However, for some the 5th of the month is payday.
April 5th is a day we wake up and realize the government is about to get more of our money than ever before. However, we owe ourselves about $29.0 trillion (up from about $27.3 trillion last year), that's just about $87,073 (up from about $82,585 last year) per person living in the United States, and $229,706 per taxpayer. And that’s starting to look like real money. Hmmm, these COVID variants certainly have a half life. You can check our progress from time to time right here.
As you well know, the holiday Cinco De Mayo is a celebration on the 5th day of the 5th month. The purpose of which is to celebrate the victory by the Mexican Army over the French Army in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Of course, and as always, there is more to the story. Here is a link with more details.
We transition right to June 5th. This date is very significant to Ernie, as it is Dena’s birthday! As many of you know, Dena’s middle name is Amalie and is the palate defining Amalie’s Cuvée.
July 5th is the day we would have declared our Independence, however as Americans, we just couldn’t wait. Somewhat like opening a gift, or maybe two, on Christmas Eve.
August 4th, 2011, again we couldn’t wait, is the first time the US debt exceeded 100% of our Gross Domestic Product - GDP (Gosh Darn Politicians).
However, August 5th brings little pink berries to our Pinot Noir vines. Ernie likes this, a lot!
September 5th is significant to all children and especially their parents. It usually is about the time the children are going back to school. But again, 2020 has a different scholastic program for most districts. Got WIFI?
October 5th usually finds us in the middle of harvest. Due to the protracted nature of harvesting and fermenting Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Viognier and now that little rascal Gewürztraminer, Ernie has dubbed the 10th and 11th months to be “Octo-vem-BIER.” 
November 5th is when the freshly plucked Syrah and Viognier wine berries began to ferment. And the winery did smell AMAZING!

On December 5th we find ourselves at the end of the calendar. 2021 marks the 88th year of the repeal of the social engineering experiment known as Prohibition.
On January 16th, 1919, the United States Congress passed the Volstead Act. The Volstead Act was passed to provide enforcement of the 18th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, aka Prohibition. This marked the beginning of Prohibition. We wonder what Congress’s approval rating was that year.
This is an excerpt of section 1 of the 18th amendment:
“…the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.”
During the following 13 years, the people of the United States bore witness to the effects of Prohibition. Further, they were able to compare the politicians’ promises and pontifications to the experiences in their own daily lives - aka The Real World. This phenomenon has persisted in each and every congress since and can lead to the malady known as cognitive dissonance. Ernie calls it “Negotiated Reality”.
It was in 1929 that a curious little product was invented and granted trademark protection. Ernie may be deviating from his factual discourse here, but perhaps this product was used in reference to the politicians of the day who could not tell the difference between a good idea and Prohibition. Sometimes it is hard to tell fact from fiction, sometimes not. The product was a shoe wax called Shinola. Now they make watches, in Detroit.
Winegrowers of the time were a hearty breed, they had to be. The manufacture, distribution and sale (including export offshore) of alcohol was illegal. If your livelihood depended on growing some 100 tons of grapes and selling the fermented juice, you were out of business (and so was your labor force), or so the politicians thought.
Now, let us introduce the law of Supply and Demand. (Note: Much like gravity this is a law not subject to political pressure.) Despite a small minority trying to legislate morality on the entire citizenry, the American public sought to exercise their rights as citizens living in a free country. After all, that’s why they were here.
It turns out that many people had unexplained illnesses during those 13 years. In visiting their family physicians, it seemed the most cost effective treatment was the prescription of alcohol, wine in most cases, for medicinal purposes. One thing often leads to another and new upstart health clinics quietly appeared. Called speakeasies, these outpatient clinics provided a wide variety of treatments for whatever may be ailing you. Lead poisoning, while not common, was a serious health risk. The health care industry in this country is a very curious thing.
Presidential Proclamation number 2065

Even today, the debate continues over the health benefits of alcohol, red wine in particular and Pinot Noir specifically, for the high content of Resveratrol. You can learn more about Resveratrol here.

Or NASCAR, which is the natural evolution of a rapid delivery system that kept the formularies of the day fully stocked - much to the chagrin of the treasury agents. One of the most recent rising stars of NASCAR is driver Brandon Brown who won his first career Xfinity Series victory at Talladega Superspeedway in the Fall of 2021.

We now come to the presidential election of 1932. FDR, as he was known, achieved many things. The most wide sweeping change affected nearly everyone in the United States and for generations to come, including several of our foreign trading partners. Recall, the importation of Canadian, Irish and Scotch whisky was also illegal. As an aside, Ernie’s time in Ireland taught him that the Scot’s never acknowledged Prohibition and they kept the pipeline open.

