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Friday, May 7th, 2021

2018 Pinot Noir

Picture a vineyard, older in its years, with crooked posts, differing row widths and bordered closely by dense headlands.  The non-uniformly spaced vines appear to be of varying age, most sporting big, old gnarly trunks, while others have a skinny, fledgling look – somewhat mismatched.  If you came in the fall, you might even notice the odd golden grape cluster amidst the sea of small, blue clusters.  It certainly does not exude precision or polish, but there is a beauty here that is homespun and palpable.

“Is this heaven?” you ask…no, this is St. Davids.

By now, you know the history of our original Five Rows of Pinot Noir (and the 15 rows planted a few years later) that inhabit this plot of land.  It has become my own personal “Field of Dreams”, a place that allows me to escape to a simpler time and iteration of our farm.  A time when you grew Vinifera vines like they were Labruscas, cluster thinning was considered a waste of valuable fruit and Leaf removal was when John Brophy pulled his goalie – a common occurrence in the 1980’s.

When I think of all the things we’ve done untraditionally or “wrong” over the years, it’s remarkable that our Pinot Noir Vineyard still churns out wines that are so alluringly similar to those from the Old World.  In fact, the 115 Clone might be the only thing about the vineyard that would be considered traditionally Burgundian.  The rest is pure Howie and Wilma Lowrey.

Each vintage, I set out to select the best representation of vines from that block to exemplify the terroir.  To that end, I feel like I’ve been chasing ghosts of Inniskillin Alliance since I started making my own Pinot back in 2007.  The 2018 Five Rows Pinot Noir might be the closest to that ultimately unreachable ideal that I’ve ever gotten – at least in its current state of drinking.  It took twelve years for it to happen, and I’m hesitant to even disclose my feelings on the matter, but I take inspiration from all the other winemakers that vinify our Pinot, who always seem to be way more excited about the fruit than I am.

The fall of 2018 was a tale of two vintages.  For the early ripening varietals like Pinot, it was pleasantly warm and dry at just the right time (See Syrah and Cab Sauv for the rest of the story).  I chose to harvest 1886kg of fruit from rows 1,2,3,4 and 8 based on previous success in similar vintages.  Fruit condition after sorting was exceptional for Pinot, so I opted for predominantly wild fermentation.  At dryness, the wine was transferred to one new barrel (Billon Select), two second-fill and two third-fill barrels for a span of 24 months.

Aromas:  cherry, strawberry, cinnamon hearts, cranberry, truffle

Palate:  dried cranberry, raspberry, vanilla; the lighter colour belies the depth of this wine; drink now or save for that special occasion in the next 5 to 10 years.

 

2018 Syrah

I’ve recently toyed with the notion of becoming a Cool-Climate Syrah Crusader based on the miracles I’ve witnessed.  At some point in every vintage I find myself doubtful that these vines will even produce a crop, never mind a decent wine, and they consistently prove me wrong.  2018 was the year that I witnessed Syrah turn (rain)water into great wine.

Just when you think everything couldn’t look better…

Is how I felt when mother nature pulled the rug out from under us in October of 2018.  The rains came fast and furious and so did the baffling disease pressure in the loose clusters of Syrah.  The berries started to shrivel and rapidly lose skin integrity right before our eyes.  Thankfully, the fruit was ripe enough (23 degrees brix) by October 10th for us to quickly get in and harvest the cleanest clusters we could find.

The initial prognosis was iffy at best, but as interesting flavours and aromas started to develop during fermentation, I couldn’t help but have my spirits lifted.  The resultant wine spent two years evolving in French Oak (20% new), and emerged as a striking “terroir beauty” to behold.

Aromas:  ripe dark fruit dominates, cherry, blackberry, spice, cured meat

Palate:  Bing cherry, sweet peppercorn, dark chocolate, coffee bean, savoury, smooth; drinking very well now, but could develop even more complexity over time.

 

2018 Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s now evident that the interesting mix of conditions we faced through the 2018 vintage (hot and dry early, wet late), ultimately did not have a negative effect on our Cabernet Sauvignon.  If anything, the wine that I was initially most worried about grew to become one of the more approachable and easy to drink Cabs we’ve ever released.

Easy to drink, maybe – but certainly not easy to make!

Foraging for ripe Cabernet Sauvignon berries and clusters is not something I recommend for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.  I set out to do just that in the late October days leading up to harvest, armed with flagging tape to mark the lucky vines and Tums to neutralize the acid in my stomach after consuming so many underripe berries.

We ended up with enough fruit from those flagged vines to fill one large fermenting bin (85%) and one small tank (15%).  The bin fermentation with FX10 yeast went off without a hitch, but the small, uninsulated tank just refused to start fermenting.  I re-inoculated with an experimental yeast for me (X-Pure), and the ferment eventually got rolling, but at a cooler temperature and slower pace than I’m usually comfortable with for reds.  The bin ferment was dry in five days, while the “little tank that could” took twice as long.

