Well, once they got us all in our harvest bin, they snapped a lid on us. Something about yellow jackets being around, but they ended up trapping one of them inside with us. That was a big surprise for somebody when they took the lid off at the winery. I can tell you that for sure! And then we all got weighed. That was nice.
You see, 3309 rootstock has trouble with nematodes. These are extremely small little worm like creatures that tap into our roots and draw energy from the vine to live. This used to be an old cherry orchard, which are notorious for hosting nematodes. All of the other rootstocks are pretty resistant, but that’s not me. I had nightmares that he was going to rip us out and replant with a different rootstock.
But clearly, that has not been the case. What happened to change his mind.
I am the only Wadenswil grafted onto 3309 out here, and it seems that nobody else can do what I do. And what I can do is deliver the goods in any growing season from hot to cold, dry to wet and anything in between.
This is the 2017 Spring Cellar Report from Amalie Robert Estate. The 2017 vintage brings us the inaugural “Interview with a Clone – Wadenswil 2A” feature story.
Let’s begin with the status of the cellar – it is cold. And not only is it cold, being encased in 1,200 tons of concrete, it is also damp. That pretty much sums it up: cold and damp, which is ideal if you are an oak barrel entrusted to hold some of the most ethereal and sublime Pinot Noir on the planet (from Willamette) known as Wadenswil clone 2A.
This looks like block 10 from Fermenter XX in a first fill barrel. Hello there.
That’s right honey. It’s a brand farming new barrel, so don’t be dripping anything on it. You know, there are some people who come in here and they show respect and they don’t drip and if they do, they clean it up and they apologize. I just want you to know where you are at.
Thank you. It appears that block 10 has an attitude.
Are you showing me lip? It’s OK if you do. I mean you have to if you are going to try the wine. But don’t get all carried away with it.
Certainly. I understand. Now, block 10 is also sedimentary soil, but you are grafted onto 5C rootstock and your rows are oriented north south. Did I miss anything there?
Elevation baby. And aspect. Elevation and aspect. I am a little bit higher in elevation than that crazy block 3 character, but not enough to slow me down in cool vintages. I also face southeast, which is a blessing when you are trying to tease out the seductive and sultry side of Wadenswil. Are you getting me?
Yes. In fact I am getting you right now. Wow. These flavors and aromas are blowing my mind. Tell me how and why this is.
Say it like you mean it, honey! Aroma and flavor, flavor and aroma. That is what I do and I do it really farming well. There are a lot of things happening here, so try and keep up. First off, we have to talk about leaf pull. Even in my particular idiom, I don’t want to over expose my assets, if you know what I mean. A little is fine, but always leave them wanting more. If you take too many, the aromas and flavors move beyond pheromonic and turn gaudy. Not too pretty in Pinot Noir.
And then we need to get down to it, and that means rootstock. Do you know what I am talking about? There are plenty of rootstocks out there, but only one can give me the hang time to get my clusters so amped up. And that rootstock is 5C. Deep rooted? You don’t know the half of it. 5C comes up from Texas, and you know those roots are looking for anything wet they can grow into. And if they can’t find it, they start heading deeper into the soil profile until they get what they are looking for. And that is the story behind developing those sublime olfactory experiences. Let’s just say, I am not the first block to be taken off the field at harvest time. But honey, when it’s good, it is so good. And at about 1,500 vines, there ain’t that much to go around, if you get my drift.
For the next four weeks we just sat in that fermenter, stewing in our juices. Once a day they would take our plastic cover off and punch us down. But day by day we were able to mount more and more resistance. You see, we were starting to ferment and I am not so sure they knew we could do it on our own. But we did it. Each day we would form a cap, mostly the de-stemmed berries would do this as the rest of us were trapped at the bottom of the fermenter. By the third week we put up a cap that was about 20 inches thick! Yeah, they were working up quite a sweat trying to put us down.
Block 30 is high elevation Wadenswil 2A grafted onto 3309 rootstock facing due south. How are things?