On December 5th, 1933, the 21st amendment was ratified by the United States Congress. In what may be the most effective and efficient legislation known to this great country, here is Section 1 in its entirety:
“Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.”
We see here that sweeping changes in legislation, or repeal of them, may be difficult, but certainty not impossible.
As you enjoy the holiday season, please take a moment to reflect on your constitutional right to grow, produce, blend, bottle, sell, or purchase and consume wine, especially Pinot Noir!
When the time is right, please enjoy our wines with friends, food and in moderation.
Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2021 Harvest After Action Report (HAAR)

Hello and Welcome, 

This is the Harvest After Action Report (HAAR) from Amalie Robert Estate, Vintage 2021. Suggested reading time is 1.25 ARB’s (Adult Recreational Beverages). If you can possibly manage the time, please read this FLOG in one sitting. 

All’s well that ends well… Apparently this is not a new concept as William Shakespeare’s play was published in the 1600’s. Typically, a person can forget about how unpleasant or difficult something was because everything worked out fine. Or cognitively, it is just easier to set your sights on the next objective and forget about it. You will do better next time… Note that Shakespeare’s play is considered a comedy. Just imagine the literary masterpieces he could have turned out if he were a farmer!
In hindsight, Vintage 2021 really wasn’t so bad. Years from now we will taste the wines and all have a good laugh. Some will laugh first, others will laugh loudest and someone will have the last laugh. We suspect Mother Nature is laughing right now. You could even consider it a comedy. A tragic comedy, a comedy of errors, there are several comedic choices available. It was Cluster Pluck to remember…

Winemaking: The Continuation of Terroir by Other Means. ®

A FLOG communication (Farming bLOG) by Dena & Ernie from Amalie Robert Estate. Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Have a look and see what we see on Instagram @AmalieRobert Estate. We are posting on Facebook and LinkedIn. Check us out if you can. We can use all the likes we can get… Want to learn more about Amalie Robert? Take the Tour!

Prologue: Vintage 2021
Each farming year begins with high hopes and great aspirations. Another year of experience informs us of the newfound perils to be mindful of as we set off on a new vintage. The first three months of the year are consumed with pruning the vines. Pruning is an arduous task completed in the wind and rain and occasional sunny day. Our job is to get the vines ready for their big day – Bud Break. And this year that occurred at a relatively normal time of April 15th. It is a heartwarming sight to see these dormant canes spring forth with little green shoots. Frost is sometimes a threat to the newly emerged shoots and astute vineyard site selection is the key to avoid this peril. And sometimes all you need is a bit of old fashioned good luck.

April brings with it a substantial amount of tractor time getting the vineyard floor ready to support the vines’ exponential growth spurt that occurs in May and June. First is incorporating the cover crop from last fall that will decompose and release nutrients to the vines. Then a quick pass with the seed drill to add a summer cover crop to attract beneficial insects and fix a little nitrogen. Not that the nitrogen was broken, but “fix” is the term used when plants convert nitrogen from the atmosphere and store it on their roots. And that is how we feed our vines without the use of chemical fertilizers. We do burn a few dinosaurs along the way. But its Bio-Diesel here in Oregon, so it’s not all bad.

May and June is when all hell breaks loose in the canopy. The vines are on a driven 6 month schedule from April to October to ripen their seeds and reproduce, then they go dormant for the next 6 months. Nice work if you can get it. May and June are when those cute little green buds we noticed in April rapidly grow into long canes that need to be harnessed in the trellis catch wires – all by hand. The simple math is 50,000 vines times 12 buds is 600,000 shoots that need to be manually tucked into 3 pairs of trellis catch wires and clipped into place.

If It’s Going to Be, It’s Up to Me
And that’s when the first major trial of Vintage 2021 occurred. (Note: We will spare you the minor trials we experience every day, like lifting the fog, finding the internet hotspot sweet spot or co-locating with the tractor keys). Once the shoots are all tucked into the wires, Ernie gets out the hedger to trim the tops of the shoots. Like the periodic colonoscopy, this has become a fairly straightforward procedure. But this year is the year where the THIRD Landini tractor wheel failed. And it failed in the most spectacular fashion, on the downhill run of row 18, block 29. That is a lovely block of Pommard clone on 44-53 rootstock.

