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


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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2014 Harvest After Action Report (AAR)

Hello and Welcome,

This is the final FLOG of the 2014 growing season. The 2014 growing season was somewhat akin to dropping a snowball at the top of Mt. Everest and trying to get to the bottom in time to execute a controlled stop. Every year is different, and that is why vintages have consequences in the Willamette Valley. And yes, that is a “Harvest Morning Quicke” in front of the senescing Walnut tree.

The following graphic depicts the total growing season degree days since we have been “growing our own.” We started out hot, gradually began to cool, got downright cold in 2010 and 2011, and then we lit off on a tear for the last 3 vintages.

We will leave the whole global warming v climate change quagmire for the next farmer. But we will say that you can learn a lot just by putting your boots in the vineyard and paying attention to how much sunscreen gets used. What we learned this year was to leave a few extra wineberries on the vine and hedge a bit shorter canopy than usual. We also left a few extra leaves in the fruit zone to prevent the harsh skin tannins that can develop from overexposure. And when you get rain in September, use it.

The real winner this year however, was the Syrah. Ernie was out there ‘most every day after all the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay was in. “Nope, not yet. Not ready,” he would mutter. Dena would soothe him by saying, “Well, if they aren't ready then don’t pick them. Can you go sweep up the front porch?”

Finally the weather began to turn and like it or not it was going to be time, so get farming ready! The heat units through mid-October registered 2,499 and we had accumulated 2.84 inches of rain from mid-September through harvest for a growing season total of 9.63 inches. The heat and rain curves appeared to align and then Ernie had to admit – it was time. We picked these 1,188 vines just as the harvest window was closing on October 19th. Yes, that is a little Viognier to top it off.

Could it be the best Syrah vintage the Willamette Valley has ever seen?  It certainly was a top contender for “Vintage of our Lifetime” here at Amalie Robert Estate. At this point the grapes are in, but the tasting notes are yet to be written. We will know for sure in about 2 years when we take it out of the barrel and put a cork in it.

As the following graphic clearly illustrates, we were battling high sugars before aroma and flavor development was complete. Or were we?

We had a nice Dog Nose Spring (cold and wet) that helped us stitch our new Wadenswil vines into the hill. To the casual observer, it must seem that we are growing milk, but if you look at the shipping manifest you will see that is a rootstock trial. Yep, that Ernie is always trying to learn something. While the clone is all Wadenswil on top, there are 4 different rootstocks grafted on the bottom. It will take a little while, but we will see how the fruit turns out. If nothing else, it will certainly help add a little complexity to the final blend.

Clue #1: Notice the rainfall though July is 6.68 inches. We also had about 20 inches of rain from January through March before the growing season even got started.

It usually happens in April or May that Ernie is out there whipping up some dust and tilling in last years’ cover crops to provide nutrients for our vines. Nitrogen is a macronutrient which means the vines need a fair bit of it. The thing is, Nitrogen gets leached out of the soil profile with all of the winter rains. So if you don’t add a little in the spring, the vines will not be very happy and there may not be any fruit for you.

As always there is the easy way and the Ernie way. The easy way is to add some chemical fertilizer to the soil. The hard way is to drill in cover crops in the spring, till them in the fall, and then drill in more cover crops for the winter. The Ernie way also has a very beneficial impact in that it adds humus to the soil.

Clue #2: Humus significantly influences the bulk density of soil and contributes to moisture and nutrient retention.

As the vines responded to the warming temperatures in May and June, we began weaving a web of catch wires to contain their growth. Oh it is easy at first, with just maybe 10 to 12 inches of growth they are easy to position in the first set of wires.

As we enter flowering in June the vineyard smells of honeysuckle. With over 40,000 vines out there, it is pretty intense. And so is the vine’s desire to outgrow the trellis. While we need to measure to be sure, it is an agreed upon fact that those vines can add an inch a day, or even more. The third wire is at 72 inches and they are all put up by hand. Each vine’s shoots are positioned in their 3 inch wide by 4 foot long plane with the sole purpose of collecting solar radiation. That’s what farmers do, we are light harvesters. So, it seems, are these Ivanpah guys. But you have to admit, wine is a lot more fun.

Then before you know it, it is hedging time. After all the wires are up it is time to hedge our bets. What is the rest of the growing season going to be like? All we know for sure is that there will be sun, heat, cold, rain, wind, some rot, and birds. Get the proportions and timing right and that’s a pretty nice bottle of wine you’ve got yourself there. While we can have an impact in the vineyard, we really have no control. So we plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Clue #3: Hedge a short canopy in warm years to reduce the vine’s water usage and slow down the sugar accumulation.

The hedger is one helluva piece of equipment. Like any true piece of farming equipment, it only does one thing, but it does it well. Ernie’s hedger has several pitch adjustments and a height adjustment. Some hedgers are mounted on a tractor at a fixed height. Others are on two feet.

