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, March 17, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage 2021: Preview Part II - You Don't Have to be Crazy to Grow Pinot Noir, But It Helps!

Hello and Welcome, 

Spring bulbs and their moment in the sun.

Are we there yet? Almost. It won’t be long now. The first day of spring is March 20th. Mother Nature gave us a shot across the bow with a wonderful spring collage of blooming bulbs. What she meant was “Finish your pruning. Right Faming Now!” She has a schedule to keep. You don’t have to be crazy to grow Pinot Noir, but it helps. Just ask the cherry trees. They know we are about there.
Here is a shout out for Susan R Lin. Susan is a long time FLOG reader and has recently been named Master of Wine by the Institute of Masters of Wine. She is now one of 56 Masters of Wine in the US, and one of 418 worldwide. And you are going to LOVE her research paper (the third and final stage of the exam), where she explored classical music and champagne perception. We imagine these to be rosé champagnes, or perhaps wines with a strong Pinot Meunier component. Congratulations Susan!
Tied down and ready to grow!

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. We are ramping up on FaceBook! (If you don’t like us, we don’t wanna know…)
But is has been cold at night. Remarkably cold after our Ice Storm episode. But we do have the trellis repaired and the new vines are in the ground. Most of the downed trees and branches have been cleaned up, but not all of them. There are a few limbs “in waiting” so we are careful to look up as we walk under them. Farming, it’s what we do when we are not growing wine.
Click on the image to see Ernie on the crawler.

The chisel plow on tracks. Ernie was out on his crawler this week with the chisel plow opening up the vineyard floor for its much-anticipated spring cover crop of buckwheat and vetch. It is his open-air machine that he uses in the spring. He calls it his roadster for the vineyard. There is nothing quite like the smell of freshly turned soil in the morning.
Freshly tilled soil in the morning.

The benefit of a machine on tracks is that it spreads the tractor weight out over a larger surface area than 4 tires. The result is less pressure on the soil to avoid compaction. Compaction happens when a downward force compresses and collapses the soil’s air channels thus ruining the soil structure. Vine roots, worms and a whole host of other soil organisms and microorganisms depend on some air in the soil. Compaction is bad, very very bad!

Soil aerated by Ernie with the chisel plow.

A properly aerated soil is similar to a meringue. A compacted soil is more like a nougat. Compacted soils hold very little water as we move into the dry summer months. Vines growing in compacted soils will just look at you in disgust as early September rolls around. They will have desiccating wine berries because there is no soil moisture. They know what you did in the spring before they woke up. They are not happy, and when they are not happy, you will not be happy.
Freshy chisel plowed rows under the watchful gaze of Mt Jefferson. Smells nice!
Busting up any compaction.

Now, consider the chisel plow. This thankless implement opens the soil to improve life for the subterranean soil organisms and microorganisms. It busts up any compaction from the prior year and creates new chambers to hold air and soil moisture. It is also one helluva root pruning device. The benefit to that is no shallow roots. We want deep, deep roots to colonize the soil and extract as much magic as possible for our Estate grown wines.
And that is the focus of this FLOG, growing wine. In the Adult Recreational Beverage world, wine is unique in that it is the WINEGROWER that determines the alcohol content. Beer and distilled spirits each in their own way are free to determine the alcohol content of the finished product. Beers can run the gamut from low alcohol summer beers to full-on Doppel Bocks that make it really difficult to stand up and focus after a pint. Whiskey, Bourbon, and Scotch can be 90 proof or cask strength. Ever Clear is made from grain and is bottled at 60%, 75.5%, 94.5% and 95% alcohol by volume - that’s 190 proof! (Don’t ask how Ernie knows this.) The barley, wheat or rye grain were all grown the same.
Not so with wine. The Holy Grail of winegrowing is to harvest wine berries at the peak of flavor for the intended wine style with the appropriate level of alcohol potential, aka our old friends Fructose and Glucose. The ideal scenario is that aroma, flavor, texture and tannin are all maturing in step with sugar accumulation. Sugar accumulation is a function of heat during the growing season. Apparently, Mother Nature has not been kept in the loop these last few years…
Welcome to Murphy’s world. We stopped counting when we got to a million things that can go wrong in any given vintage. The vagaries of agriculture, and farm equipment in particular, are well documented throughout human history. Fire, smoke, plague and pestilence are all familiar bedfellows to agriculture. And as if right on cue, Brood X cicada nymphs (The Great Eastern Brood) is making its way to the surface right now, en masse. It’s just once every 17 years, but when it happens it covers 15 states!
Sunday, March 14th was national Pi (3.14) day. Wednesday, March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day. We would like to point out that Shepard’s Pie is no more of a pie than a cow pie is a pie. Go for the real thing. A nice cherry or peach pie. You will be glad you did!
Click on the image to learn about M.C. Escher 

