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Most Recent Update: 2012 Harvest After Action Report (AAR)
Hello and Welcome!
This page is where we will be tracking the 2012 growing season. Beginning on day 91 (April 1st), each 28 day period includes the detail of key vineyard activities, degree day accumulations and rainfall. Dena will post images and Ernie will post the latest news from the vineyard.
We use a Julian calendar (Tell Me about the Julian Calendar) to track the 2012 growing season. As you scroll through the calendar, you will notice the days are numbered. This helps us understand the timing of the key events in the vineyard including bud break, flowering or bloom, veraison (color change) and of course harvest! Really, we are tracking Mother Nature’s touch on our vines.
We also maintain a degree day (What's a Degree Day?) history at Amalie Robert Estate. Each year we are looking to accumulate around 2,000 degree days before harvest. But when?
This brings us to rating a vintage based on the combination of vineyard events and degree day accumulations. Typically, this is hard to do without tasting the wine, however that seems to be little deterrent to the wine press these days.
With the exception of severe frosts or rains, most years will produce very good to excellent vintages. That is if the grower is paying attention. Look for his or her footprints in the vineyard. That is a somewhat overlooked clue to vintage quality. Here is the inside story.
Winegrapes have one purpose on this Earth - to ripen seeds, and they will do it very well in most years. That means they will put up shoots and leaves, to ripen the seeds in the berries and then build sugars and reduce acids to entice some fauna to eat the berries. The fauna is the transport mechanism to disperse the seeds, and once that happens the vine’s job is complete. The cycle is easily demonstrated in the Kopi Luwak story. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopi_Luwak
As winemakers, our job is to taste and monitor the development of the fruit, with the purpose of producing compelling wines. The science part of winemaking provides us with the rules of the road. These are the sugar levels (Brix) and pH. Once these numbers enter a specific range, then we switch from analytics to sensory evaluation.
The vine provides us with clues as to fruit maturity. One key factor Ernie uses is to chew the skins and seeds. This will release potassium and tannins, and provides a marker for planning harvest. Berry by berry and row by row, Dena and Ernie walk through the blocks to monitor flavor development.
In laying out our own vineyard, we chose to create small blocks, most of which are less than a single acre. This allows us to select harvest dates that more accurately maximize aroma and flavor development in our wines.
From there, we hand harvest by block and map the fruit to a specific fermenter. Each fermenter will produce about 4 barrels of wine. So in the cellar, we can walk the barrels as we do the vineyard blocks. Come taste with us - meet us where the vineyard and the vintage come together!
Dena & Ernie
Hello and Welcome!
As previously noted, the first sign of harvest occurred on Monday, April 23rd, with the arrival of bud break. After the delayed, protracted and intolerably cold post-harvest season, it was widely rumored (aka common knowledge) the vines would take the year off. No such luck, they are back to test our mettle and taunt us for yet a 13th time here at Amalie Robert Estate. Here's to lucky 13!
The sign of new Spring growth is a welcome sight that replaces the dense ice fog that plagued much of the vines’ dormant season. Damn, it was cold. The vines were oblivious, much like the notion of rain to a fish. But the most important thing about bud break is that it gives the winegrower a sense of renewal. All of the farming "learning opportunities" from the prior vintage have been duly logged and process improvements have been devised. We begin the year anew, a little older and hopefully a little wiser, yet blissfully unaware of what dark forces wait to set upon us. We are confident only in knowing there are several.
Along with that uplifting Spring growth comes vineyard activities. The first of which is the annual ritual where Ernie hopes the tractor will start. This is usually followed by a parts run and then a changing of the battery. Ok, back up to square one. A quick bump of the key and a tap on the throttle brings the engine to life. The glorious sound of 4 turbocharged diesel cylinders spinning up to maximum torque fills the air! This is the equivalent of bud break for farm equipment.
Mowing the vineyard is the early season activity and it is quite a job. Ernie uses the crawler this time of year to avoid compaction in the vine rows. The concept here is that the soil has pores that hold water during the rainy season and air during the growing season. This soil condition is key to a healthy soil that is a microcosm unto itself.
By using the crawler, Ernie spreads the weight of the equipment along the entire surface of the two steel tracks as opposed to 4 tire contact points. This provides a lighter footprint that does not squeeze the water out of the pores in the soil. A wheel tractor will put all of the weight in 4 spots as it rolls through the vineyard. The soil will bear a heavier load and the pores will collapse causing compaction. The soil microbes and vine roots don't much care for that condition.
A well aerated soil provides a great place to conduct microbial activity. Agronomically speaking, a healthy soil is a hidden economy where each organism has a place and a purpose. New growth displaces dead matter that is converted into energy by the life forces in the soil. The vines utilize this resource for nutrients and water to produce fruit. As winegrowers, we replenish the soil with fresh green cover crops and mulched brown vineyard prunings from the prior year.
Each mowing pass, and there are several throughout the year, is a sweet little 37.5 mile ride @ about 2 miles per hour. If Ernie were to "play through" and not stop, he would wrap up in about 19 hours. Of course it never works out that way, so a better average time is about 1.5 miles per hour, yielding about 25 hours of elapsed time. But there are physical limits and you can only drive the crawler so fast. It can go faster, but not with you on it.