This adjustment comes in quite handy in years like 2010 and 2011 when we needed all of the energy we could harvest from the sun. But in years like 2013 and 2014 we want a shorter canopy. A short canopy will remove more leaves from the vine. This has the immediate effect of reducing photosynthesis and slowing sugar accumulation.

The leaves also transpire a tremendous amount of water through stomata on the leaf’s underside.  This has the effect of cooling the leaf, and as you would imagine the hotter the day, the more moisture is liberated from the soil through the leaf back into the heavens. In 2014, we didn’t see that much rain to replenish the soil from July through mid-September. We didn’t really need, or want those extra leaves in 2014.

Clue #4: The shorter the grass is mown, the less water it will use.

In addition to the nutrients we grow as cover crops, every other row is planted to grass. We have a strain called Tall Fescue and it is as tough a grass as you could want in the tractor rows. But its roots go deep to help it survive a dry summer and there is some competition with the vines.

The vine’s leaves can exert a tremendous vacuum on the roots to pull water from the soil. This is their main competitive advantage against the grass. We tilt the playing field as well by mowing the grass to within an inch of its roots to minimize its water usage. And we do it at the same time as we are hedging! Now that is really something in farming – doing two tasks in a single vineyard pass. Why that saves Ernie 3 days of his life on each of 3 passes and a fair few gallons of diesel to boot!

Axiom #1: There can be no doubt that great wines are the result of a winegrowers’ astute and timely response to the given year’s growing conditions, and a little luck.

After the vines have had their third, and in some cases fourth hedge, it is time to hurry up and wait for harvest. August is the time of year when Ernie gets down and dirty with the tractors – it is oil changing time. There is a whole checklist. Check the tires, change the battery, replace a clutch, this is widely understood to be the gestalt of farming.

It is not more than a little different from his college days of tuning a huge Holley 4 barrel carburetor, setting a dual point distributor and adjusting the valves on a high compression, over-bored small block Chevy roller motor. Back up onto a sidewalk, remove the exhaust caps and it was off to the strip. A 7,500 rpm redline and 4.11 gears will move you along pretty quickly and about 12 seconds later, at 130 miles per hour, you cross the 1,320 foot line – a quarter mile.

Well, today there are no carburetors to tune (a lost art anyway), the tractors don’t have distributors to set and Ernie can cover a quarter mile in about 7.5 minutes. But tires seem to last a lot longer on the farm…

Clue #5: Timing is everything in farming.

The ideal last act of farming for the season is harvest, and if the timing works out we can drill in the fall cover crop first. 2014 was such a year. We had over an inch of rain in mid-September to soften up the soils. Ernie had the crawler and rototiller ready to go and waiting for such an opportunity. By daybreak that morning he was on it! The soil turned up like fresh double chocolate brownies and that aroma of freshly tilled, high humus content soil just makes you giddy – giddy up!

Giddy up! Because you know that the seed drill has to get out there before the next wave of heat steals all of that wonderful soil moisture. And that is what “back to back” means in the vineyard business. Open up the soil, drill your cover crop in and protect the soil moisture from evaporation. The rototiller is the key to this operation. It breaks the capillary action of water so that it cannot transpire to the surface. Ergo, we keep it for the vines. Good timing. We now have about 20 acres worth of Oats and Peas that will provide nutrients (and humus) for our vines in the spring.

Clue #6: Good things come to those who wait, but not to those who wait too late.

Sure enough, it happened in September. Pinot Noir started making its way up from southern Oregon to waiting wineries in the North. A little warmer they are and when it is time, the vines will not be denied.

We kept an eye on the Granddaddy walnut tree and it was unyielding. We were testing sugars, acids, flavor, and color and found that while many vineyards had picked, it was not our time.

Oh you noticed that, eh? Yes, we care a great deal about the color of juice samples. Color is another indicator that the wineberries are ready to release not only color, but all of that elegant aroma and flavor we have been nurturing all season long. Light colored juice means not so much. However, by waiting too late we run the race against too much sugar accumulation.

This gave us pause to reflect on what we had and had not done during the growing season. The fact that we could hang our fruit a little longer than others to achieve aroma and flavor development was a vindication that we had done something right. Or that two (or more) wrong things may in fact make a right thing. Either way we held fast, as if tied up to the mast.

The rains that doomed the press potential of the 2007 vintage arrived, and we were glad to have them. This water was immediately, if not instantaneously, sucked up by anything that had a root in the ground – including our vines. And here is that 2007 vintage graphic for your viewing pleasure.

Then it was time and the controlled chaos known as “The Great Cluster Pluck of 2014” began, as it always does, in “Earnest.” Monday, September 29, 2014 was the day and the yield was about 15 tons. Harvest operations continued through October 19th when we brought in the buxom berries of block 13. Home at last.

The 2014 vintage will be remembered as the (lucky) 13th harvest at Amalie Robert Estate. We farmed our vines to the best of our abilities with an eye toward elegance, finesse and a true representation of the vintage on our site. Wines true to the soil, wines true to the vintage. ®

Kindest Regards,

Dena and Ernie

BONUS Material: Check out our Twitter account to read our daily harvest tweets.