As you might have guessed, the wines produced in the two vessels were noticeably different.  The bin-fermented wine was much darker in colour and fuller-bodied, with tannic extraction typical of our previous Cabernet Sauvignons.  The slower, cooler tank fermentation was lighter in all aspects and showed a beautiful nose of red fruit.  It took a while for me to appreciate its contribution to the final blend, but the wine created in that little tank proved to be just the finishing touch needed to smooth the edges of this most interesting Cabernet Sauvignon.  86 cases were bottled on April 9th, 2021.

Aromas:  blueberry preserves, cassis, cherry, Kalamata olive

Palate:  cherry candy, raspberry; ripe and smooth for a young Cab Sauv, it should age gracefully for the next 5 years.

 

All three 2018 reds retail for $60/bottle and can be ordered at fiverows.com starting May 14th at 9am.

 

 

 

Friday, May 7th, 2021

2020 Sauvignon Blanc

When we look back at the 2020 vintage many years from now, it will simply be known as “The Ripe One”.

Each varietal on our farm exhibited unprecedented ripening parameters, but not in a way that made them one dimensional.  The Sauvignon Blanc was an interesting case study in this respect.  In most years, higher sugar in the berries (21.7 degrees Brix at harvest) would mean lower acid levels, but that was not true in 2020.  The TA at harvest on September 12th was a shade below 7 g/L, nearly ideal for the style we are after.

The amazing thing about the fruit from this vintage was just how clean it was given its ripeness.  I find that most tight-clustered varietals will start to show some level of breakdown around 19-20 degrees Brix, but we were spared that frustration in 2020.  It was probably the combination of higher TA, lower pH and lack of substantial precipitation that gave us some of the cleanest fruit I can remember.

We harvested 3566kg, yielding 2300L, which was cool fermented in a combination of neutral oak (80%) and tank (20%).  The excess sugar levels added length to the fermentation, resulting in typical SB aromatic intensity, more-rounded mouthfeel and slightly higher alcohol (13%) than most vintages.  The fermentation was stopped at an RS level of 7.6 g/L

Aromas:  “a visit to the tropics”, pineapple, vanilla, honeydew melon, lemon candy

Palate:  rich texture; can taste the ripe vintage, but it’s lifted by the familiar zip

 

2020 “Jean’s Block” Riesling

I’ve come regard Riesling as the one varietal that I can always count on.  It’s the humble, efficient workhorse that quietly goes about its business, vintage after vintage.  This vineyard was named in honour of my mother-in-law, Jean Tkaczyk, and perhaps its characteristics aren’t mere happenstance.

Convincing myself not to “overdo” the thinning and leaf removal in Riesling is usually the challenge.  The best wines from this block always seem to come from vines that look a little heavy and leafy to my discerning eye.  Exercising this restraint proves important in the development of aromatic and flavour compounds, as well as in preserving natural acidity.

However, leaving a denser canopy and a few extra clusters can add to disease pressure due to restricted air flow.  Thankfully, the 2020 vintage was less punishing in this respect and we were able to hang the Riesling longer, cleaner and riper.  The fruit tested 21.1 degrees Brix when it was harvested on September 23rd.

Fermentation was conducted as cool as possible with two separate yeast strains for added complexity – W15 and X5.  Those wonderful smelling fermentations were finally stopped on October 30th with an RS level of 14.8 g/L.

Aromas:  intense and complex, floral, apple, pear, white peach

Palate:  gorgeous citrus fruit component, more noticeable texture than previous vintages, very slightly off-dry with ample acidity to balance

 

2020 Pinot Gris

My quest for clean and ripe Pinot Gris starts early in the growing season.

I pay particular attention to how the vines are pruned and the spatial arrangement of the buds on each cane.  Many would consider this overkill, but they aren’t the ones who have to deal with the consequences of trying to tame overgrown Pinot Gris canopies!

We train the Pinot Gris in a system known as VSP or “Vertical Shoot Positioning”, where the canes are tied horizontally along the training wire.  Theoretically, this should lead to a neatly spaced array of vertically growing shoots, but the Gris always seems to have other ideas.  Cane overlap is my pet peeve with VSP, as it always leads to crowding and poor air flow where the two cane ends criss-cross.

The plan in 2020 was to get on the thinning and shoot positioning early, before the inevitable chaos.  I’d like to say it was my cunning plan that made all the difference in how nicely the clusters turned out in this particular vintage, but the favourable growing conditions probably deserve the bulk of the credit.

Fruit was harvested on September 12th, then pressed and transferred to barrel (66%) and tank (33%) for fermentation.  The barrels were fermented with X5 and the tank with R2, both at 10-11C for about a month.  The wine was stopped at an RS level of 4.6 g/L.

Aromas:  apricot, honey, apple, pear, sweet spice

Palate:  flavours of vanilla, cream soda, spice; comes across fairly dry and balanced

 

The 2020 whites retail for $40/bottle and can be ordered at fiverows.com starting May 14th at 9am.

