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 – 2020 Amalie Robert Estate, LLC

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate: 2021 February Pre-Vintage Pruning Update

Hello and Welcome, 

 

It is the dormant season in wine country. The first day of spring is not until March 20th, but believe it or not, it is coming up fast. Witness the daffodils and crocus in the garden providing the early, wonderfully colorful signs of agricultural life below ground. This is their one time a year to “rise and shine” brightening up our disposition. And they are certainly a most welcome development, especially this year. 


A FLOG communication (Farming bLOG) by Dena & Ernie from Amalie Robert Estate. Oregon Willamette Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Have a look and see what we see on Instagram @AmalieRobert Estate.



The vines may appear dormant, but that’s just a disguise. There is plenty of work being done inside the vine and below ground in the root zone. Their big day is bud break, and they are making all of the necessary preparations for the big reveal. And just like you toiling in your garden, it is our job to get our garden, the “vine-yard” ready to grow. We will begin with what we can see, and that is the transformation from last year’s canopy to a new start for vintage 2021.

Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells and one farming eggplant!

A new start, how refreshing. Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up one morning and find the to-do list from yesterday is gone? Just GONE! Or the first day back from vacation (or staycation to the back garden, or vine-yard as the case may be) and you find that your E-mail file has been corrupted. No old E-mails. No new E-mails, No follow-up E-mails. No back-ups and no farming E-mail whatsoever! NONE! Well if you were a vine, spring is just like that. No hold over from the past vintage to distract you or keep you from your dedicated purpose – which is to ripen your seeds and reproduce! If only…

They cannot do it alone. Actually they can, they are self-pollinating. But if left on their own, they just sprawl all over the ground. Not an ideal situation to produce top quality wine, which is our dedicated purpose.

So we have implemented a Vertical Shoot Positioning trellis system in which to manage their development during the growing season. During a typical harvest, sans smoke taint, we denude the vines of their wine berries and ferment the sugar out of them. What is leftover is the vertically “hand positioned” shoots of the prior vintage.


Vertical Shoot Position Trellis with Catch Clip.

Out with the old, in with the new growth. In preparation for vintage 2021 we have 4 “by hand” vine related tasks to complete: Removing the trellis wire catch clips, about 14 seconds per plant, making the primary pruning cuts separating last year’s cane from the trunk, about 30 seconds per plant, pulling the brush out of the trellis wires which is the physical equivalent to punch down in the winery, about 32 seconds per plant. And finally wrapping a new cane on the fruiting wire that will bear vintage 2021 wine berries, about 70 seconds per plant. This last task involves the use of a very low-tech bread twist-tie. Remember those? And then we wait (fixing whatever it is that still needs to be fixed) just as patiently as farmers do, for bud break.


Primary Cut Separating Last Year's Cane from the Trunk.
 


Brush Pulled Out of Trellis Wires.
 


New Cane for 2021 Wrapped on the Fruiting Wire and Tied with a Green Twist-tie.
 

In the vineyard it is true - No passengers, all crew. Ernie works in a little tractor time between the rain showers when he can. His job is to mow up all the canes from last year along with the tall fescue (Hey that’s grass, buddy). This mix of browns and greens puts the worms and soil microbes back to work returning nutrients to our sedimentary Bellpine soil. Everybody and everything has a job to do. It takes about 3 tractor passes with the flail mower to fully mulch last year’s canes into the vineyard floor. About once every 2-3 weeks or so is good timing due to the grass’s unrelenting spring growth rate.


Canes Ready for Ernie to Mow.

Rust on the tractor never sleeps and our army of beneficial insects never get a day off. There are good bugs and there are bad bugs. Good bugs eat the bad bugs that want to eat our vines. Good bugs are the ever-voracious ladybug, earwig, various and assorted spiders, and the praying mantis. The praying mantis is a special case. If you see a piece of straw fluttering in the breeze, watch where it lands. It could very well be a praying mantis. They are said to be good luck in a vineyard, unless you are trying to mate with one.

The NUMBER ONE bad bug is the Willamette spider mite. A subspecies of spider mites, this particular mite feeds off the vascular tissue of the leaves, thus draining the life force of the vine. The leaves turn rust colored and significantly reduce photosynthetic output. The antidote, other than the previously listed good bugs, is the Predatory mite.

Live Predatory Mites. Get them on AMAZON. Sold in lots of 2,000, more or less…

Fun Fact: Until relatively recently in the evolution of the human condition, leeches were thought by some practitioners to provide medicinal benefits. We now know that not to be true. Wine may or may not provide medicinal benefits, but from a chemistry point of view, it is a solution.

Here is the odd thing, both mites co-exist simultaneously among the vines. They both winter over in the bark of the trunks and just before bud break, they emerge to feed. The Willamette mite tries to eat the buds before they can burst forth with new life. If there is a significant population and they succeed in devouring all of the buds on a new cane, the vine could die. The Predatory mite is our first line of defense against this unwanted activity. But nobody batts a thousand.

