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

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Amalie Robert Estate Vintage Update: 2021 Harvest After Action Report (HAAR)

Hello and Welcome, 

This is the Harvest After Action Report (HAAR) from Amalie Robert Estate, Vintage 2021. Suggested reading time is 1.25 ARB’s (Adult Recreational Beverages). If you can possibly manage the time, please read this FLOG in one sitting. 

All’s well that ends well… Apparently this is not a new concept as William Shakespeare’s play was published in the 1600’s. Typically, a person can forget about how unpleasant or difficult something was because everything worked out fine. Or cognitively, it is just easier to set your sights on the next objective and forget about it. You will do better next time… Note that Shakespeare’s play is considered a comedy. Just imagine the literary masterpieces he could have turned out if he were a farmer!
In hindsight, Vintage 2021 really wasn’t so bad. Years from now we will taste the wines and all have a good laugh. Some will laugh first, others will laugh loudest and someone will have the last laugh. We suspect Mother Nature is laughing right now. You could even consider it a comedy. A tragic comedy, a comedy of errors, there are several comedic choices available. It was Cluster Pluck to remember…

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!

Prologue: Vintage 2021
Each farming year begins with high hopes and great aspirations. Another year of experience informs us of the newfound perils to be mindful of as we set off on a new vintage. The first three months of the year are consumed with pruning the vines. Pruning is an arduous task completed in the wind and rain and occasional sunny day. Our job is to get the vines ready for their big day – Bud Break. And this year that occurred at a relatively normal time of April 15th. It is a heartwarming sight to see these dormant canes spring forth with little green shoots. Frost is sometimes a threat to the newly emerged shoots and astute vineyard site selection is the key to avoid this peril. And sometimes all you need is a bit of old fashioned good luck.

April brings with it a substantial amount of tractor time getting the vineyard floor ready to support the vines’ exponential growth spurt that occurs in May and June. First is incorporating the cover crop from last fall that will decompose and release nutrients to the vines. Then a quick pass with the seed drill to add a summer cover crop to attract beneficial insects and fix a little nitrogen. Not that the nitrogen was broken, but “fix” is the term used when plants convert nitrogen from the atmosphere and store it on their roots. And that is how we feed our vines without the use of chemical fertilizers. We do burn a few dinosaurs along the way. But its Bio-Diesel here in Oregon, so it’s not all bad.

May and June is when all hell breaks loose in the canopy. The vines are on a driven 6 month schedule from April to October to ripen their seeds and reproduce, then they go dormant for the next 6 months. Nice work if you can get it. May and June are when those cute little green buds we noticed in April rapidly grow into long canes that need to be harnessed in the trellis catch wires – all by hand. The simple math is 50,000 vines times 12 buds is 600,000 shoots that need to be manually tucked into 3 pairs of trellis catch wires and clipped into place.

If It’s Going to Be, It’s Up to Me
And that’s when the first major trial of Vintage 2021 occurred. (Note: We will spare you the minor trials we experience every day, like lifting the fog, finding the internet hotspot sweet spot or co-locating with the tractor keys). Once the shoots are all tucked into the wires, Ernie gets out the hedger to trim the tops of the shoots. Like the periodic colonoscopy, this has become a fairly straightforward procedure. But this year is the year where the THIRD Landini tractor wheel failed. And it failed in the most spectacular fashion, on the downhill run of row 18, block 29. That is a lovely block of Pommard clone on 44-53 rootstock.

Once the shock and initial inspection was complete, the reality set in. How in the hell do we get the tractor out of the vineyard on 3 wheels? With the hedger attached no less. Fortunately, there are 12 bottles of beer in a half rack, and that affords the winegrower some time for creative thinking and limited critical reasoning. And since it’s summer, we can pee outside. And often do.
It turns out the solution was not to move the tractor out of the field on three wheels, but to remove, repair and replace the broken wheel. With Dena’s help and cellphone at the ready in case of emergency, Ernie gathered unto himself all of his tools, jacked up the machine, removed the broken wheel and wheel studs, and exited the field unscathed.