 

 

 

Thursday, April 29th, 2021

It occurred to me one evening, while trying to come up with an explanation for the complicated feelings I have about releasing new wines:  How many people get the opportunity to actually taste and share a year of their life?

Wine can be like a diary or growth rings on a tree – it tells the story (good and bad) of what happened in a defined window of time.  Perhaps that is why I find drinking my own wines to be such an intense, self-reflective experience, akin to critically looking at yourself in a mirror.

Would this wine be any different if I tried harder or, conversely, was more hands-off?  It’s obvious that vintage conditions and all things terroir are the ultimate variables in shaping a wine, but would any of my viticultural or winemaking decisions have been different if I was getting more sleep or eating better or invited more cooks into the kitchen?

Being intimately involved in all steps of the process, from the first pruning cuts to the final seal of wax atop the cork, the wine becomes a time capsule of that particular year of my life, something unique to our small winery.  Like it or not, you are getting a revealing view of yours truly every time you crack open a bottle of Five Rows wine.

I feel very lucky to have been able to share so many of my years.  Each evokes an immediate and distinct set of feelings – despite the obvious similarities in some wines from vintage to vintage.  It is why I often first associate a wine with the life events of that year, more so than the vintage conditions or how I feel the wine turned out.  A recent tasting of our 2007 Pinot Noir, the first ever Five Rows Pinot, showed unmistakable hints of “unbridled optimism” and “naiveté” that only a newly married, 30-year-old winemaker who just started his own winery could have created.

There is far more comfort in perceiving my new wines in this manner, as opposed to worrying about how they will be judged upon release.  As a winemaker, there is always a yearning for people to like what you make, but our job is to capture that snapshot in time, regardless of external circumstances.

The wine is the living story of that vintage and I am one of the characters central to it’s plot.  That story can evolve and change over time (as we all do), but the original setting and characters involved in its production remain the same.

In the end, I am both the biggest critic of my own wines and the one who gets the most nostalgia from drinking them.

 

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

Well, that was special.  It was almost like mother nature knew she owed us one.

I’ll preface by saying that all vintages are difficult undertakings that require a tremendous amount of patience and co-operation from all ends of the industry.  Some are beasts that we never wish to encounter again, while others are a little more forgiving and borderline enjoyable – but no vintage that I’ve ever experienced has gone as smoothly as 2020.

For months I’ve been afraid to verbalize my thoughts on our good fortunes, in fear that it would cause some catastrophic shift in the weather.  There were moments (hurricane tracking, sporadic hail) when it appeared that our luck may have run out, but somehow, each time the threat magically diminished.

In my experience, it is rare that a good stretch of summer weather for ripening grapes (warm, sunny, relatively dry, but not too dry!)  transitions smoothly and holds for an entire fall harvest.  In 2020, the smaller berry sizes and lower crop levels we saw were primarily the product of below average precipitation.  Unlike other dry years, however, we didn’t experience much in the way of drought stress or sustained stretches of mildew-inducing humidity.  All of these factors combined to give us some of the cleanest fruit we’ve ever harvested – across the board.

It was a year where everything seemed to ripen at once – making it much easier to line up our varietals for processing, given the seemingly endless days of perfect picking weather.  Admittedly, I come at things from a very small production winery perspective, so I’m sure there were logistical issues associated with having all varietals concurrently ripe that became difficult for larger wineries and growers.  Fortunately, few will ever complain about having to wait a bit longer to harvest their ripe, clean fruit – certainly not the birds!

At Five Rows, our vintage usually gets off to a fast start, with three early varietals that represent some of the first fruit harvested in the region: Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.  We then bide our time until the Riesling and Syrah are ready, while the Cabernet Sauvignon is hung until the very end of the season for maximum ripeness.  In 2020, the latter three varietals were all picked on dates much earlier than average – and all showed ripeness levels that we’ve rarely achieved.  I had to look twice at the refractometer when my first Syrah sample read 26 degrees Brix – was this St. David’s or the Barossa Valley!?

One would think that the ripest grapes always translate to the best wines, but personal experience tells me there is more to it than that.  Working with abnormally ripe fruit actually presents some new challenges when it comes to fermentation dynamics.  In a “cooler” climate like Niagara, we are used to harvesting grapes with ample acidity and relatively low pH, making it less favourable for undesirable microbes to flourish in the primary fermentation.  When the opposite proved true in 2020 (lower TA, higher pH), fruit cleanliness became the key to trusting our normal protocol of a spontaneous (“wild”) start to fermentation.  The higher initial sugar content in the grapes also leads to an increase in potential alcohol and longer fermentations, meaning particular attention had to be paid to yeast and malolactic bacteria viability.  There were a few stragglers, but eventually all of my fermentations arrived at a nice, dry endpoint.

