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

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2019 Harvest After Action Report - The Great Cluster Pluck

Vintage 2019 Harvest After Action Report – The Great Cluster Pluck 
Hello and Welcome, 
This is the @AmalieRobert Harvest After Action Report. A FLOG Communication.

Vintage 2019 will be remembered as the vintage that wasn’t ready, until it was – all of it – all at once. Yes, there was the typical atypical rain, as there always is in September. Good canopy management during the growing season is the preventive cure for that. But Botrytis will not be denied, and the clock started ticking with a pretty big shot of rain on the 10th of September. A little too much of a good thing with many returns to finish the month of September with 2.72 inches of rain.

To put this in perspective, August registered 0.11 inches of rain, and we received no measurable precipitation whatsoever during the first 15 days of October. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what’s known as the sweet spot of harvest. If you could hold out that long. And we did.

And so October, which is the first half of Okto-vember, made its way into the decision matrix. Hmm, that’s a pretty nice block of Chardonnay you got there. Why are the wine berries turning purple? And that is how you know Botrytis had caught up to The Great Cluster Pluck of 2019.

A little Botrytis is ok, kinda nice in Chardonnay actually. But that is your nudge that it’s time to bring it in. Despite your best canopy management efforts, the Chardonnay wine berry is highly susceptible to the wayward advances of Botrytis. And since it was now Okto-vember, more Botrytis encouraging rain was most surely on the way – but it wasn’t.

It was Okto-vember 1st at first light, when Ernie lit up tractors and we rolled up on block 24 from the south. The morning air was cool, with a little breeze and dry conditions prevailed as we Cluster Plucked our Dijon Clone Chardonnay. And that is when we verified another mystery of Vintage 2019 - a light fruit set. And at the end of that morning it was confirmed that Vintage 2019 was going to be low yield. Except for the Gewürztraminer, of course. A few more vines were bearing this year, so our yield almost doubled. Ernie still fermented it in “small, open top fermenters” (aka buckets), but he is up to about 5 cases worth now…

And by the end of that first week of Okto-vember our operation was up and rolling with Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir coming on. The September rains were a distant memory. Clear blue skies, a light breeze and cool nights were on tap for the next two weeks. The weather provided a most perfect opportunity to finish ripening our wine berries. For which we took full advantage – 8 days a week.

The Great Cluster Pluck of 2019 was on, and we were on it! We had daylight burning and Bird Gards squealing. The Cluster Pluckers arrived before dawn and set out their buckets and punch cards. Our production is entirely estate grown fruit and the clusters are all plucked by hand. Into the buckets they go at about 20 pounds per each and then into the harvest bins. Snap on the lids to deny Vespula germanica any of our prized booty, and off to the winery we go.

Rinse and repeat, and don’t forget to eat. The clear skies and dry conditions continued, and Okto-vember provided exactly the hang time conditions we needed to accentuate our aromas and flavors while keeping Botrytis in check. However, this fortuitous set of ripening conditions did not escape the opportunistic attention of those Flocking Birds. While not everyone could hold out as long as we did, the fruit quality was oh soooo worth the wait.

And there was not a lot of waiting to be had. The Great Cluster Pluck 2019 started on Okto- vember 1st and concluded on Octo-vember 15th. Everyday was full on, and we modified the work calendar to make more time. We added a day to each week of The Great Cluster Pluck 2019 by combining Saturday and Sunday into a single day. We would wake up on Saturday morning, but when we went to bed that was our Sunday night. The next day, which we have not yet named, was an extra work day! That’s 8 days a week! Ernie is a numbers guy and a calendar is just a mathematical construct. Not too big of a lift really, when you consider the legitimacy of daylight savings time.

Now, since you are there reading this instead of being here helping us, you probably do not know that we sort all of our wine berries twice. Our first sort is in the vineyard as the wine berries make their way into the harvest bins. That is when our nemesis Botrytis is dealt with. Yep, we sort that out right up front. And then in the winery, we have another look see. Any wine berries that are compromised are destined for the compost pile. But there aren’t so many of those as we do a really good job of canopy management during the growing season and sort at the harvest bin. What’s left for the fermenters is the duck’s nuts. Or the bee’s knees, if you prefer.

There’s a lot that goes into it, growing wine. But at the end of the day, we are just going to bring in those pristine wine berries and ferment the sugar out of them. And after that we are going to convert their malic acid to lactic acid. We have a bacteria for that. Then its off to a toasty oak barrel for some well deserved élevage. Of course, most folks are unaware of these things. But by the time the wine makes it to your elegant stemware, you are enveloped in the bliss of our viticultural prowess and oenological stewardship. And maybe some marketing along the way. At least that’s what we are shooting for.