Well, you know he didn’t want me, at first. We were at the nursery when he was loading all of the other vines and I heard the nursery man say the Wadenswil 2A on 101-14 plants had all died. Bad fertilizer or something. But he said he had extra Wadenswil clone 2A on 3309 and he could substitute that. I guess he wanted the vines more than he wanted to keep that acre open, so they loaded me up and brought me home. Things were fine the first three years. All of us upper blocks were planted at the same time and we went from 2-buds, to heads to canes together. The first year we fruited was OK, but I knew he was putting me under a lot of scrutiny.
You got that right, Leroy! HOOA!
Don’t you mean Hoah?
Do I stutter? Do your ears flap over? I mean HOOA!
Right. Duly noted. So as Wadenswil clone 2A, grown in block 3, what are your most profound characteristics?
Well block 3 happens to be one of the coolest blocks out here in this prized piece of dirt. I mean we are east facing with just a little slope, maybe 3 to 5 degrees. We get the cool morning sun and are protected from the harsh afternoon sun by the virtue of the small forest at the edge of the property. Those Pommard guys in blocks 5 and 6 can get hammered with birds, but we are pretty safe out here. And all that adds up to hang time my friend, sweet and simple hang time.
You see, the cooler it is the longer it takes to build sugars. But our aromas and flavors only develop if we are out here long enough. So hang time in block 3 can mean more aromas and favors at lower sugars. I see those guys in block 15. They are due south facing and they take a lot of heat. They do their best, and they make great wine, but I like it here in block 3. And, get this, our rows run east west, not north south like all of the rest of the Wadenswil clone 2A planted out here. Except block 35, but they are at the top of the vineyard. We can’t see each other, but I know where they live. We call it the “nose bleed” section!
Wow, block 3 sounds like a place I would want to hang out in a warm vintage.
The Wadenswil clone was named by the Swiss. That is the origin of the clone as there happens to be a very cute little hamlet in Switzerland outside of Zurich named Wadenswil with a population of around 20,000 people. Which is why you cannot label a wine as Wadenswil, but you can label it as Wadenswil Clone. The umlaut, while serving a phonetically important function in Switzerland, is really just a pain-in-the-ass for most Americans. If it were so important stateside our keyboards would have a key for it. While we respect the Swiss, their language, culture and Wadenswil clone, we have abandoned the umlaut for our domestically produced Wadenswil clone Pinot Noir. We love the clone, but you can keep the umlaut on your side of the pond.
However when the Wadenswil clones were sent to America in 1952 and cataloged by the farming geniuses at the University of California in Davis, they named them clone 1A, 2A and 3A. It seemed that clone 1A was late to ripen and that can cause you trouble in a marginal climate. Clone 2A was more in line with how Pommard (clones 4 and 5) was ripening, however clone 2A was reported to make less compelling wine than clone 1A, in years when clone 1A could be successfully harvested (by humans and not the birds.) Clone 3A was culled from the selections due to virus.
“In 1952, three introductions labeled “Blau Burgunder” were sent to Davis from Wadenswil, Switzerland. These became FPS 01A, 02A, and 03A, which are known as the Wadenswil selections. All three became registered in the R&C Program in 1962. FPS 30 was a heat-treated selection of 02A, but was never registered. FPS 03A was dropped from registration in 1981 due to positive tests for leafroll. FPS 01A and 02A are still registered.” - History of Pinot noir at FPS, October 2003.
Farmers, being the risk-averse people they are, tended to go with clone 2A. However Pinot Noir growers are a breed unto themselves, and so it was that David Lett came to Oregon in 1965 with a carload of clone 1A cuttings from California. For anyone who has had the pleasure of tasting his 1975 Eyrie South Block Reserve Pinot Noir, you know that he knew what he was doing.
And it is really hard to mention David Lett without referencing his philosophy on Pinot Noir, Wadenswil most likely, so we will do that right here and now. Pinot noir “should be approached like a beautiful woman—with respect, some knowledge and great hopes.”
So that, with a pretty bow on top, is why Wadenswil clone 2A is widely planted at Amalie Robert Estate. But the question that we need answered is: Why Wadenswil clone at all?
I knew we were safe a couple of years back when they had to pick a single barrel of wine for the Salud Pinot Noir auction. It’s got to be the best. People bid on just 5 cases of wine from a single barrel and the rest of that barrel gets blended into a top end wine, like Amalie’s Cuvée or something. That’s some pretty good juice, by the way.
