This is a brief overview of the vintages at Amalie Robert Estate. We embrace the vintage variation. We do our best to capture the essence of each vintage and produce “Wines true to the soil and true to the vintage.”®
All’s well that ends well… Apparently this is not a new concept as William Shakespeare’s play was published in the 1600’s. Typically, a person can forget about how unpleasant or difficult something was because everything worked out fine. Or cognitively, it is just easier to set your sights on the next objective and forget about it. You will do better next time… Note that Shakespeare’s play is considered a comedy. Just imagine the literary masterpieces he could have turned out if he were a farmer! In hindsight, Vintage 2021 really wasn’t so bad. Years from now we will taste the wines and all have a good laugh. Some will laugh first, others will laugh loudest and someone will have the last laugh. We suspect Mother Nature is laughing right now. You could even consider it a comedy. A tragic comedy, a comedy of errors, there are several comedic choices available. It was Cluster Pluck to remember…
There will certainly be less top tier, premium wine produced in fire and smoke affected areas of the West Coast winegrowing regions this year. This will impact several sectors of the wine trade from vineyard owners and harvest workers, wineries and their suppliers including barrel coopers and glass vendors, all wine distribution channels, Federal and State excise taxes, and of course the people that ultimately enable the entire wine industry - the wine consumer. Something for everyone really (except the fruit flies), misery loves company. Quite a vacuum indeed, or you could say it sucks.
It all comes down to September. It used to be October, but things have changed and as farmers we are along for the ride. Vintage 2019 was a moderate growing season with adequate amounts of sun, wind, rain and wind all properly folded into the mix. Until September. That’s when we recorded a record amount of rainfall from the beginning to the end of the month. Of course, it was just lovely from there on out and that is when we were out Cluster Plucking.
In the immortal words of Tom Petty, “Let me up, I’ve had enough.” Yeah, it was like that. Too farmin’ hot and no fall sprinkle to rehydrate the vines. No ambiguity, no uncertain terms. “Hotter than the hubs of Hell!” as Ernie’s paternal grandmother would tell you. And as farmer’s we just take it. What choice do we have? Oh sure, you can irrigate if you are making that kind of wine. Or just buy a couple cases of beer and invite over a few friends, strategically positioned in the driest part of the vineyard. The lower and especially the upper bounds of climate change have exceeded a tolerable distribution curve by several more than just a few standard deviations. Miss me yet? – Vintage 2011 channeling vintage 2007.
The 2017 has begun to reveal itself as one of the most balanced and moderate vintages of the past decade. The wines are showing an elegant transparency without excessive baggage and are a welcome return to the old normal, indeed.
Playing chicken with Mother Nature. Vintage 2016 was another barn burner for the record books, but with a twist. The continuing pattern of warm nighttime temperatures established way back from 2012 was in full effect. But this year the water spigot did not get fully turned off during the summer and we recorded measurable precipitation every month during the growing season.
Some like it hot, and if that is what you are into, then 2015 is your kind of vintage. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that. A clean, fully developed and relatively expressive vintage, 2015 (much like 2014) offers up a significant contrast to the frigidly cold yet scintillating vintages of 2010 and 2011. In the context of Pinot Noir vintages, there are showers and then there are growers.
The 2014 vintage will be remembered as the (lucky) 13th harvest at Amalie Robert Estate. The controlled chaos known as “The Great Cluster Pluck” began, as it always does, in “Earnest,” on Monday, September 29, 2014. Harvest operations continued through October 19th when we brought in the buxom berries of block 13 (Syrah.) Home at last.
The 2014 vintage caps the run of three warm vintages in the Willamette Valley. Once again this year we were faced with the dilemma of when to harvest. The growing season was warm and the vines built sugars quickly in response to the heat. However, flavor development is more a function of time on the vine and was lagging.
While harvesting on flavor is the ideal situation, once sugar development reaches a certain concentration, you have to bring them in. Or, you can wait for the pre-harvest rains to replenish the soil moisture and rehydrate the berries, thus lowering the concentration of sugar.
And for the third year in a row, that was our decision. We waited for Mother Nature to give us a little shower to rehydrate the berries and lower the alcohol potential of our wines. Another overlooked benefit of waiting for a little rain, was the increased hang time. A few more days on the vine helped to further develop our aromas and flavors. Who’s your farmer?
From the “everything you could ask for, and more vintage,” 2013 has something for everyone. We begin with a very nice, if not warm, growing season. The humans like this and the vines have a tendency to get ahead of themselves. They go merrily along their way building up sugars and, like Congress, leave the hard work of developing a (flavor) plan for later.
