Page Archive for the ‘Winemaker’s Notes’ Category

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

On behalf of my family, I would like to extend a warm holiday ‘Cheers’ to all those who’ve helped make this our most enjoyable winery season to date.  We were thrilled to have so many familiar faces join us for their annual tasting visit – and before we knew it all the wines had left the barn.

To all those who happened upon Five Rows for the first time in 2016, we say welcome, and we look forward to seeing you again next year!

The holidays tend to be a time when our friends dust off and crack open an older vintage of our wine (we do the same), a tradition that we are very proud to be a part of.  Please let us know how your bottle has aged and evolved by registering it on our Provenance page.

Merry Christmas to all!

 

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

Harvest 2016

Am I a writer or am I a winemaker?  Is my time better spent writing a blog post or thinning Syrah?  These are the types of burning, legacy-defining, useless questions that plague my thoughts over the grueling days of harvest.  I believe it to be an innate method of stress deflection to have internal debates about completely nonsensical topics.

The debate continues:

I will be forever grateful to my friends Barry and Leslie for encouraging me to start a blog chronicling some of my family farm stories.  However, none of this would have come to fruition had I not become a winemaker first.

From the earliest days of creative writing in grade four, I had an affinity to tell stories – but hated taking the time required to sit down and type them out.  I do not possess the patience to write a book.

I am definitely a better writer after consuming a few drinks.  Ironically, being a winemaker requires a laser-like, sober focus to achieve best results.

Easy growing seasons in the vineyard make for boring stories and difficult writing (if not boring wines!).  Thankfully, Niagara NEVER has easy growing seasons and 2016 has been a prime example.  If you weren’t lucky enough to have have old, deep-rooted vines or access to irrigation equipment, your winemaking skills were put to a serious challenge.  Everyone loves a wine with a good back story.

Some of my best wine-related writing will never get seen by the masses.  It is confined to my private cellar notes and yearly harvest log, which read like great tragedies.  I tend to be a “pessimistic optimist” whose emotions rise and fall with the daily fluctuations in weather.  Frustration and vulnerability ooze from the wine-stained pages.  Conversely, the winemaker in me strives to never let them see me sweat.

In the end, it becomes obvious that all aspects of my job are dependent on one another for me to achieve success.  I take comfort in this thought, feeling fortunate to have such a fluid job description.

Writer.  Winemaker.  Vineyard Philosopher.

Some of my recent thoughts on the 2016 harvest can be seen in video form here.

 

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.  The story of our 2015 Sauvignon Blanc is filled with both.  The bad news starts with the amount of damage sustained by the vines after a second consecutive harsh winter.  Very few of the suckers that were brought up to become new trunks in 2014 actually made it into the 2015 growing season.  There were those that looked like they were going to bud out, only to agonizingly collapse a couple of weeks later.  The sheer number of dead buds made for disproportionate growth and vine vigour issues – meaning lots of extra work.  The far north end of the block looked more like the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse than a vineyard, replete with half-dead, split trunks oozing crown gall tumours…

The good news is that we had any Sauvignon Blanc fruit at all!  In fact, 2015 was an amazing growing season for whites, with moderate heat and cool nights during peak ripening time.  The lighter crop ripened very quickly, ultimately leading to intense concentration of flavours and aromatics.  I stuck with my tried and true formula in the winery, with 75% of the juice fermented and aged in my trusty old French oak barrels and 25% done in tank.  The finished wine was blended, filtered and then bottled on April 6th, 2016.

Aromas:  “a nose for days”; candied pear, lemon/lime, melon, grilled pineapple

Palate:  rounder, riper, more weighty mouthfeel; pineapple, hint of lime; enjoyed best at cellar temperature (60-65°F)

Production:  210 cases

 

2015 Pinot Gris

Our Pinot Gris sustained similar winter damage to it’s neighbouring Sauvignon Blanc, which was surprising because it is considered a much more winter-hardy varietal.  Another sobering reminder of just how much sustained extreme cold the vines experienced in the winter of 2014.

The very light crop (about 40% of a normal year) made the vineyard work easier to stay on top of, ultimately producing some of the cleanest fruit we’ve ever seen in that block.  Pinot Gris is my favourite varietal to walk through in the fall because of the cool look of the tight, metallic-pink coloured clusters and the intense aromas in the air.  Tasting each berry is a treat, as flavours explode in your mouth.  You can almost anticipate the texture of the wine they will soon create.

We harvested our ripe Pinot Gris on September 18, 2015.  Believe it or not, one of the challenges I face crafting my whites is finding good, used white wine barrels.  It seems that more and more winemakers are holding onto their prized neutral wood – and I can’t blame them!  I was fortunate this past vintage to pick up some great older white barrels from J.L. Groux at Stratus, and about 66% of my 2015 Pinot Gris juice was the direct beneficiary.  All juice was fermented with R2 yeast and likely went through a partial, wild malolactic fermentation.