So they picked our barrel a couple of years back. Best of the cellar they said. Turns out their top field guy also happens to like block 30. Sometimes in the morning he sings while he is working with us. It’s really cute. Anyway, our lot was pretty well received, and we earned about $1,500 a case for the Salud cause. That is when I knew were safe, for now. But we could be living on borrowed time.
We may be cool, which is certainly to our advantage in a warm year, but we can kick some serious acid in a tough year like 2007. At the end of my barrel maturation period, I am going to end up in some bottle and they are going to stick a label on me. I won’t be able to see it, but the other guys will tell me what it says. Turns out, block 3 was made into a wine called The Reserve back in 2007. And, it was the highest rated Pinot Noir from the vintage racking up 94 points. That was all the points they gave out that year, and we got them all! HOOA!
Alright, this has been very informative. I appreciate your time and I must say what a lovely color. Let’s move over to another rack and see if we can find another block of Wadenswil clone 2A.
A drop in the bucket? That sounds pretty harsh.
Yeah, well its farming. You should see the hedging machine this guy’s got. We all just pray he gets a good night’s sleep and keeps the tractor centered in the row. So me and about 80 other clusters are sitting in this bucket when someone grabs us and starts spreading us out in a harvest bin. Then this other guy starts turning everyone over, looking at our backsides, and front sides and then he actually plucked a wine berry off one of the other clusters and ate it right there in the vineyard!
And this was harvest, last year?
Then something very interesting happened. It was all kinda surreal. When it was our turn, we were loaded in this tilter that lifted us above this inclined elevator. It looked more like an escalator, but they called it an elevator. And it had paddles that came up every foot or so. We never saw anything like that all year in the vineyard.
The tilter started to tilt and clusters just started falling into this elevator. The paddles would come up and catch them and take them to the top. I couldn’t see where they went, but I kept hearing this thud, thud, thud. And there were two guys, maybe three, one on each side and they would pull out leaves and other stuff that got in with the clusters. I was holding my own pretty good for a while,
By the end of the fourth week, we were spent. All of our sugars had fermented out. At the end, I made it to the top of the fermenter and I could see the writing on the wall. We were fermenter Q and we were scheduled to be pressed the next day.
I don’t really remember much about that except I woke up in a very dark and cold place. I later found out I was in this barrel. A guy comes by about once every 3 months or so and tops me up. You know how it is, a little evaporation and maybe a sample or two and then I need to be topped up.
Speaking of barrels, how did you like this barrel? It is a Billion barrel, right?
I don’t really know what kind of barrel I am in. Its all pretty dark in there and I don’t get out all that much. And the guy that tops me off, sometimes he gets my bung pushed in too far, and that is somewhat, ah, uncomfortable.
What has been you favorite part of the process so far?
I still think about our first day at the winery. Getting weighed was the highlight for me.
What about the other clones? Are they all a pretty good lot?
What’s in a name? Some names you have to live with, other names you get to choose. Kind of like the old adage: you pick your friends, but God picks your neighbors. Kind of like trying to name a sub-ava, we can try to gain government approval for a name everyone agreed to use, or we can accept a government issued name that no one wants or agreed to. Hmmm…
2017 Spring Cellar Report: Interview with a Clone - Wadenswil 2A
Yeah man, that was last year. We had an idea what was coming though. There was some of that “Pommard” in block 14 and they took those clusters a few days before us. We had some time to prepare, but when the harvest trailers and crews start rolling up at the end of your rows, you gotta figure your number just came up. And these guys are precise. I mean it was 36 buckets of clusters per bin and that’s it. Full stop. Show’s over, move to the next bin.
I see your point. So how did you get from your harvest bin to this barrel?
Yeah, well the guy that farms us is pretty strict. If anyone gets out of line, they are more likely than not to be thinned off before harvest. Then you’re farmed off, sitting on the ground, unripe, desiccating in the sun. Not even a raccoon is going to look at you with any interest. Sometimes one of the harvest guys will add one to his bucket, but it gets picked out almost right away at the harvest bin.