Then a quick call to Ray King of King’s Industries was in order. Ray recalled fixing the last two broken wheels and was up for a welding trifecta. First, Ernie had to stop off at Les Schwab to remove the rubber tire from the steel wheel. Ray doesn’t like to apply heat and high voltage in close proximity to rubber. There are old welders and bold welders, but not so many old, bold welders. Then just as quick as you please, that’s less than 24 hours in farming time, Ray had the wheel ready to roll. Then it was back to Les Schwab for a reinstall of the tire.
And since the tread was wearing down, Ernie took the time to find out how much a replacement tire would cost. “No sir, that size tire is no longer available.” It seems like just a couple years ago when Ernie found out replacement wheels were no longer available. So, it was back to block 29 to reinstall our very precious wheel and irreplaceable tire.

Installing the wheel is a simple process – line up the spokes with the hub and slide the wheel studs through. Add NEW lock washers and torque down the nuts. All good, except when a vine is between you and the wheel. The vine rows are set at 90 inches wide and the front wheels track at 55 inches wide. That leaves about 17 inches between a front tire and a vine. Fortunately, it was a sunny day, not too hot and with nothing much else to do until the wheel was replaced. After a commensurate amount of time, Ernie had the wheel replaced and was able to drive the tractor out of the confines of block 29 under its own power .

May through August is the time when we must spray the vines. Much like we spray flowering shrubberies such as roses, we spray vines to keep mildew from attacking our wine berries. And to do this we use a sprayer. The sprayer takes power from the tractor PTO (Power Take Off) driveshaft to power the pump that pressurizes the solution that is sprayed on the vines. The pump is a diaphragm pump. A diaphragm pump with a failed diaphragm will not pressurize the sprayer. And this was the second major trial of Vintage 2021.

The quick answer is sometimes the best answer, just ask Occam. In this particular case, a replacement pump would be the best repair. Maybe a little more money, but far less time. The vineyard spray schedule is about every 7 to 10 days. That means there is a small and dwindling window of time to make this repair. If not, mildew would have the great opportunity to infect the entire vineyard. Delayed spray intervals have the potential to create a total loss. These types of thoughts have a tendency to focus the mind and enact decisive action.
And of course, Ernie discovered his pump’s ruptured diaphragm on a Saturday. So he sent off a few E-mails and found another wanting project to absorb his excess time. Come Monday afternoon, no responses. A few calls to the sprayer manufacturer went straight to voicemail. Monday must be a busy day for these folks. So, the next logical step is to call the pump manufacturer. Success favors the prepared mind.
Well, it turns out that the manufacturer must have had a slow day because Ernie had about 30 minutes with them. They confirmed what Ernie had suspected, he was the proud owner of a boat anchor. The next task was to contact the local dealer to source a new pump. The number he was given to the local dealer happened to be in Washington. And they had no pumps in stock. They did have several on order, but none in stock.
“Why don’t you call the Oregon dealer? It says they have 7 in stock.” Well why not, indeed? So Ernie took down the number and called them up. Sure enough, they did have 7 in stock. Ernie reserved one and confirmed the drive time to be about an hour. Great, just enough time for lunch. And then the phone rang. It turns out the pumps were not in the warehouse. “We can’t find them. They are not where they are supposed to be. But they do have some on order in Washington.” Great, just great.
Lunch was ready, and this was a problem that was going to have to wait for 30 minutes. At about the 20-minute mark, the phone rings. “We found them.” The disappearing and reappearing pump is an example of the self-correcting problem. This is the very best kind of problem to have.

What followed on next was supposed to be a simple pump R&R (remove and replace). And it was, right up until it came time to remove and replace the drive gear that was pressed onto the input shaft. “No, you should not have to take that to a machine shop,” said the voice on the other end of the phone. You would think after 20 some years farming, Ernie would be less gullible. The next time you see Ernie, just remember he looks that way for a reason.

It was the rest of the day with a gear puller from his drag racing days that he removed the drive gear from the failed pumps input shaft. With a strong feeling of accomplishment and sense of self-reliance, Ernie held the drive gear up to the new pump’s input shaft. It easily slid down about ¼ inch, with about 3 more inches to go.

Reality began to seep in like the feeling you get when you realize that last beer was not necessarily in your best interest. While the path of excess does lead to knowledge, at some point you reach the point of diminishing returns. The drive gear has to go on the new input shaft at exactly the same depth of position as it was on the failed pump’s input shaft. And the only way it is going to go down that shaft is with a precision application of percussive maintenance.

