October 1, 2012

Change of Course

A Day at Amelie Robert 
 The challenge of popping back in to the blogosphere after an absence is to try to explain where I've been, which is easiest said, in brief, that life is nothing if not one exciting change of course after the other. May I make the assumption that we can pick up like old and dear friends, the kind that only need a quick summary to bring them together again? In the last five months:

  • We've increased our sanity by collapsing our living arrangements from three places to two, with the Love Nest no more. I cried a little as I drove away with my trailer full of stuff from the little town I'd called home for the previous 21 years. Even though the last few years have only been a placeholder there,  the final move marked an end. And a beginning . . .
  • The aforementioned event was precipitated by a forced reduction in work hours that not only  allows me to work from home most of the time, but also opens up time to put the wheels in motion for the biggest change of all . . .
  • I've become a full time student. Yes, after 33 years of being out of the classroom, I'm now studying for a degree in Vineyard Management/ Winemaking/ Wine Marketing. I will eventually narrow my focus to one or two of those areas, but the first few terms allow me to determine where my individual passions, skills and strengths will best fit within the wine industry. 
  • Potential has opened for some of our neighboring farmland to be made available to us for the larger-scale grape-growing venture we had imagined, but that our smaller property doesn't accommodate. We are exploring that option, and are really enthused about the possibilities it possesses.
  • My Dear Sweet Baby has also decided that since growing grapes is in his future, he should also enroll in the wine program. As he got ready for his first class, he said that the last time he went to school he wore a peace-symbol necklace, to put the event into perspective!
  • Ever interested in footwear, I figured that no self-respecting vineyard worker could go inappropriately shod, so, I purchased these...
 In addition, the refurbing of our city house that I told you about in the last post is coming along beautifully, and I promise to post some "after" photos of that project soon. And, yes, The Beast has grown on me; I've actually fallen in love with her. So, you can see that some things are falling into place for our midlife venture. 

Amalie Robert Syrah
 That leads us up to about, oh, yesterday. Our most favorite Oregon winery, Amelie Robert, which I've written about here, and here, and here, and here, held a pre-harvest tour and tasting. Ernie and Dena continue to be ever so generous with their information and learnings, both on their website and in person. Ask any question, and you'll get a thorough, thoughtful (and most likely jocular) response. They are most willing to sharing their expertise and artform. It sounded like a perfect day for us eonophiles, and now viticulture and enology students.
Up-Valley View from Amalie Robert Vineyard
We were greeted warmly by Dena, who was pouring one of each of their estate-grown varieties; Chardonnay (2009 Her Silhouette,) Viognier (2010 Our Muse,) Pinot Meunier (2010), Pinot Noir (2008 vintage Debut), and Syrah (2009 Satisfaction.) These offerings are a nice representation of the quality, structure, character, and beauty of all of the wines in the Amalie Robert portfolio. While some of the wines are in the upper end of our "everyday wine" budget, many fall more closely within our "special occasion" wine budget. Fortunately, we are ones who find things like a full moon (thank you, August, for giving us two,) a tax refund check arriving, that we were able to get the tractor started, or that we appear to have the fly problem under control as special occasions.
Beautifully Maintained Vine Rows
 After we'd sipped, Ernie took us into the lab where he offered us tastes of the juice freshly squeezed from the harvest-awaiting grapes of each varietal. I realize how much I have to learn to be able to imagine the taste of finished wine while the juice is in its unfermented form. I could discern sweetness and acidity, and that's about all that juice registered on my palate. Ernie assures us that the numbers (brix, pH, etc.) strongly guide this part of the process, and are large determiners of when to call the crews in to pick.
Chardonnay Ripening
As part of his open-handed sharing, Ernie brought out soil samples, soil survey books, site maps, aerial photos, and textbooks to open our eyes a little more to what is ahead for us in our exploration of our venture.  Ernie then graciously took us into the vineyard. Thirty acres of five varietals; block after block of row after row. Ernie is intimate with it all, knowing exactly which row has which rootstock, clone, soil type, and the best views.
Our vineyard walk filled me with a sense of neatness, tidiness, orderliness, and intimacy. I've walked quite a few vineyards in my day, but none as tended to as this. It may not be necessary to have a tidy vineyard to produce great wine, but I believe that the well-supervised vineyard at Amalie Robert gives us a glimpse of the level of detail that is put into each aspect of their production. Ernie and Dena aren't interested in producing commodity wine. They are interested in producing the highest quality wine possible.

As we drove home from our superb day, we passed another winery whose product we've tasted before and left us unimpressed. We asked each other just what made that wine so "not-good." As we continued on, we passed "the other brand's" unkempt, sprawly, shaggy vineyard, and I realize that our visits to Amalie Robert provide the answer.

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