Once the shock and initial inspection was complete, the reality set in. How in the hell do we get the tractor out of the vineyard on 3 wheels? With the hedger attached no less. Fortunately, there are 12 bottles of beer in a half rack, and that affords the winegrower some time for creative thinking and limited critical reasoning. And since it’s summer, we can pee outside. And often do.
It turns out the solution was not to move the tractor out of the field on three wheels, but to remove, repair and replace the broken wheel. With Dena’s help and cellphone at the ready in case of emergency, Ernie gathered unto himself all of his tools, jacked up the machine, removed the broken wheel and wheel studs, and exited the field unscathed.

Then a quick call to Ray King of King’s Industries was in order. Ray recalled fixing the last two broken wheels and was up for a welding trifecta. First, Ernie had to stop off at Les Schwab to remove the rubber tire from the steel wheel. Ray doesn’t like to apply heat and high voltage in close proximity to rubber. There are old welders and bold welders, but not so many old, bold welders. Then just as quick as you please, that’s less than 24 hours in farming time, Ray had the wheel ready to roll. Then it was back to Les Schwab for a reinstall of the tire.
And since the tread was wearing down, Ernie took the time to find out how much a replacement tire would cost. “No sir, that size tire is no longer available.” It seems like just a couple years ago when Ernie found out replacement wheels were no longer available. So, it was back to block 29 to reinstall our very precious wheel and irreplaceable tire.

Installing the wheel is a simple process – line up the spokes with the hub and slide the wheel studs through. Add NEW lock washers and torque down the nuts. All good, except when a vine is between you and the wheel. The vine rows are set at 90 inches wide and the front wheels track at 55 inches wide. That leaves about 17 inches between a front tire and a vine. Fortunately, it was a sunny day, not too hot and with nothing much else to do until the wheel was replaced. After a commensurate amount of time, Ernie had the wheel replaced and was able to drive the tractor out of the confines of block 29 under its own power .

May through August is the time when we must spray the vines. Much like we spray flowering shrubberies such as roses, we spray vines to keep mildew from attacking our wine berries. And to do this we use a sprayer. The sprayer takes power from the tractor PTO (Power Take Off) driveshaft to power the pump that pressurizes the solution that is sprayed on the vines. The pump is a diaphragm pump. A diaphragm pump with a failed diaphragm will not pressurize the sprayer. And this was the second major trial of Vintage 2021.

The quick answer is sometimes the best answer, just ask Occam. In this particular case, a replacement pump would be the best repair. Maybe a little more money, but far less time. The vineyard spray schedule is about every 7 to 10 days. That means there is a small and dwindling window of time to make this repair. If not, mildew would have the great opportunity to infect the entire vineyard. Delayed spray intervals have the potential to create a total loss. These types of thoughts have a tendency to focus the mind and enact decisive action.
And of course, Ernie discovered his pump’s ruptured diaphragm on a Saturday. So he sent off a few E-mails and found another wanting project to absorb his excess time. Come Monday afternoon, no responses. A few calls to the sprayer manufacturer went straight to voicemail. Monday must be a busy day for these folks. So, the next logical step is to call the pump manufacturer. Success favors the prepared mind.
Well, it turns out that the manufacturer must have had a slow day because Ernie had about 30 minutes with them. They confirmed what Ernie had suspected, he was the proud owner of a boat anchor. The next task was to contact the local dealer to source a new pump. The number he was given to the local dealer happened to be in Washington. And they had no pumps in stock. They did have several on order, but none in stock.
“Why don’t you call the Oregon dealer? It says they have 7 in stock.” Well why not, indeed? So Ernie took down the number and called them up. Sure enough, they did have 7 in stock. Ernie reserved one and confirmed the drive time to be about an hour. Great, just enough time for lunch. And then the phone rang. It turns out the pumps were not in the warehouse. “We can’t find them. They are not where they are supposed to be. But they do have some on order in Washington.” Great, just great.
Lunch was ready, and this was a problem that was going to have to wait for 30 minutes. At about the 20-minute mark, the phone rings. “We found them.” The disappearing and reappearing pump is an example of the self-correcting problem. This is the very best kind of problem to have.

What followed on next was supposed to be a simple pump R&R (remove and replace). And it was, right up until it came time to remove and replace the drive gear that was pressed onto the input shaft. “No, you should not have to take that to a machine shop,” said the voice on the other end of the phone. You would think after 20 some years farming, Ernie would be less gullible. The next time you see Ernie, just remember he looks that way for a reason.

