Page Archive for the ‘pinot noir’ Category

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

2015 Pinot Noir

On particularly trying winemaking days, I can usually convince myself that I would be perfectly content just growing and selling grapes.  This assumption was emboldened by a recent accolade received by all the wines made from Lowrey Pinot Noir.

With the stressful filtering and bottling sessions behind us, I nervously pour myself the first glass of newly bottled 2015 Five Rows Pinot Noir…and all the reasons we started a winery in the first place come swirling back.  The familiar hallmarks of our terroir leap from the glass and reassure my skeptical nose.  I experience the wine first in aromas and flavours, then in memories (good and bad) of my days spent in that vineyard.  The balanced finish and pleasing tannins give me hope that the 2015 Pinot Noir will create future memories for all those who choose to cellar it.

Thanks to Rick Vansickle for his kind words, and to all the Winemakers who do such wonderful things with our fruit.  Most of all, I thank the late Karl Kaiser – my words will never be enough to adequately honour him for the legacy he helped inspire.

 

2015 Syrah

After a second consecutive extreme winter in 2014-15, most of our Syrah vines simply said “uncle”.  The majority of primary buds were dead, and many of those that did bud out eventually collapsed.  We were left with a shoot here and a cluster there, making it very difficult to look after the vineyard in a balanced manner.  It was a pleasant surprise when we were able to eke out enough fruit for 4 barrels.

I will always associate the 2015 Syrah with living in a trailer beside the barn during harvest (our home was undergoing major renovation).  Those memorable Airstream days featured a leaky roof, cool weather, sleeping in a small bed with three dogs, exciting playoff baseball (the Jays losing ALCS Game 6 to the Royals – ugh) and, eventually, nice ripe Syrah!

The 2015 Syrah features a uniquely smoky nose, with hints of pepper and cassis.  The palate is more fruit-driven than the nose lets on, and exhibits the typical cool climate Syrah savouriness and texture that I love.

 

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

I’ve been crafting Cab Sauv longer than any other varietal, and this – the 11th Five Rows Cab – is a striking amalgam of its forebears.  It has the noticeable concentration of 2005 (another short crop year), the unmistakeable ripeness of 2004, 2007 and 2010, the floral subtleties of 2008 and 2009, the wonderful aromatic strength of 2011 and 2012, and it shows the versatility of being drinkable now and potentially ageable like the 2013 and 2014.

Then again, aren’t we all a patchwork of those that came before?

 

2017 Sauvignon Blanc

The summer rains of 2017 made vine vigour and crop level control in Sauv Blanc absolutely paramount.  The vintage was rescued by the dry heat of September, which helped to ripen what were now massive berries and clusters.  For once, we had the luxury of harvesting the crop with as much acidity as was desired (we opted for 8.5 g/L).

I’ve always enjoyed my Sauv Blanc a little on the “crisper” side, both as a food pair and sipping wine.  The 2017 is an example of that style, more so because of the conditions we faced than anything done differently in the winery.  We stuck with the tried and true formula of a 75% older French oak / 25% stainless steel fermentation ratio – all with X5 yeast.  The amount of malolactic fermentation that took place is my only secret…mainly because I have no idea.

 

2017 Pinot Gris

I think it’s okay to reveal that I’m usually partial to the barrel-fermented portion of our Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris.  Of all the wines we crafted in the 2017, however, my favourite was the tank-fermented Pinot Gris.

It was so tropical and lush that I toyed with the idea of keeping it separate and releasing it on its own.  The problem became one of logistics, as it was only 300L or so – making it an awkward volume to support a one-off bottling.  In the end, the final blend proved to be far more complex than the individual components, so I don’t regret the decision to give my precious tank over to the barrels.  We’ll always have that month of fermentation…

 

2017 Riesling

I consider Jean’s Block Riesling to be the most “personal” of our wines for many reasons, but mainly because I dial it in to my palate specifically.  I taste the fermentation constantly near the end of its time, and stop it at the precise point where I feel the residual sugar level balances the natural acidity.

It occurs to me now that the fatal flaw in “personal” winemaking is this:  you are the only one to blame if the wine is perceived to be out of balance by everyone else!  Thankfully for yours truly, the aromatics of this wine are the real star, and rival the Sauv Blanc in intensity – something I’d never have been willing to concede in year’s past.

 

All wines are available for pre-order now (wines@fiverows.com).  Reds are $55 and Whites $35.  The Five Rows Barn is set to re-open on weekends starting June 2nd, 2018.  See you soon!