Sometimes he misses the showers and sometimes they will not be denied, but driving an open station crawler is the only way to appreciate the wonderful Springtime weather that passes by from time to time. The warmth of the sun on Ernie's face, a gentle breeze and the odd hailstone produces a nice fire engine red glow for the rest of the day. A reminder that it is time to find the sunscreen and a better hat.
Note the fully deployed yellow rain slicker Ernie wears to maximize his total immersion in this rich vineyard experience!
Here is a quick rundown of the numbers.
We have recorded about 52.89 degree days from April 1st through April 30th. All of this heat accumulation occurred in the second half of the month. We checked at April 15th, but we had nothing. We reached a high of 81.5 and a low of 31.9 with 3.12 inches of rain directed mostly at Ernie as he drove his crawler through the vineyard.
We accumulated NADA for degree days in April 2010. The high temperature was 80.50 and a low of 32.40 with 4.75 inches of rain scattered throughout the month.
So, we are a bit warmer than last year and the vines are sporting swanky new green shoots. So far, so good. Next up will be to incorporate (rototill) the Oats and Peas that were drilled in last fall. As this green matter is digested by the soil, it will release nutrients for the vines to grow the most spectacular vintage of Pinot Noir known to mankind. Not only is this great stewardship of the land, it also makes for a nice piece of dirt we call home.
Stewardship is key to saving the planet and you should be doing your part. We were recently reminded as to why this is SO important. Other than the obvious reason that we call Earth home, it is also the only planet that grows wine!
But we can suppose that if the other planets did grow wine, what would they grow? Ernie thinks Mars would most likely make a fine Viognier or Vino Verde that is served over dry ice. Dena thinks Venus would produce the most ethereal Chardonnay. Mercury would grow a firebrand Shiraz, and Pluto would be relegated to Rhubarb wine - it's a dog thing - with very little intergalactic export possibility.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, it looks like the rest of the month of May is going to be sunny, dry and stunningly beautiful. As you go outside and enjoy the sunny dry weather, consider taking a few moments to wet your plants. Especially the Rhodies…
Dena & Ernie
Hello and Welcome!
This is the climate update for May 2012. All in all, it has been a pretty good mix of rain, sun, clouds, wind and favorable working conditions in the vineyard. Par for the course, there were a couple of equipment “malfunctions” that required repairs including an adjustment of the loose nut behind the wheel. When preventive maintenance fails, the last tool in the toolbox is usually the right tool for percussive maintenance. Ah Janet, it’s springtime in the Willamette.
The vines are budded out with shoots that are about 12 to 18 inches and we have just finished their manicure. That is where we run down the length of their 4 foot cane and remove excess shoots that are spaced too closely together. The idea here is that if the shoots are too close together, the leaves and fruit will impede the sunlight and air circulation we need to properly ripen our fruit throughout the growing season. This congestion in the canopy will also make it easier for those nasty little mildew and botrytis spores to take hold - and that is completely unacceptable.
The next step for our 44,155 precocious little winemakers is to straighten their remaining shoots and clip catch wires around them. The purpose of the catch wires is to keep the shoots growing vertically through the trellis. It is a requirement of a VSP (Vertical Shoot Positioned) trellis system.
“What does this mean and why should I care?!”
Welcome to advanced canopy management for cool climate Pinot Noir (as if there is any other kind.) The primary design benefit of a VSP trellis system is to separate the shoots and expose the fruit clusters to sun and circulating air, in hopes no mildew will grow there.
The alternative is to not position those shoots vertically, but to let them flop down all over themselves. The result will be less sun exposure to develop flavors and aromas in the skins, and a damp environment around the leaves that will make the perfect home to a mildew epidemic.
As mildew grows it takes about 7 days to produce new spores that will infect new leaves. Once the fruit makes its debut on the scene, the mildew will attack the fruit and all will be lost. In other words, there will be no wine, just lots of whining - and that is completely unacceptable.
The vineyard floor is looking really nice. The permanent grass rows have been mowed down twice, with the last pass just before the rains. This is very fortuitous timing as the clippings will decompose faster, returning nutrients to the soil, which as you know, is the plant’s stomach.
Ernie has incorporated last year’s cover crop of Peas and Oats into the soil to be digested by all those little soil microbes. As the growing season progresses, all of that organic matter just decomposes right before our eyes. We see it again in the new green growth of the vines’ shoots and leaves. This is the circle of life, if you live in the soil.
Just as quick as you please, Ernie returned with his mighty (expensive) seed drill and installed his summer cover crop of Buckwheat and Vetch. The idea here is to fix nitrogen with the Vetch and for the Buckwheat to provide pollen protein for our carnivorous little beneficial insets if they run out of non-beneficial insects to eat. Love you guys!
Reminds Ernie of a photo he saw of a grizzly bear in Alaska with a rather large salmon hanging out of its mouth. The caption was “Are you the Salmon or are you the Bear?” And of course, until the final moment, how would you know?
Step into the Vineyard Vestibule and we will tell you that we have accumulated some heat units this month!