Starting with the smallest hammer, a full can of WD-40 and a tape measure, the disciplined application of force began. Tap, tap tap, whack, whack, whack and measure. Ok, that was another ¼ inch. Time for a little bigger hammer. The next day later, with the BFH (Big Farmin’ Hammer), the drive gear was right where it was supposed to be. Ernie set the pump back in the sprayer and hooked up all of the hoses and the drive chain. It was the moment of truth. And it WORKED! The FIRST time! Clearly something was wrong, but whatever that may be, it performed like a champ all year.

Climate Change Visits the Willamette Valley
In sales they say if you can’t change your people, then it’s time to change your people. In farming, you put down roots in a piece of dirt that has the soil characteristics you want in an area that has the climate that will ripen your desired and saleable crop. For us that means sedimentary soil in the northern half of the Willamette Valley where we can grow world class wines. And we respect that each year there will be highs and lows and that the climate tends to vacillate over the years.

The third major trial of Vintage 2021 was summer heat and drought. Our record high temperature was 118 degrees recorded on June 28th. That set a record for the state and a personal best for Dena and Ernie. A second bout of heat hit us about a month later on July 30th that topped out at 103 degrees. Our vintage 2021 growing season Degree Days are 2,755. The next closest vintage was 2003 at 2,699 Degree Days. No matter how you spin it, that’s pretty farmin’ hot.

September added 404 Degree Days with a high temperature of 94.8 degree recorded on September 7th at 3:48 pm. The low temperature was 39.7 degree recorded on September 16th at 5:48 am. October was a return to a more typical Oregon fall recording 98.4 degree days. The high temperature was 73.8 degrees recorded on October 3rd at 12:36 pm. The low temperature was 31.6 degrees recorded on October 12th at 6:48 am. The two days of hang time in November for the Syrah harvest added another 1.2 Degree Days with a high temperature of 53.2 and a low temperature of 43.2. And that concluded the Great Cluster Pluck, Vintage 2021.
We recorded 3.56 inches of rain from April through June with the last rainfall recorded on June 14th. The next meaningful precipitation arrived on September 18th with 1.22 inches of rain. That is a 3-month summertime period with no precipitation and record heat. Aka, a long dry spell… Total rainfall for September was 2.73 inches. The first half of October provided another 0.95 inches of rain as we finished up the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir harvest. The second half of October gave us quite a lashing with 3.56 inches of rain and a sky full of birds when it wasn’t downpouring. Somewhat odd that the last half of October rainfall matched the first three months of the growing season. But it did.

The summer heat arrived when the wine berries were still green. The vines flowered on June 1st and they had about 6 more weeks before they started to turn color and enter veraison on July 28th. The immediate, obvious impact to wine quality was purely speculative. As this was an unprecedented event, no one knew for sure what the impact would be and what follow-on events leading up to harvest would occur. These were the ideal conditions necessary for talking heads to flood social media. This is a recurring problem not confined to all things Vinous.

However, shading of the fruit during the growing season will be a factor in the wines, it always is. The more sun exposure, the more tannin will be developed in the wine berry skins. Just like a day at the beach, the more unprotected sun exposure means a stronger reaction in your skin. And if you happen to be a wine berry (more on that later), excess sun exposure means excess levels of tannins.

It is yet to be seen how these climatic factors will impact the wines from Vintage 2021. What we can say for sure is that each of these factors will influence Vintage 2021. But whether the influence is in a positive way, is yet to be seen.
The Human Factor
Wine growing is a labor-intensive endeavor. While we mechanize where we can, and enjoy the opportunity to go in depth with the associated maintenance, there are just some tasks in growing premium wine that are best left to the humans. Case in point is mechanical harvesting. Those machines are roving the vineyards in our area, but we are not having any of it. All of our wine berries at Amalie Robert Estate are cluster plucked by hand. Or beak, if the winged cluster puckers get there before we do.

The Great Cluster Pluck lies at the intersection of when you want to pluck, when humans are available to pluck and the weather conditions allowing you to pluck. While not a factor in Vintage 2021, air quality can play a role, as in negating an entire vintage. We had to call off the Great Cluster Pluck in Vintage 2020 due to smoke taint. Pluck Off!