It’s early days yet, but the 2020 reds seem like they could have a bright future ahead.  Their obvious ripeness is sure to be the initial attention grabber, but their overall balance and familiar Lowrey Vineyard aromatics will tell the story of a special vintage form a unique place.  A place where we can ripen a wide range of varietals and still make elegant, terroir-expressing wines.

I am far too grizzled a grape grower to think that the stretch of conditions we experienced in 2020 could happen again in my lifetime, but I do feel it bodes well for future vintages.  There will always be an underlying fear of extreme weather events, but to know that all six of our varietals hit peak ripeness levels in one singular vintage is a very exciting prospect.

Thankfully, not all things arriving in 2020 turned out so bad after all (just the vast majority).

 

 

 

 

Friday, August 7th, 2020

Welcome back!

The new wines are finally in bottle and I couldn’t be more excited to share them with all those who’ve been patiently awaiting their release.  The pre-orders are flooding in, the labels are being written and now we begin the monumental task of waxing, labelling and shipping a year’s worth of wine in the shortest time possible.  The Five Rows team is certainly up to the task!

For obvious COVID-related safety reasons and wine distribution logistics, we have opted to keep our barn closed to tastings for the remainder of 2020.  Although we are truly saddened not to be able to offer our normal tasting experience, we hope that all will understand how critical the health of our small team is to the continued operation of our vineyard and winery.

On a much happier note, we will soon be unveiling an updated fiverows.com website, fully equipped with an online store.  I realize as I write this that most of the new wines might already be spoken for, but selling through the remaining inventory will be a good test project for managing online sales in future releases.  My worry is that an online store may be a little less generous than Wilma when it comes to Sauv Blanc limits, but we will strive to find a happy medium!

As always, orders can still be sent to wines@fiverows.com until the website is up and running.

For those who’ve been with us from the beginning, my hope is that the new website will feel both contemporary and familiar at the same time.  This Blog, the Provenance bottle registry and much of the content will be the same, but the addition of the online store and a proper mobile version should make purchasing our wines a more user friendly endeavour.

Many thanks to Barry and his team at Insite Design for helping us adapt to a new decade and a new reality.  The nostalgic in me will be saddened to see the old site go, as it represented the true beginnings of our brand and a time of limitless possibilities.  Thankfully, the software may have gotten a little dated, but the original vision of the designers still inspires a confidence in us to keep chasing those limitless possibilities into a new decade.

 

 

 

Friday, August 7th, 2020

2017 Syrah

Hand-harvesting for the 2017 Syrah took place on October 27th, with about 900 kg sourced from each of our Clones: 7 and 100.  The fermentations were conducted in open top bins and manually punched down three times daily.  They were allowed to initiate spontaneously after a 4-day cold soak, then inoculated with RX60 (Clone 100) and XPure (Clone 7) on day 6.

Both bins were pressed on November 13th, and then racked into five French Oak barrels (20% new oak).  Malolactic fermentation took place in barrel and the wine was aged in oak for 24 months.

This wine showcases the familiar Lowrey Syrah aromas of black raspberry, cherry, smoked meat and peppercorn.  Surprisingly smooth and drinkable at this stage, it features the typical Syrah savouriness along with good balancing acid to compliment the ripe dark fruit flavours.  It should become even more expressive with a year or two in bottle.

Price:  $60

 

2017 Cabernet Sauvignon

On November 14th, 2017 we hand-harvested 1771 kg of beautiful Cab from a combination of rows 7-10 & 16 in our Clone 169 Block and rows 11 & 12 in our Old Block.  The fruit was very clean, but the stems were a little brittle on picking day due to a heavy frost sustained the night before.  Although not great for maintaining green foliage, a few nights of freezing temperatures in the fall can actually have a beneficial concentrating affect on the berries.

The fermentations were allowed to start spontaneously after a 4-day cold soak, then inoculated with FX10 (Clone 169) and F15 (Old Block) on day 6. Peak fermentation temperature reached 30C, and the bins were pressed after 16 total days on the skins.  Aging and malolactic fermentation were carried out in French oak (20% new) for 24 months.

Aromas include a dark fruit component of black raspberry, plum jam and cherry, as well as some floral undertones.  Well-balanced, bright fruit shines through on the palate, but the underlying tannic structure is the secret sauce of this ageworthy Cab.  Tannins will likely soften in 1-2 years and it should start to peak by 2025.

Price:  $60

 

2017 Pinot Noir

The favourable vineyard conditions in 2017 allowed for a later than average harvest date for Pinot Noir.  It’s rare that we can hang Pinot into October, but most times we do have resulted in memorable wines (think 2009).

We chose to hand-harvest 2484 kg of fruit from rows 2, 3, 4, 5 & 12 of our Old Block on October 3rd, 2017.  The large, tight clusters were sorted three times on their way to three separate one-tonne bins, and fermentations were allowed to start spontaneously after a 4-day cold soak at 15C.  One bin was allowed to ferment wild, one was inoculated at 1/3 sugar depletion with RC212 and the other with W15.  All bins were pressed after a total time of 15 days on the skins, then racked to barrel and inoculated with malolactic strain MBR31.  The wine was housed in French oak (28% new) for 24 months.