Wouldn’t be easy if we could just “cap and trade” heat units? We could dial in the “perfect” Wine Spectator vintage every year! Maybe the folks in Spain are just too hot and we could trade them some cool Willamette Valley breeze for a few days of hot, dry heat. That’s kind of what happens when vineyards turn on the irrigation – think about it.
OK, back to reality. Here are the numbers for the month of May 2012.
The month of May accumulated 196.32 degree days, had a high of 88.0 and a low of 31.7 with 2.92 inches of rain. This brings the 2012 growing season up to a very respectable 236.08 degree days from April 1 through May 31. We are significantly warmer than 2011’s heat accumulation of 37.61 degree days by nearly a factor of 10! Rainfall for the growing season is 6.04 inches, which is less than the 2011 ark building rains of 7.71 inches.
But there is more to the story. While we recorded a low temperature of 31.7, we did not see any frost damage. Other sites in the valley were not so lucky and have reported frost damage. This will not kill the vines; they are too tough for that. However, there is a very strong likelihood that there will be no fruit from the damaged shoots - no wine, just lots of whining.
As June unfolds, we will be scouting for the next sign of harvest – flowers. It is with this event in the vineyard we can begin to establish a harvest window. We like to see 105 days from flowers to harvest. Of course, we will take what we can get and not complain. Maybe just have a glass of wine.
Dena & Ernie
June 2012 Vintage Update: Flowers
That pretty much sums up the
2011 growing season. For now, let's call 2011 a
"Character Building" vintage.
Dena & Ernie
Hello and Welcome,
This is the climate update for the month of June 2012.
We were happy to report bloom occurred earlier this month, and now we are paying for it with the “June Gloom.” That’s right, we have been experiencing showers, mostly overcast skies and warm, humid conditions. It’s like taking a shower in the morning and never leaving the bathroom, or walking to work in Seattle. Oh sure there have been sun breaks, but those were in ARIZONA! It kinda puts the “F” in Farming.
With the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) announcing a few big rulings this month, we think a lot of folks got a first hand feel for what it is like to be a farmer. Farmers are always watching the weather. We try and “predict” where Mother Nature is leading us, especially around harvest time. Such was the case this month with some folks “predicting” the rulings from the high court based on a few days of questions and answers.
The result, of course, was predictable. Few, if anyone, predicted the final outcome, but it didn’t stop the pontification leading up to the big news. In growing wine, not only do we have to make it through harvest to determine how well our wines will represent our soils and the climate, we also need to get past wine critics. And that is before the wine is even bottled! The real evaluation of the vintage takes place a few years down the road when a bottle of wine is enjoyed with a meal.
From the “Mother Nature v the law” file, we have this telling story. Patent number 5,968,597 was granted on October 19, 1999 and gave one group sole rights to Broccoli Sprout production. The sale of seed intended to produce Broccoli Sprouts and all Broccoli Sprouts had to be produced by or licensed by the patent holders. (Note: It’s not that “farming difficult”- you get them wet and Mother Nature does the rest.)
The wisdom of that patent finally met with the harsh light of day. Right around Pinot Noir harvest time, October 11, 2001, the patent was ruled invalid. It took a while, but Mother Nature wins again! Much like the 2007 vintage, those wines are just “farming magic” in a bottle.
And speaking of farming, we have been diligent in our field work. Our first set of catch wires has been raised and clipped into place. Well done! We came back around for a second pass, but noticed many of our shoots have not quite made it up to the second set of wires. Just when we thought we were getting ahead - hurry up and wait. At least Ernie gets a chance to change the oil in all 3 of his “farming tractors” while he waits.
What is not waiting is our cover crop. Since Ernie drilled that in last month it has taken off like a rocket. So far we have been able to harvest a few pea tendrils and those are a great addition to a Duck Confit salad. The goal, however, is to harvest healthy and mature flavored grapes to make wine. It looks like it may be a while before we are done “farming around” with this vintage.
Our biggest objective this time of year is to transition from bloom to fruit set without any Powdery Mildew or Botrytis infections. The warm, humid weather is creating great conditions for both of these pathogens to grow and get a foothold on this year’s vintage.
Early in the growing season we combat these two undesirables by applying sulfur to the vines. As the sulfur volatizes, the effect is similar to entering a small room where a million bottle rockets have just been lit off. The sulfur dioxide from the burning fireworks really irritates your soft tissues such as eyes and lungs. If you are familiar with the campfire scene in the movie Blazing Saddles, then you get the drift.
The sulfur we apply to our vines has a very similar effect to the cell walls of Powdery Mildew and Botrytis. They do not die, they just lie in wait until the conditions improve where they can grow again. It is our job to keep them in stasis while the fruit matures.
However, we cannot apply anything to the vines while it is raining. So, we just sit out here and grab another beer. And not just any beer mind you, we are looking to enjoy a tall, cool Phuket beer. By the way, the bird featured on the logo is a Hornbill and a quite nice one at that.
And now the paragraphs you have all been waiting for – the numbers! It’s Ernie’s chance to geek out in a very normal and mature kind of way. Sometimes he is “farming serious” and other times he is just “farming kidding.” And it gives him something to do when it’s raining.
