This is Spring? You Must be Joking!
Hello and Welcome,
Well, it’s 40 below and I don’t…
The month of March gave us about as many days with temperatures below freezing than not. It might be a record. We don’t start tracking the growing conditions until the official start of the vintage, which of course is April Fools' Day, how apropos.
And that conjures up the Rodeo song. It was a mandatory part of the extended-winter extra-curricular college activities growing up in Montana. A very age and time appropriate memory. But this is the Willamette, Janet!
The Pinot Noir vines, well they don’t seem to mind. Kinda like an extra tap of the snooze button. They will get to budding out when they are damn good and ready. Remember vintage 2022, when we had a late freeze and their newly burst buds were suddenly exposed? Once bitten, twice shy it would seem. They are in it for the long haul, most of them anyway…
The Big Picture
The first day of spring was marked on the calendar as March 20th. We topped out at 50 degrees that day, with a low of around 30. Then about a week later we had a nice little snow storm with big, heavy wet flakes. It sure was impressive - but didn’t last long. The crocus, who are very cold hearty, were out in force. The daffodils, well that is a different matter altogether. And gophers, they spring eternal.
Pinot Noir vines are tough little bastards, until they are not. Come spring, we find that for one reason or another, or none at all, some vines did not survive the winter. We planted grafted vines at the turn of the century, knowing the neighborhood was infested with phylloxera. But still, the tallyman will not be denied his due.
We see this during the winter, when the pruning cuts reveal nothing but dead wood. The cambium layer is dried and life has left the vine. We mark them with reflective flagging tape so we can find them again and go about sourcing replacement vines. It is important to replace dead vines in a timely manner, as the roots from the adjacent vines will grow into the void left by the dead vine. If that happens, the new vine will struggle to establish the deep roots needed to survive in a harsh, dry-farmed space. And at our vineyard spacing that space is 30 square feet, and as deep as the roots can grow. That’s farming in a nutshell – unfortunate, but not uncommon.
Welcome to Our Digital World…
While we were a bit slow on the uptake, we have FINALLY, entered into the social media ganglia. Our latest foray is in the form of META advertising. The goal of which is to gain exposure for our brand. And hopefully, maybe, we will bring more Willamette Valley Pinot Noir fans into the fold.
You may have even seen one of these ads. Near as we can tell, tens of thousands of pairs of eyeballs have. Of course, they won’t tell us who those eyeballs belong to, and some statistics are calculated, but we figure it has to be a higher click rate than people who randomly visit Mt. Pisgah, Polk County… Oregon or Florida.
And we have cornered the market on Instagram. The problem there is that EVERYONE has a corner on Instagram! Your shelf life there is shorter than mayfly mating season. One post and 7 seconds later you are buried knee deep in the infinite stream of streaming content – aka Schitt's Creek. But if you are new to Amalie Robert, you can scroll through the images to see what it is that we think is worthwhile seeing. Like a sedimentary soil formation, a social media presence builds up over time, if you live that long... You can view our Instagram page @AmalieRobert here.
Winemaking: The Continuation of Terroir by Other Means ® is our story. Irreverently referred to as the FLOG (Farming bLOG), it captures our 20+ year journey of making a life in Willamette Valley wine country. We are living the dream, so you don’t have to. An unfinished set of autobiographical stories reflecting the agrarian endeavor, marked by “unfortunate, but not uncommon” experiences and catalogued by vintage, is available to read on Substack. You can read for free and even subscribe.
… And Social Experiment
We travel a bit during the first quarter of the year, typically to the southern states that have a thirst for knowledge, and Pinot Noir. Along the way this time we jotted down a few “rules of the road”. Some can be bent and others broken, but do so at your own peril.
First: It is nice to have a cold beer when you finally arrive at your destination. And if you didn’t get bumped or otherwise misdirected, it may still be daylight when you arrive. Bonus points if it is a SAME DAY arrival. A cold beer is a time honored tradition that goes back to the cowboy days of washing out the trail dust. We suggest ordering a bottle of beer and skip the glass. Things being what they are these days, that glass may not be as sanitary as you would like. Hard to tell, best not to take the risk.
Second: While it may have taken you all day and most of your patience to get where you are going, you are not the first, or only person to get there. It is a very telling experience to watch a coast to coast red-eye flight de-plane, at 6 AM. Everyone looks the way they do for a reason, some more than others. Give them a wide berth, they may not be aware of what they are doing or saying. Could be that pre-arrival beer talking. A little patience and some social distance will buy a lot of goodwill.
Third: Service people are Superheroes. While we do not travel that much, we do see the grief directed at customer service staff. Whatever the problem is, it is NOT their fault. Some people do not recognize they are trying to help you. Help them, help you. It is nothing short of amazing how excellent customer service people can turn the most unruly life form into a thankful, appreciative and lifelong customer. Please and Thank You can open infinitely more doors than any hotel key ever will.
Fourth: Smile. Dolly Parton may have said it best, “If you see someone without a smile, give ‘em one of yours!” On balance, Winston Churchill had a thought about smiles. “War is a game that is played with a smile. If you can't smile, grin. If you can't grin, keep out of the way till you can.”
