Please see my Five Rows Winemaker’s Journal for all future posts. Thanks for reading!
A Walk With Thomas
The 2019 Five Rows Pinot Noir is still in its infancy, but it has the potential to become one of the most exciting expressions of our terroir that we’ve released to date. The journey to attaining this precocious potential was harrowing at times, but ultimately very rewarding.
Every year, there comes a time when I am at my wits’ end with Pinot Noir. To those around me it’s a predictable and annoying phase that I’m convinced they refer to as “his rotten Pinot days”, behind my back.
It usually falls somewhere near the end of veraison, at the first sign of a rotting cluster. Inevitably, I manage to convince myself that all the work leading up to that exact moment had been in vain, and continuing the efforts would surely be a waste of time. The daunting nature of the situation lies in the amount of time still required to properly ripen the fruit before harvest. Successfully navigating those remaining weeks is always challenging – even in the years when the weather does co-operate!
The reliable voice of reason is always my father. His steadying emotional keel is usually enough to steer me back to the grind of thinning out undesirable clusters from the vineyard. This time, however, when he innocently reminds me not to worry, that this happens every year – he is met with a snappy retort of, “exactly why, then, do we still do this?”
In 2019, I had reached that boiling point during the second week of September after four straight days of rain. The Pinot were starting to go downhill, but not quite ripe enough to consider harvesting. Little did I know that my rejuvenation would come in the form of a tall Pinot soothsayer who had stopped by for our annual tasting walk through the Old Block.
My relationship with Thomas Bachelder goes back to when he was starting out with Le Clos Jordanne and I was finishing my Master’s Degree in Viticulture at Brock University. From the first time we met, I was struck by his knowledge of all things Pinot and how much he already knew about my family vineyard. Our shared passion for Pinot has been a connection ever since, eventually leading to Thomas making his own wine from our vineyard starting in 2011.
There are many benefits to having Thomas make wine from your grapes, but I treasure our pre-harvest walk and chats the most. In September of 2019, it may have indeed saved the vintage – or at least restored my sanity. He arrives in a whirlwind of phone calls and consulting-related tasks (he somehow navigates vintages in multiple countries at once) and is usually out of the car and tasting berries before I am able to catch up with him.
I eventually get swept into his gravitational pull and he manages to reinvigorate, educate and praise me all in one tasting swoop of a few rows. We compare notes on the current growing season, previous vintages, Pinot Noir clones, Karl Kaiser, harvest logistics, the effect of rain on Pinot, expressing terroir vs chasing overripe characters, the potential evils of chaptalization, berry skin thickness and, finally, how I should stop referring to our 2007 planting as the “Young Block”. This all takes place in about 15 minutes – the full Thomas experience.
Ultimately, it reminds me not to look at things under a pessimistic microscope, but rather to embrace the macro, bigger picture. He looks at the entire block in relation to its terroir expression, while I tend to focus on the effect of a few teetering, less than perfect clusters that will probably get sorted out anyways.
I’m not sure that Thomas has any “rotten Pinot days”, but he certainly helped me escape mine on that September day in 2019.
The fruit for this wine was harvested on October 1st, and sourced predominantly (90%) from our original five rows. It was a pleasure to watch this wine evolve over its long 24 months in barrel; from its fruity and tight origins through opening up to become an intriguing combination of red fruit (cherry, cranberry), floral nuances and noticeable, terroir-driven minerality.
In its current state, this Pinot starts smooth on the palate with late grip and a lingering finish. Flavours include strawberry, raspberry, mocha and vanilla. It is always difficult for me to advise not drinking a wine now, but I feel this one could be particularly ageworthy – perhaps to 2030 and beyond.
One of the true joys of being both a farmer and a winemaker, is that one transitional day when the two jobs collide. Tasting the fruit and making the decision when to harvest can simultaneously prove to be both nerve-racking and a relief. The farmer mindset is nearly always “get them off ASAP”, while the winemaker is more obliged to “let them hang”.
