Page Archive for the ‘Releases’ 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.

 

The Five Rows Barn is set to re-open on weekends starting June 2nd, 2018.  See you soon!

Friday, April 21st, 2017

As we get ready for another busy spring season of new wines and budding vines, I’m faced with an unforeseen conundrum.  It comes in the form of a nine pound baby girl named Frances, and the seeming lack of hours in a day to do what I used to do.

Those who have read this blog would know me as a hyper-focused creature of habit, eagerly devoting my time to barn and field.  In my defence, the task just draws you in completely – to the point where it consumes much of your thought and attention should you let it…and I do.  I’ve managed to convince myself that this is the only possible way to make good wine and damned be the person or thing (aside from my dogs) that gets in the way of this ultimate pursuit!

Enter the cuddly conundrum.  My wife, Tanya, and I recently decided to start a family and were blessed with a healthy baby girl on March 19th, 2017 – the ultimate reality check.  To say that my priorities have been altered would be an understatement, but not quite in the way that I expected.  At a time when I was fully prepared to be overwhelmed and stretched thin, I somehow feel more capable than ever to summon the effort required to produce the best possible fruit that our land will allow.  Little Frances has no idea that she’s already had a positive impact on the way I approach farming and life.

Perhaps it is a renewed sense of stewardship for future generations or perhaps it is just adrenaline.  Either way, I feel more inspired to work hard and less restrained by previous fears and uncertainties.  This is entirely due to the support of those around me:  Tanya, my parents, retail staff, vineyard crews and our beloved “Five Rows Faithful”.  I know I can count on them to keep the barn humming, even when I’m at home being a Dad.

So no need to worry, the wines will get the same attention they always do – you’ll just have to sit through a few baby pictures to get a taste!

FrancesBarn

 

 

Friday, April 21st, 2017

Few things inspire me more than people who can write and perform music.  Every year I try to attend as many concerts as possible to nurture my love of live musical performance.  The beautifully raw sound, the connection with the audience and seeing someone uninhibited at the top of their craft is as good as it gets.

I’ve come to grips with the fact that I can never be a rock star, but it struck me one summer night, as I was walking out of a Bahamas show at Jackson-Triggs, that I’m lucky enough to express myself through my wines and in conversations with visitors to our barn.

The more I thought about it, the more I came up with interesting parallels between me and my songwriting idols.  Here are a few:

Songs have music and lyrics, wines have viticulture and enology.

I prefer to release “albums” as opposed to catchy singles.

We are constantly being judged, often times right to our face (this can be good and bad).

People want to hear the hits (Sauv Blanc), so you must resist getting tired of playing them and never take them for granted.  However, you can’t rest on your laurels and should always strive to create new content.

It can feel monotonous at times, but you have to remember that every performance could be someone’s introduction to your work.

There are times when we want to be new and innovative and times when we’d rather be rooted and old-fashioned.

Like the best songs, wines speak to everyone differently and are often interpreted in unanticipated ways.

Eventually other people take ownership of your work and you have to let it go.

There is much solitary time, but the joy is in sharing your craft.

My wines are my songs – not everyone will like them, but that’s okay.

 

 

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

Each year I struggle to come up with original descriptors for our wines.  Each varietal is crafted to best express our terroir, therefore they tend to fit a similar style from vintage to vintage.  Tasting notes can sometimes sound like a broken record, so I usually try to make them more story-based.

This year I’ve tried to come up with a phrase or two that might best represent my feelings towards each wine.  Keep in mind that I am usually testing the wines when these ideas spring my mind.  Here are a few samples from my notebook:

2012 Pinot Noir:  Enjoying the many complex layers exhibited by this wine magically erases the emotional scars of growing Pinot Noir.  Maybe it’s the resveratrol.

2014 Pinot Gris:  Drinking this wine can lead to moments of spontaneous joy and irrational behaviour, like agreeing to adopt a third cat.  Drink with caution.

2014 Riesling:  This wine is my wife’s favourite, but sadly alcohol makes her sick.  Although not sick enough to stop wanting more cats.

