Page Archive for the ‘cabernet sauvignon’ Category

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

It takes special people to inspire the kind of trust that I usually reserve for my own mother when pouring my wines.  James and the staff at Treadwell Cuisine are those kind of people.

Our relationship with the Treadwell family dates back to our initial foray into the wine business some ten years ago.  In fact, it was at a Treadwell supplier dinner in 2008 where we nervously introduced the first Five Rows wines to the public – 12 bottles of 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon in special makeshift labels.  They made us feel so comfortable that we never left, eagerly tagging along from Port Dalhousie to downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake.

They understand that we are grape farmers first and foremost who happen to make a bit of wine, and promote our brand accordingly.  It is the place that has introduced our wines to more people than any other, and I truly consider them to be an extension of the Five Rows tasting room.

With great pleasure we announce the dates of our annual Treadwell Winemaker Dinners.  Please join us on January 26 or March 2nd for some wonderful food pairings that will inevitably make our wines shine their brightest.

As always, I promise to bring Howie and Wilma!

 

 

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

Now that the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon is finally in barrel, it’s time to take a relaxing look back at the complex 2018 Vintage.  Legitimate attempts are made to positively reminisce, only to get bogged down each time with flashbacks to rainy days and rotten fruit.  It turns out that there will be nothing “relaxing” about this exercise after all!

I will never take a dry October for granted again.  It becomes apparent, in a year such as this, how extremely fortunate we are as winemakers when late fall conditions are either dry or warm or both.  We come to accept that early harvest weather is nearly always variable due to August and September heat and thunderstorm threats, but in recent years we’ve been treated to glorious October and November days that were perfect for ripening Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  This was certainly not the case in 2018!  However, do not despair Cab lovers, the last month of hang time does not tell the whole story of 2018 – making it a truly one of a kind and intriguing vintage.

After a normal budbreak date and good initial bud survival rates, the vines took off and never slowed down.  Continued lush growth, even through a very dry season, illustrated how important the rainy year of 2017 was to replenish the water table for deep-rooted, old vines.  In fact, 2017 and 2018 would prove to be polar opposite vintages from a climate pattern standpoint, which should make for some interesting comparative tastings in the future.

As the summer progressed, wary farmers would shy away from predicting just how good the season was shaping up to be, perhaps because they could sense an eventual turn for the worse.  I’ve learned the hard way to trust the intuition of wise old farmers…and only hope that I can become one someday.

A very hot, humid stretch in late August brought about a rapid transition through veraison and left winemakers drooling at the possibilities.  Negatively, it also ramped up disease pressure from both botrytis and Grape Berry Moth, creating breakdown chaos all over the peninsula.  All the early varietals were ready to pick at once – and two weeks early at that!

It was setting up to be an easy glide into the later varietals, when the aforementioned rains innocently started to fall.  What followed was a miserable cycle of vineyard work, fruit sampling, cursing, thinning clusters, sampling again and more cursing.  It took much perseverance and the continued ruthless thinning of rotten berries to salvage any kind of quality crop.

As a grape grower, it was a minor victory just to have all of your fruit accepted by wineries in 2018.  The predominant post-harvest feeling among winemakers was that the early varietals showed much promise, but achieving peak phenolic ripeness in the later stuff (Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc) was hit and miss depending on the vineyard.  My hope is that the summer heat, combined with the late season grunt work, was enough to produce a Cabernet Sauvignon worthy of a Five Rows handwritten label.

Perspective is understandably clouded in the aftermath of a challenging vintage, but my years in this industry have taught me that time will soften my feelings about 2018, just like time in barrel will soften the wines.

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

2015 Pinot Noir

On particularly trying winemaking days, I can usually convince myself that I would be perfectly content just growing and selling grapes.  This assumption was emboldened by a recent accolade received by all the wines made from Lowrey Pinot Noir.

With the stressful filtering and bottling sessions behind us, I nervously pour myself the first glass of newly bottled 2015 Five Rows Pinot Noir…and all the reasons we started a winery in the first place come swirling back.  The familiar hallmarks of our terroir leap from the glass and reassure my skeptical nose.  I experience the wine first in aromas and flavours, then in memories (good and bad) of my days spent in that vineyard.  The balanced finish and pleasing tannins give me hope that the 2015 Pinot Noir will create future memories for all those who choose to cellar it.