Well, we can’t have that. Just before an early and stress free harvest, in rolled a little “Mamma Drama” and her new boy toy Typhoon Pabuk. When it rains it pours and we received the gift of 9 inches of rain in late September. This is good for the blogosphere as it provided a little grist for the mill. We couldn’t harvest, so might just as well talk about it.
The good news is that the month we really need to grow great wine is October. The rains blew out of town, the sun reappeared and the breezes picked up. This was all very well and good for the Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Viognier and we had a very successful harvest.
The Chardonnay, however, took some casualties. Our nemesis Botrytis gained a foothold after the September rains and began its cycle of extracting the water from the berries. Well, ho ho ho, and off we go, it turns out with the sunny dry weather what we had was a little Noble Rot. So, Ernie made a “sticky” from that once in a lifetime event with the help of his friend and conspiring winemaker Dick Erath.
The 2012 vintage, like all Oregon vintages, is a story unto itself. The growing season was warm and dry, with no measurable precipitation from mid-June through mid-October. A collection of seemingly perfect days, followed by cool evenings, extended the ripening period through mid-October. A brief day of soaking rain occurred on Friday the 12th, and we began harvest that Sunday.
The 2011 growing season provides us yet another lower alcohol, cool climate vintage. Our vineyard heat accumulation finished up at 1,794 degree days. This continues the run of cooler vintages that began in 2007. The wines produced from these cool vintages very much reflect the vineyard site and how they were tended throughout the season.
The 2011 vintage got off to a relatively late start in the Spring. We typically see the first buds breaking around the 15th of April (Note: this is harvest time for the IRS), but Mother Nature must have filed for an extension, so we waited until the 5th of May. The growing season was cold and protracted.
We have come to accept that the months that matter most are the ones that end in “ber.” September put on a strong showing with warm dry days and cool nights. This was the weather we were hoping for all year. The weather held into October, and we began the annual “Cluster Pluck” on October 23rd.
Read the full Harvest After Action Report on the FLOG. Note it was a protracted harvest with two updates.
The 2010 growing season was another welcome cool climate vintage. The finished wines reflect the full aroma and flavor development of our picture perfect October weather. The season’s 1,722 degree days are represented in the lower alcohol levels for 2010.
The 2009 vintage is revealing exceptionally aromatic and balanced wines. A very temperate growing season provided the typical vineyard events right on schedule. Our degree days came in at a very moderate to cool 2,072. Harvest was leisurely as we had little concern for rains or compromised fruit. Harvest began on October 5th and concluded with the Syrah and Viognier on the 22nd.
The 2008 vintage is another example of “patience pays” in the vineyard. The growing season was an extended and cool vintage accumulating only 1,930 degree days, but with one of the best September ripening periods on record. September is the key month for developing flavors and aromatics in the berries.
Rainfall was typical with just a little shot of rain at the first of October. This is Mother Nature’s way of extending the growing season and to put her finishing touches on our vines. We began harvest on October 11th and concluded on October 30th with the Syrah and Viognier.
The 2007 vintage was another example of cool climate viticulture. Our measure of this is degree days, or how much warmth the vines received. We registered below 1,900 degree days, the coolest year we have ever seen at Amalie Robert Estate. The vines however, did not seem overly concerned. Bud break and bloom came as we have come to expect. Fruit set was not overloaded as we saw in 2006.
This vintage brought considerable disease pressure to the Willamette Valley. We were fortunate to have been on top of the challenges for the year and had little incidence of compromised fruit. This in turn allowed us to let our fruit hang through the rains of early October. Harvest was “fast and furious” during the middle 2 weeks of October, and the Syrah and Viognier were picked on November 7th.
2006 marks another warm and bountiful vintage for Amalie Robert Estate. The growing season was warm without excessive temperature spikes or drought. Degree days came in just under 2,200, rainfall from April through October was just under 6” and seemed to come just at the right time. Ernie manages the vineyard, but Mother Nature handles the irrigation program. These conditions provided for beautifully developed and very expressive fruit.
Well, not to worry. As Ernie reached out to some of the “veterans” in the Willamette Valley, he heard some calming words: “Oregon gets about the same amount of moisture every year. You just don’t know what month you are going to get it”. It was true! We had a surplus of rain during bloom that filled the tank. We were good to go, nearly spot on for rainfall as compared to the 2004 growing season. It’s nice to have friends that have been doing this for a long time.
For the ultra-technical among us, here are the key dates for this year: budbreak March 15th, Bloom June 11th, Veraison August 10th, and harvest began in earnest on September 30th and was finished on October18th.
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