The month of June accumulated 244.2 degree days, had a high of 86.6 and a low of 37.2 with 2.92 inches of rain. This brings the 2012 growing season up to 480.3 degree days since April 1. And yes, we did receive exactly 2.92 inches of rain last month. We would say this is odd, but it is divisible by 2. Was it sampling error? Ah yes, human terroir.
However, we can compare this year to the character building vintage of 2011. We logged about 270 degree days in June (up from 249 degree days in 2010) providing a total of 308 degree days through June of 2011. This is a “big farming deal” early in the season to record about 55% more degree days then the previous year.
So the next time someone asks you if we are ahead or behind this year, you can reply with the utmost “farming confidence.” “We are about 55.8% ahead of last year.” Then wait for the deer caught in the headlights look.
As we turn to the page for July, we are predicting some really beautiful “farming weather.” We can use it too, as harvest is only about 103 days away!
Dena & Ernie
Hello and Welcome,
This is the climate update for the month of July 2012.
“Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.” Looking back on the ¡Salud! Pinot Noir auction and how we got started growing wine. Speaking of which, that event is coming around again this November 9th and 10th. You can learn about the mission and how to secure your Amalie Robert Estate ¡Salud! Cuvee here: http://www.saludauction.org
July has been a really nice month for farmers who farm wine. We started with some very warm and sunny days. The vines picked up on the increased warmth and tapped into their reserve of soil moisture to put up some impressive growth. Good for them. Our job was to harness that growth and put catch wires around it. Not so good for us.
This struggle for control lasts a couple of weeks and the vineyard begins to resemble an overgrown jungle. However, we have seen this before and know what to do – ROADTRIP!
Wait a minute, that’s not it. Ernie pulls out the hedger, that’s what he does. The vines seem to sense this and push even more growth, that’s what they do. Yes, this piece of equipment gets quite a work-out every year. Notice how Ernie has the flail mower hooked up behind the hedger so he can “sweep up as he goes along.” Now that’s farming! We wouldn’t say the hedger has paid for itself, because that is not what farmers say. They say things like, “Well, that looks like a piece of grit to me.”
The hedger turns chaos back into order. We like to hedge a pretty big canopy. We are strong believers in leaves. The past few vintages have been fairly cool here in the Willamette Valley and having more leaf surface is certainly an advantage in achieving ripeness. This point is made in mid to late September through October when the temperatures are slow to warm up. Cool conditions mean that there is very little time for the leaves to create and export energy to the rest of the vine. So, we plan for this and make sure we maximize our leaf surface area. And it looks nice, too.
We end up hedging the top of the shoots back down to a height of about 90 inches. By design, this is the width of the rows in the vineyard. The growth starts at what we call the fruiting wire, which is at 30 inches, and gives us a 60 inch “solar array” to harvest sunlight. Because that is what farmers do, we harvest sunlight. Actually the vines do the harvesting this time of year. If all ends well, we will be back in October for a little “cluster pluck” of our own.
Right now we are plucking just a few leaves in the fruit zone to expose the developing berries to the morning sun. This part of the canopy management is often overlooked in how important it is in shaping the flavor and aroma profile in the skins. If we pull too many leaves on our Pinot Noir and we see a nice hot August the fruit can develop an almost Syrah like intensity. Of course we want that in our Syrah. Viognier, however, will sunburn like an Irishman in Portugal, so we leave all of those leaves on.
Leaf plucking is the beginning of winemaking in the vineyard. This is when we look for a rift in the time/space continuum to see what the month of August and September will bring. We don’t have ground hogs in Oregon, so we have to go hi-tech.
If we see a dismal, cool growing season we may be inclined to remove a few more leaves. But if we see a repeat of 2003 when we could have ripened Zinfandel, then we are inclined to leave a few more leaves to shade the fruit.
Among all of the “most important” things we need to get right, sun development in the skins and the fermentation temperature that extracts those flavors and aromas are key to the style of wine we produce. Did we mention that leaf plucking in Burgundy is not such a big deal? Hmm…
Well, it is about time to look at the farming numbers.
We have recorded about 449 degree days for the month of July, providing a total of 929 degree days since the beginning of the growing season on April 1st. This compares with 381 degree days last July and a comparative total of 689 degree days for 2011. During July, our highest high was 90.9 and our lowest low was 43.9 degrees Fahrenheit.
We received no measurable precipitation for the month of July. July 2011 brought the gift of 1.02 inches of rain. Rainfall from April 1st through July 31st was 8.96, and is 0.40 inches less than last year's growing season to date rainfall of 9.39 inches. Timing is everything.
The trend seems to be warmer and drier than last year. Hard to believe it could be wetter and colder, though as we now know, anything is possible. Mother Nature, not very reliable but somewhat predictable, seems to be turning on her charm.
Next up on the Julian calendar is Lag Phase. This is the time in the berries’ development when we can predict final harvest weights. Of course they will be wrong, but they are usually close enough. Once we know how much fruit we are hanging, we can go back to the vine and thin off a few clusters to get us where we need to be. Being where you need to be when you need to be there. That’s the secret to a happy farmer and catching your flight home.
Dena & Ernie
Hello and Welcome to the highly anticipated first sign of harvest,
Mother Nature is starting to blush! And why not, she is right on time - day 229 of the Julian calendar. The day is August 16th, 2012, but bear in mind this is a leap year. This puts us about 8 days ahead of her coming out party from 2011, day 237.
