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

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate: A Mid-Summer Night's Dream, "If I Ran the Zoo"

Hello and Welcome, 

 
It is mid-August in Willamette Valley Pinot Noir wine country. The West Coast fires continue to expand and the resulting particulate matter is providing for some spectacular sunset viewing. The moon is waxing and glowing an ominous brick red. While we can see the air we breathe, we cannot smell it. 
 
The Air Quality Index (AQI) has been moderate for the Willamette Valley - under 100. That is mostly due to the Jet Steam providing sanctuary in the form of a south easterly flow bringing fresh air from the Gulf of Alaska. There have been clouds, but still no rain. Things would be different if we ran the zoo. At least we would like to think they would be.

Reading time: 0.75 Adult Recreational Beverages.
 

THE BIG PICTURE
 

Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Dijon Clone 114.
 
Our quest is to rescue these wine berries at the peak of aroma and flavor development, and then ferment the sugar out of them. It’s The Great Cluster Pluck, Charlie Brown! And it is closer than you might think.
 
 
The Perp-Walk Line-up
 

That’s the one! The second one from the left. Yes, I am sure of it!
 
Yellow jackets, which are actually classified as “predatory social wasps of the genera Vespula” are an ever-present part of the winegrowing endeavor. But we know their weakness and now is the time we exploit that weakness to our full advantage.
 
They like salmon. Fresh Pacific Northwest salmon is their thing, and our thing too. Ernie does this very simply with sprigs of variegated lemon thyme, smoked Paprika and a dusting of ground ginger. Convection roast on 325 for about 20 minutes while a cool vintage Pinot Noir is opened and set to breathe. We might have a sip, or maybe two, to verify the provenance, and you can too!
 
Yellow jackets are not so particular. A few scraps of fish from around the fins or off the bones is all they need. Dena packs those scraps into the standard, vertical yellow jacket traps and hangs them off the south facing metal end posts at first light.
 
Walk by after a few hours of direct sunlight, and WHOA! The scent of freshly “sun ripened” salmon is overwhelming. Yellow jackets are coming out of the blackberry bushes to get a piece of that action! Once the traps are full, Dena soaks them overnight in a bucket of water and RELOADs for the next day. While the number of yellow jackets we take from the overall population may be insignificant, it is a moral victory.
 
Our zoo would not allow yellow jackets to free range over the grounds. However, there would be a yellow jacket viewing area. The viewing area would be just outside of the glassed in, fully enclosed Yellow Jacket Experience exhibit.

This exhibit would allow humans to interact with all 4 species of yellow jackets in their natural habitat. The climatic conditions would be set to Willamette Valley Pinot Noir harvest conditions. That’s when the yellow jackets are at their zenith and most aggressive. Fresh salmon scraps and epi-pens available for purchase. Don’t delay, get YOURS today!
 
 
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!
 
Will you be in our area? Amalie Robert Estate is open by appointment for vineyard tours and tastings. Select your preferred day and time with the Big Red Button.
 
 
 
National Pinot Noir Day is Wednesday, August 18th. If Pinot Noir had an American birthday, this would be it. Most of us hope for a Friday or Saturday birthday, so we can let loose on that one day of the year that is uniquely our own. And you can rest assured that we would celebrate National Pinot Noir Day EVERYDAY if we ran the zoo. And the clocks would all be set to 5:00.
 

Pinot Noir has no such constraints. While the grape growing regions of the world may be due for some re-alignment (see below), the diversity of Pinot Noir is unparalleled in the wine world today. Choose from Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (our favorite), a Kiwi wine from New Zealand, a Beaune “1er” from Burgundy, or a lesser-known but equally interesting growing region.
 
Thanks to modern implementations of traditional techniques such as whole cluster fermentations and the use of indigenous yeast, Pinot Noir that has been grown, fermented and bottled over the half century is at its historical peak of viticultural and winemaking quality. But climatically speaking, the wines of the last few vintages stand apart.
 
 
Extended Heat and Fire Watch
 
 

 
We suffered a relapse of the June 110+ degree heat event in mid-August. And the forecast was actually pretty good. Our high temperatures beginning Wednesday, August 11th were 109, 110, 107 and 99. Once again it was off to the air-conditioned safety of the Independence Hotel.
 