BONUS: Pay attention. Not only to your travel logistics, but to those around you. People watching is one of the greatest shows on earth! And if you visit Florida, keep in mind the alligators are paying attention too – to you! Most folks are focused on the destination, but the journey is where the show is. “All the world's indeed a stage. And we are merely players. Performers and portrayers. Each another's audience outside the gilded cage.” – Rush
The Main Story
And so with the coming of spring, we are reminded it is the season of renewal. We were reminded in a not-so-subtle fashion by the passing of two individuals who had a very profound impact on us and the wine industry writ large.
Dick Erath was one of the first to plant vines in what would become the Willamette Valley AVA. We first met Dick at a ¡Salud! Pinot Noir auction in the 1990’s; that was our segue into the Oregon wine industry. We would go on to work together on a few things over the years. Our very first commercial wine was made by Dick and his cellar master Gary Horner - the 2003 vintage Dijon Clones Pinot Noir – all 72 cases worth. Bear in mind, Erath winery was turning out tens of thousands of cases of wine. Paying attention to a 75 case lot of wine was a lot more than just a little inconvenient. But he committed to doing it, and with the unflappable hand of Mr. Horner in the cellar, he did it and did it well.
Dick Erath was instrumental in our Syrah program. After the cherry trees were removed from the property and before we planted any vines, Dick came to assess the vineyard site. It is worth mentioning Dick had been to the property many years before and had asked the previous owner if he could plant a few test vines. Dick was a STEM guy, before it was cool.
It was a very blustery March of 2000 when Dick and Ernie went to walk the field. They stopped at a crest, and Ernie mentioned this would be where he would plant his Syrah vines. Dick surveyed the area, firmly holding his hat to his head, and said, “I would plant it down there. Do you see where those trees are not moving in the wind? It will be more protected and warmer there to ripen Syrah. Not that you will actually ripen Syrah, but you will have a better chance.” And with that little bit of inspiration, Ernie did just that.
Dick Erath was our conspiring winemaker for 2013 Pabuk’s Gift Late Harvest Botrytis Chardonnay. It is said that anyone can call the gods, the question is - who will they answer? In 2013 Ernie called Dick, and he answered. In 2013 Typhoon Pabuk gifted us 9 inches of rain in 4 days, just before harvest. While everything held pretty well through the rains, the Chardonnay did not, and began to rot forthwith. We took what we could and left about two thirds of it on the vine.
About a month later, after IDEAL Sauternes conditions, Ernie went back to see if he could learn anything - like how to be a better winegrower. What he found was the raw materials for what would become a once in a lifetime wine, but how to do it? Sure enough, Dick made a November trip to the vineyard and gave Ernie some winemaking pointers. It is a rare occurrence when the dog that catches the car actually figures out what to do. Ernie later traded a few of these precious bottles for Dick’s own clone of Pinot Noir - Erath Clone 95.
And then there were the post-harvest dinners. The vintages changed, but the menu stayed the same: Duck and Chanterelles with Dick and good friends. There is literally a lifetime of stories about Dick Erath. His legacy will endure.
Josh Raynolds was the first wine professional to really pay any significant attention to our brand. Albeit we were new to this whole winegrowing and winemaking thing but we did take it seriously, and so did Josh up to a point. We submitted our first Pinot Noir for review from the 2004 vintage to Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. This was the publication that we believed had the most respect from people who really knew quality wine. Josh was the reviewer covering Oregon. And he actually picked up the phone and called us! Ernie was out toiling with his soil, and Dena got to learn a little bit about Josh and answer his questions for about 45 minutes. Never before and never since has that occurred with anyone else.
A quality wine with a well written review from Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar can bring with it several opportunities. While sometimes criticized as miserly in the scores, the reviews themselves had the ability to make the phone ring. As a young brand, that gave us the opportunity to build relationships with direct consumers and members of the wine trade. We learned quite quickly that scores come and go, but your reputation is what builds your brand.
Josh was also one of the first to recognize cool climate Syrah being grown in the Willamette Valley was comparable to Côte Rôtie. While taking a break from his duties at the WVWA Auction a few years back, Josh confessed that the folks in Côte Rôtie used to think they were the only place on the planet to produce stunning cool climate Syrah. “Thanks to what you are doing, and Cristom and a few others, they don’t think that anymore.”
While we have never made the point publicly, we feel that now is an appropriate time to explain why we have stayed with natural corks. Despite the occasional corked bottle, natural corks afford us the ability to ferment with whole clusters and allow our wines to age gracefully. A little little oxygen permeating the cork softens aggressive stem tannins into spice and length giving us the third half of Pinot Noir. It was during Josh’s last visit to the winery that Ernie mentioned we wanted to move to a technical closure. Josh stopped writing in his book, looked Ernie directly in the eye and said, “Not for your wines”. Josh then went on to explain that while those closures are good for some wines, they would not be a good choice for ours. The next day, Ernie had to deliver the news to our vendor that in fact we were not going forward with a technical closure.
And if you ever find yourself at In-N-Out Burger and are having a hard time deciding what to order, just tell them you want a “two by four.” While you will not get a piece of lumber, you will get two beef patties and four slices of cheese.
"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
Check out our Purchase Page for the latest offers.
Dena & Ernie