We imagine she relies more on a sun dial, which is just fine for accuracy but not so good for precision. Any abacus users out there? Ernie can count to 10 in binary, but that is a skill sorely lacking in demand these days.
Now those 8 days are not so important from a start of harvest point of view. We take the time to clean the winery (again) and continue to sample the wineberries. Sometimes we even sample the wine from previous vintages. Quality control is clearly a very big part of what we do!
But those 8 days make a significant difference as the harvest window begins to close. We have seen "touch and go" harvests the last couple of years. 2010 gave us the Oregon version of Alfred Hitchcock's movie “The Birds.” They came early and settled right in. But the fruit wasn't ready, so we let it hang. We reckon we had about 5 tons of Pinot Noir take flight. You can read the .
2011 gave us a reprieve with a stunningly beautiful October. This helped quite a bit because we did not commence harvest until October 23rd. However, all good things must come to an end and they did on November 3rd with a wall of rain. Everyone talks about letting the grapes hang on the vine just a little longer, but we took a lesson from Wall Street to understand there is nothing wrong with bringing them in just a bit early. You can read the .
So, what does 2012 have in store for us? Well, we penned a few verses to the old cowpoke song "Ghost Riders in the Sky." Here is the harvest verse, and you can sing along to the full lyrics here:
Now we're at the seasons' end with winds and rain, you bet
We've got to pick those grapes, but they aint ready yet
It seems like forever that we wait for this one day
Detailed plans we make, but Mother Nature leads the way
Yipie Meunier, Yipie Pinot
Satisfaction Syrah and Amalie's Cuvee
Dena & Ernie
Hello and Welcome,
It’s that time of year when all of our hopes and dreams are turning color. 2012 brings with it the most even cluster ripening we have seen in quite some time. In past years, it has been the case where a few berries on a cluster were very dark purple and the rest were still bright green.
This year we are seeing a few green berries on each cluster, but the majority of the berries are slowing transitioning from pink to mauve. The wings, which are the last to ripen are being skillfully removed as you read this. It is our way of making sure we eliminate any green or under ripe flavors in our wines.
We did have some hot days early in the month that got the vines moving. However, most of the rest of August has been very pleasant. Highs in the low 80s to upper 70s and evening temperatures vacillating between high 40s and low 50s. These conditions have produced a slow and steady ripening period. It is good for the vines and those who tend them.
So far so good is what we have to say about the 2012 vintage. The next big hurdle will be the month of September. We are hopeful for an even tempered conclusion to the growing season. We can expect a shot of rain sometime this month. We are overdue and the grapes surely could use a good rinse before their big day.
The hardest decision, and the most important, is when to harvest. There are always several factors that contribute to making the right call. Our goal is to bring in the grapes when the flavors and aromas in the skins will make a wine that just drives you crazy! Throughout the year we manage our canopy, fruit shading and soil moisture to dial in what we believe is a very pure expression of our site. Then we throw in a few whole clusters and let them ferment with the yeast they rode in on! This is when all the cells break loose.
But first, we have to pass through September unscathed, or maybe just a little bit scathed. So be it, we are prepared for the scathing! Let’s step into the vineyard vestibule so we can have a look at the numbers.
We have recorded about 545 degree days for the month of August, providing a total of 1,474 degree days since the beginning of the growing season on April 1st. This compares with 582 degree days last August and a comparative total of 1,271 degree days for 2011. Ceteris Paribus for August, but we are still holding our degree day advantage from the Spring.
Our high temperature was 101.0 and Ernie’s hi-tech, wireless weather gauge chose this day to display “OFL.” We couldn’t agree more, it was awful! Our low temperature for the month was 45.4 degrees Fahrenheit. There was no rainfall in August. Rainfall last August was also zero. Rainfall since April 1st through August 30th remains 8.96 inches, and is 0.43 inches less than last year's growing season to date rainfall of 9.39 inches.
Dena & Ernie
Hello and Welcome,
This is the climate update for Mid-September 2012.
Consider these facts:
As Dick Erath likes to say, "The planets are coming into alignment." In fact, the only concerning thing that Ernie sees is that this lack of rain is delaying his fall cover crop seeding. He needs to open up the soil, and right now it is as hard and dry as concrete. Of all of the problems we could be facing this time of year, dry soil is one he can live with.
Harvest is looking to be just about 4 weeks away. Our canopy is holding up remarkably well, especially after Ernie administered a third pass of "tough love" with the hedger. The leaves are still a lush, dark green and have not shown much sign of senescing yet. They must be waiting for a little rain.
Of course our standard bearer, the Walnut tree is also holding out. Ernie thinks those 7 big trunks are from an abandoned squirrel's nest. It has been the case each and every year at Amalie Robert Estate that we look to the yellowing leaves on this volunteer before we harvest any "wine berries." Last year, there was only one leaf holding on when we harvested our Syrah and Viognier - very Feng Shui.
The next four weeks will find us in the winery cleaning and scrubbing, getting ready to haul in some 70 tons worth of 2012 vintage Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Viognier. And in a year or two there just may be a little Gewürztraminer in our harvest buckets. More on that project next year.