The age-old combination of high heat and lack of rainfall lead to drought. If you live in a desert, this is nothing new to you. But if you are growing Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, this is not what you signed up for.
 
The drought will continue until the rainfall resumes. Maybe September, maybe October. Now, let’s see here, what comes after heat and drought?
 
Oh, that’s right, lightning and wildfires. Here is a graphic of the Pacific Northwest wildfires. While all fires are of concern, the fires we are monitoring are east and southeast of Salem.
 
 
The wildfires south of us around Eugene and northern California continue to expand. Washington state also has wildfires burning as does Canada. The Jet Stream continues to swap smoke particulate matter up and down the West Coast. Our only reprieve is when the Jet Stream shifts and fills the Willamette Valley with fresh cold air from the Gulf of Alaska.
 
The conditions that exist now are eerily similar to the conditions that doomed our vintage 2020, but happening a few weeks earlier. The final “blow” that doomed vintage 2020 for us came from the east. An arctic blast of low pressure frigid cold air came south out of Canada through Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. That forced a tremendous volume of air, at a very high rate of speed, to the West Coast.
 
 
That strong 60+ mile an hour east wind acted like a bellows that took those small wildfires east of Salem and turned them into ravaging wildfires. The smoke of which was on a direct path to us. Wildfires consume whatever lies in their destructive path from trees to buildings to cars to houses and more. The smoke produced is tainted by the fuel that was incinerated.
 
 
What Does This Mean and Why Should I Care?
 
What everyone we know wants to know is, what does that mean for Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, vintage 2021. Well, one thing that might come out of this is a ride on a Woolly Mammoth. It seems the Siberian fires are thawing permafrost and revealing some incredibly well preserved pre-historic animals. These animals have fur, skin, internal organs and DNA impeccably preserved.
 
And as humans being humans, it is only a matter of time before someone clones a pre-historic animal. But please, leave the viruses back in the stone age. The pre-historic Cave Lion Encounter will be near the Yellow Jacket Experience exhibit - it takes a different kind of mindset to enjoy these types of events. But that is all part of the zoo wonderment – something for everyone, including the exhibits.
 
Hot, dry and smoky conditions are not new to the Willamette Valley. After typhoon Pabuk doused vintage 2013, we have had several vintages of heat and smoke-filled skies. Dry summers and some measure of drought have also been common place. But if you have been paying attention, you have adapted to this new set of growing conditions.
 
 
Our vineyard mitigation strategies of removing leaves from the top of the canopy, keeping leaves to shade our fruit zone and mowing the grass down seem to be helping preserve soil moisture. Our canopy is still green and functioning. Planting 5C rootstock, the deepest rooting of them all, has been a viticultural stroke of genius. Access to deep soil moisture means the wine berries are continuing their natural ripening curve including color transformation from green to pink to mauve to the final destination – Pinot Noir purple.
 
Desiccation is a major concern heading into The Great Cluster Pluck without meaningful rainfall. The vines will rob water from the wine berries to cool the leaves if they can’t get it from the roots. Desiccation leads to high sugar concentration without commensurate aroma and flavor. High sugar concentration leads to high alcohol potential and early harvest dates. Early harvest dates can mean unripe aroma and flavor. If this were all a word puzzle, it could spell “What you got yourself there is a nice little Rosé vintage.” Not all bad, it goes with the sunset…
 
 
 
Mid-August Degree Day Update
 
Vintage 2021 continues to bring the heat. Once again, in the first half of August we see extreme daytime high temperatures and intolerable nighttime low temperatures.

We have accumulated 323 Degree Days for the first 15 days of August. The high temperature was 109.0 degrees recorded on August 21st at 5:12 pm. The low temperature was 49.6 degrees recorded on August 8th at 5:00 am. Total heat accumulation for vintage 2021 through August 15th now stands at 1,981 Degree Days.
 

Mid-August 2021 Degree Days of 1,981 compared to full month August Degree Days for prior vintages.
 
Here is actual data collected at the Portland airport from NOAA that shows the frequency of 90 degree or hotter days from June through mid-August. The pink bars represent each vintage, and the blue line is the 10 year rolling average.
 