Friday, April 21st, 2017

2016 Sauv Blanc

2014 Pinot Noir

Production: 143 cases

Aromas –  cherry, floral (violet), red licorice (Nibs), truffle, earth, mushroom

Palate –  typical “Lowrey terroir” profile of ripe cherry, pleasing acidity and evolved tannic structure

 

2014 Syrah

Production: 122 cases

Aromas –  wild black raspberry, pepper, cooked meat, tobacco

Palate –  ripe red fruit (cherry, plum), savoury core, smooth tannins make it hard not to drink right now

 

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Production: 123 cases

Aromas –  wild black raspberry, cherry, bell pepper, violet

Palate –  cherry flavoured candy, currant, dark chocolate, structural versatility to enjoy now with meats and cheeses or to lay down for another few years

 

2016 Sauvignon Blanc

Production: 220 cases

Aromas –  pineapple, starfruit, grapefruit, peach drink, vanilla bean

Palate –  ripe tropical flavours balanced by crisp citrus notes, lingering finish, best enjoyed just below room temperature

 

2016 Pinot Gris

Production: 110 cases

Aromas –  honeydew melon, apricot, whispers of single malt scotch

Palate –  full-bodied, balanced, signature Lowrey Pinot Gris texture, tastes like Wilma’s homemade butter tarts

 

2016 “Jean’s Block” Riesling

Production: 119 cases

Aromas –  intense and alluring, floral notes with strong citrus undertones, apple

Palate –  zippy acidity, a real depth of flavour, balanced finish, excellent food pairing wine, serve slightly chilled

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

2013 Pinot Noir

In looking back at my harvest notes for the 2013 Pinot Noir, I’m immediately drawn to the “Fruit Condition” section where I have written:  excellent; “Some of the nicest we’ve ever picked.” – Wilma.  I remember it well, and it makes me smile as much now as it did when she said it on September 18, 2013.

We hand-picked 90 boxes from rows 3, 4 & 5 and 64 boxes from rows 8 & 9.  These are the rows that I traditionally use, and they represent a good cross section of terroir from our oldest vines.  The Pinot was sorted four times:  first I do a quick pass on my own before we harvest to remove any obvious rot; then each picker must inspect clusters as they cut them; a third inspection takes place as boxes are loaded onto the wagon and finally again as they are dumped into the crusher.  Those select few Pinot berries that made the final cut ended up filling two fermenting bins.

After a four day cold soak at 18°C, the first bin containing rows 3, 4 & 5 was inoculated with RC212 yeast and the second bin (rows 8 & 9) was inoculated with W15.  Fermentation lasted about a week, with peak temperature around 34°C.  Wines were then inoculated with malolactic bacteria strain MBR31 and racked to barrel.  After 24 months in oak (100% French, 20% new), the wine was blended and eventually bottled on April 6, 2016.

Aromas:  “Like walking into a pantry”; ripe cherry, dried spices, truffle

Palate:  light velvety texture; good balance; enjoyable now, but just enough tannin to make you want to lay it down for a while

Production: 145 cases

 

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

A later Spring than 2012 (few are earlier) led to an interesting vintage that felt like a constant uphill battle.  The growing degree days were just not adding up, so an effort was made to dramatically reduce crop level at veraison.  Then we waited…and waited some more…until all the leaves had fallen and finally picked our Cab on November 15, 2013.

The fruit was quite desiccated on the vine at this stage, almost a late harvest look, and we actually ended up with close to 23 degrees Brix and reasonable acidity.  The drastic thinning gamble had worked, but at the expense of tonnage.  We ended up with only 117 picking boxes of Cab Sauv from five rows that would have normally yielded 150 boxes.

The fruit was processed into two bins and after a four day cold soak, Bin 1 was inoculated with FX10 and Bin 2 with F15.  Finished wine was blended, inoculated with MBR31 bacteria and racked to barrel where it would spend the next two years.  Two new French barrels were used (Taransaud and Billon) along with a couple of wily veterans.  The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was bottled on April 6th, 2016.  This wine will surprise many people.

Aromas:  cherry, blackberry, anise, loose-leaf tea

Palate:  flavours as intense as the nose; nice texture; savoury; integrated tannins make it both drinkable and cellar-worthy

Production:  100 cases

 

2013 Syrah

*See 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon for the challenges associated with this growing season.

As we nervously hung our Syrah into November for the first time, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be writing a description for a Five Rows 2013 Syrah – the grapes just didn’t look right.  They tasted fine, the lab numbers were good, but the berries looked wrinkled and raisin-like.