It was the rest of the day with a gear puller from his drag racing days that he removed the drive gear from the failed pumps input shaft. With a strong feeling of accomplishment and sense of self-reliance, Ernie held the drive gear up to the new pump’s input shaft. It easily slid down about ¼ inch, with about 3 more inches to go.

Reality began to seep in like the feeling you get when you realize that last beer was not necessarily in your best interest. While the path of excess does lead to knowledge, at some point you reach the point of diminishing returns. The drive gear has to go on the new input shaft at exactly the same depth of position as it was on the failed pump’s input shaft. And the only way it is going to go down that shaft is with a precision application of percussive maintenance.

Starting with the smallest hammer, a full can of WD-40 and a tape measure, the disciplined application of force began. Tap, tap tap, whack, whack, whack and measure. Ok, that was another ¼ inch. Time for a little bigger hammer. The next day later, with the BFH (Big Farmin’ Hammer), the drive gear was right where it was supposed to be. Ernie set the pump back in the sprayer and hooked up all of the hoses and the drive chain. It was the moment of truth. And it WORKED! The FIRST time! Clearly something was wrong, but whatever that may be, it performed like a champ all year.

Climate Change Visits the Willamette Valley
In sales they say if you can’t change your people, then it’s time to change your people. In farming, you put down roots in a piece of dirt that has the soil characteristics you want in an area that has the climate that will ripen your desired and saleable crop. For us that means sedimentary soil in the northern half of the Willamette Valley where we can grow world class wines. And we respect that each year there will be highs and lows and that the climate tends to vacillate over the years.

The third major trial of Vintage 2021 was summer heat and drought. Our record high temperature was 118 degrees recorded on June 28th. That set a record for the state and a personal best for Dena and Ernie. A second bout of heat hit us about a month later on July 30th that topped out at 103 degrees. Our vintage 2021 growing season Degree Days are 2,755. The next closest vintage was 2003 at 2,699 Degree Days. No matter how you spin it, that’s pretty farmin’ hot.

September added 404 Degree Days with a high temperature of 94.8 degree recorded on September 7th at 3:48 pm. The low temperature was 39.7 degree recorded on September 16th at 5:48 am. October was a return to a more typical Oregon fall recording 98.4 degree days. The high temperature was 73.8 degrees recorded on October 3rd at 12:36 pm. The low temperature was 31.6 degrees recorded on October 12th at 6:48 am. The two days of hang time in November for the Syrah harvest added another 1.2 Degree Days with a high temperature of 53.2 and a low temperature of 43.2. And that concluded the Great Cluster Pluck, Vintage 2021.
We recorded 3.56 inches of rain from April through June with the last rainfall recorded on June 14th. The next meaningful precipitation arrived on September 18th with 1.22 inches of rain. That is a 3-month summertime period with no precipitation and record heat. Aka, a long dry spell… Total rainfall for September was 2.73 inches. The first half of October provided another 0.95 inches of rain as we finished up the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir harvest. The second half of October gave us quite a lashing with 3.56 inches of rain and a sky full of birds when it wasn’t downpouring. Somewhat odd that the last half of October rainfall matched the first three months of the growing season. But it did.

The summer heat arrived when the wine berries were still green. The vines flowered on June 1st and they had about 6 more weeks before they started to turn color and enter veraison on July 28th. The immediate, obvious impact to wine quality was purely speculative. As this was an unprecedented event, no one knew for sure what the impact would be and what follow-on events leading up to harvest would occur. These were the ideal conditions necessary for talking heads to flood social media. This is a recurring problem not confined to all things Vinous.

However, shading of the fruit during the growing season will be a factor in the wines, it always is. The more sun exposure, the more tannin will be developed in the wine berry skins. Just like a day at the beach, the more unprotected sun exposure means a stronger reaction in your skin. And if you happen to be a wine berry (more on that later), excess sun exposure means excess levels of tannins.

It is yet to be seen how these climatic factors will impact the wines from Vintage 2021. What we can say for sure is that each of these factors will influence Vintage 2021. But whether the influence is in a positive way, is yet to be seen.
The Human Factor
Wine growing is a labor-intensive endeavor. While we mechanize where we can, and enjoy the opportunity to go in depth with the associated maintenance, there are just some tasks in growing premium wine that are best left to the humans. Case in point is mechanical harvesting. Those machines are roving the vineyards in our area, but we are not having any of it. All of our wine berries at Amalie Robert Estate are cluster plucked by hand. Or beak, if the winged cluster puckers get there before we do.