2012 Syrah:  This wine reminds me why we take the risk to grow Syrah in Ontario.  Two rough winters in a row have shaken my conviction at times.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon:  This wine makes me envious of people who grow grapes in California. Not because it’s easier to ripen Cab Sauv there and every year is like 2012, but because they get to live in California!

2014 Sauvignon Blanc:  This wine helps cure writer’s block*

*claim pending 

 

For slightly more serious tasting notes click here

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Being stuck in the mud never felt so good.  The usual nuisance of “sinking while pruning” seems a welcome hindrance this year.  My smile widens with each heavy step and I can’t help thinking that “thaw” is a beautiful word.

There are many things that signal spring to my internal body clock: bottling new wines, the smell of melted wax and new cardboard, writers cramp, bud counts, the Masters, muddy paws and baseball.  Together, they form a complex emotional mix of stress (bottling and dead buds) and thrilling relief (tasting the new wines and the promise of golf season).

April 2nd was my own personal vernal equinox this year, as we bottled all of our new wines (830 cases!) without a hitch.  It represents the culmination of three years of work for the 2012 reds and a year for the 2014 whites.  Big thanks to all of my helpers, from the case fillers to the bottle dumpers to the humble stackers.  I’ve said it before, but my biggest advice to someone starting a mini craft winery like ours would be to find a reliable mobile bottling line.  Glenn, Randy and Justin from Hunter Bottling make my life easy on bottling day.  The new truck is amazing!

Those who’ve joined our contact list will receive an email in the coming weeks with details of the new release.  Our goal is to re-open the barn by May 1st and I can’t wait for everyone to try the new wines!

Good to the last drop!

 

 

Saturday, May 17th, 2014

I’m overwhelmed at the response we’ve received to our new wines and the number of keen visitors we’ve entertained over the last couple of weeks!  It is all we can do to write and apply labels fast enough to keep up.

I’ve become accustomed to putting off my vineyard work on weekends in May to stick around the barn and help the girls with tastings.  I must admit that I secretly enjoy this, as it allows me to overhear all the interesting and thoughtful reviews of my wines.  There is always a gut-wrenching fear belying my calm facade that these wines won’t live up to their predecessors.  You would think that after nine vintages of wrenching guts I might have learned to trust my palate by now, but it always takes a few satisfied customers to reassure me.

That is all part of what makes this time of year is so exciting, from the inbox full of pre-orders to the smiling faces of return visitors parading through the barn door.  The fact that people would think enough of our wines to pre-order them on spec, without even trying them first, is the ultimate in trust.  I treasure this trust as much as any award or five star review we’ve ever received.  The “pre-order” is my gold medal.

With that trust comes the pressure not to disappoint.  This challenge drives what I do in the vineyard every summer.  In the back of my mind is the knowledge that this vine I’m currently thinning will produce fruit to make a wine that someone may already have dibs on for next year.  On one hand it’s a very reassuring thought, but it also means there isn’t much room for error!

As the first buds of 2014 start to reveal themselves one precious leaf at a time, I confidently venture out to the vineyard and strive to earn more trust.

 

 

 

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

On the eve of the New Release here at Five Rows there is palpable anticipation is in the air.  The barn is full, brimming with fresh wines ready to introduce themselves to some palates.  Taking a mental snapshot of these tall stacks I recall the sheer amount of work that went into each one of these wines from the first moment of bud emergence until now.  There is contentment in this reflection.

I leisurely wax the cork tops while Wilma pens and applies the new labels.  Next weekend we will officially open for the year and debut all of the recently bottled 2013 whites and 2011 reds.  Experience tells me that there will be nothing “leisurely” about the next couple of weekends, as all of our friends stop in to pick up their orders.  It’s a whirlwind of visits and tasting, but we wouldn’t have it any other way!

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

2012 “Jean’s Block” Riesling

Vineyard:  Our Clone 49 Riesling vines budded out very early in 2012, perhaps two weeks ahead of a normal year.  Although this may sound advantageous, it was actually problematic.  A sudden frost followed bud-break and many fragile buds were frozen dead.  Luckily, we left an extra cane that could be tied down to add a few precious growing shoots to the sparse canopy.  The summer growth period proceeded nicely with warm temperatures and little rain.  A lighter crop load required less thinning and ripened quickly near the end of August.