A harvest date was finally settled upon, but to our astonishment we awoke that day to….frozen Syrah-sicles!  An overnight frost had thrown a wrench into the plans, making for a unique harvesting and de-stemming experience.  The stems were so brittle that I was concerned the berries wouldn’t properly separate from the rachis going through the de-stemmer, adding unwanted bits of stem to the must.  In the end – I needn’t have fretted, as the semi-frozen berries rattled off the rachis with ease.

82 boxes were harvested from Clone 7 rows 2 & 3, along with 57 boxes from Clone 100 (“Old Block”) rows 1 & 2.  The Clone 7 was inoculated with RX60 and the Old Block with F15.  Both bins were pressed after a week-long fermentation.  The whole batch was aged in French oak; three older barrels and one new (DAMY Rouge).

This wine was incredibly smooth from the get-go, and frankly I have no idea why.  Perhaps it was the extended hang time and wilted berries, perhaps it was the frost – yet more proof that the most unique wines often result from unforeseen circumstances.  It was bottled on April 6th, 2016.

Aromas:  lavender, cassis, vanilla, cooked meat, thyme (“Smells like a lamb dinner” – Wilma)

Palate:  smooth as silk, very savoury, hint of pepper, finish dominated by dark fruit

Production:  100 cases

 

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

Perhaps the number one thing I look forward to each winter season is the opportunity to participate in a few Winemaker Dinners with my family.  When the vines are dormant I tend to be as well, so invitations to be a part of these lavish evenings are received with great joy!

We were very fortunate this year to be featured at a dinner hosted by the Ontario Wine Society (Toronto Chapter) where the theme was a celebration of Lowrey Vineyard Terroir through a comparison of wines made from our fruit.  The OWS brought together a wonderful group of winemakers who’ve worked with our grapes over the years – specifically Pinot Noir.  The event took place at Barque Butcher Bar and the pairings were facilitated by Michael Godel, who spoke very kindly and shared some flattering observations about our humble little vineyard in St. David’s.

Thomas Bachelder acted as host for the evening and I would’ve been perfectly content to listen to Thomas wax poetic about Terroir and Pinot Noir for the entire night if it was up to me!  Ilya Senchuk of Leaning Post Wines also brought some very interesting insight to the Terroir debate, as well as some stellar wines.  He pointed out that he sees hallmarks of Lowrey Terroir not only among certain varietals like Pinot, but across varietals as well.  We all agreed that there are distinctive elements that define the Lowrey flavour and aromatic profile, as well as textural and mouthfeel similarities.  Ilya also noted that as our collective wines age (that is wines made by Bachelder, Five Rows and Leaning Post from Lowrey fruit) the similarities of Terroir tend to become more pronounced.  The effect of the winemaker giving way to the effect of Terroir over time is a very interesting concept indeed.

I feel very proud that Mario Adamo thought enough of our Five Rows wines to inquire about purchasing some of our fruit for his own winery venture.  The dynamic brother-sister duo of Julie and John Paul Adamo joined us for the evening, and Julie did a great job taking us through their journey to start a winery in the hills of Hockley Valley.  It was exciting for me to see what an excellent job they’ve done with the Pinot Noir from our 2008 planting.  I see great potential for this block based on their initial efforts, and I highly recommend giving the wines of Adamo Estate Winery a try sometime soon!

Highlights of the dinner were detailed in the latest OWS newsletter and can be read here.

The Grand Crew

 

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

battle scars

As yet another memorable harvest draws to a close, I delight in sharing some of the bizarre things that have crept into my exhausted mind over the last couple of months.  It can be a grind at times, so pulling back the curtain a bit to reveal some of the lighter moments keeps me from taking it too seriously.

While conducting a final cull of rotten berries in our original planting of Pinot Noir early in September, I found myself uttering a few choice words at these cursedly tight clusters.  It culminated in a rather aggressive flick attempt with my clippers to remove a rotten berry which, in turn, produced a wild spray of acidic juice directly into my face.  This moment surely sums up the give and take relationship I have with these old vines, a relationship that began to take human form.

In fact, as I wiped the burning juice from my eyes, I surmised that these five rows are like the brother I never had.  We are of similar age (although I am slightly older and wiser) and we have grown up on this farm together.  We compete for my parents’ attention and can get very jealous of one another, yet our individual success is completely reliant upon the other.  There are epic fights, but if anyone else is critical of my Pinot vines – I’ll kick their ass.  We always have each other’s back because our tangled roots run ever deep in this soil.

While pacing around the barn on a weekend that saw a forecasted 15-20mm of rain balloon to a record 86mm, I realized just how tied to the weather my mood becomes during harvest.  A rainy day may as well be the end of the world in my mind.  Everything is planned around them, you can’t do anything during them, and nothing good ever comes as a result of them!  I become consumed with regrets:  Should we have picked earlier? Did I just ruin everything good I’ve done all year by letting them hang through a hail storm?  How long will this field take to dry out?