Thanks to Rick Vansickle for his kind words, and to all the Winemakers who do such wonderful things with our fruit.  Most of all, I thank the late Karl Kaiser – my words will never be enough to adequately honour him for the legacy he helped inspire.

 

2015 Syrah

After a second consecutive extreme winter in 2014-15, most of our Syrah vines simply said “uncle”.  The majority of primary buds were dead, and many of those that did bud out eventually collapsed.  We were left with a shoot here and a cluster there, making it very difficult to look after the vineyard in a balanced manner.  It was a pleasant surprise when we were able to eke out enough fruit for 4 barrels.

I will always associate the 2015 Syrah with living in a trailer beside the barn during harvest (our home was undergoing major renovation).  Those memorable Airstream days featured a leaky roof, cool weather, sleeping in a small bed with three dogs, exciting playoff baseball (the Jays losing ALCS Game 6 to the Royals – ugh) and, eventually, nice ripe Syrah!

The 2015 Syrah features a uniquely smoky nose, with hints of pepper and cassis.  The palate is more fruit-driven than the nose lets on, and exhibits the typical cool climate Syrah savouriness and texture that I love.

 

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

I’ve been crafting Cab Sauv longer than any other varietal, and this – the 11th Five Rows Cab – is a striking amalgam of its forebears.  It has the noticeable concentration of 2005 (another short crop year), the unmistakeable ripeness of 2004, 2007 and 2010, the floral subtleties of 2008 and 2009, the wonderful aromatic strength of 2011 and 2012, and it shows the versatility of being drinkable now and potentially ageable like the 2013 and 2014.

Then again, aren’t we all a patchwork of those that came before?

 

2017 Sauvignon Blanc

The summer rains of 2017 made vine vigour and crop level control in Sauv Blanc absolutely paramount.  The vintage was rescued by the dry heat of September, which helped to ripen what were now massive berries and clusters.  For once, we had the luxury of harvesting the crop with as much acidity as was desired (we opted for 8.5 g/L).

I’ve always enjoyed my Sauv Blanc a little on the “crisper” side, both as a food pair and sipping wine.  The 2017 is an example of that style, more so because of the conditions we faced than anything done differently in the winery.  We stuck with the tried and true formula of a 75% older French oak / 25% stainless steel fermentation ratio – all with X5 yeast.  The amount of malolactic fermentation that took place is my only secret…mainly because I have no idea.

 

2017 Pinot Gris

I think it’s okay to reveal that I’m usually partial to the barrel-fermented portion of our Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris.  Of all the wines we crafted in the 2017, however, my favourite was the tank-fermented Pinot Gris.

It was so tropical and lush that I toyed with the idea of keeping it separate and releasing it on its own.  The problem became one of logistics, as it was only 300L or so – making it an awkward volume to support a one-off bottling.  In the end, the final blend proved to be far more complex than the individual components, so I don’t regret the decision to give my precious tank over to the barrels.  We’ll always have that month of fermentation…

 

2017 Riesling

I consider Jean’s Block Riesling to be the most “personal” of our wines for many reasons, but mainly because I dial it in to my palate specifically.  I taste the fermentation constantly near the end of its time, and stop it at the precise point where I feel the residual sugar level balances the natural acidity.

It occurs to me now that the fatal flaw in “personal” winemaking is this:  you are the only one to blame if the wine is perceived to be out of balance by everyone else!  Thankfully for yours truly, the aromatics of this wine are the real star, and rival the Sauv Blanc in intensity – something I’d never have been willing to concede in year’s past.

 

The Five Rows Barn is set to re-open on weekends starting June 2nd, 2018.  See you soon!

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

For generations now, all major accomplishments on the Lowrey farm have been accompanied with the wave of a hat and a boisterous cry of, “Wahooooo!!”.  Whether it was planting our first field of Pinot Noir or harvesting our last crop of plums, I fondly recall my Grandfather doing this on numerous occasions.  As the years went on, the ‘Wahoo’ rallying cry crept slowly into everyday life, and could be heard over multiple St. David’s phone exchanges following Joe Carter home runs and Doug Gilmour OT winners.  With pride and nostalgia, I now channel his unabashed joy at the end of a long harvest.