 
While the detailed analysis and executive summary is a task left to the reader we can clearly see, that with the exception of vintage 1951, 1953 and 1998, there is never an “average” year where the trend line equals the yearly data point. Note: Vintages 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012 form a nice little data cluster. And made elegant wines…
 
Kindest Regards,


 










Thing One and Thing Two,
Just YOU wait until we run the zoo!

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: July 2021

Hello and Welcome, 

 
This is the Amalie Robert Estate Climate Update: July 2021. 
 
As most of you know, the west coast is experiencing a record drought, the forests are on fire and our Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is turning color two weeks early. And that was only July! We just can’t wait to experience August and September. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 


Pommard Clone Pinot Noir sporting a NEW look!

In our 60 acres of Willamette Valley wine country, July was mostly a pleasant month with “abnormalities” here and there – that’s why it is called farming. We were able to keep pace with the explosive vine growth and rescue one of Ernie’s Italian Stallions from block 29. Most of the heavy lifting is complete, and we now await The Great Cluster Pluck to visit itself upon us.
 
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!

Will you be in our area enjoying the Dog Days of Summer? Amalie Robert Estate is open by appointment for vineyard tours and tastings. And dogs are always welcome visitors! Select your preferred day and time with the Big Red Button.




 
Have you ever wondered how some places got their names? Consider Greenland and Iceland, they are complete misnomers. While the O.K. Corral sounds just fine, it was located in Tombstone Arizona. This is actually not too far from Deadwood where Ernie gets his old barrels. He checks for lead slugs before filling them. And then their is Broken Spoke, located just downstream from Poison Well.

Or Italian tractors with names like LanDIni which sounds a lot like LamBORgini, but alas it is not the same. Ernie decided early on that his life would be simpler if all of his machines were of the same manufacturer. This makes sense if you think about maintenance and the ability to swap parts across platforms if needed. But choose wisely as the problems of one are likely to crop up on the other two. At least it won’t be a surprise – the second time.
 

 
Has this ever happened to you? You are driving down the road, staying in your lane and digging on the radio. Then you hear that highway start to whine and you know that left rear tire is about to go. So you just limp on down the shoulder on the rim until you get to the Dew Drop Inn.
 

Has this ever happened to you - twice?

Well, if you are hedging along in block 29, and all 5 spokes of your LanDIni wheel snap off the hub, your choices are significantly more limited. And it’s not a whine that you hear, it is a thump-thump-thump that you feel as the right front hub is now bouncing off the wheel, sans spokes.

Well, first things first and power everything down including the flail mower and 10 hedger blades spinning at a bazillion rpm. The tractor fits between the rows just fine – most of the time, but there is little room for the suicide doors to open and let the operator exit the cab. After some effort, Ernie managed to get out and around to the hedger side of the machine. And just as sure as shishito peppers, all five spokes were broken off the hub. The wheel studs were still torqued into place – learned that lesson last time, and each one was holding a piece of the corresponding broken spoke. Isn't that something...
 


The Italian Stallion with hedger, disabled in block 29.

It took Ernie a few minutes to fully appreciate the gravity of the situation. As in how to get the tractor out of the middle of the vineyard on just three wheels. And the fact that the hedger was hanging off the same side of the tractor as the broken spokes, significantly altering the center of gravity of the entire machine. And the overall lay of the land which was sloping toward the hedger, further adding load to the dysfunctional right front hub. And not to mention the tractor was oriented downhill, adding even more load to the front axle of the disabled machine.

Once most of these thoughts coalesced in his mind, he turned to the nearest vine and articulately explained the situation in excruciating detail – using no uncertain terms. Expletives were not deleted. Their indeed may well be a tapestry of obscenity still hanging over Ralphie’s house, but we can assure you that vine will never be the same. Then a quick look at the time revealed it to be EXACTLY beer-thirty. It was a brisk walk back to the house.
 
After lying awake all night, Ernie devised a plan that may lift the right side of the tractor to allow the wheel and broken spokes to be safely removed. Alternatively, the tractor might just take a shine to the next row and tip over. Too soon to tell.
 
