Page Archive for May, 2021

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.