What does that mean, and why should I care? This is an excellent time to point out that we do not use insecticides in the vineyard. Some wine growing regions are more prone to insect pressure than others. Due to our reasonable cold winters, the most harmful species cannot overwinter. The yellowjacket (and its natural predator, the flame thrower) is an unfortunate exception. While some chemical companies offer products to eradicate bad mites, and it is tempting to consider, these products are effective against all mites – the good, the bad and well they are all kinda ugly. So we let nature take its course. Each year we see some damage, sometimes more in a very hot and dry vintage.

And if you happen to see a dirt clod that just flew away, well then it wasn’t really a dirt clod after all but maybe a well camouflaged small raptor harvesting up a vineyard vole. Voles, along with pocket gophers do their business underground. By that we mean they are feasting on the vine’s roots. Very bad, very very bad!

The vine has no natural defense against such an unprovoked attack. But the aerial squadron of raptors that we have fostered provide a first line of defense. From the Enterprise class red-tailed hawk, through the mid-range Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks down to the Kestrel, they all contribute to the overall vineyard health, and get fed doing it – so they can reproduce!

It’s a bug’s life. The good bugs are out there 24x7 and are constantly “harvesting” bad bugs. When they can’t find bad bugs (protein), they are on the hunt for pollen. Pollen is their vegan solution to protein. And that is where our cover crops from last fall come into play.

We plant winter peas and cereal rye to hold the soil during the rainy season and also set nitrogen for the vines. Cereal rye takes up nitrogen and stores it for the spring when it is turned back into the soil as natural fertilizer. Winter peas are just that, they flower and produce pea pods during the cold winter months. Somewhere along the way, their program got messed up. But that is good for us and our battalion of vineyard insects.

Thinking and drinking. About now your left brain is running the vineyard pruning numbers and trying to determine how long it takes to get 55,000 vines ready for vintage 2021. And your right brain is ready for a little more wine. If you need some live Predatory mites for YOUR garden, you can order those from Amazon. No kidding!

PRO Tip: If you have wine in a cup and pretend to blow on it during your online audio video streaming (Zoom or DUO) session, people may think it is a cup of hot tea. Either way, tea or wine, it is a “best practice” to wear pants, in case you spill and need to stand up in a hurry. What you do on your personal time is your business.

The total elapsed time to complete the “by hand” vineyard pruning at Amalie Robert Estate is about 2,300 human hours. This estimate is based on a 4 year moving average that takes into account the vintage and crew variances in the vineyard. And while this is good to know, it is certainly only one piece of the puzzle. To put that in perspective, 2,300 human hours is 8 hours per day for 286 working days. A typical work year is 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, 2,080 hours. Now we are getting somewhere.

Pay it forward. Pruning can start as soon as all of the leaves have senesced and fallen to the vineyard floor where they will become nutrients for the next vintage. The primary pruning cuts can happen independently of the other 3 tasks. However, the other three tasks of removing catch clips, pulling last year’s canes from the trellis and then wrapping a new cane on the fruiting wire must occur in sequence. The proof of such is left as an exercise for the reader.

So, logically, we have one very well experienced and trusted person making all of the primary pruning cuts in the vineyard. We also have a small, but dedicated vineyard crew following in sequence performing the remaining tasks. Ernie’s contribution is to source 55,000 green twist ties. Dena orders diesel for the tractor. We have already covered the raptor, insect and cover crop contributions.

Now the big question – how many calendar days do we need in order to get 286 working days? In a typical office environment, this is 5 working days for every 7 calendar days, excluding holidays, sick days, snow days, vacation days and now COVID-19 days. The working days are then factored by adding humans to reduce the elapsed number of days available to accomplish the work in the time allotted. And after all of that, it’s still farming and we will still be behind.

Agricultural work is a very unique proposition. Most of the time we work when we need to and other times we work when environmental conditions allow. Clearly one supersedes the other. While not a daily occurrence in the Willamette Valley, we do see snow and freezing temperatures that are not safe vineyard working conditions. This reduces the potential number of work days by an unknown factor.

Growing icicles – February 2021

Not to mention we are in a rural area where snow removal equipment is heard in the distance, but not seen in practice. So, not only being able to work, but being able to get to work are all part of the solution matrix. And of course, we have COVID-19 to deal with, just like every other community in the world. While not at all like taking the subway to go work in an office building, at the end of the day the results are not dissimilar. Except, you cannot do vineyard work from home. But you can get that back garden ready for springtime entertaining!

And pruning needs to be completed before the vines wake up and open their new little buds to greet vintage 2021. While this is not a fixed date, it usually occurs around the 15th of April plus or minus a week or maybe two. Kind of like Easter, it varies from year to year.
 
Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

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