The Great Cluster Pluck lies at the intersection of when you want to pluck, when humans are available to pluck and the weather conditions allowing you to pluck. While not a factor in Vintage 2021, air quality can play a role, as in negating an entire vintage. We had to call off the Great Cluster Pluck in Vintage 2020 due to smoke taint. Pluck Off!

We focus on the one factor we can control and that is when to pluck what. Out of 55,000 vines cut into 47 blocks, we know some are ready before others. In Pinot Noir, we look for expressive aromas and flavors that tend toward Montmorency cherry with a strong showing of acidity. In Syrah, we look for something other. While each vintage offers something to love, we look for the same aroma and flavor markers in each vintage. This helps us put some form of order or consistency to the finished wines, while capturing the individual characteristics of each vintage. And having only a single block of Pinot Meunier, that wine gets elevated status as there is no margin for error.

Finally, we have to contend with the people in the mirror. And this year, that’s all we had in the winery. Fortunately, we had a really good architect who listened to us when we said, “The two of us should be able to run this winery with a pallet jack.” Because we did. We will admit that mirror placement was a critical factor in our success. Please bear in mind, we are living the dream, so you don’t have to.
The Great Cluster Pluck: Vintage 2021
Hang time is the term used to describe the final days of ripening when the wine berries develop the most expressive aroma and flavor. Some fruits can ripen after they are harvested, pears come to mind. But not wine. Once you pluck the wine berries from the vine, aroma and flavor development will cease. The ability to give the wine berries hang time depends on several factors including rootstock, vine age and root depth, canopy management and rainfall, or the lack thereof.
We have a few words to share regarding canopy management and alcohol potential. We have come to believe that the taller the canopy, the higher the alcohol potential in the finished wines. Taller canopies have a tendency to use more soil moisture, thus reducing hang time. This is especially true in the warmer vintages. We learned this lesson years ago with Viognier, which is all about sugar accumulation. Our response was to hedge a shorter canopy to remove the top story of leaves creating the issue. The fewer leaves at the top of the canopy means lower sugar concentration in the vines. And that means lower alcohol potential in the wine. Planning ahead is a variant of the “self-correcting problem” scenario.

One of our key factors in selecting harvest dates in Vintage 2021 was rainfall. After an unprecedented hot and dry growing season, we wanted to see some moisture rehydrate the vines to alter the sugar and acid chemistry in the wine berry. We also wanted a few more days of hang time to allow for more aroma and flavor development. Better wines through naturally altering the chemistry on the vine – that’s what hang time can do for you.
And we got it. September blessed us with 2.73 inches of rain. The opening salvo was from the 18th to the 20th with 1.22 inches and the second round was the 27th and 28th with 1.51 inches. Get out the buckets, we’re going cluster pluckin’! And we did.

The Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay harvest continued through October 16th as we dodged a few more vintage extending showers. Then all we had left to go was Ernie’s acre of Willamette Valley Syrah and Viognier. The showers continued on and off and on again throughout October. “Not to worry” was Ernie’s response.

And then it was time. Sunday, October 31st was the last best day of hang time. The sun was out and a mild breeze cleared the air. The sweet smell of fallen leaves beginning to decompose filled the air. The harvest window was set for Tuesday, November 2nd. It was a bittersweet harvest in the sense that we had to wait for aroma and flavor to develop, but the winged cluster pluckers were not so inclined. While the quality of the fruit was phenomenal, there is a short supply of Vintage 2021.
As we close the chapter on Vintage 2021, we would like to share the five stages of Pinot Noir with you.

Pinot Noir Pre-Harvest. This is Pinot Noir on the vine. We have assessed the quality of the fruit and found it to be exceptional. Cluster Plucking will begin at first light.

Pinot Noir Post-Harvest Pre-Fermentation. This is Pinot Noir clusters successfully extracted from the vineyard and awaiting fermentation at the winery. First things first, they all get weighed.

Pinot Noir Post-Fermentation. We have fermented the sugar out of them, and they are spent. They have given their very best and now are off to the compost pile to provide nutrients for a future vintage.

Pinot Noir Pre-Blending Barrel Maturation. This is where the magic happens, softening stem tannins and slowly maturing our wines in barrel before each blend is decided.

Pinot Noir Post-Blending Pre-You. The blend is complete and here we have a “Clean Skin” bottle awaiting a label and capsule. Once the packaging is complete, each bottle will be lovingly matched to 11 others and stored for bottle maturation before release.
Pinot Noir For You! Each bottle is labelled and ready to go! And soon, Christmas is coming. Really, it is!
Happy Holidays,

Dena & Ernie