“Abandoned to Dumb Idleness”

I struggle to describe what this time of year feels like for a grape grower.  You usually wake up in the morning in a state of panic: what am I picking today?  how is the weather?  how bad are the birds?  are there any leaves left on my vines?

Then reality inevitably sinks in.  Your grapes are off the vine and all you’re left with is an empty feeling of no longer being needed.  This should lead to a long and relaxing winter, but all those nagging jobs that were left behind during the busy season are still staring you in the face.  General clean-up, prepping the ground for winter, hilling up around vines, digging drainage ditches, and installing post and wire into newly planted fields are just a few of these tasks.

The working days are much shorter now and, frankly, so is my level of ambition.  I always felt guilty about this annual lack of drive until just recently.  I read a book entitled “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell on advice from my Uncle Don.  It was a great read and I was struck by one chapter in particular that described the life of vineyard workers in Burgundy many years ago.

Gladwell quotes historian Graham Robb from his book “The Discovery of France”:

An official report in 1844 described the strange mutation of the Burgundian day-laborer once the harvest was in and the vine stocks had been burned: “After making the necessary repairs to their tools, these vigorous men will now spend their days in bed, packing their bodies tightly together in order to stay warm and eat less food.”

Human hibernation was a physical and economic necessity.  Lowering the metabolic rate prevented hunger from exhausting supplies.  After the Revolution in Alsace and Pas-de-Calais, officials complained that wine growers and independent farmers, instead of undertaking “some peaceful and sedentary industry” in the quieter season, “abandon themselves to dumb idleness.”

I laughed out loud when I read this because it hit so close to home.  The context of this chapter is that we are very much a product of our cultural legacy.  So I’m not to blame for my lethargic winter blah’s after all, chalk it up to those who came before me!

2009 Whites

2009 Five Rows Sauvignon Blanc:

Roughly one tonne of fruit was harvested on a beautiful day in early October of 2009.  Half the fruit was sourced from our younger, more clay-based block of  Sauvignon Blanc, while the other half came from the older vines located in predominantly clay-loam soil.  Each block contributes distinct characters to the final blend.

The younger “clay” block tends to be less vigorous, leading to increased fruit exposure and consequently lends the riper, more tropical notes to the blend.  The older “clay-loam” block vines are extremely vigorous and require more intense hand labour.  Generally they are slightly more shaded, leading to the fresh citrus aromatics and crisp flavours that are classic characteristics of cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc.

As I mentioned last season, the key to achieving the full complement of flavours and aromas is a long, cool ferment carried out in a combination of older French oak barrels and stainless steel tanks.  For this wine I opted to go with a two-thirds barrel (2003 Jacques Garnier) and one-third tank fermentation regimen. The tank-fermented portion was allowed to age in oak for a few months prior to final blending.  All fermentations were carried out at around 13 degrees Celsius with X5 yeast.  68 cases were bottled on August 31, 2010.

Aromas:  vanilla, pineapple, lemon, lime

Flavours:  melon, lime, balanced finish

Technical data:  13.1% alcohol, 5.8 g/L residual sugar, pH 3.2

Price: $25/bottle

Production:  68 cases

2009 Five Rows Pinot Gris:

Pinot Gris is quickly becoming a standout varietal in the Niagara Peninsula.   Rick VanSickle recently wrote about this trend and chronicled a tasting of 17 different Pinot Gris.  Rick was kind enough to purchase a bottle of our Five Rows Pinot Gris to include in the tasting and you can read the exciting review here.

My view is that Pinot Gris is such a labour intensive variety to grow, it better damn well turn out to be a good wine!  It would not be worth the extra hand work and stressful pre-harvest nail biting to produce a mediocre, uninteresting wine.  “Good” Pinot Gris is without a doubt the most sought-after grape variety by premium Niagara wine producers at the moment.  It even has enough clout to be used as a bargaining tool by many growers to help them unload their lesser in demand, easier to grow varieties like Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.

As is evident in Rick’s article, getting good fruit is only part of the equation.  Each winemaker seems to have their own method of coaxing out the best in their Gris.  A few years back, a couple of wise Creekside winemakers introduced me to the benefits of fermenting a portion of Pinot Gris in older French oak barrels.  I’ve experimented with different oak/stainless blends ever since.  The barrel-fermented wine always seems to have weightier mouthfeel and more complex aromatics, so in 2009 I decided to go with a 2/3 barrel, 1/3 tank final blend.  I’ve always had good luck with a yeast called R2, so I stuck with it and fermented at the coldest temperature the yeast could tolerate.  This led to a slow and beautiful month-long ferment.  70 cases were bottled on August 31, 2010.

Aromas:  honey, apple, pear

Flavours:  vanilla, melon, spice, left slightly off-dry (1)

Technical Data:  13.0% alcohol, 8.5 g/L residual sugar, pH 3.46

Price:  $25/bottle

Production:  70 cases

Both of these wines are now available for purchase at our winery, on our website or can be enjoyed at select licensees.  We are happy to announce the addition of two new members to the Five Rows extended family:  Ruby Watchco in Toronto and Brookstreet in Ottawa!  Ruby Watchco will be carrying our 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Pinot Gris while Brookstreet will be pouring our 2007 Pinot Noir and 2009 Pinot Gris.