Dena accompanied Ernie along with a passel full of jacks, boards, blocks, sockets, wrenches and whatever else he could conjure up to block 29. The good news is that the machine was still there. And that was also the bad news. It was not a dream.

 
LanDIni hub, sans wheel.

Having had to perform a similar rescue on the other wheel driven LanDIni tractor a few years back, Ernie had some experience to guide him. As longtime readers of the FLOG know, experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.
 
First off a section of 2x8 board was placed under the axle, then the 2 ton floor jack went on top of that, just in case the jack sank into the soil. A fixed height jack stand went under the axle just in case the whole damn thing went south. Then slowly and very gingerly, Ernie began to work the jack.
 
Some encouragement was taken from the fact that the axle started to raise, and just on one side – the intended side. Soon Ernie was able to remove the wheel studs, broken spoke bits and then the broken wheel. Dena was there to collect and catalog all of the bits and pieces. She also had 9-1-1 on speed dial.
 
Riding with the King. Ray King that is, of King’s Industries. Ray is a genius in his chosen profession. Ernie knows this because he was able to fix the last TWO LanDIni wheel failures. Experience isn’t such a bad thing after all. Sure enough, Ray applied his talents and in less than 24 hours, Ernie had a viable wheel.
 

The Ray King Special - Better than new!


R&R stands for remove and replace. So, it was back up to block 29 with a repaired wheel and all the bits and pieces from the day before. First raise up the axle and then slowly position the wheel. Dena expertly applied WD-40 to the wheel studs, (new) lock washers and nuts. Ernie lined everything up and inserted the studs through the wheel spoke into the hub and threaded the nuts onto the backside. Hey, this could work!

And then we arrived at the moment of truth. Would the repaired wheel hold? What if it didn’t? Only one way to find out. Ernie fired up the machine (it started on the first try), activated the hedger and SLOWLY drove down the row. Dena was a few rows over and ahead observing.
 
Everything held. Ernie went down to the shop to put the final torque on the wheel studs, then it was back to work. There are four front LanDIni wheels that seem to lack structural integrity. Ray King has fixed 3 of them. Just one left. That’s Italian roulette, in the farming idiom.
 
 
Veraison Comes Early to the Willamette Valley.
 
Based on the growing season to date, it was not unexpected to see our first blazing Willamette Valley Pinot Noir berry on July 28th. The average date for this sort of behavior is August 15th, but we haven’t seen anything like that since vintages 2010 and 2011. While everyone knows it was hot in June and now again in July, the underreported story is the nighttime temperatures.
 
The vines get most of their work done during the daylight hours absorbing Photosynthetic Active Radiation (PAR) and turning that (along with carbon dioxide) into energy (glucose) which is stored in the leaves. The leaves release oxygen as a byproduct – and what a very important byproduct that is. This cycle is more commonly known as photosynthesis. But this is only half of the story.
 

One of these things is not like the others!

Energy stored in the leaves is like money in the bank. It is nice to have but the vine needs to spend that energy on the rest of the plant. And most of that work happens at night when the sun is down. The vascular tissue translocates the energy from the storage cells in the leaves to the rest of the vine and wine berries. But it only can do this with temperatures above 50 degree’s, more or less.
 
If it is too cold, the leaves cannot fully discharge their storage cells overnight. That means the next morning the vine has a reduced photosynthesis potential because some of their storage cells are still full from the previous day. Reducing the photosynthesis potential for the next day slows the ripening curve allowing for aroma and flavor development before building excess sugar concentrations. Let’s have a look at the June and July nighttime temperatures.
 

June 2021 temperature graph Willamette Valley, Dallas, Oregon.
 
The solid blue line at the bottom represents the daily historical average nighttime temperature for the month of June. As we can see toward the end of the month the ACTUAL LOW temperatures were nearly equal to the historical AVERAGE HIGH temperatures. This means the vines were getting all of their energy out of the leaves for the next morning. And yes the scale is correct. Our high temperature in June was 118 degrees.
 

July 2021 temperature graph Willamette Valley, Dallas, Oregon.
 