Ah, the numbers. We take a reading mid month in September because we can. It is just another data point along the way and helps us to understand our fruit development coming down the home stretch. Through the 15th of September, we have accumulated 244 Degree Days, for a growing season to date total of 1,718. We are only 4 Degree Days short of the entire 2010 growing season of 1,722! But wait, there's more.
Our high temperature was 97.1 and our low temperature for the month was a brisk 41.0 degrees Fahrenheit. There was no rainfall in the first 15 days of September. Rainfall since April 1st through September 15th remains 8.96 inches. A full and comparative report will be provided at month end.
But heat units aren't the whole story. We need time for the berries to ripen their seeds and ultimately develop stunning flavors and aromas while maintaining vibrant acidity. Besides, the birds aren't here yet. The real excitement begins in the second half of September. We expect a little precipitation, but who knows when.
In the past few cool vintages, it has been the latter half of September and the first half of October that Mother Nature decided to send a little love our way. Then there was 2011, where September felt like April and we burned through all of October to finish our Pinot Noir harvest the first week of November! That tingling sensation originated just below our spines. We think of the 2011 vintage often, but not fondly.
"Lean into it" they say. Yep, that's what’s next - Okto-vember. More than any other time during the year, this 61 day period is when we switch from wine to bier. It's a Germanic thing. See you next month!
Dena & Ernie
Hello and Welcome,
This is the climate update for the month of September 2012.
We seem to be hurtling quite uncontrollably through the most incredible growing season - EVER! The tail end of September has been a continuation of warm sunny days and cool nights with virtually no threat of rain. In fact, we are not worried about the birds and the deer, we are looking for cold bier! And that brings us to the thirstiest of months – Okto-Vember.
The last few nights have brought out a beautiful harvest moon. It is a wondrous ending to a perfect day, which fosters yet another stunning sunrise. Our 45,144 little winemakers are basking in this luxurious pre-harvest lull. They have ripened their seeds some time ago, so the pressure is off. Now, they enjoy the gentle breeze caressing their leaves in the afternoon sun, quite oblivious to all of the work they have created for us.
We seem to be about 1 week away from the controlled chaos of harvest. That is plenty of time to wash all of the bins and buckets and get the tractors and harvest trailers ready to go. Ernie went cruising the vineyard this weekend to sample a few clusters and get a read on how we are progressing. It is just a little “test fire” before we get going.
We grow 5 varieties of wine and each of them has a different program. In fact, our Chardonnay “swings both ways” with a barrel and stainless steel fermentation. Woody Allen said something about how to double your chances for a date on Saturday night, but it is not quite the same thing.
At this time of year we are looking at a few factors to help determine where we are on the harvest timeline. These factors include:
Sugars and Acids – This is very analytical and the easiest to measure, but usually the least important. The fermentable sugar content in grapes is measured in a scale called Brix – it is both singular and plural (note the Woody Allen reference above.)
We like to harvest our wine within the range of 21 to 24 Brix because we know that each Brix converts to about 0.6 percent alcohol. This harvest range will give us final alcohol in the 12.5 to 14.4 percent range. Our hope is that the flavors in the skins develop before we reach 24 Brix. Viognier is the one to watch here, as it likes to build sugars much earlier than developing flavors.
Our acids are measured by a pH meter and this gives us a rough guide to the maturity of the fruit. A low pH such as 3.0 tells us there is plenty of acid in the juice and we are looking for more hang time. A high pH such as 3.7 is of concern due to over ripeness and potential for spoilage organisms in the fermenters.
However, this is the one area where we can influence the fruit’s development. If needed in a moderate to warm vintage, we can add back the grapes’ natural acid, Tartaric acid. Note, this was not much of a concern in the past 2 vintages. But there is a catch, as the acids we are measuring now include both Malic and Tartaric. As part of the winemaking process, Malic acid (think green apples) is usually converted by a few industrious little bacteria into Lactic acid (think milk.) This is a “softer” acid and will lessen the perception of acidity. The only wine we produce where we block this conversion is our stainless steel fermented Chardonnay. We like it a little tart, and we know you do too.
Seeds – You can learn a lot from a seed. The first thing we look for is how much “jelly” or pulp is left around the seeds. A few weeks before harvest, the pulp has the perception of jelly that encapsulates the seeds. As the berries mature, the pulp around the seeds begins to break down. As we approach ripeness in the skins, this perception of jelly is all but gone.
The seeds themselves also tell a tale. Early in the year the seeds start off white and very soft. Then comes lag phase where the seeds begin to develop a “woody” exterior and start to turn bright green. As the season progresses, the bright green turns to Martini olive green and eventually to brown. A very mature seed will look like grape nuts cereal and be very crunchy.
Seed ripeness is important as the exterior coating of the seed protects it from the intestinal tract of the animal that is helping to propagate the vine in a remote location. This seed coating also helps to prevent the bitter tannin of the seed from being extracted into the hot alcohol of fermentation. Excessive seed tannin in your wine will not get you a second date.
Juice color – That’s right. We worry about color before we harvest, but not in the final wine and here is why. Hidden deep in the skins are color pigments that are held in vacuoles. As the berries mature, they are actually breaking down cell walls and making it easier for the pigment to escape into the juice. If the berries are not very mature, you get less color in the juice. As the season progresses, more cell walls break down and the color is more easily extracted from the skins.
