When a person picks up their roots and moves across the country or around the world, we usually call them a transplant. Dena Drews prefers the word graft – that’s when you take a cutting from a grapevine and graft it onto a different variety of rootstock. It’s a technique used to give a vine new life - to create a more robust, well-balanced plant more able to adapt to its environment and put down deep roots. It’s a fitting analogy for the course that has brought Dena from Glastonbury, Connecticut to Dallas, Oregon, from the high stress of high tech to never-ending daily responsibilities of working the land and serving the customers of Amalie Robert Estate.
Dena studied architecture and computer science at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where she earned her BA in 1989. Upon graduation, Dena began a ten-year career with software consultant Cambridge Technology Partners, living and working in Boston, MA, Mountain View, CA, London, England and finally Redmond, WA. It was during her time abroad that Dena gained a taste for simple country living. Weekend trips from London to Dublin, Portugal or Scotland were a welcome relief. After one too many meals on the airplane, Dena decided she had had enough. She had met her eventual partner, Ernie Pink, in Dublin in 1995, and together they purchased a 60 acre cherry orchard from a retiring farmer and set about converting the land into a vineyard.
The plan called for Ernie and Dena to hire a vineyard manager while they established the business practices that would make them successful. When they were unable to hire the man they wanted, Ernie dove in headfirst, learning on-the-job the vagaries of agricultural management in a fickle clime. And while you can take the man (Ernie) out of the system (Microsoft), you can’t take the system out the man. Ernie’s focus on detail, process and quality deliverables was quickly noticed by some of Oregon’s premier winemakers. It wasn’t long before Amalie Robert Estate was selling grapes to top Pinot noir producers such as Beaux Frères, Cristom Vineyards, Elk Cove Vineyards, Dick Erath and Panther Creek.
Among Dena’s fondest memories of those early years in the vineyard are the dinners she would host before each harvest. The invited guests were the close friends who had helped finish the initial vineyard planting on Earth Day in 2000. Before dinner, everyone would take a tasting tour through the vineyard, sampling the current year’s bounty. The following dinner was a celebration of the harvest, bringing together local, fresh ingredients and wine from the previous year’s harvest. Sharing these moments are what Dena had dreamed of a half-decade earlier and half a world away.
Today, Dena (the Amalie of Amalie Robert) is managing more than just a vineyard – she and Ernie are also solely responsible for growing, fermenting, blending and marketing Amalie Robert Estate wines. Dena continues to educate her palate and refine her understanding of the relationship between food and wine, grafting new knowledge and experiences onto old.
I strongly encourage readers to benefit from the delightfully scripted insights into viticulture and winemaking that form the "climate update" blog on Amalie Robert's website, charting the entire winery year.
- David Schildknecht, The Wine Advocate