The 2017 Pinot Noir features terroir-driven notes of wild strawberry, cherry, truffle and violets.  Tannins are smooth initially, allowing you to take in the flavours and texture, then pick-up in intensity near the finish to extend the length and invite another exploratory sip.

I’m excited to see if this Pinot evolves as interestingly as those from other cooler vintages. Could be a candidate for long term cellaring (2025-2027).

Price: $60

 

2019 Riesling

The 2019 vintage will be remembered for its abundances.  Primarily the abundant rainfall, which led to dense canopies, tight clusters and heavy disease pressure in all varietals.  Botrytis removal was a full time job in the days leading up to harvest, just to assure the grapes would be acceptable to ferment!  Luckily, Riesling is one varietal where a little bit of botrytis is the norm, and something we take into account when crafting our particular style.

Pressed juice was 100% fermented in stainless steel with two separate yeast strains: W15 (55%) and X5 (45%). Tanks were fermented cool (10C) for 37 days and stopped slightly off-dry (specific gravity 1.005) to balance the ample natural acidity – another abundance in 2019!

The 2019 “Jean’s Block” Riesling exhibits intense aromas of white peach, apple, pear and honeysuckle. It is refreshing yet balanced, and relatively full-bodied for a Riesling. The interesting texture might be the result of extended lees aging and the minor botrytis influence.

It is best enjoyed slightly chilled at 50-60F. I took the liberty of trying many bottles at many different temperatures to make this determination. This is as close to a Five Rows “Winemaker’s favourite” as I’ve ever been willing to admit.

Price:  $40

 

2019 Sauvignon Blanc

What is it that makes our Sauvignon Blanc unique?

This is a question I’ve been asked with great regularity over the years, but always chalked it up to the fact that many people hadn’t tried Niagara Sauvignon Blanc before.  As the years roll by, and more people continue to inquire about this wine they can’t believe is from a vineyard in St. David’s, I am starting to realize there might be more to the story – so lets dig in.

It always starts with terroir.  There is a uniqueness to where these grapes are grown that is evident in the differences between our “Young” and “Old” blocks, planted a mere lane width away from each other.  One resides in heavy clay and the other clay-loam.  Remarkably, the fruit is vastly different in both flavour and ripening profile.  Blended together they always make for a more complex wine.

In the vineyard, I tend to train and thin Sauvignon Blanc (and Pinot Gris for that matter) more like red varietals – with lower crop levels, good exposure, and “social distancing” of clusters to minimize disease.

Then there are the magic old barrels.  I used to be embarrassed to admit I’ve been using the same barrels for ten years without properly sterilizing them (we don’t have a barrel washer), but I’m starting to think that these tartrate-laden vessels might be part of the reason our Sauv Blanc smells and tastes so distinctive.

In 2019, equal amounts of fruit were harvested from our Young and Old blocks on September 21st, with ideal parameters for crafting aromatic and lively Sauv Blanc (19.2 degrees Brix, 7.88 g/L TA).  I chose to ferment 80% of the juice in mostly older French oak (12% new) and the remaining 20% in stainless steel.

Everything was inoculated with yeast strain X5 and the barrel-fermented portion went through partial spontaneous malolactic fermentation. All vessels were fermented cool (10 C) for 27 days and stopped at a specific gravity of 0.998.

Due to the COVID-related delay in bottling, this wine was nervously barrel aged for 2 months longer than initially planned.  Thankfully, the extra bulk aging time seemed to benefit the aromatic complexity and overall texture of this wine.

It features intense notes of ripe pineapple, starfruit and lime along with great natural acidity. Best served between 55-65F.

Price:  $40

 

2019 Pinot Gris

Roughly 1500 kg were harvested on September 21th, following a stretch of hot, humid conditions that had been absent for the majority of summer.

The rare luxury in 2017 was being able to harvest the Pinot Gris with good natural acidity (TA = 8.7 g/L) to balance the ripe flavour components in the juice. 80% of the juice was fermented in neutral French oak barrels and 20% in stainless steel.

Two different yeast strains (X5, R2) were used to ferment cool (9C) over 26 days, and stopped at a specific gravity of 0.998. Partial spontaneous malolactic fermentation took place in the barrel-fermented portion of wine.

The appearance of this Pinot Gris is unmistakable, with its golden straw colour and light pinkish hue. The aromas come in subtle layers: I get Honeycrisp apple, apricot, vanilla and fresh melon, but you’ll probably pick out a few more.

This wine is best served at 55-65F to highlight its balance and wonderful Pinot Gris texture.

Price: $40

 

 

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

For eleven years now, my entire month of March has been spent preparing our new wines for bottling and summertime release.  I always look forward to this task, as it represents the culmination of many years of work and the chance to finally share those wines.