The Great Cluster Pluck of 2019 proceeded undaunted amid the continual harassment of those Flocking Birds. Everyone knows who they are. Robins and starlings gather in trees and fly to pluck a wine berry then return to the safety of the forest’s edge. Ernie has counter measures called Bird Gards, but this year the birds were voracious. The last resort is to deploy the nets. This was especially important for the Syrah which was the beneficiary of our excellent hangtime weather up until it’s final day of ripening, Okto-vember 37th.

Our indigenous species of raptors seemed to be off on holiday or were simply molting. And without this air support, the Flocking Birds demonstrated air superiority early on. But as we were cluster plucking the last of the Pinot Noir clusters to be plucked on Okto-vember 15th (a Tuesday), the raptors returned. Red tail hawks are the “Constitution Class” of the raptors and define air superiority. The next best raptors to have in the avian theater are the Cooper’s hawk and the sharp shinned hawk. These are forest hunters and their aviary skill is equally at home among the vineyard canopy. The Syrah and Viognier had the good fortune to finish ripening under the hawkish eyes of these Amalie Robert Estate raptors. Don’t pay too much attention to the robin and starling carcasses littered around the vineyard. That is evidence of a healthy ecosystem.

Causation, correlation or coincidence? An exercise in climatically predictive wine quality. What we present to you here at this time, in this space, is what happened during the growing season. While that will have an impact on the quality of the vintage, it is much like evaluating the size of one’s wand. Where in fact what we are more concerned with is the magic in it. And more to the point, when that magic is ready to be presented and consumed. Perhaps, in the case of Pinot Noir, a better title would be “Bewitched, bothered and bewildered.”

Vintage 2019 was really a pretty nice vintage. Not too hot and a clean break from the arid conditions of the last several vintages. But not too cool, more of a 2007 mixed with 2008, and certainly warmer than 2011. Slow and steady ripening with a shot of rain just before harvest. Statistically more rain in September than most vintages, but not an overall significant factor @AmalieRobert Estate. Once again, this vintage is a grower’s vintage. When your winemaker wears the winegrower’s hat, it is always a grower’s vintage.

Vineyard labor is a lesson in economics. Good old supply and demand is alive and well. The supply is fairly fixed, but the agricultural demand continues to expand. And except for hedging, there is little vineyard mechanization to be had. That means virtually all of our canopy management is performed by, and the biggest chunk of the vineyard budget goes to, skilled vineyard labor.

Good canopy management demands timeliness, focus and attention to detail. The best weather conditions in world will not save you from untimely or poor quality vineyard work. The condition of the vineyard canopy, and the wine berries in it, during mid-September has a substantial impact on when to Cluster Pluck. And that in turn reveals more about the quality of the vintage than any Degree Day summation or growing season rainfall. Yet as humans, we are fixated on quantitative measures to compare and contrast. They help us comprehend the seemingly unending factors that culminate in a glass of wine.

Aromas and flavors develop on the vine over time. Sugar accumulation (alcohol potential) is a response to heat. As long as the vintage does not accumulate excessive heat (Degree Days), the longer the wine berries are on the vine, the more aromas and flavors are available to be captured during fermentation. While the presence of Botrytis can be an indicator that it is time to start Cluster Plucking, excessive sugar accumulation tells you it’s time to finish it up, right farming now.

This is why Syrah hangs until early November at @AmalieRobert Estate. Each and every day we are increasing the intensity of available aromas and flavors. Thanks to a cool climate, Syrah sugar accumulation is kept in check and the wines normally vacillate around 13% alcohol.

Deciding to Cluster Pluck because you believe the aroma and flavor profile of the wine berries is going to make the style of wine you like is the goal. Having spent the entire growing season focused on canopy management, positioning shoots, thinning and performing other timely vineyard tasks helps to ensure that when the rains do arrive, the canopy, and the wine berries in it, will take some rain and continue to ripen aromas and flavors without significant rot.

Or not. After that shot of rain in early September, some folks discovered their Cluster Pluck schedule would more be determined by the advancing rate of rot than by aroma and flavor development. There is little if any remedial action that can be taken at this point of discovery. This is not the goal. And it should not be a surprise to anyone that September brings rain to the Willamette Valley.