Right, back on point. We know that for Pinot Noir we need 105 days from flowering to fully developed aroma, flavor, texture and tannin. At least we used to know that. And we used to grow a full canopy to achieve compete ripeness in each and every vintage. The world has changed, and we have changed with it.
It’s all because of Viognier. That wine berry has a proclivity to produce sugar way in advance of developing aroma and flavor. Aroma and flavor is the whole point of growing Viognier. While we just grow 3 rows of Viognier, this issue has gnawed on Ernie for quite some time.
Assuming you are doing the right things with the vineyard floor, such as improving soil structure with cover crops, avoiding compaction and keeping the grass cut short to preserve soil moisture, there are only two places to make adjustments. The canopy and the crop load.
Let’s focus on the canopy. The two areas in play are the fruit zone and the top of the canopy. The fruit zone is really important as that is where all the aroma, flavor, texture and tannin are shaped during the growing season. Depending on the variety and the use of whole clusters, we are taking or leaving leaves in the fruit zone to achieve our desired results in the bottle.
Dijon Clone Chardonnay ripening in the sun.

Chardonnay and Syrah for example have most of their leaves removed in the fruit zone. This allows for a full expression of those two wines. Pinot Meunier and Noir suffer from overexposure and they can lose their sublime, elegant character so we remove very few leaves.
Fermenting with whole clusters also adds texture and tannin structure. Shaded Pinot Noir fermented with whole clusters gives us the sexy midpalate we desire with elegant stem tannins that will soften during bottle maturation. Syrah is our firebrand that sees full-on sun exposure and a significant portion of whole clusters during fermentation. This creates a 25+ year wine, if done properly.
Removal of leaves in the fruit zone lowers the alcohol potential. Conversely, if very few leaves are taken due to stylistic choice, alcohol potential is higher. That takes us to the top of the canopy to dial in our alcohol potential.
Our vineyard construct is 7.5 feet for Ernie and his now vintage tractors to drive, and 4 feet between each vine. A perfect sunlight capturing ratio is 1:1 for row width to row height. So, mathematically a 7.5 foot row spacing means a 7.5 foot tall canopy will maximize sun exposure. But does that make the best wine? In a cold vintage such as 2011, yes, it is very helpful. But those days are long gone.
1967 Dodge Charger. 

A hemispherical combustion chamber typically has a better volumetric efficiency than a more common wedge combustion chamber. But all that extra horsepower is not really very helpful if it is converted into tire smoke. We need to match horsepower potential to our available traction.
So, there is the fly in the ointment, as they say. What we have learned is that our leaf removal program in the fruit zone is sacrosanct to our interpretation of the world’s greatest wines. If you mess with too much or too little sun exposure on the wine berries, the wine will not be what you want it to be.
Our key to moderating alcohol potential lies at the top of the canopy, assuming all other viticultural inputs including soil moisture preservation (and rootstock choice) are done correctly. Ernie’s hedger is fully adjustable and can cut a canopy to over 7.5 feet tall or as low as 6 feet. He can’t cut any lower than that, because that is how tall the posts are. Most of them anyway, he has been “involuntarily adjusting” the height on a few of them.
Of course, the first vineyard hedge happens mid-season so we don’t really know where we are going to end up. This is what it looks like for now, and that is where we are headed. Vintage 2021 will most certainly be the vintage of the year. Oh, look at the time, its 4:26…
Kindest Regards,

Dena & Ernie

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