July continued the above historical average nighttime temperatures early on and then again at the end of the month. A bit of relief mid-month, but still, the nighttime temperatures are significantly above the historical average. High temperatures during the day and night means the vine is running WFO (as in “to run at full throttle with uncaring abandon”) and advancing the ripening curve. The best we can hope for is cool August nights. Yeah, Fuggitaboutit already.
 
And guess what helps foster increased nighttime temperatures. It’s our newfound companion “particulate matter” in the atmosphere. Like maybe smoke from a distant fire, or not so distant fire. From here, it’s looking like another early cluster pluck. But wait! There is more.
 

A plume of smoke from the not distant enough Bruler fire.

Available Soil Moisture, get it while you can.
 
“And its dry as a popcorn fart,” said Pierre. No rain since the beginning of June and none in sight until maybe mid to late September. We are not the dust bowl, but it is considered a drought. We are not saying that it can’t rain, just that it won’t rain. So now two factors move to the forefront of the chess board - canopy management and rootstock choice. Unwelcome hot August winds from the east that desiccate the wine berries are just a given for this kind of vintage.
 
After dealing with the excessive heat of the past few vintages, Ernie adopted the shorter canopy principle. The idea is that alcohol is grown at the top of the canopy. The more leaves up there, the higher sugar concentration in the wine berry, and that means more alcohol potential in the wine. So, off with their heads! We used to grow a 7.5 foot canopy, but now we just go to 6.5 feet.
 
Rootstocks are the part of the grafted vine that grow underground and supply all of the available soil moisture to the other half of the vine that grows the wine berries. And rootstocks are like dogs. There are all kinds of different dogs for all kinds of different people. Somme rootstocks have roots that do not grow very deep, it’s just how the way they are. Kinda like the legs on a basset hound – that’s all the more they got.
 

Rootstock rooting depth comparison.

Rootstocks are usually sorted out by how deep their roots grow. Deeper roots mean more access to water late in the season when rain is not forth coming. Vine A has a very shallow rooting habit, while vine C is considered to be very deep rooting. Many vineyards are planted on shallow rooting rootstocks to advance the ripening window. These decisions were made decades ago when the the growing conditions were significantly different than what we are experiencing today.

And in vintage 2021 if this is you, then you are screwed. Unless you have irrigation. But even then, as soon as you turn off the water, better be ready to harvest. Fortunately, Ernie discarded conventional wisdom and most of the vines at Amalie Robert Estate are grafted onto deep rooting rootstocks like 5C. But this year in some of our shallow soils, even 5C is feeling the burn.
 
As we close in on a harvest window, the vine itself becomes our worst enemy. The vine has seen this movie before, genetically speaking. It knows the wine berries are an annual crop, but the vine must endure year to year. And it knows that if the roots fail to bring up moisture to the leaves, it can always raid the water from inside the wine berry through the vascular tissue.
 
This is called desiccation. It can happen from the unfriendly hot east winds in August. And it can happen from the vine’s own survival mode. Either way, water leaves the wine berry and that increases the concentration of sugar. The higher the sugar concentration, the higher the alcohol potential, or leave the wine sweet. Aroma and flavor continue to wait out the clock, but the high sugar concentrations force a premature cluster pluck.
 
 
What Does This Mean and Why Should I Care?
 
The nighttime temperatures are propelling the vines to advance ripening and bring the harvest window forward. It is as if they are experiencing a warmer growing region. Can you say Paso Robles? These are not classic Willamette Valley Pinot Noir growing conditions.
 
The growing conditions we are experiencing are changing the ripening curve. Specifically, this means wine berries accumulating sugars in a shorter time period. Vines accumulate sugar in the wine berries as a function of heat, or degree days. The hotter it is, especially at night, the less time they need.
 
Remember, they are on a path to ripen seeds and develop a nice purple sugar packet around them that a bird or raccoon can see and then eat. The seeds are then deposited far and away, and the vine has accomplished its primary mission – to become fruitful and reproduce.
 
Aroma and flavor are more dependent on time on the vine. A longer, cooler growing season typically yields lower alcohol potential and more elegant aromas and flavors. That is why Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is its own thing. It has its unique terroir driven signature.
 
The wine will be good. The wine will reflect the vintage and its growing conditions. And that pretty much describes our first trademarked piece of intellectual property. “Wines true to the soil, wines true to the vintage.”®
 
 
The Numbers.
 