Skin flavor, texture and aroma – This is the most telling of all the factors we employ. Once we see the numbers align and the seeds ripen, we rely on flavors and textures in the skins to make the final call. That call results in about 20 people equipped with 5 gallon buckets and clippers to descend upon the vineyard at first light. It is a beautiful thing, and you can see for yourself by watching our own harvest video right here! You can also have a look at these harvest criteria through the eyes and blog of Pam Spettel of Sticks Forks and Fingers.
While all of the factors listed above are indicators of ripeness, being able resist the temptation to pick too early is the ultimate sign of maturity in growing your own wine. It’s gonna rain eventually, it just has to. But we can be confident in our farming techniques and prowess to hold firm when we need to, and get on it when the time is right.
Speaking of the right time, let’s look back upon September from Okto-vember’s vantage point. It almost seems like too much of a good thing. 2012 is the first vintage we can remember with such a beautiful summer. It has been warm, but not too hot with a nice breeze and no rain. If anything, we could be running up against conditions that give us too much sugar, but not enough flavors. So, we look for Mother Nature to back off the throttles a little bit and take inspiration from Yosemite Sam.
When I say whoa, I mean WHOA!
The last half of September gave us 206 Degree Days that, when added to the 244 from the first half of the month, yield 450 Degree Days for the entire month and 1,924 Degree Days for the growing season to date. That puts us on par with 2008, and about 100 Degree Days shy of 2009 and almost right where 2005 ended up.
Our highest high for the first half of the month was 97.1 and 91.7 was the high for the second half. Yes, we verified the numbers, but have a second look if you need to. The low for the first half of the month was 41.0 and 44.7 for the latter half. Maybe a little less on offense, but the defense picked up the slack. And no rain, which leaves us with a growing season total of 8.96 inches.
As we look forward and “lean into it,” we see a couple more really nice ripening weeks with temps ranging from the 70’s to the 30’s and then it will be all hands on deck. There will be the occasional shower, or downpour. Hopefully, the peanut gallery will be a little pre-occupied with the quadru-annual circus that has descended upon most of the country and we will get this harvest in with minimal fanfare. Either way, here is what we will be listening to in a couple of weeks:
Now we're at the seasons' end with winds and rain, you bet
We've got to pick those grapes, but they aint ready yet!
It seems like forever that we wait for this one day
Detailed plans we make, but Mother Nature leads the way
Yipie Meunier, Yipie Pinot
But for the grace of God, this could be you
Sung to the tune of "Ghost Riders in the Sky"
Dena & Ernie
Hello and Welcome to Octo-Vember!
This is the climate update for the first 15 days of Octo-Vember 2012.
It seems that 2012 is winding down to be a very, very good year. The rains we so desperately needed arrived just in time, on Friday, Octo-Vember 12th. It was a fairly thorough soaking of about 0.86 inches in 24 hours. We commenced harvest that Sunday with our first 15 tons of Pinot Noir, and it was good. In fact it was so good, we went back for another 15 tons that Wednesday. Listen to what the great Inspector Jacques Clouseau has to say. Make that Chief Inspector.
Now, some folks may believe that rain at harvest is the worst possible thing. We can assure you that is not the case. Having the fuel filter fall off of the tractor, in the rain, during harvest, is much worse (photo and expletives are deleted.) We will try and present the features and benefits of rain just before the harvest window.
This reminds Ernie of his Microsoft days when the “product group” (PG) that writes the application software is ready to release a new version. They first have to give the code to “product support services” (PSS) for final sign off. PSS is the interface with the end user, aka the customer.
Before PSS signs off, there is a fair bit of back and forth with the PG. They say they will fix that bug in the next release. PSS knows how much time and energy it will take to support the end users, er ah customers, and wants it fixed before they will sign off.
When the software features do not work as documented, the phone rings at PSS. When the software does things it is not supposed to do, that is called an “undocumented feature.” The folks from the PG are, by this time, in Hawaii or Corfu and are most certainly incommunicado. For anyone who has enjoyed the benefits of Microsoft software, perhaps you can understand how some of these folks may never get to see the sun.
Feature and Benefits of Rain Just Before the Harvest Window
Even with a parched summer and no measurable rainfall since June, the vines’ need for water will not be denied. The primary use of water is to cool the undersides of the leaves so that photosynthesis can continue. Once the efforts to extract moisture from the soil become too severe, the vines turn to the berries. The result is desiccation and the berries are robbed of their precious water. Queue the Chief Inspector.
As long as the fruit is free of rot and the sugars are being held in check by the rains, we prefer to take the additional hang time. Each additional day of ripening puts us farther along the exponential curve of flavor and aroma development. Of course, the valley is very diverse in its microclimates and it is always a ticking time bomb trying to time harvest. What kind of bomb?
In summary, the right decision for Amalie Robert Estate was to let Mother Nature catch up on her sleep another time and give us a very nice shower to start things off. This concludes the Feature and Benefits section. Comments, Chief Inspector?