We focus on the one factor we can control and that is when to pluck what. Out of 55,000 vines cut into 47 blocks, we know some are ready before others. In Pinot Noir, we look for expressive aromas and flavors that tend toward Montmorency cherry with a strong showing of acidity. In Syrah, we look for something other. While each vintage offers something to love, we look for the same aroma and flavor markers in each vintage. This helps us put some form of order or consistency to the finished wines, while capturing the individual characteristics of each vintage. And having only a single block of Pinot Meunier, that wine gets elevated status as there is no margin for error.

Finally, we have to contend with the people in the mirror. And this year, that’s all we had in the winery. Fortunately, we had a really good architect who listened to us when we said, “The two of us should be able to run this winery with a pallet jack.” Because we did. We will admit that mirror placement was a critical factor in our success. Please bear in mind, we are living the dream, so you don’t have to.
The Great Cluster Pluck: Vintage 2021
Hang time is the term used to describe the final days of ripening when the wine berries develop the most expressive aroma and flavor. Some fruits can ripen after they are harvested, pears come to mind. But not wine. Once you pluck the wine berries from the vine, aroma and flavor development will cease. The ability to give the wine berries hang time depends on several factors including rootstock, vine age and root depth, canopy management and rainfall, or the lack thereof.
We have a few words to share regarding canopy management and alcohol potential. We have come to believe that the taller the canopy, the higher the alcohol potential in the finished wines. Taller canopies have a tendency to use more soil moisture, thus reducing hang time. This is especially true in the warmer vintages. We learned this lesson years ago with Viognier, which is all about sugar accumulation. Our response was to hedge a shorter canopy to remove the top story of leaves creating the issue. The fewer leaves at the top of the canopy means lower sugar concentration in the vines. And that means lower alcohol potential in the wine. Planning ahead is a variant of the “self-correcting problem” scenario.

One of our key factors in selecting harvest dates in Vintage 2021 was rainfall. After an unprecedented hot and dry growing season, we wanted to see some moisture rehydrate the vines to alter the sugar and acid chemistry in the wine berry. We also wanted a few more days of hang time to allow for more aroma and flavor development. Better wines through naturally altering the chemistry on the vine – that’s what hang time can do for you.
And we got it. September blessed us with 2.73 inches of rain. The opening salvo was from the 18th to the 20th with 1.22 inches and the second round was the 27th and 28th with 1.51 inches. Get out the buckets, we’re going cluster pluckin’! And we did.

The Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay harvest continued through October 16th as we dodged a few more vintage extending showers. Then all we had left to go was Ernie’s acre of Willamette Valley Syrah and Viognier. The showers continued on and off and on again throughout October. “Not to worry” was Ernie’s response.

And then it was time. Sunday, October 31st was the last best day of hang time. The sun was out and a mild breeze cleared the air. The sweet smell of fallen leaves beginning to decompose filled the air. The harvest window was set for Tuesday, November 2nd. It was a bittersweet harvest in the sense that we had to wait for aroma and flavor to develop, but the winged cluster pluckers were not so inclined. While the quality of the fruit was phenomenal, there is a short supply of Vintage 2021.
As we close the chapter on Vintage 2021, we would like to share the five stages of Pinot Noir with you.

Pinot Noir Pre-Harvest. This is Pinot Noir on the vine. We have assessed the quality of the fruit and found it to be exceptional. Cluster Plucking will begin at first light.

Pinot Noir Post-Harvest Pre-Fermentation. This is Pinot Noir clusters successfully extracted from the vineyard and awaiting fermentation at the winery. First things first, they all get weighed.

Pinot Noir Post-Fermentation. We have fermented the sugar out of them, and they are spent. They have given their very best and now are off to the compost pile to provide nutrients for a future vintage.

Pinot Noir Pre-Blending Barrel Maturation. This is where the magic happens, softening stem tannins and slowly maturing our wines in barrel before each blend is decided.

Pinot Noir Post-Blending Pre-You. The blend is complete and here we have a “Clean Skin” bottle awaiting a label and capsule. Once the packaging is complete, each bottle will be lovingly matched to 11 others and stored for bottle maturation before release.
Pinot Noir For You! Each bottle is labelled and ready to go! And soon, Christmas is coming. Really, it is!
Happy Holidays,

Dena & Ernie

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