Winemakers know that the real end of vintage cannot be marked until the last of the reds are pressed and racked to barrel.  It is only then that the true celebrating and reflecting begins.  This can be difficult for the grape grower turned winery owner who is more accustomed to throwing a hat in the air as the last cluster of Cabernet Sauvignon is cut from the vine.  We’ll give Howie a pass here, because he worked so hard to keep the hungry birds at bay until the not-so-bitter end.

As the last days of August gloomily came and went, it became apparent that some kind of miracle would be required to ripen the later varietals in 2017.  The collective mood around the industry was grim, to the point where I actually started to make alternative arrangements in case the Syrah and Cab Sauv did not pan out.  None of us knew it at the time, but the late season heat wave that we had all but written off was slowly making its way across the prairies.

A wet summer had fattened up clusters to the point where early varietal yields were up nearly 20% across the board – surprisingly not at the expense of fruit quality.  The September heat arrived at the perfect time to kick ripening into gear, validating the old adage that a stellar Fall can save any vintage.  The Sauv Blanc and Pinot Gris came in clean and full of flavour, with the luxury of good natural acidity.  The Pinot Noir and Riesling required painstaking botrytis control, but we managed to get them off just prior to a biblical deluge of rain.

After dodging our own mini-hurricane season and a few brushes with October frost, Vintage 2017 came to a pleasing denouement.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah berries began to desiccate and concentrate in mid-October and the vines held foliage well into November, allowing for as late a harvest as was desired.  Wilma aptly noted, while we brought in the last of the Cab, that it seemed like we had favourable weather on every picking date this year – and she couldn’t recall that ever happening before.

That might just be worthy of a Wahoo!

Please join us to celebrate this memorable year at one (or both) of our upcoming Treadwell Winemaker Dinners.

 

Friday, April 21st, 2017

2016 Sauv Blanc

2014 Pinot Noir

Production: 143 cases

Aromas –  cherry, floral (violet), red licorice (Nibs), truffle, earth, mushroom

Palate –  typical “Lowrey terroir” profile of ripe cherry, pleasing acidity and evolved tannic structure

 

2014 Syrah

Production: 122 cases

Aromas –  wild black raspberry, pepper, cooked meat, tobacco

Palate –  ripe red fruit (cherry, plum), savoury core, smooth tannins make it hard not to drink right now

 

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Production: 123 cases

Aromas –  wild black raspberry, cherry, bell pepper, violet

Palate –  cherry flavoured candy, currant, dark chocolate, structural versatility to enjoy now with meats and cheeses or to lay down for another few years

 

2016 Sauvignon Blanc

Production: 220 cases

Aromas –  pineapple, starfruit, grapefruit, peach drink, vanilla bean

Palate –  ripe tropical flavours balanced by crisp citrus notes, lingering finish, best enjoyed just below room temperature

 

2016 Pinot Gris

Production: 110 cases

Aromas –  honeydew melon, apricot, whispers of single malt scotch

Palate –  full-bodied, balanced, signature Lowrey Pinot Gris texture, tastes like Wilma’s homemade butter tarts

 

2016 “Jean’s Block” Riesling

Production: 119 cases

Aromas –  intense and alluring, floral notes with strong citrus undertones, apple

Palate –  zippy acidity, a real depth of flavour, balanced finish, excellent food pairing wine, serve slightly chilled

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

2013 Pinot Noir

In looking back at my harvest notes for the 2013 Pinot Noir, I’m immediately drawn to the “Fruit Condition” section where I have written:  excellent; “Some of the nicest we’ve ever picked.” – Wilma.  I remember it well, and it makes me smile as much now as it did when she said it on September 18, 2013.

We hand-picked 90 boxes from rows 3, 4 & 5 and 64 boxes from rows 8 & 9.  These are the rows that I traditionally use, and they represent a good cross section of terroir from our oldest vines.  The Pinot was sorted four times:  first I do a quick pass on my own before we harvest to remove any obvious rot; then each picker must inspect clusters as they cut them; a third inspection takes place as boxes are loaded onto the wagon and finally again as they are dumped into the crusher.  Those select few Pinot berries that made the final cut ended up filling two fermenting bins.