Conversely, when the sun is shining – so am I.  Strutting around the farm with a wide smile and time enough for everyone, I ooze positivity.  It doesn’t get any better than walking through a block of ripe, clean grapes knowing you could pick them whenever you like.  I taste each berry thoroughly and make a mental note of which vines and rows will make the cut this year.  As you are probably aware, this happens with extreme rarity.

More often I’m faced with a scenario akin to the following:  We finish pressing Pinot Noir and I finally have a chance to get out and take a good look at the Riesling.  I walk over to the block and think to myself, “Ahh, the patience of Riesling…I can leave them to the end every year and they never let me down!”

It only takes few minutes to realize I’ve waited WAY to long to thin out these vines and now I’ve got a tinderbox of Botrytis on my hands.  I flash back to those times during the year when I’d walk by the Riesling and pay them but a fleeting glance before moving on to more pressing concerns.  Perhaps I knew deep down that the day of reckoning would come soon enough.

It is reminiscent of a scene from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure where Pee-Wee is faced with saving all the pets from a burning pet store.  Of course he saves the cute puppies and bunnies first, each time running past the terrarium of snakes with a look of terror that I know all too well.  The scene ends with a hysterical Pee-Wee running out of the store with fistfuls of snakes and collapsing to the ground.

Before I know it I’m covered in a sticky lather of sweat and juice, hurriedly extricating botrytized clusters of Riesling with my bare hands and high-stepping to the end of the row to hurl them into the headlands…

Crazy, you say?

I know you are, but what am I.    (P.W. Herman 1985)

 

 

 

 

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

What a luxury it was to be given a dry stretch of days to harvest all of our early varietals.  I don’t recall a ripening period this ideal in all the years I’ve made wine.

Fall picking decisions are usually based upon rotten fruit and looming rain in the forecast.  We weren’t entirely spared the former, but the lack of the latter allowed us to delay harvest dates until all the important parameters reached absolute perfection.  Warm days to drive photosynthesis and accumulate sugar, and cool nights to maintain acidity and control fruit flies.  I actually felt a bit greedy leaving some of our fruit on the vine as long as we did, but this rare ripening window was just too tempting not to take advantage of.

The Pinot Noir fermentations smell absolutely splendid!  The Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc were allowed to hang long enough to develop the most wonderful flavours to go with the desired sugar and acidity levels.  As expected, crop levels were light, but the fact we had any fruit to harvest this vintage is a victory in itself.

It appears as if this little run of nice weather might be coming to an end, but I will not soon forget the exquisite fall scene of 2014.

WesDogs-1

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

If I’m guilty of anything during the busy build-up to harvest, it’s failing to take the time to appreciate the wonderful summer we’ve just had welcoming so many visitors to our barn.  I tend to spend these days with blinders on, dutifully focused on protecting my delicate grapes from birds, fruit flies, rot and botrytis.  A little rosy reflection always helps keep my chin up.

I never would have fathomed that a barn jam-packed with 750 cases of wine could be reduced to what I see today, a mere four months from the initial release in May.  Every one of our visitors has contributed to this case reduction – one bottle, one case at a time.  I was touched this year by the number of fellow winemakers and industry personnel who took time out of their busy schedules to stop by and purchase our wine.  This is a favour I vow to repay very soon!

It is through the tireless hosting efforts of Wilma, Tracy and Katie that we’ve somehow been able to sell nearly every hand-numbered, hand-labeled bottle of Five Rows wine that was bottled and waxed this Spring.   Selling out of wines is always a sad time despite what you might think.  A common refrain we hear is that this is a “good” problem, but I would argue that there is no such thing as a “good” problem.  Having no wine to offer those who’ve traveled far and wide to locate our barn, only to discover we are sold out of their treasured new find is excruciating for visitor and host alike.

This situation always provokes a sinking feeling, as it was never my intention to make a wine that became more “sought after” than actually bought and enjoyed.  The goal every year is to make memorable wines, but not for the wrong reason.  Do we need to produce more Sauv Blanc?  Would that make more people happy?  Perhaps, but maybe not…

The logistics of producing more wine the way we currently go about it (i.e. one guy doing all the tractor work and one guy doing all the winemaking)  is not conducive to a dramatic increase in volume.  Moreover, I’m an intense creature of habit (and by habit I mean stubborn and superstitious), so making a change to a formula that works is not something I’m comfortable with.  Change is my kryptonite.