Our annual bottling date with the mobile line has always fallen in the last week of March or first week of April, giving us plenty of time to get the wines VQA approved and labelled before release.  This year, our scheduled date was April 1st (no joke).  A stickler for routine, I dutifully prepared my wines with blinders on until, thankfully, someone wiser than I provided some welcome perspective – I needed to stop and smell the Sauv Blanc.  Although we were technically still allowed to assemble a large enough crew to bottle, it just didn’t feel like the right thing to do, given the uncertainty surrounding viral spread.  Despite my initial hesitation to postpone bottling, doing our small part to keep the virus at bay became a no-brainer.

So, unfortunately, those eager wines did not make it to bottle on the early hours of April Fool’s day, and I am left with the queasy feeling of holding onto inventory longer than anticipated.  There are intertwined concerns of letting people down, wine stability, temperature control, tank space and a looming summer without visitors.

On the flip side, I can’t discount that for some of the wines, this slight delay might actually be a good thing.  Although my ego tells me that I had the wines exactly where I wanted them, perhaps some extended bulk aging could prove beneficial – tannins are still being refined, flavours developing, aromatics building.

I always figured that bottling all of our varietals in one day was risky, but never anticipated a situation like this.  Thankfully, the folks at Hunter Bottling have been more than accommodating, offering us a make-up date in July when things have hopefully settled down.

A wine bottling delay really isn’t anything to complain about in the grand scheme of things, so I’ve trained myself to think of all the great wines I’ve heard tale of through the years that were the result of unplanned “innovation”.  Sometimes it takes extenuating circumstances to get people to think outside the box and try new things.  That said, I’ll probably rack my Sauv Blanc out of barrel sometime soon…just to be safe!

 

Monday, May 4th, 2020

In a time of tremendous uncertainty and worry, I find myself taking solace in the simple things that I took for granted before…like being able to write a journal entry while sipping a fantastic glass of wine that I didn’t make.

Since I last wrote, there have been a few noteworthy events in our life:  another vintage in the books, a new niece, a move, a renovation, another move, and an Ada.  Oh, Ada….

We welcomed our second daughter (Ada Elizabeth) in the wee hours of January 2nd, 2020.  She arrived with an abundance of spunk and cuteness, but also a few unexpected challenges.  We were suddenly thrust into a situation that I was totally unprepared for emotionally.  Thankfully, she was born long enough before the arrival of COVID-19 to allow her to receive amazing care from the neonatal staff at McMaster Children’s Hospital.  She is not completely out of the woods yet, but her vulnerable little head has healed enough for us all to breathe a little easier.  Seeing her grow and thrive over the last four months has given me a shot of inspiration when I really needed it.

Luckily for Ada, she has a strong mother with great wound care skills, three doting grandparents, a cousin very close in age and one extremely excited sister.  Unluckily for said sister Frances, she’s had to endure much more time with a father ill-prepared for full time child care in a pandemic.  You may find this hard to believe, but she now insists that I pretend to be “Grumpy Bear” or “Grumpy Dwarf” when we play together, while she is always Sunshine Bear and Snow White, of course!

My treasured days in the vineyard have been few and far between of late, as two kids tend to require two parents (should have seen that one coming).  The days I do manage to get out there are, admittedly, a welcome change of pace.  It turns out that growing kids is way harder than growing grapes.

My hope is that Ada will read this one day and wonder what all the fuss was about, but I also worry that the current reality may linger into her world going forward.  We will do our best to adjust to the new normal both as parents and as wine growers, embracing the challenges and endeavoring to craft wines that help everyone else feel a little less Grumpy.

 

 

 

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019

As my two year old daughter continues to grow up faster than I can fathom, I find myself fixated on how much of her current life she will actually retain as memory.  This leads to a wide array thoughts:  what are my own earliest memories?  does she have any idea why people like wine?  is it too early to teach her how to sucker grapes?  (come to think of it, not remembering that job would actually be advantageous)

One thing Frances and I certainly share is a special relationship with our grandparents – and this ties into my earliest memories at the age of three.  I have hazy notions of time spent at the farms of two sets of grandparents and accompanying them on vacations up north.  I’m sure my recollections of those times have been shaped by listening to family stories over the years, but I treasure them nonetheless.  Perhaps my first vivid, individual memory involves my parents bringing my baby sister home from the hospital when I was four, and soon Frances will get to experience that same life-changing moment.

Not surprisingly, most of my other early memories are either farm or tractor related.  I often recall being put to bed with the late summer sun still shining, while my dad was finishing his tractor work within earshot of my bedroom window.  I wished (and probably cried) that I could’ve been out there with him, and to this day I find the sound of a tractor very soothing, almost reassuring.  I guess Frances comes by her own fascination with Grandpa and his tractor very naturally!