I get to wear both hats at Five Rows, so vetoing the decision either way tends to be a little less contentious. It does not, however, preclude me from massive bouts of second guessing and remorse. To that end, there are a couple of coping methods I’ve employed in recent years to aid in arriving at harvest timing decisions a little more confidently.
The first is to seek the advice of as many of my farmer and winemaker colleagues as possible. How are things looking to them? Have they harvested any of that particular varietal yet? Do the crop level or conditions in this vintage remind them of any others? If so, how did the wines turn out? What are some techniques for dealing with fruit harvested a little early or hung a little too late?
The second method is splitting picking dates – i.e., harvesting a portion of the crop early and hanging the rest until after the troubling weather forecast. My tendency has been to err on the side of good fruit condition over the years, but I’ve become a little more willing to roll the dice with split picks in the last few vintages. This could involve flagging individual vines or entire rows depending on the varietal and block. Perhaps the most interesting case study in this respect was the 2019 Syrah.
We grow two different Syrah clones on our farm (7 and 100), each inhabiting a unique plot of soil. The Clone 7 is planted a little further north, in heavier clay, while the more vigorous Clone 100 vines can be seen lining the driveway in to our barn. The decision to split the picking dates in late October 2019 was based on the rapid onset of Botrytis and looming rain.
The fruit for the first bin was harvested from a combination of the cleanest rows in both blocks. After some rain and a week of drying out and bonus ripening time, the second “later harvest” bin was filled predominantly with fruit from Clone 7, which tends to stave off Botrytis a little longer than Clone 100 on our site, due to slightly less vigour and increased distance from the headlands.
The early bin (cleaner, higher TA) was given a little longer cold-soak and allowed to start fermenting wild, while the later picked bin (riper, softer skins) was inoculated with RX60 yeast after a four day soak. The bins were pressed to separate barrels (100% French, 20% new oak) after 15 total days on the skins.
There were some jitters about the split pick decision early on, as the higher acidity in the “early pick” barrels (pre-malolactic fermentation, mind you) was evident, but it was so clean and varietally pure (red fruit, spice, pepper) that I held out hope.
When it came time to blend, the two picks came together harmoniously, complementing one another and zigging where the other zagged. It proved to me that there is more than one way to make a complex wine.
Aromas include blackberry, cherry and pepper. This drinkable Syrah comes across smooth and ripe on the palate with flavours of dark chocolate and sweet peppercorn. It will continue to soften and open up in bottle – best enjoyed 2023 to 2028.
2019 Cabernet Sauvignon
2019 Cabernet Sauvignon
It takes guts to grow a late-ripening varietal like Cabernet Sauvignon in a place like Canada.
At least that’s what I tell myself every year around the first week of September, in an internal pep talk of sorts, when there are still a few green berries in my Cabernet clusters and every other varietal is fully through veraison.
A real-world analogy to this situation would be being confident in your seemingly independent 4-year-old’s maturity level, until one day they come home from school with a craft-scissor hairstyle and you realize that they weren’t quite as mature as you gave yourself credit for. There is a gut-wrenching moment of reckoning, followed by the realization that there is a lot more work to do than you initially thought. The irony here, of course, is that both situations require a lot more cutting to remedy the problem.
When I look back at my notes for the 2019 vintage, the first thing I have written is “very wet year – 50% meant 100% PoP”. There aren’t many other entries in those notes that are fit for print, so let’s focus on the positives!
Some of my favourite Cabernet Sauvignon wines, over the years, have come from “cooler” vintages. Providing that the vines were properly thinned and allowed to hang to the bitter end of the season, they show remarkable ability to ripen fruit. It is in those cooler vintages where the St. David’s Bench really demonstrates its versatility in regard to Terroir. The SDB can give you the heavy hitter Cabs of 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2016; while managing to offer a somewhat more elegant version in years like 2019.
