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).