Amalie Robert: Who Planted a Cherry Orchard in My Vineyard?

amalie-robert-fallWhat happens with a pair of technology executives fall in love with Burgundy, decide to try their hands at making Burgundy-style Pinot in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and, one day, discover someone has planted a cherry orchard on their perfect vineyard site?

That’s where Ernie Pink and Dena Drews found themselves in 1999 as they surveyed a 35 acre cherry orchard perched just above the already famous Freedom Hill vineyard just west of Salem, Oregon. So, they did the only logical thing: purchased the orchard, harvested and sold the cherries, ripped out the trees, and started planting a vineyard.

Ernie and Dena are a fun (and funny) pair who definitely know when to be whimsical and how to have fun. But they’re dead serious about growing fantastic grapes and making great Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Viognier and even a bit of Syrah). The vineyard’s potential was immediately recognized by some of Oregon’s best, and for the first few years Steve Doerner at Cristom and Mike Etzel at Beaux Freres used Amalie Robert Pinot Noir in some of their highly rated wines. And Ernie extracted lots of education and advice as part of the price for the grapes!

Meticulous Elegance
amalie-robert-2010-6-packAt the end of the day, though, Ernie and Dena have learned to make wines that express their values and the character of this beautiful (if remote) site. Farming is done carefully with minimal chemical additions and lots of feeding and care for the soil and vines’ health. “The Great Cluster Pluck,” as Ernie likes to call it, is done by hand and in stages as each block and variety ripens. And if that means hanging fruit through rain and bird attacks and picking a week or two or three after everyone else…well, that’s what happens.

One of the things I love about Amalie Robert Pinots is that the extra hang time results is masses of great flavor, but not masses of alcohol. In warm vintages that means abv levels in the mid-13 to, at most, low 14% levels. In 2010 you’ll love the perfect ripeness and lush textures of each wine at elegant, very Burgundy-like, 12.4-12.9% abv.

Taking Risk and Time
Those great textures and smoky/spicy accents? That’s from risk taking and time. The risk-taking is in the form of whole-cluster fermentation (putting whole clusters vs. destemmed berries in the tank). It’s a technique Ernie and Dena admired at Burgundy houses like Dujac and mastered with trial, error, and some help from Oregon’s whole cluster guru, Steve Doerner at Cristom. Get it wrong and you have wines with too little acidity, not much color, and lots of green, stemmy tannin. Get it right and you achieve amazing velvet and mineral textures and loads of sweet spice perfume.

Learn more about whole cluster fermentation in this quick video:

 

The time comes twice, first in barrel – most of these wines spend 18 months in mostly used French oak vs. the 10 or so months more common in the Willamette Valley – and then in bottle. And that time pays huge dividends to us. Where most top Willamette Valley Pinot houses are showing 2014s and getting ready to release 2015s this fall, Ernie and Dena are just now showing the 2011 vintage of their top wines to mailing list customers. And 2010 is the current vintage for the few retailers, like us, who are able to get allocations of these amazing wines.

Featured Amalie Robert 2010 Pinot Noirs
As critic Josh Raynolds said last year, the Amalie Robert vineyard “is painstakingly farmed and yields are kept low so production of these wines is limited.” Now that Amalie Robert has settled in with a new local distributor, we should be able to get our share of these beauties in future vintages – the 2011s and 2012s I tasted with Ernie and Dena last year are certainly worth waiting for!

Meanwhile, since the last vintage we carried was 2009, we really wanted to show you their deliciously elegant 2010s and Ernie and Dena were willing to give us what they could of both, nearly sold-out vintages. So quantities here are even more limited than usual, and we’d strongly advise you to order a selection now and then come by and taste and get Dena to sign bottles on Saturday!

If you can’t decide, check out the 2010 Amalie Robert Pinot Six-Pack. It’s a great way to try some of each and save an extra 5%, too!

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