Some of you may be asking about dilution. Dilution refers to the situation where there is too much juice to balance the flavors and aromas from the skins. This can happen over the dinner table when some chronologically disadvantaged person is given a glass of wine cut with water. It can also happen in a fermenter when someone is trying to “fix” a high alcohol wine by adding back water. The result is lower alcohol, but a dilution of the flavors and aromas.
By now, you have most likely copped onto our plan. We wanted to dilute the sugars of our grapes with a little rain water. However, we also wanted to allow the skins to mature and continue developing intense flavors and aromas. The obvious choice was to hold tight through a little bit of rain and take advantage of more hang time. Of course, if you don’t farm your fruit to take a little rain, then Botrytis will eliminate this option for you and you must harvest before the rains.
Did we make the right call? We will know for sure in about 5 years. Today we can say that our sugar levels, measured in Brix, are running mid-23 on average. This will result in final alcohol levels around 13.5%. That is pretty typical for the vineyard at Amalie Robert Estate. The aromas coming off the wild yeast fermentations are wonderful. The colors are a deeply hued ruby red, not that there is anything wrong with that.
This late in the season, the numbers show what kind of finishing touches Mother Nature added to the vintage.
The first half of Octo-Vember gave us 144 Degree Days. Our high temperature was a blistering 92.5 degrees and our low temperature was just above the frost level at 37.60. Rainfall for this 15 day period was 2.13 inches. Total 2012 growing season Degree Days represent a perfect cool climate vintage at 2,068 and rainfall checks in at 11.09 inches. Say What?
It’s not too late to purchase tickets to attend the ¡Salud! Pinot Noir auction this year. If you can not attend, but would like to enter a sealed bid, there is still time. For more information, please follow this link for the Amalie Robert Estate ¡Salud! Cuvee: 2011 Amalie Robert ¡Salud! Cuvee, and this link for more information about placing a sealed bid: http://www.saludauction.org/auction/the-oregon-pinot-noir-auction/auction-items/. You may also contact Lindsay Coon at ¡Salud! by phone at 503-681-1850 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Dena & Ernie
Hello and Welcome to the
We like to take a few megabytes of cloud storage this time of year to recap the growing season’s significant events, trials and tribulations, and other site specific specificities you may not learn about anywhere else. Ernie is on the road sitting in a “Starbucks by day” and “Hotel bar by night” writing this. It is an exercise for the reader to determine the beverage contents. So refresh your beverage, grab a Twinkie while you still can or other kibble of your choice, and read on!
Meanwhile just up the street at our Nation’s Capitol, our elected representatives are discussing our looming Fiscal Cliff. We only know one Cliff and his name is not Fiscal, nor is he looming. Hold on for a Thelma and Louise moment if these knuckleheads agree to disagree. Perhaps you have seen this movie before: “Not always right, but always the boss.”
The 2012 growing season was a return to some semblance of sanity for the winegrower. The growing season did not pose any extraordinary challenges, fruit set was a little light depending on site location, the degree days are similar to some of our favorite vintages including 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009, and harvest arrived either before or after the rains. The 2012 growing season reflects the typicity that propelled Oregon Pinot Noir to critical acclaim.
The devil is in the details, as those fine men and women are discovering at, and around 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Of course, they may choose to take a broader perspective and view the situation from the Hubble telescope (to the extent that is possible.) Based on a couple hundred years of history, whatever solution is proposed will most likely have the following attributes: “Overly burdensome, yet lacks focus and attention to detail.” While it is not a common occurrence in Oregon, we have seen someone put a corkscrew through a screwcap closure. (Part of the upcoming, non-fiction documentary titled “How can this be?”)
On a more positive note, this year’s ¡Salud! Pinot Noir auction was a tremendous success. What we have here is several interested constituencies coming together to find common ground. The result is the finest 6 cases of 2011 vintage Pinot Noir from each of the 42 Vintners Circle wineries being sold to the highest bidders. Note: This is significantly less than the top 1% of Oregon’s Pinot Noir production. We have participated as a Vintners Circle winery for 7 years, and this year was our best effort yet with our top ask bid of $1,063 per 12 bottle case – that felt good, for all the right reasons.
Now, if you “follow the
money” from the weekend event, you will discover ¡Salud! is able to
leverage this into a substantial
medical outreach program. To wit: Isaac Asimov - "Never let your sense of
morals get in the way of doing what's right.” You can read all about the auction
Northwest Wine Anthem.”
inconsequential detail of the growing season is relevant here.
Fruit set in the
Willamette Valley was not all that it could be for Pinot Noir. Fruit set can be
described as the conversion of pollinated flowers into wine berries. Sometimes a
pollinated flower will set a wine berry that “shatters” and does not mature into
a harvestable wine berry. This, in fact, is quite similar to a Borg being
separated from the collective.
A lower pH means there was
more acid in the solution. It can also mean there is the same amount of acid as
before, just less solution. As we witnessed the parched September, the vines
were covertly translocating water out of the berries for their own purposes,
such as photosynthesis. This resulted in less water per berry to dilute the
acids and produce a drop in pH. Ergo, this is counter to the ripening process
and more inclined to simply indicate dehydration of the fruit. As Neo
discovered, it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.
A simple cost benefit
analysis will help us explain the 2012 harvest.