Call me a sucker for the underdog, but I tend to gravitate to some elements of the cooler vintage Cabs – especially when aged to perfection. The combination of slightly higher acidity and brighter red fruit components is right up my alley.
The 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon was hand-harvested on November 5th, with 48 picking boxes sourced from our Clone 169 Block and 110 boxes from our Old Block (mixed clones). The fruit was allowed to cold-soak for five days before warming for fermentation. The bins were dry within five days and achieved peak fermentation temperature of 32C. Four French Oak barrels (one new) were filled after pressing and the wine was allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation in barrel. After spending 24 months in oak and 6 months bulk aging in tank, 108 cases were bottled on April 25th, 2022.
Far from reaching its peak, this young wine is loaded with aromas of red licorice, wild blueberry and cassis. There is a familiar, oak-related spice which I usually associate with Radoux medium toast barrels, that is carried harmoniously through the aromatics to the palate. This wine has the potential to age well for 7-10 years (2029-2032).
2021 Sauvignon Blanc
2021 Sauvignon Blanc
Time flies when you’re having fun.
It’s difficult for me to fathom that I’ve been making wine from Sauvignon Blanc grapes for 15 years. Never once in my formative years on the farm had I ever thought, “Sauvignon Blanc, that’s the ticket!”
I give all the credit to the brain trust at Creekside Estate Winery, circa 1998. Whether it was Peter, Marcus, Rob or Craig (or likely a combo of the four) who convinced my parents to plant this notoriously winter sensitive and vigorously growing varietal, I am the ultimate beneficiary.
It has been a pleasure to see those vines flourish and mature over the years, despite the odd re-trunking winter disaster (2004, 2014). Tending to two distinct blocks of Sauvignon Blanc (heavy clay vs. sand/loam/clay) has illustrated to me just how sensitive these vines can be to specific vineyard conditions. As the vines have aged, I’ve noticed that they tend to handle extreme stress situations better than they used to. The varied nutritional and canopy management needs of the two blocks took a while to ascertain, but I feel like we’ve gotten enough reps now to be confident in our practices.
Consequently, making the wine from this fruit is no longer as stressful as it used to be. The consistency of the vineyard has a lot to do with that. I have developed trust that my fermentations will produce those familiar aromatics that fill the barn with tropical delights, and that time spent in my treasured French oak barrels will enhance the structure and flavour profile.
The real decision is when to integrate new barrels into the portfolio. I’ve always opted to ferment and age about 80% of our Sauv Blanc in very neutral, 10-12-year-old barrels. Eventually those barrels need to be replaced, so I try to do so with something gentle that will complement the overall blend. In 2021, that newbie was a DAMY barrel with a special “Light-Long ++ Toast” that aims to “soften the initial presence of the oak and elevate the integration and harmony between the fruit, oak and toast.” Coopers have a way of making these things sound romantic that I will always be a sucker for.
The 2021 Sauvignon Blanc was harvested on September 13th. The fruit was pressed and racked to nine barrels and one tank. Fermentations were carried out with X5 yeast at about 8-9 degrees C. After 30 days, the vessels had reached my desired specific gravity level of 0.998. The barrel potion went through partial malolactic fermentation prior to bentonite fining and filtration. 248 cases were bottled on April 25th, 2022.
Collectors of Five Rows SB will likely note that this vintage falls somewhere between 2019 and 2020, stylistically speaking. In a way, you get the best of both worlds – the tropical ripeness of 2020 and the lively vein of natural acidity found in the 2019. Aromas and flavours include lemon, lime, gooseberry, melon and vanilla.
2021 Pinot Gris
2021 Pinot Gris
The 2021 Vintage was…well…hard to describe. I will do my best to shed some light on it from the unique perspective of my Pinot Gris. The following is their firsthand account, and yes, grapes can talk if you are willing to listen.
Coming off a growing season like 2020, that even the crotchetiest of farmers and winemakers would agree was a spectacular one off, we were surely bound for a letdown in 2021…or were we?