After a four day cold soak at 18°C, the first bin containing rows 3, 4 & 5 was inoculated with RC212 yeast and the second bin (rows 8 & 9) was inoculated with W15.  Fermentation lasted about a week, with peak temperature around 34°C.  Wines were then inoculated with malolactic bacteria strain MBR31 and racked to barrel.  After 24 months in oak (100% French, 20% new), the wine was blended and eventually bottled on April 6, 2016.

Aromas:  “Like walking into a pantry”; ripe cherry, dried spices, truffle

Palate:  light velvety texture; good balance; enjoyable now, but just enough tannin to make you want to lay it down for a while

Production: 145 cases

 

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

A later Spring than 2012 (few are earlier) led to an interesting vintage that felt like a constant uphill battle.  The growing degree days were just not adding up, so an effort was made to dramatically reduce crop level at veraison.  Then we waited…and waited some more…until all the leaves had fallen and finally picked our Cab on November 15, 2013.

The fruit was quite desiccated on the vine at this stage, almost a late harvest look, and we actually ended up with close to 23 degrees Brix and reasonable acidity.  The drastic thinning gamble had worked, but at the expense of tonnage.  We ended up with only 117 picking boxes of Cab Sauv from five rows that would have normally yielded 150 boxes.

The fruit was processed into two bins and after a four day cold soak, Bin 1 was inoculated with FX10 and Bin 2 with F15.  Finished wine was blended, inoculated with MBR31 bacteria and racked to barrel where it would spend the next two years.  Two new French barrels were used (Taransaud and Billon) along with a couple of wily veterans.  The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was bottled on April 6th, 2016.  This wine will surprise many people.

Aromas:  cherry, blackberry, anise, loose-leaf tea

Palate:  flavours as intense as the nose; nice texture; savoury; integrated tannins make it both drinkable and cellar-worthy

Production:  100 cases

 

2013 Syrah

*See 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon for the challenges associated with this growing season.

As we nervously hung our Syrah into November for the first time, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be writing a description for a Five Rows 2013 Syrah – the grapes just didn’t look right.  They tasted fine, the lab numbers were good, but the berries looked wrinkled and raisin-like.

A harvest date was finally settled upon, but to our astonishment we awoke that day to….frozen Syrah-sicles!  An overnight frost had thrown a wrench into the plans, making for a unique harvesting and de-stemming experience.  The stems were so brittle that I was concerned the berries wouldn’t properly separate from the rachis going through the de-stemmer, adding unwanted bits of stem to the must.  In the end – I needn’t have fretted, as the semi-frozen berries rattled off the rachis with ease.

82 boxes were harvested from Clone 7 rows 2 & 3, along with 57 boxes from Clone 100 (“Old Block”) rows 1 & 2.  The Clone 7 was inoculated with RX60 and the Old Block with F15.  Both bins were pressed after a week-long fermentation.  The whole batch was aged in French oak; three older barrels and one new (DAMY Rouge).

This wine was incredibly smooth from the get-go, and frankly I have no idea why.  Perhaps it was the extended hang time and wilted berries, perhaps it was the frost – yet more proof that the most unique wines often result from unforeseen circumstances.  It was bottled on April 6th, 2016.

Aromas:  lavender, cassis, vanilla, cooked meat, thyme (“Smells like a lamb dinner” – Wilma)

Palate:  smooth as silk, very savoury, hint of pepper, finish dominated by dark fruit

Production:  100 cases

 

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

As a general rule, I don’t enjoy being judged.  I’d much rather blend into the background like a chameleon and go about my business unnoticed.  There are exceptions, however, and when we got the letter that our family vineyard had been nominated for the 2016 Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence award, I realized that the time had come to get over this phobia and submit myself to potential criticism.

The specific block in the spotlight was our Clone 169 Cabernet Sauvignon, located just steps outside the barn door.  It was planted in the late 90’s, using “traditional” Lowrey methods:  Dad on the tractor and my Mom and I pulled behind on the planter.  The Lowrey method relied heavily on the ability of the tractor driver to maintain a straight line, and the jury is still out as to whether Howard Jr. inherited his father’s eagle eye and steady hand.  This was before the days of GPS and laser-guided planters – and one look at the hither and yon vine spacing is more than enough evidence of that.  It is also worth pointing out that proper and consistent end-post angles were not yet fashionable in the 90’s.  You have to remember this was the the decade of frosted tips and crooked posts.