To that end, it has become abundantly clear that in her world I am just a conduit to the “real farmers”: Grandma and Grandpa.  Frances doesn’t seem overly impressed that I play a minor role in the farm and winery operation, instead she fancies me as more of a farm chauffeur, ferrying her back and forth to her beloved St. David’s wonderland.  She has a certain way of keeping my ego in check that manages to be both cute and matter of fact, “No Dada, those are Grandpa’s grapes.”  I’ve been forced to learn the hard way that there is perhaps no more fruitless cause than trying to impress a two year old with your knowledge of terroir.

The times we spend together now may or may not form her first memories, but I will derive no greater joy than watching her continue to develop her own special bond with the “real farmers”.

 

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

2016 Syrah

The surprise reaction to our 2015 Syrah (you had to be in the barn to catch the unmistakable “Syrah double-take”) has many people curious about what is in store for 2016.  In fact, you can hear a thorough breakdown of our 2015 Syrah at the 33:20 mark on this episode of Two Guys Talking Wine – a fun podcast with André Proulx and Michael Pinkus.

Hand-harvesting for the 2016 Syrah took place on October 11th, with about 1000 kg sourced from each of our Clones (7 and 100).  The fermentations were conducted in open top bins and manually punched down three times daily.  They were allowed to initiate spontaneously after a four day cold soak, then inoculated with RX60 (Clone 100) and FX10 (Clone 7) on day 6.  Both bins were pressed after a total time of 14 days on the skins, then racked to barrel and inoculated with malolactic bacteria MBR31.  The wine was aged in French oak (20% new) for 24 months.

Early on, I worried the 2016 Syrah would come across so ripe that it would be considered more of a one-off vintage than a typical example of our cool-climate style.  But as the wine evolved in barrel, I became more excited about its prospects of becoming something unique, yet familiar at the same time.  This complex Syrah comes at you with aromas of dark fruit, sweet peppercorn, and floral notes.  It is both ripe and savoury on the palate, with surprisingly smooth tannins; should age well to 2024.

Production:  133 cases

Price:  $55

 

2016 Cabernet Sauvignon

Based on the sheer number of inquires we’ve fielded on it’s release date, the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most anticipated red wines we’ve bottled in recent memory.

On November 9th, 2016, we hand-harvested 1500 kg of beautiful Cab from a combination of rows 8, 9, 10, 12 and 13 in our Clone 169 Block and rows 8 & 13 in our “Old Block” –  and in retrospect, I wish we had kept a few more rows for ourselves!

The fermentations were allowed to start spontaneously after a four day cold soak, then inoculated with FX10 (Clone 169) and F15 (Old Block) on day 6.  Peak fermentation temperature reached 30 C, and the bins were pressed after 15 total days on the skins.  Aging was carried out in French oak (25% new) for 24 months.

I’m of two minds on the 2016 Cab Sauv, in that it is showing very well right now – much smoother than similar versions at release (2007, 2010, 2012) – but I do feel this wine will only improve and blossom with age.  I can say this with much more confidence than I used to, based on the feedback we’ve received from the many people aging our Cab’s going back to 2004.

Showcasing an abundance of the classic cherry and cassis notes associated with our terroir, this wine smells as intense as it tastes.  There is a richness to the palate, with good balancing acidity and evolved tannic structure.  It should age well to 2025 and, perhaps, beyond!

Production:  108 cases

Price:  $55

 

2016 Pinot Noir

It stands to reason that the most difficult years to craft good Pinot Noir are usually the best years for later varieties like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Namely, it’s easy to overdo your Pinot when they are rapidly ripening in the hottest part of the summer (think 2007 vintage versus 2009).  Leaning on past experience, I took steps to delay the maturation process in 2016 – with a later thinning of green clusters (post-veraison) and less intense leaf removal.

All of these efforts did not go unnoticed, as in my harvest notes I have scribbled:  “By far the cleanest we’ve ever picked”  – Wilma

The advantage of older vines vs. younger vines was also apparent in 2016, as we saw the fruit in our younger block (Clone 777) ripen quicker and lose acidity much faster than our older block (Clone 115).  We chose to hand-harvest 2500 kg from rows 2, 3, 4, 8, 9 and 14 of our Old Block on September 13th, 2016.  The clusters were sorted three times on the way to three separate one-tonne bins, and fermentations were allowed to start spontaneously after a four day cold soak at 15 C.  Each bin was then inoculated with cultured yeast at 1/3 sugar depletion to aid in finishing fermentation (65% RC212, 35% W15).  All bins were pressed after a total time of 15 days on the skins, then racked to barrel and inoculated with malolactic strain MBR31.  The wine was housed in French oak (30% new) for 24 months.

The end result is an elegant Pinot from a hot vintage, with ample acidity and tannins that should help it develop in bottle.  Ripe with familiar, terroir-driven notes of wild strawberry, cranberry, cherry, truffle and spices, it should age well to 2024.

Production:  161 cases

Price:  $55

 

2018 Sauvignon Blanc

I embrace the opportunity to work with Sauvignon Blanc as a varietal, but over the years it has proven to be a wine of unforeseen challenges and pressure.