The month of July recorded a blistering 618 Degree Days. The high temperature for the month was 103.5 degrees recorded on July 30th at 5:12 pm and the low temperature was 47.3 degrees recorded July 15th at 5:30 am. The 20 year average July Degree Day accumulation for the vineyard at Amalie Robert Estate is 539 Degree Days. A trace of rain fell on July 31st - blink and you would have missed it.
 

 
Total growing season Degree Days through July now stand at 1,658. This is the hottest growing season we have ever experienced. The first runner up is vintage 2015 with 1,431 Degree Days followed by 2018 at 1,395 Degree Days. The 20 year average growing season Degree Days accumulation through July for the vineyard at Amalie Robert Estate is 1,144 Degree Days.
 

 
Please note, the TOTAL Degree Day accumulation for vintage 2010 was only 1,722 Degree Days. Alternatively, vintage 2003 added approximately 1,300 Degree Days during the months of August and September for a vintage total of 2,699 Degree Days.



We are reminded of the unique perspective George Carlin presented when describing baseball and football.  “Baseball has no time limit: we don't know when it's gonna end - might have extra innings. Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we've got to go to sudden death.” – George Carlin
 
In our winegrowing idiom, baseball represents the growing season and heat accumulation – we don’t know when it’s gonna end. Football is all about harvest. Once those wine berries are cut from the mother vine, that’s the end of the growing season game.
 
Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Friday, July 30, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2021 Pinot Noir in Flagrante!

 Hello and Welcome Dena, 

 
I See You! 

What you see here is Pinot Noir in Flagrante! The first blazing berry of vintage 2021 appeared on July 28th. This exemplar is Pommard Clone grafted onto Ernie’s esteemed 5C rootstock. With 5C being so deep rooted, it is a juxtaposition to see this clone and rootstock combination showing color so early. Once again this year, it seems like too much, too soon. What ever happened to waiting until August 15th like we used to do? Those days are gone, my friend.
 
 
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…

Will you be in our area? Amalie Robert Estate is open by appointment for vineyard tours and tastings. Select your preferred day and time with the Big Red Button.
 
 
 
It’s not exactly Mai Tai’s and Yahtzee this year.
 
So here we are staring down the phaser of vintage 2021. What to do? Is it set to stun? As a dry farmed vineyard, what can we do?
 
The chance of vintage extending rains in August is not zero, but it is so close to zero that, well yeah, it is in fact zero.
 
September can bring rainfall, like the record setting rains the first week of vintage 2019. But it is still July. The battle may be lost by then.
 
What we did, and did again, and then for a 3rd time this year, was hedge a short canopy. A shorter canopy has fewer leaves. Instead of being 7.5 feet tall, we are closer to 6.5 feet tall. Hedging off that upper story of leaves provides two benefits and a BONUS!
 
Ernie Hedging a Short Canopy.

The first benefit is the vine will be using less water. On the backside of each leaf are stomates. These stomates open and release water vapor to cool the leaf. Since we are missing about 2.5 cubic feet of leaves, we are saving that water for the vines to cool the remaining leaves.
 
The BONUS is that the vine will be less likely to translocate water from the wine berry to the leaves for cooling. This phenomenon comes into play when we evaluate sugar concentrations. The less water inside the wine berry, the higher the concentration of sugar.
 
The higher concentration of sugar means higher alcohol potential, or dare we say, leaving residual sugar in the wine. So the decision is often made to avoid residual sugar and cluster pluck early - before aroma and flavor can fully develop. Look for another high volume Rosé vintage if this weather pattern keeps up.
 

Hedged as Short as Possible without Hitting the Post!

The second benefit is that with fewer leaves in the upper canopy, the vine is building less sugar inside the wine berries. All other things being equal (which never occurs in farming) the vines with the fewer leaves will build less sugar and have a lower alcohol potential. We are not saying this was the best option, just the only option.
 
 
Smoke gets in your eyes… and lungs.
 
Wildfires continue to ravage the West Coast from Canada through to Southern California. Smoke is entering the atmosphere and being distributed hither and yon. We have seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end well. And it is only July. The dry months of August and September are yet to come.
 