Appearance:  golden pink colour

Aromas:  honey, peach, vanilla, Honeycrisp apple, cream soda

Palate:  velvety texture, good balance with ample acidity; important not to drink too cold – 60°F is good

Production:  110 cases

 

2015 “Jean’s Block” Riesling

Many experts feel that it takes about ten years for a planting of grapes to really come into its own.  I feel like the wine from “Jean’s Block” is getting more complex with each vintage and it bodes well for this relatively young, 9-year old Riesling block.

What I like most about Riesling is their reliability from a growing perspective.  They crop well, ripen without issue and always seem to have enough acidity to make a nice wine, whether your preferred style is dry or off-dry.

We harvested the 2015 crop on October 8th and the fruit came in at 18.3 degrees Brix.  Previous vintages have taught me that “two yeasts are better than one” in terms of wine complexity, so I split the juice into two tanks: 900L fermented with W15 and 375L with R2.  What resulted was one of the longest fermentations I’ve ever experienced – the ferments started on October 16th and didn’t reach a “balance” point (Specific Gravity 1.003)  until December 1st!  This was not done by choice, but the results were a pleasant surprise.  Sometimes yeast just become a little sluggish in high-acid/low pH must.  There were times when I thought the fermentation was stuck, but I chose not to re-inoculate and patience paid off in the end.

I love the nose produced by Clone 49 Riesling – it’s just so fresh and intense!  We bottled this wine on April 6th, 2016.

Aromas:  apricot, peach, lemon, green apple

Palate:  both sweet and sour notes perceptible; resolves into crisp, dry balance

Production:  130 cases

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

 

Monday, July 13th, 2015

They are not the most captivating of birds.  No one has ever said, “Look at the beautiful Robin, dear!”  Up close they look even homelier.  I discovered this while thinning Syrah today and abruptly coming face to face with two baby Robins, nestled smack dab in the middle of my vine.

Robins are utilitarian worm hunters.  They don’t grace the logo of any sports teams as far as I know – the more popular Blue Jays, Orioles and Cardinals dominate this category.  Even the famous “Boy Wonder” was a trusty sidekick at best.  You don’t even really notice them until they are looking you directly in the eye.  Is this their vine or is it mine?

I make the decision to leave this vine a little “fuller” than I’d like, but any further removal of shoots would compromise their foundation.  The obsessive side of me makes a mental note to return to this particular vine later in summer.

Upon further reflection, I feel it appropriate to anoint the unassuming Robin as the official bird of Lowrey Vineyards.  Far from flashy, a little rough around the edges, somehow lurking under the radar while in plain sight and then BAM! – Holy Syrah, Batman – all of a sudden we’re right under your nose.

Syrah Babies

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, November 22nd, 2014

My first experiences with the marathon that is a winery-based harvest came at Blomidon Estate in Nova Scotia, then later back in Ontario at Creekside.  I was completely unprepared for the long haul that loomed ahead.

Prior to Blomidon I was only familiar with the limited perspective of the grape grower.  When the crop was off, your job was done!  I was ignorant to the efforts that went into processing and fermenting our freshly picked fruit.  My early days in Nova Scotia taught me that it was far more difficult being responsible for the combined task of growing the grapes and making the wine.  Despite the initial ass-kicking,  I somehow rationalized starting my own winery just a few years later.

I took much of what I learned at Blomidon and applied it at Five Rows.  As a smaller producer than most, I concede we have it easy compared to the big guys, and that is partly by design.  Our collection of varietals lends itself to a nice even picking schedule, with a bit of a break mid-harvest.  While everyone else is taking in Chardonnay and Merlot, we usually have the time to finish up pressing Pinot Noir and begin preparation for Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Each vintage is it’s own beast, a grueling battle with much reward at the end.  Days seem to go on forever early in September then rapidly get shorter as the season draws to a close.  The evening feast is the shining beacon at the end of each day and beer becomes your religion.

Then rather abruptly, like a wall of lake effect snow, it’s all over and you are left wondering what to do with yourself.  You are conditioned to getting up and hitting the ground running, now there is actually time for reflection and leisure.  The daily caffeine and adrenalin rush is no longer required, but can be hard to ween yourself from.

Mostly you try to get back to a normal life.  Your significant other barely remembers who you are and rightfully expects you to make up for three months of being absent and tired.  So now is the time to give back.

This year I spent my first day of “freedom” raking leaves in the snow, walking the dogs and picking up groceries…and enjoying every minute of it!

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

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.