Winery:  The bulk of our Riesling is purchased by Fielding Estate Winery.  In talking with Winemaker (and friend) Richie Roberts, I learned that he likes to harvest Riesling with fairly high acidity to give some vibrant life to the resultant wine.  As a bit of a “Riesling rookie” myself, I decided to experiment with this approach and harvest our 2012 crop at a higher TA value than I normally would.  We brought in our Riesling on September 13th (earlier than ever) and the pressed juice tasted beautiful!  The higher TA meant a juice with lower pH, and consequently a sluggish start to the fermentation.  Eventually, with the help of a little extra nutrient, the W15 yeast hit its stride and worked at a nice slow pace over the next month and a half.  The fermentation was finally halted on Halloween at a specific gravity of 1.006, a point where I perceived balance on my palate.  Over the winter months the wine was protein and cold stabilized prior to coarse filtration.  We bottled 96 cases on March 26, 2013.  The 2012 “Jean’s Block” Riesling is now available for purchase in our barn.

Price: $25.00

Alcohol: 12.0%

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

One decision a winemaker is faced with as a wine evolves is whether they are making that wine for now or for the future.  Variables such as the amount of time spent in barrel, new or previously used oak, French or American oak, health tannin level, acidity and pH all must be addressed.  It is where experience really comes into play, as the decisions you make now may lead to the wine being tougher to enjoy in the short term, but hopefully pay dividends later on.

Then there are rare wines like the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon that are enjoyable now while also exhibiting good aging potential.  These wines can make winemakers look very clever, but are probably the easiest to craft.  The fruit comes in ripe and clean with ideal parameters and the fermentations go exactly according to plan.  After many years of dealing with devilish Pinot Noir, this is a welcome luxury!

The 2010 Cab Sauv was harvested on October 28th and 29th.  If we push it, Howie, Wilma and I can hand-harvest and process about 1.5 to 2 tonnes in a day.  We normally tackle the Clone 169 block first, then bring in the Old Block Cab on day two.  It’s always a relief to get through these two days as the Cab Sauv is the last variety we harvest each year.  Needless to say, we slept in on October 30th.

70 picking boxes were harvested from rows 4 and 13 in the Clone 169 Block and 78 boxes from rows 5 and 8 in the Old Block.  Following a four-day cold soak, the two bins of fruit were inoculated and warmed to start fermentation.  Two yeasts were chosen to work with the specific strengths of each vineyard.  The slightly riper Clone 169 fruit was fermented with FX10, known to retain polyphenolic potential (structure and colour), release and bind polysaccharides, and aid in the expression of terroir through minimal “fermentation odour” production.  The Old Block was inoculated with CSM, a yeast that specializes in producing intense aro­matic profiles of berries, spice and licorice, while concurrently reducing vegetal aromas.  A winemaker can only hope that these yeasts live up to such bold claims!

Finished wines were racked to four barrels:  Clone 169 to a new Taransaud and two-year-old Billon; Old Block to a two-year-old Taransaud and five-year-old DAMY.  Through the years I’ve found that Taransaud barrels do magic for my Cab Sauv.  They have a way of “framing” the fruit components of the wine, while contributing just the right amount of oak spice and wood tannin.  I usually opt for a tight grain oak, medium toast level with three years of air drying to balance the longer time our red wines spend in barrel.  After 24 months in oak, the 2010 Five Rows Cabernet Sauvignon was blended and allowed to bulk age in a tank for five more months.  103 cases were bottled on March 26, 2013.  This wine is now available for purchase.

Aromas:  blueberry, cherry, Stanley prune, mint

Palate:  soft tannin, ripe cherry, savoury mouthfeel/flavour

Cellaring:  I personally enjoy drinking this wine now (call it winemaker bias), but it should really be cellared for at least another six months.  It has the tannin and structure to age and improve for many years to come, I prefer not to put a limit on it.

Price:  $50/bottle

Alcohol:  13.3%

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Is it a Shiraz or is it a Syrah?  The debate over the name of this wine has played out numerous times around our tasting table since we released our first one back in 2008.  That 2008 “Shiraz” was a hit with our friends, but most agreed it was more reminiscent of a “Syrah” in style.