This graphic is the Air Quality Index. You can click on the link and enter your zip code for current air quality conditions and forecasts. The colors represent air quality with green being excellent, orange being poor and red to purple being unhealthy. The numbers represent the air quality, with anything above 50 being poor air quality. Not advisable to be outdoors working or maybe harvesting.
 


Our wine producing, and neighboring state to the south has been in the thick of this “no win scenario” for several years now. It is real. It can be devastating and is deadly. It is a test of character we wish to avoid. The Kobayashi Maru “no-win” scenario as explained by Spock:
 
 
 
Recently, and 2020 specifically, the Willamette Valley has been the recipient of wildfires and the resulting airborne pollution. Sure, the sunrises are pretty, and sunsets are nice with a glass of Rosé. But the atmosphere is starting to look like the wash water wrung from a pair of well loved farming socks. Fortunately, the aroma has yet to catch up with the view.
 

Smoke Entering the Willamette Valley from the Southeast.

And here is the view as of July 28th, mid-afternoon facing southeast (with an Air Quality Index of 37) from the top of the vineyard at Amalie Robert Estate. Add in some high winds to the intensifying drought conditions and that 410,000 acre Bootleg fire to the south starts to become a little more real. Not to mention the evolving scene in California.
 
The Jet Stream will be the joker in this deck. Film @ 11…
 
Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

Monday, July 26, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate Situational Review: The Mid-July Stretch and Lag Phase

Hello and Welcome, 

  
After June’s month end record heat wave, July seems downright pleasant. High temperatures in the upper 80’s mostly, though trending down to the upper 70’s and nighttime temperatures dipping into the 40’s. Our humidity remains in check at about 40% during the day and 90% overnight. No matter, the vines are executing their preordained program. They are just taking a little more time getting it done. That and they are getting older, just like the rest of us.
 
 
THE BIG PICTURE 
 
As we welcome more visitors to the property, we are reminded that not everyone reading this FLOG has 36 acres of vineyard for a backyard - but we do. So, we thought it might be nice to introduce you to THE BIG PICTURE. If you are planning a trip to Wine Country, you can see it all when you get here. Until then, here is a view of the “back 40”.
 
We are farming the dream, so you don’t have to. Click on the image to view the "Back 40" panorama.
 
 
 
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…
 
Will you be in our area? Amalie Robert Estate is open all summer by appointment for vineyard tours and tastings. Select your preferred day and time with the Big Red Button.
 
 

Fire Update
 
We will be monitoring the West Coast fire situation as we head into the hot and dry days leading up to harvest. Here is a current image of the Oregon wildfire scene.
 


The largest fire by far in Oregon right now is the Bootleg fire (fire number 210321) located near the border with California. The fire was reported on July 12th and as of July 19th has burned over 400,000 acres. For comparative purposes, the state of Rhode Island is 776,900 acres.
 

 
This chart shows how Vintage 2021 compares to the past four vintages of wildfires. The state of Connecticut is 3.548 million acres and that is pretty close to our year-to-date average acres burned. How many Connecticut’s do we have left to burn? How much greenhouse gas and carbon are being released into the atmosphere? Maybe it’s time West Coast forest management became part of the national debate.
 

 
This graphic shows the Air Quality Index for the Northeast region. The smoke causing the unhealthy air quality is from the West Coast wildfires over 2,500 miles away. With all of that particulate in the atmosphere, someone could make the case for global dimm(witt)ing. We may be going to hell in a handbasket, but at least we’re enjoying the ride.
 
 
Lag Phase and Situational Review
 
The month of July appears seemingly out of nowhere after the flurry of activity in June known as canopy management. Unprecedented growth from rain and excessive heat in June had to be contained in 3 sets of trellis catch wires. Then and only then was Ernie able to execute his first hedge. Some blocks, being above average, earned a pre-hedge before the main hedge. Then there is the obligatory re-hedge.
 

Ernie Getting His Hedge on in the Terraced Rows of the Back 40.
 
And the hedging’s will continue until the vines realize it is time to stop growing more leaves and then direct their energy to ripening their seeds. And in so doing develop stunning aroma and flavor in our wine berries. They want to ripen seeds to reproduce; we just want to make the wine! A means to an end to be sure.
 