Let’s move on and talk about aroma and flavor. You said you were from block 3. That is all sedimentary soil and you are about 1,200 vines grafted onto 101-14 rootstock. Is that right?
We found out it was a destemmer and I am glad to tell you we were the first bin to go in the fermenter, because the next 3 bins had it real bad. They raised the elevator as high as it would go, and the clusters would drop into the destemmer. They were trapped in a rotating cage and then a paddle bar would rotate inside the cage. There was no way through without getting knocked off the stem. And that’s what happened. All the berries were de-stemmed and they dropped in on top of us. Their stems were ejected out the backside of the destemmer, and that was the last we saw of them.
Right. Let’s get started with the interview. Here is a nice looking barrel of wine, let’s pull a sample and check it out. What can you tell me about yourself?
Well, it was mid October last year, and I was just hanging out in block 3 with a bunch of other clusters when this guy comes up and snatches me off the vine and drops me in a bucket.
Well, from what I am getting in this glass, I would have to say you have established yourself as a top performer.
The one thing I can do really well is texture. All of the blocks are different and he tries to farm us to maximize the elegant side of Pinot Noir, but the whole cluster tannin is kind of an unknown variable for each block. It just so happens, that I can get it right more often than not.
You notice whole cluster influence in the aroma as herbal or tea leaf. It’s so funny when he is down here he keeps saying “Darjeeling” like it is some code word for the secret op’s guys. Clearly it’s not. They use “Hashbrowns” but don’t tell anybody.
As the wine starts out, the mid palate and finish are pretty unyielding and show a lot of astringency. Some guys will add an egg white to the barrel to soften the stem tannins before bottling, but not this guy. No way, never, never. So we sit on the stem tannin and let it naturally evolve. I have been here for over a year, and I still have more time to go.
After we all get to bottle for a few years, that’s when it really starts to unwind. The astringency softens and turns into a refined spice, tingly tannin sort of thing. At least that’s what he says, like every damn time! And something about skin tannins are more monolithic and don’t much evolve with time, but stem tannins do. Apparently aged Pinot Noir is really his thing. That and duck, he is always going off about duck and Pinot Noir. As if that’s not bad enough, you should hear him go on and on and on about those Syrah barrels. There is just no end to it.
Block 30, thank you for your insight, and textural connotations.
Final interviewer comments: That wraps up my interview with a clone – Wadenswil 2A, sans umlaut. There were certainly some differences in the clone based on where they were planted and the rootstock they were grafted onto. The barrels obviously impart some influence, if not attitude. All good stuff to be sure.
However, I can’t help but wonder if the guy farming this field just got lucky with his site. Clearly Wadenswil in the Willamette Valley is not that widely planted, certainly not to as much acreage as Pommard. David Lett made it work, but that was with clone 1A. Maybe it’s true, that luck favors the prepared mind and some hard work.
But I think he might be onto something here in light of his experimental planting of Wadenswil clone 2A on 4 rootstocks. And they are all right next to each other. Surely, his regime will be to keep all of those small blocks separate as they ferment and barrel mature. Add in the weather variability from year to year, and these blocks may very well produce some compelling testimonial to Wadenswil clone 2A in the Willamette Valley.
I would very much like to return in a few years time to make the acquaintance of these new in-plants. And it looks like the 3309 in block 30 is going to be hanging tough, but I have a feeling that this grower knows that lightning rarely strikes twice. And if it does strike twice, you had better be ready for it.
but then I could feel the clusters below me give way and then I fell into the elevator. Those guys on the sides, they were some kind of inspectors. They would pick up random clusters and look them over for mildew or anything they didn’t like. I tried not to make eye contact. Once I made it to the top of the elevator, I found out in a hurry what was making the thud sound – it was me as I dropped into a fermenter! Not everyone made it in, but those of us that did were still intact. We were still whole clusters.
Then everything went full stop. It was break time and they were having coffee and chocolate banana bread. It must have been real good too, because there wasn’t a peep out of anyone. Then things started to move around us. They wheeled this machine over the top of our fermenter and we could hear a motor running. A second motor, not just the elevator.