I get a kick out of this debate because it brings me nostalgically back to the origins of this grape in our vineyard.  We planted Shiraz Clone 100 back in the late 90’s at the request of Creekside Estate Winery, who were bravely setting out to turn Shiraz into a key part of their varietal portfolio and winery identity.  Fueled by the knowledge and vision of an enterprising Australian winemaker, Marcus Ansems, my parents agreed to plant the 11 rows of Shiraz that now stand tall along our driveway, across from Wilma’s lavender.

Upon planting, we quickly found out that these vines loved to grow!  They shot up like the most vigorous of weeds, making us wonder why few farmers had attempted to grow this grape variety in Niagara before.  The first cold winter would provide us the harsh answer to that question.

Just as the vines were starting to mature and bear their first fruit, we were hit with some cold winter conditions that killed nearly half the vines in our new Shiraz vineyard.  The Achilles heel of this fast-growing, high-cropping varietal was now all too clear.  Should we replant the vineyard or wash our hands with Shiraz altogether?  This was a tough call, but in the end we decided to give it one more shot.  Thankfully, the winters have been more co-operative since then and we’ve also learned a few tricks in the vineyard to help the vines overwinter better.  We switched from a Scott-Henry training system to a more simple, two-arm pendelbogen trellis.  More attention was paid to controlling vine vigour through soil nutrition and cropping levels.  The vines performed well enough to merit planting 8 more rows of a second Australian Shiraz Clone (#7) in soil with higher clay content to aid in vine development.  Both blocks are doing well to this day.

Due to the success of these Shiraz vineyards on our farm and the legitimacy brought to the varietal by Creekside (think luscious Broken Press Shiraz…mmmm!) it was a no-brainer that I would order a large run of labels adorned with “Shiraz” for my 2008 debut.  However, as it came time to blend my 2008 Shiraz – the jammy, hot (high-alcohol) and bold notes present in all of our favourite Aussie “critter” wines were nowhere to be found!  In fact, every time I sampled these barrels I felt as if I had just tacked up a horse and ridden through a fragrant lavender field, only to suddenly realize I was surrounded by blackberry bushes and Marijuana plants (for the record this has never happened…yet).  Alas, despite what thousands of freshly printed labels now proclaimed, my first Shiraz had just become a Syrah – and I didn’t mind one bit!

A second issue with growing Shir..I mean Syrah in a cool climate is that it tends to ripen very late in the season, making it a challenge to vinify in lackluster, “shorter” growing seasons like 2009.  For that reason we decided not to attempt a Syrah in 2009 as the acidity levels never seemed right for crafting a premium wine.

The opposite was true for 2010.  It will be remembered as one of the warmest vintages Niagara has ever seen.  The growing season started early and never slowed down.  Precipitation was spotty but adequate – just perfect for wine grapes.  We harvested the Syrah on October 11, much earlier than any other vintage.  Sugar levels hit an all-time high (24°Brix) and the skins and seeds showed excellent maturity.  Three rows were selected from the older Clone 100 block (#2,9,10) along with two rows from the younger Clone 7 block (#4,8).

The fruit was de-stemmed into bins, which were then sealed for a four-day cold soak on the skins.  Fermentations were allowed to start wild, then inoculated with a yeast known as “Enoferm Syrah” (an isolate from the Côtes du Rhône in France).  It was chosen for this ripe fruit because it’s known to be a good glycerol producer for smoother mouthfeel with typical aromas including violets, raspberries, cassis, strawberries and black pepper.  Fermentations lasted about 8 days with temperature peaks around 28°C.  I could tell early on that this wine would one day be something special!

Five barrels were filled following pressing.  The Clone 7 fruit was racked to a new Taransaud barrel and a two-year-old Billon, while the Clone 100 fruit was split between two older French and one American oak barrel.  The wine was allowed to mature in oak for 24 months.  We bottled 118 cases of this Syrah on March 26th, 2013.  This wine, along with all of our 2010 reds, is now available for purchase.

Price: $50/bottle

Alcohol:  13.4%

Cellaring:  3-5 years