 
But it takes a while for the vines to grow more leaves for Ernie to hedge off. So, we take a week or so to give them some time to grow and focus on updating our own situational awareness. You should see what it looks like from here…
 

Hedging the Vines, Back to Front.
 
For the vines, they call this period “lag phase”. Lag phase is an important time in the development of this year’s wine berries. But like skeet shooting low house 6, you need to be paying attention or you will miss it. Lag phase helps the humans figure out about how many tons of wine berries will be waiting for them at the start of The Great Cluster Pluck. This is good to know IN ADVANCE.
 
You know the vines have entered lag phase when the seeds begin to “harden off”. After bloom when the wine berries are first formed, the cells are dividing like rabbits and the tissue is very soft. After the cell division is complete, the next step is enhancing cell wall integrity and growing the cells – including the seeds.
 
At the very center of a pollinated wine berry is a seed. More specifically in wine berries there are pairs of seeds – usually two pairs, but sometimes only one. This is often the result of the weather conditions during bloom. Warm sunny weather favors two pairs of seeds, where cool and rainy weather can create a single pair. The other alternative is no seeds because the flower did not pollinate, and you have no wine berry to ferment the sugar out of.
 
This year, we seem to have a mix of all three scenarios. More of a casual observation at this point as the vines are taking their time entering lag phase. We have not sampled the vineyard and performed the 4 sig-fig analysis and statistical evaluations – yet. But like Yogi Barra said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”
 
We have clusters with fewer than the historical “average” number of wine berries. This means a greater percentage of flowers did not pollinate this year compared to the average over the past 30 years. For the flowers that did pollinate, we see a wide range in the mix of the two pairs of seeds v the one pair of seeds wine berries.
 

Pinot Noir Cluster, Berry with 2 Pairs of Seeds, Berry with 1 Pair of Seeds.
 
Once the seeds begin to harden off, the vines have by definition entered lag phase. Then it is time to sample the vineyard. We do this by selecting a random set of vines, we count the number of clusters on the vine and write that number down. Then we clip one off and put it in a bucket. Move on to the next random vine and repeat.
 
When the sample collection is done, we weigh the clusters and divide by the number of clusters weighed. This is the fun part – getting weighed. The average weight of the clusters at lag phase will double when we cluster pluck them. So if we have a cluster that weighs 55 grams at lag phase, it should weigh 110 grams at harvest. That would mean an average size Pinot Noir cluster where it takes 4 of them to make a pound.
 
Luck favors the prepared mind. Based on our informal observation, we will be lucky to see our FINAL cluster weights in the 100 gram category. More likely it seems that it may take five or even six clusters to make a pound. The marketing people will tell you that it is a short crop of exceptional quality. And of course, it will be…
 

 
What does this mean and why should I care?
 
Growing two vintages on the same cluster. From a winemaking perspective, wine berries with a single pair of seeds are significantly smaller and will build sugar faster than wine berries with two pairs of seeds. This comes into play when sampling for harvest.
 
There are at least three conditions for harvest that must all signal “GO TIME!” The first and foremost is aroma and flavor. If it doesn’t taste good on the vine, the chance of an ethereal Pinot Noir in the bottle is pretty remote.
 

Clusters Protected from the Sun to Preserve Aroma and Flavor.
 
The second attribute is the chemistry, specifically sugar concentration and acidity measured as pH. Optimal sugar concentrations at harvest are measured using Brix. A range of 21 to 24 Brix will yield a final alcohol potential of 12.6 to 14.4% alcohol. Here is where the single seed pair berries come into focus.
 
If the mix of wine berries on a cluster have a high percentage of single seed wine berries, the sugar concentration will read very high. However, the wine berries with two pairs of seeds are not as mature and they will show a very high concentration of acid, and underripe flavors. This is good to know, but fortunately it is not something we need to problematize today.
 
And the third attribute is scheduling a harvest crew. It is important to remember, there are only so many skilled labor hands to go around. And those skilled labor hands are connected to lungs that will need clean, smoke free air to breath. Just like every other living thing on the planet.
 
Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie