Once Ernie decides he has all of the aroma and flavor he is going to get from the vintage, he pulls the trigger on harvest. Bucket after bucket of hand harvested, golden hued berries are loaded into harvest bins for a very short ride to the winery where the press is eagerly awaiting them.
Our Chardonnay is always whole cluster pressed as they do in Champagne. The reason behind this is that we are “acid enthusiasts.” By NOT crushing the berries before going into the press, we are able to extract wildly expressive Chardonnay character without releasing the potassium bound to the inside of the skins. It is potassium that raises our pH and reduces the perception of acidity. Our whole cluster press method allows for pure aroma and flavor punctuated with crisp acidity. While it is the case that we get less juice than those who crush, we feel it is better juice.
The pressed juice settles overnight and the next day we move the juice by gravity to ferment. In the early years, we just used 1,000 liter stainless steel tanks. As we became more comfortable with our aroma and flavor profiles and the style of wine we wanted to create, we chose a 500 liter puncheon for our Heirloom Cameo barrel fermented chardonnay (BFC.)
Note: Puncheon is just a code word for a 500 liter barrel. They can also be coopered into 400 and 600 liters. While we don’t use them, a feuillette is a half barrel with a capacity of 114 liters. Good to know!
Our Chardonnay fermentations usually last about 2 to 3 weeks, but in some cases can last 2 or 3 months – Oh joy… A secondary or malolactic conversion will convert the malic acid (think Granny Smith green apple acid) into a softer lactic acid. Stylistically, we block this conversion in our stainless steel fermented Chardonnay, Her Silhouette. The Heirloom Cameo BFC may see partial, full or no conversion whatsoever depending on the vintage - Aka Mother Nature’s mood.
The fermentation space in our multi-level, gravity flow winery is not heated and that is where Her Silhouette spends the winter months. As the temperature drops, all of the little “wine diamonds” form on the sides and bottom of the tank. After a few weeks of this cold stabilization we rack the wine from the tanks and are ready to bottle a new vintage of clean and crisp Her Silhouette Chardonnay. We keep the wine diamonds here at the winery and out of your glass.
The Heirloom Cameo BFC takes a different route to the bottling line. Once the primary fermentation finishes in barrel, we may inoculate with bacteria to perform the malolactic conversion. These little bacteria are quite finicky and will only convert malic acid to lactic acid if the alcohol, acidity and temperature are just right. The art of winemaking meets the precision of science.
Either way, with or without the malolactic conversion, the wine remains in the new 500 liter puncheon for about 14 months. During this time the pure aromas and flavors of Chardonnay are intertwining with the mildly toasted, tight grained French oak. And around the 12 month mark another little bit of magic is revealed. The yeast that fermented the whole cluster pressed juice begin to break down, it was just a matter of time. For the next couple of months, the wine gains a bit of richness and a little weight, or what we like to call “palate presence.” Remove the wine from barrel too soon and you miss this significant nuance in the wine.
And speaking of the barrel, why do we use a 500 liter puncheon instead of a regular sized 228 liter Burgundy barrel? The reason is we are using the barrel to add some texture without overpowering the wine with excessive wood tannins or oak sweetness. It’s really all about surface to volume ratios. Consider the pepperoni to crust ratio in the personal sized pizza to the extra large pizza. We have significantly more wine to absorb the new oak influence with a 500 liter puncheon. We also save out the butter for the popcorn.
Add 14 months of puncheon barrel age to the mix and we are ready for a trip to the fermentation floor for a few weeks of cold stabilization. The Heirloom Cameo from the prior harvest and the Her Silhouette from the current harvest sit side by side in identical tanks. It falls under the “science” part of winemaking to appropriately and legibly mark each tank.
Now, not many people know this about Chardonnay, but it used to be the favorite wine of Swashbucklers, Pirates and other nefarious characters. Before they discovered the Caribbean, and rum, you could hear them yell out for a flagon of CHAAAAAAAAAARDONNAY!!
Pabuk’s Gift is our Late Harvest Botrytized Chardonnay, a gift from Typhoon Pabuk which gifted us 9 inches of rain in 4 days just before harvest. This wine was made from individually hand sorted Chardonnay grapes naturally conquered by Botrytis in the same manner as a German Trockenbeerenauslese (dried berries selection.) This wine may also be applied topically and removed orally. Production is 52 cases (375 ml.)
Aka: What was I thinking?
So it was, we passed on the rest of the planets and chose the sedimentary soils of Oregon’s Northern Willamette Valley. That first year we planted 2 clones of Chardonnay and some Pinot Meunier along with several clones of Pinot Noir. The final tally was about 15,000 vines, posts and wire “all in.” Add three years of on-site, hands-on, high-intensity, on-the-job viticulture “home schooling” and we had managed to ripen a wee little bit of Chardonnay.
They say you always remember your first, and our first harvest was 2002. At dawn we approached block 24 from the south with high hopes, new buckets and clippers at the ready. It seems like just yesterday. We began harvesting at the bottom of the rows and worked our way to the top. The birds began harvesting in the middle of the rows and they always kept just a few vines ahead of us. For the first few years, most of our Chardonnay production was sold.
Our Estate grown Chardonnay is comprised of 2 Dijon Clones – 76 & 95, both grafted onto a deep rooted, vintage extending rootstock called 5C. This rootstock takes a bit longer to build sugars, which allows for longer hang-time to develop stunning aromas and flavors. Growing wine on 5C clearly represents the road less travelled with most growers choosing earlier to ripen rootstocks. But 5C has proven itself worthy especially in these recent warm vintages where we can hang longer into the vintage to develop aromas and flavors without excessive sugar accumulation.
Her Silhouette Chardonnay reveals Estate grown Chardonnay in its purest form. We strive to capture the pure, unadulterated essence of Chardonnay harvested at first light.
Her Silhouette is fermented in stainless steel at cool temperatures to showcase the aromatic profile of Chardonnay. We block the malolactic conversion to preserve Chardonnay’s natural acidity providing a disciplined finish.
The combination of Estate grown Dijon Clone fruit from sedimentary soils, stewarded through fermentation with very little winemaking intervention results in unrelenting aromas with an intensely flavored palate experience punctuated with trenchant acidity. This is intentioned Oregon Chardonnay that exemplifies the true character of the vineyard, vintage and the variety. Case production varies between 100 – 200 cases.
Heirloom Cameo Chardonnay is our BFC. Or as Dena would explain it: “This wine wraps you in an elegant silk scarf and instantly makes you feel really good - about being you.” It’s our answer to Montrachet, be it Chassagne or Puligny.
The Heirlom Cameo is fermented in a single, new, large format French oak barrel or “puncheon” each year. The goal of this fermentation style is to enhance the breadth and depth of the wine through limited oak exposure and extended yeast or “lees” aging.
Stylistically, this wine is made to be enjoyed throughout its time in bottle. Upon release the wine is fresh with pungent aromas and a broad mouth feel, followed by a crisp and satisfying finish. We expect this wine to age gracefully for several years and will reward a laddered approach to monitoring its development. Production is limited to 70 cases.
It all started out innocently enough. At the turn of the century we had just acquired the last best place on Earth to grow exotically expressive Pinot Noir and thought that if we planted Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, we could make sparkling wine. Ah, to be young again…
The Chardonnay Program at Amalie Robert Estate
We grow all of our wine including Chardonnay at Amalie Robert Estate under the watchful eye, and sometimes excessive rains, of Mother Nature. Our wines are Estate Bottled which means we have had complete control over our entire process onsite from growing the fruit, to fermenting the wine through to blending and bottling. We are also the bottling team, so you can rest assured that we have seen the process through from beginning to end (and there is a free cork in every bottle!)
2013 Pabuk’s Gift Late Harvest Chardonnay
“Sometimes disasters have a happy ending. Such is this wine, one of the GREATEST LATE-HARVEST WINES ever created in the Pacific Northwest: the 2013 Amalie Robert Estate Botrytis Chardonnay.
In 2013, everything was hunky dory in Oregon vineyards. The beautiful vintage was right on schedule until the massive remnants of Typhoon Pabuk dumped 9 inches of rain on western Oregon over four September days. After that sogfest, the weather dried out and Amalie Robert winemaker Ernie Pink, a bit dejected, walked his vineyards, discovering that the Noble Rot, Botrytis cinerea, had infected his Chardonnay.
He and his wife, Dena Drews, managed to salvage a mere 70 buckets of shriveled and affected grapes in late October. It took them 3 days of hand picking the good mold from the bad --berry by berry-- to get the juice for this extraordinary wine. The nectar measured 44% sugar, and the wine fermented to 10% alcohol. The resulting wine is easily mistaken for a top-tier French Sauternes.
This honeyed gift is a fantastic achievement and probably a once-in-a-lifetime wine. Or so they hope! And, it is, to the best of my knowledge, the first late-harvest botrytis Chardonnay ever produced in Oregon. If anyone knows differently, Dena, Ernie, and I would sure love to know.”
- Ron Zimmerman, February 2015 - The Herbfarm, AAA 5-Diamond, Seattle, WA
The 2013 Pabuk’s Gift is the result of the namesake typhoon after it wiped out the Chardonnay vines. There were 70 buckets of berries that were pressed over a day, then fermented up to 10.2% alcohol and stopped with dry ice. The bouquet is clean and pure with clear honey, quince jus, marmalade and just a touch of wax resin. The palate is medium-bodied with racy acidity cutting through the mellifluous honeyed fruit and it works because it is not overpowering or cloying on the finish, but glides across the mouth. Perhaps it should be renamed Pabuk’s silver lining?
- The Wine Advocate, March 2015 - 91 points