The spring and summer of 2021 was splendid, as our buds came out early and thrived in the warm and dry conditions. The crop did appear to be a little heavy, but nothing that we couldn’t handle ripening given the “2020” rose-coloured glasses of recent memory.
At first, we welcomed the abundance of precipitation in July, but suddenly that little bit of extra fruit became a quickly swelling burden that needed to be addressed with substantial cluster thinning. Veraison came early, near the end of July, when the first signs of what would come to haunt us later in the vintage, rode in on the choking humidity.
August was a hazy memory of 30+ degree heat and welcome sun, with a brief respite from the rain and humidity. All ripening parameters were progressing nicely as the calendar flipped to September. Idyllic warm days and cool nights lulled us into a false sense of security.
Scribbled in the caring vineyard manager’s notes for September 8th: “an obscene amount of rain overnight and through the next day, approx. 100 mm!”
Cue visions of exploding Pinot berries set to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
Miraculously, however, our berries did not explode. Within a week they had shed the excess water weight and were ready to harvest on September 13th. No one is quite sure just how this unprecedented rain event didn’t have more effect on the fruit condition, but there is some thought that much of the water ran off before absorption, and that perhaps it came at a time when things had started to shut down from the extreme heat. Whatever the case, we were extremely lucky to end up with fruit rivalling that harvested in 2020. Enjoy!
There is something uniquely tropical about this Pinot Gris compared to previous vintages. I get notes of baked banana, sweet coconut and lemon drop candy. It was left ever so slightly off-dry and has the familiar Pinot Gris weight and texture that I’ve grown to love.
One behind the curtain note is that this wine was the showstopper on filtration day. My Dad helps me with filtration every year, and it is often his first exposure to the wines. I try not to get overly emotional about his reactions, but I must confess to an inkling of pride that day when he complemented me on this Pinot Gris.
2021 “Jean’s Block” Riesling
Spending time within our 14-row block of Riesling can be a sublime experience. It is the easternmost planting on our farm and sits a stone’s throw away from the Four Mile Creek.
It is the place I escape to when I want to get furthest away from the winery, both physically and emotionally. There is something very soothing about the uniformly trained VSP trellis and vibrant green foliage and clusters.
I’m transported back to my early days on the farm, when the creek was our playground and pear and plum orchards surrounded this very spot. If I close my eyes, I can picture crews of local youth and family friends pitching in to scale rickety ladders, braving bees and poison ivy, to reach that last beautiful pear or plum atop the tree. The little ones were usually tasked with picking lower hanging fruit, something I grew to resent when I was deemed old enough to ascend that rickety ladder. Ahh yes…I can still feel that heavy 11-quart basket dangling from an annoyingly uncomfortable harness around my shoulders.
The “glamour” of modern-day grape farming is suddenly more apparent. I get to do this job in an era of grape harvesters that actually destem and sort grapes, GPS and GIS maps of soil composition, protecting windmills, air-conditioned tractors, podcasts and earbuds. There are still bees and poison ivy, but, thankfully, no ladders are involved.
The 2021 “Jean’s Block” Riesling was harvested on September 29th. The fruit composition numbers were just to my liking – 17.8 degrees Brix, TA 8.9 g/L, pH 3.09 – and most importantly, the fruit was relatively clean (for Riesling!).
The juice was fermented in tanks using two different yeasts, W15 and X5. After three weeks of cool fermenting, the tanks had reached the desired specific gravity of 1.004, just slightly off-dry. 94 cases were bottled on April 25th, 2022.
Somewhere along the line this wine morphed into all things peach; with notes of fresh peaches, peach blossoms, fuzzy peach candy and homemade peach pie. There are some other subtle floral and citrus aromatics hiding between the peach trees that make this Riesling as fun to nose as it is to drink.
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.
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.
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.
Tasting a Year of My Life
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.