And how do we know this, you may ask? We saw it first hand in our Chardonnay. But that is Chardonnay and it is to be expected. Unfortunate, but not uncommon. The key there is to take the fruit before Botrytis spreads and can compromise the wine. We have been there and had that done to us with Typhoon Pabuk in 2013. The remainder of the vineyard however, and more to the point is that the Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, was rock solid. And we heard a fair bit about it from our harvest crews.

Harvest crews represent an informal information network of how the vintage is progressing. They go where the work is and see hundreds if not thousands of acres of vines. They will tell you where they have been and what they have seen. Time and again we were told how our wine berries were the cleanest they had seen. And they kept coming back to help us. This is an important indicator, as Cluster Plucking around rotted fruit is less financially rewarding.

Why are we telling you this? As a climatic predicator of wine quality, we are trying to point out that harvest dates provide clues. How were those wine berries farmed all summer? What was their condition after the rains? Did you harvest because you wanted to or because you had to? Being able to handle some challenging weather conditions and let your wine berries hang through to develop aroma and flavor ripeness is a strong predictor of wine quality. The amount of Rosé produced might be another indicator of vintage quality.

Now the numbers, which honestly do have some meaning and relevance. While not a predictor of wine quality per se, they do provide a comparison to previous vintages and a historic continuum that can be the basis for debate. As we assess the vintage growing conditions, it is important to bear in mind that our ability to measure far exceeds our ability to comprehend the effects of what is measured.

Let’s start with the Heffalump in the room that joined us in September. There were three appearances spread throughout the month. The first was around the 10th which gifted us 0.68 inches of rainfall. Next up was around the 18th with another 0.97 inches of rainfall, and again on the 20th with 0.42 inches. And lastly around the 30th with 0.55 inches of rainfall. September total was 2.72 inches of rainfall. Squish, Squish, Squish… Not too bad if you are a duck, you know.

But then it was dry during the @AmalieRobert Estate Cluster Pluck vintage 2019 until the 16th of October when about 0.96 inches of rainfall came rolling in. Not to be outdone, the 21st brought in another 1.63 inches of rainfall. That was a soaker. And then again dry all the way through November 6th when we Cluster Plucked the Syrah and Viognier. October total was 2.59 inches of rainfall. The 2019 growing season total April through October was 13.78 inches. And in preparation for next Spring, we can expect about 30 inches of rain between now and then.

Degree Days (aka heat units or heat accumulation) help provide an understanding of how the vine was able to ripen its wine berries within the constraint of available heat during the vintage. Matching heat accumulation to harvest date ties it all together. We track our readings every 20 minutes, so we have a pretty good idea what the vines are going through. Daytime highs, nighttime lows and the diurnal shift also tell the tale of ripening during the last few weeks before harvest.

While the growing season total is handy for multiple vintage comparisons, a detailed monthly view is more useful in understanding the character of the vintage and is an exercise left to the reader.

Coming into the home stretch of Vintage 2019, September registered 316.5 Degree Days, providing a growing season total of 2,220.2. The first half of the month recorded 195.0 Degree Days and the second half of the month recorded 121.5. The high temperature was 92.8 degrees Fahrenheit recorded on September 5th at 4:36 pm and the low temperature was 37.2 recorded on September 28th at 3:00 am.

Now the sweet spot of Vintage 2019 was the first half of October where we recorded another 55.0 Degree Days, and not a drop of rainfall to be had. The high temperature was 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit recorded on the 7th at 5:00 pm and the low temperature was 31.6 recorded on the 9th at 7:36 am. Heat accumulation through the middle of October was 2,275.2 Degree Days and that concluded the Great Cluster Pluck of 2019 – except the Syrah and Viognier.

The second half of October brought another 46.7 Degree Days for a monthly total of 101.7 and a growing season total of 2,321.9. The high temperature was 72.3 6 degrees Fahrenheit recorded on the 22nd and the low temperature of 24.6 recorded on the 31st at 7:00 am. That‘s frickin’ cold!

The Great Cluster Pluck 2019 was officially completed November 6th, 2019 with the Syrah and Viognier. We accumulated an additional 11.8 Degree Days through the 6th of November with a high temperature of 66.6 degrees Fahrenheit recorded on the 3rd at 2:00 pm and a low temperature of 32.9 recorded the same morning. This represents a one day diurnal shift of 33.7 degrees. Total Vintage 2019 Degree Days stand at 2,333.7

While most of the Willamette Valley experienced similar conditions, within a standard deviation or two, the cipher to understanding Vintage 2019 will most likely be harvest date. A sloppy September gave way to an ethereal October. If you were a Rhône Head, you were riding the temperate weeks into November. And at a harvest brix of 24.0, you were feeling pretty good about that.

Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

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