So needless to say, I was greatly relieved to find out that the Award of Excellence was not based solely on aesthetics.  An esteemed panel of judges would scout the field at certain points during the season to evaluate vine balance, fruit maturity, disease pressure, crop level, and harvest ripeness parameters.  Being a Cab Sauv block, our biggest challenge in Niagara is getting enough heat to ripen the fruit, so I did my best to thin the block to a level that would give each vine a chance to ripen its crop load.  Thankfully, the late summer and fall of 2015 provided just the conditions we needed.

When it was announced at the Cuvée ceremony last night that we had, in fact, been named recipients of this award, I was struck with many emotions.  To be on the stage with my Dad, being recognized for something that we had done together will be something I never forget.  Looking out on the crowd of people, I realized many of them had been directly responsible for my choice of career and it reminded me how fortunate I’ve been to receive their guidance over the years.  Perhaps there was also some validation for doing things the old fashioned way – a small vineyard, a father and a son (Lowrey methods notwithstanding).

Green Thinning

 

Ripe Cab Sauv

 

 

 

Monday, July 13th, 2015

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

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

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

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

Syrah Babies

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

So it all comes down to this.  November is upon us and all grapes are off, save the few robust rows Cabernet Sauvignon we’ve chosen to hang until the bitter end.

They desperately cling to their yellowing leaves as the last few rays of fall sunshine hopefully find enough green chlorophyll pigments to move the ripeness needle just a bit further in our favour.  They are likely ripe enough to pick, but they are also clean enough to hang until all the foliage has been exhausted.  Every tick of extra sugar and reduction in total acidity is a welcome bonus at this stage.

It is the exact scene I anticipated earlier in the Spring as all varietals got off to a sluggish start.  We knew we would be pushing the limits to make quality wine – we had no other choice.  The thought of hand-harvesting in the bitter, damp cold of November is intimidating, but when you are so close to the end of a long season, motivation seems easier to summon and these days can actually prove to be glorious!

The most harrowing part of this waiting game is the relentless nature of the birds.  They are wiser and more brazen by this time in the season, blatantly ignoring bird-bangers and finding creative ways to circumvent our seemingly impenetrable nets.  The only true deterrent is a crazed farmer willing to spend the entire day riding around in his vehicle of choice, unleashing whatever unholy racket he can muster.  They will undoubtedly have nightmares about what these frustrating flocks are doing to their grapes, it is what drives them to be up at the crack of dawn to do it all over again.

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

I’ve decided to initiate this writing by optimistically pouring myself a half full glass of 2011 Pinot Noir.

In what seems like the wettest summer in recent memory, there have been a few positives.  Not the least of which is that I now know it’s possible to grow grapes in a climate where it rains every other day.  The vines are indeed lush and happy, but ripening this crop of monster-sized berries could prove to be the rub.

It may be a blessing in disguise that our poor, winter-ravaged vines were treated to a stressless year such as this.  We haven’t exactly been afforded the heat units and dry conditions seen in “glorious” years like 2010 and 2012, but that isn’t the be-all and end-all of crafting decent wine.  I’ve come to accept this stubbornly, as people continually seem to prefer the wines we’ve made in less extreme years like 2009 and 2011.  The superior elegance and early approachability of these vintages has been surprisingly matched by their ability to age splendidly.  However, given the choice I’d take the easy growing season every time!

I shudder at the memory of the nightmare harvest of 2011, and that optimistic glass of Pinot suddenly becomes half empty.  I start to worry that even an unprecedented two month stretch of dry heat may not be enough ripen our beautiful (but late) crop of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Due to the sluggish start and lack of sumer heat, we’ve had to thin the crop down to its lowest level since 2009 and the cluster and berry sizes are reflective of that – GARGANTUAN!  Winemakers are not generally fans of big berries, although farmers like my dad love them.  Larger berries tend to be more dilute in terms of flavour and suffer from lower skin to juice ratio, not the textbook combo for premium wine.

Perhaps it’s too early to worry about such things.  The glass is now empty.