As I’ve written in the past, it is the reliable patronage and warm compliments from our friends and supporters that drive my passion for making wine.  For these people we will gladly endeavor to keep the Five Rows experience a familiar one.

I’m happy to report that we still do have a limited quantity of 2011 Pinot Noir available, so please join us for a chat and taste over the exciting months of harvest.   Don’t let the bird bangers scare you away!

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

I’ve decided to initiate this writing by optimistically pouring myself a half full glass of 2011 Pinot Noir.

In what seems like the wettest summer in recent memory, there have been a few positives.  Not the least of which is that I now know it’s possible to grow grapes in a climate where it rains every other day.  The vines are indeed lush and happy, but ripening this crop of monster-sized berries could prove to be the rub.

It may be a blessing in disguise that our poor, winter-ravaged vines were treated to a stressless year such as this.  We haven’t exactly been afforded the heat units and dry conditions seen in “glorious” years like 2010 and 2012, but that isn’t the be-all and end-all of crafting decent wine.  I’ve come to accept this stubbornly, as people continually seem to prefer the wines we’ve made in less extreme years like 2009 and 2011.  The superior elegance and early approachability of these vintages has been surprisingly matched by their ability to age splendidly.  However, given the choice I’d take the easy growing season every time!

I shudder at the memory of the nightmare harvest of 2011, and that optimistic glass of Pinot suddenly becomes half empty.  I start to worry that even an unprecedented two month stretch of dry heat may not be enough ripen our beautiful (but late) crop of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Due to the sluggish start and lack of sumer heat, we’ve had to thin the crop down to its lowest level since 2009 and the cluster and berry sizes are reflective of that – GARGANTUAN!  Winemakers are not generally fans of big berries, although farmers like my dad love them.  Larger berries tend to be more dilute in terms of flavour and suffer from lower skin to juice ratio, not the textbook combo for premium wine.

Perhaps it’s too early to worry about such things.  The glass is now empty.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Those unfamiliar with the otherworldly vigour exhibited by Pinot Noir grapevines in early June are welcome (and encouraged) to witness this phenomenon firsthand, before the dramatic shoot-thinning begins.

It is actually comical to see how much growth these vines can throw in ideal conditions.  For every shoot there is a secondary, for every secondary there are three suckers.  This all adds up to mayhem.  Observing Pinot at this stage leads one to wonder if these vines could ever be fashioned into something resembling “organized”.

Over the next few weeks I will tackle this chaotic cluster of green with hopes of taming my Pinot into submission.  Sadly, I already know this is a losing proposition, but what I lack in smarts I make up for in persistence.  This is a key job that sets the tone for producing good, clean Pinot Noir.

If you do decide to visit in the coming days I would suggest bringing along a machete and ample hydration.  If you can find me, I will happily teach you the ways of the jungle.

 

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Consider this my therapy.  The ability to write and reminisce about a finished wine whilst going through the rigours of harvesting and vinifying that same grape varietal is a welcome shift of thought.  It doesn’t get much rosier than the memories I have associated with our 2010 Pinot Noir.

Simply put, 2010 was an ideal vintage to grow grapes.  Heat when you needed it and just wet enough for excellent vine growth, but not excessive vigour.  The risk with Pinot Noir in these warm, dry conditions is overripening.  Pushing the grapes to a point where they almost become “un-Pinot like”.  For that reason we harvested our crop on September 4th – a full week earlier than we ever had before.  All ripening parameters were dialed in.  Sugars high, but not so high as to make the wine overly alcoholic (22 degrees brix)  and decent enough acid (TA 7.5) to keep the pH low and aid in ageability.  This would be a bold Pinot for sure, but not so bold that our Terroir couldn’t shine through.

We harvested 8 rows from our Old Block and 3 rows from our new Clone 777 block.  The fruit was sorted, chilled and processed into bins for traditional punch-downs during fermentation.  I chose to let the three bins cold soak for a few days and let the fermentations start via indigenous yeast.  Each bin was then inoculated with a different cultured yeast to add complexity to the overall blend.  The 777 bin was treated with a strain called BRL97, while the the old block was fermented with RC212 and W15.  The fermentations lasted about 10 days whereupon each bin was pressed to barrel (25% new oak, all French).  The wine was allowed to mature for 24 months in oak before bottling 143 cases on March 26th, 2013.

In the end this is a Pinot Noir that should age gracefully for at least another five years.  It’s the kind of wine that sneaks up on you and demands another sip, another glass…

Aromas:  cherry, leather, mushroom, wet stone, vanilla, red currant, meat jus, violets

Flavours: cherry, pomegranate