First there are the viticultural challenges.  Canopy management and vine balance proved to be those hurdles in 2018 –   creating adequate fruit exposure to combat the higher disease pressure, but not so much to bake the berries in the scorching heat.  Thankfully, no irrigation was needed in these deep-rooted old vines, which was advantageous in weathering the dry conditions we faced in May, June and July.

Each year the harvest timing decision in our Sauv Blanc is ultimately made on flavour development in the berries, which – like acidity levels – can vanish overnight if you are not careful.  Our rows were harvested on September 4th, with ideal parameters for crafting aromatic and lively Sauv Blanc (20.4 degrees Brix, 8.0 g/L TA).

Then there are the stylistic challenges (i.e. the pressure to get it right!).  Based on what has worked in previous ripe vintages, I chose to ferment 75% of the juice in neutral French oak and the remaining 25% in stainless steel.  Everything was inoculated with X5 yeast, and went through partial spontaneous malolactic fermentation.  All vessels were fermented cool (9 C) for 25 days and stopped at a specific gravity of 0.998.

Finally there are the logistical challenges.  We produced 220 cases of 2018 Sauv Blanc, by far our largest bottling, but I anticipate that will not be quite enough to meet the demand.  So why not just make more?  For starters, it is difficult to source clean, previously used white wine barrels.  The seven older barrels I currently use average ten years of age, and will need to be gradually replaced in the near future.  Incorporating a brand new barrel into the fray might be necessary, but at what cost to my preferred style?  I’m hoping the answer lies in a new barrel I’ve sourced (“Piano” – by Tonnellerie Rousseau) that comes highly recommended for it’s gentle treatment of aromatic whites.

These are the things I wrestle with up until I sample the recently bottled 2018 Sauv Blanc and realize that a wine of challenges and pressure has somehow become a wine of relief.

Production:  220 cases

Price:  $35

 

2018 Pinot Gris

Our Pinot Gris block is currently the smallest of our plantings.  Just an acre or so of vines, struggling away in the heaviest clay on our farm.  Although generally beneficial for wine quality, the clay soil has led to inconsistent vine vigour issues over the years.

I’ve never minded the small size of the block, as Pinot Gris is my nemesis when it comes to disease pressure, vine upkeep and training…so, of course, we’ve decided to plant more in 2019!  I will no doubt regret this decision on many occasions in the future, but for now I will bask in the joy of young vines and untapped potential.  Expect to taste this fruit sometime after 2021.

The warm, dry summer of 2018 helped produce some very ripe, thick-skinned Pinot Gris by early September. About 2000 kg were harvested on September 4th, after three days of painstaking Botrytis removal (not an easy task in PG!).  We chose to pick at an optimal TA level (7.7 g/L) to avoid having to supplement with tartaric acid.  60% of the juice was fermented in neutral French oak barrels and 40% in stainless steel.  The yeasts we chose to use were: R2 (for texture and flavour) and X5 (aromatic development).  It was fermented cool (9 C) for 21 days, and stopped at a specific gravity of 0.998.  Partial spontaneous malolactic fermentation took place in the barrel-fermented portion of wine.

The thicker skins are evident in the pinkish-gold colour and unmistakable texture of this wine, which also features aromas of apricot, baked peach, honey and vanilla.

Production:  135 cases

Price:  $35

 

2018 “Jean’s Block” Riesling

I was caught a little off guard by how fast the Riesling ripened in 2018.  I usually count on a few weeks between the end of the early whites and onset of Riesling, but the steadily rising sugar content, crashing acidity and mounting botrytis threat led to an abnormally early harvest date of September 17.

If you were ever going to craft a Riesling with a slight botrytis-affected component, this was the year.  Ask anyone in the industry just how quickly and intensely their Riesling and other mid-season whites were sucked into a black hole of rot, and they will shudder at the thought.  Our vineyards were stagnant with humid air for the whole second half of September.

This called for many pre-harvest days spent dropping affected clusters and berries before being comfortable with fruit condition.  The general rule of thumb is that 5% is an acceptable level of botrytized berries, but even 1% makes me nervous – mainly for filtration purposes.  Having said all of that, there can be good things about having a tiny bit of botrytis in your white wine, such as increased aromatic complexity, that might be apparent to some in the 2018 Riesling.

Pressed juice was 100% fermented in stainless steel with two separate yeast strains: W15 (55%) and X5 (45%).  Tanks were fermented cool (9 C) for 28 days and stopped slightly off-dry, at a specific gravity of 1.005, to balance the ample natural acidity.

The 2018 “Jean’s Block” Riesling exhibits a showy nose of floral, fruity and mineral elements; with hints of orange blossom, fuzzy peach candy and green apple.

Production:  135 cases

Price:  $35

The Five Rows Barn is set to re-open on weekends starting June 1st, 2019.  See you soon!