Vineyard of Excellence?


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





For the Robin in all of us


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

The End is Near

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.

Big Berries and Happy Vines

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.





A Snow Day to Reflect

As massive black clouds of starlings swirl ominously overhead, contrasting against the pure white snow, I retire to my cosy barn to reflect on the year 2013.  I fear these flocks no more because the barrels and tanks are full, finally put to bed after what seemed like an oddly long growing season.  The apparent quality of these young wines fills me with hope.

I won’t lie – there were certainly moments of doubt, well chronicled (if not over-dramatized) in previous entires of this blog.  It became increasingly frustrating as we waited and waited for the fields to dry out and for eventual flavour concentration in our late-ripening varietals (Riesling, Cab Sauv and Syrah). Thankfully, frustration can sometimes yield immense satisfaction.  This was reflected in the purple toothed grin I saw on my Dad’s face while tasting the freshly squeezed Cabernet Sauvignon directly from the press tray,  “You could bottle this and drink it right now!”, he exclaimed.  Easy now Pops.

Winter allows for the completion of some jobs that I treasure most as a Winemaker.  A recent day spent racking the 2013 whites filled the barn with the most splendid aromas – I was in Sauv Blanc heaven!  Equally excitng were the blending trials featuring the soon to be bottled 2011 reds.  As early blends begin to take shape, I’m becoming more convinced that the 2011 vintage has a chance to be one our strongest across the board.  It rivals 2010 in aromatic intensity and is perhaps more approachable even at this early stage.  Easy now Son.

As we enter the winter months and start to sharpen up the pruners, we’ve decided to close the barn for a couple of months to catch our breath.  This will allow me plenty of time to get the new wines ready to bottle in the spring.  I wish to thank all who have visited over the past year and contributed to our most successful summer to date.  It’s hard to believe our barn has been open for five years now and I look forward to more great visits and more new faces enjoying Five Rows wines in the year to come.

A couple of traditional events that we are planning for the winter are a Winemaker’s Dinner at Treadwell’s and Cuvée 2014.  Details for these events will follow in future posts.  Happy Holidays to all!

A Few Reviews

We’ve had the good fortune this summer to play host to a wide variety of wine enthusiasts.  Each tasting is enjoyably unique and it’s been a pleasure to meet so many new fans of our wine.  The feedback for our newest wines has been wonderfully motivational, as every thank-you note, email, review, recommendation and bottle registered on our provenance page makes working outside in the blazing July heat and humidity much easier to endure!

Here are a few recent reviews from some of those visitors:

Rick VanSickle – Wines in Niagara

Zoltan Szabo – City Bites Magazine

Fouduvin Wine Forum

2010 Five Rows Cabernet Sauvignon

One decision a winemaker is faced with as a wine evolves is whether they are making that wine for now or for the future.  Variables such as the amount of time spent in barrel, new or previously used oak, French or American oak, health tannin level, acidity and pH all must be addressed.  It is where experience really comes into play, as the decisions you make now may lead to the wine being tougher to enjoy in the short term, but hopefully pay dividends later on.

Then there are rare wines like the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon that are enjoyable now while also exhibiting good aging potential.  These wines can make winemakers look very clever, but are probably the easiest to craft.  The fruit comes in ripe and clean with ideal parameters and the fermentations go exactly according to plan.  After many years of dealing with devilish Pinot Noir, this is a welcome luxury!

The 2010 Cab Sauv was harvested on October 28th and 29th.  If we push it, Howie, Wilma and I can hand-harvest and process about 1.5 to 2 tonnes in a day.  We normally tackle the Clone 169 block first, then bring in the Old Block Cab on day two.  It’s always a relief to get through these two days as the Cab Sauv is the last variety we harvest each year.  Needless to say, we slept in on October 30th.

70 picking boxes were harvested from rows 4 and 13 in the Clone 169 Block and 78 boxes from rows 5 and 8 in the Old Block.  Following a four-day cold soak, the two bins of fruit were inoculated and warmed to start fermentation.  Two yeasts were chosen to work with the specific strengths of each vineyard.  The slightly riper Clone 169 fruit was fermented with FX10, known to retain polyphenolic potential (structure and colour), release and bind polysaccharides, and aid in the expression of terroir through minimal “fermentation odour” production.  The Old Block was inoculated with CSM, a yeast that specializes in producing intense aro­matic profiles of berries, spice and licorice, while concurrently reducing vegetal aromas.  A winemaker can only hope that these yeasts live up to such bold claims!

Finished wines were racked to four barrels:  Clone 169 to a new Taransaud and two-year-old Billon; Old Block to a two-year-old Taransaud and five-year-old DAMY.  Through the years I’ve found that Taransaud barrels do magic for my Cab Sauv.  They have a way of “framing” the fruit components of the wine, while contributing just the right amount of oak spice and wood tannin.  I usually opt for a tight grain oak, medium toast level with three years of air drying to balance the longer time our red wines spend in barrel.  After 24 months in oak, the 2010 Five Rows Cabernet Sauvignon was blended and allowed to bulk age in a tank for five more months.  103 cases were bottled on March 26, 2013.  This wine is now available for purchase.

Aromas:  blueberry, cherry, Stanley prune, mint

Palate:  soft tannin, ripe cherry, savoury mouthfeel/flavour

Cellaring:  I personally enjoy drinking this wine now (call it winemaker bias), but it should really be cellared for at least another six months.  It has the tannin and structure to age and improve for many years to come, I prefer not to put a limit on it.

Price:  $50/bottle

Alcohol:  13.3%

“Off With The Cabs!” (and hurry)

Never in my experience as a Viticuluralist has the end of a growing season been so clearly defined.  A couple of weeks back I glanced at the long term forecast and didn’t like what I saw.  As the resulting “Frankenstorm” began taking shape, the decision to harvest our last fruit of the season on Friday, October 26th was an easy one.

The sunny and warm conditions we experienced that day belied the imminent storm hovering in the Atlantic.  We happily snipped clusters and reminisced about the unique season we had just experienced.  Unprecedented heat and prolonged periods of drought combined to give us the ripe grapes we now toted to the wagon.  Slowly but surely, the five rows I had chosen for our 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon graciously handed us their bounty.  As usual, we harvested three rows from our younger Clone 169 Block and two rows from our trusty “Old Block”.  I’ve come to appreciate that these two vineyards complement one another very well.  I count on the Clone 169 vines for the ripe, dark fruit characters, while the old block always supplies a uniquely elegant structure.

As we set up the crush pad later that afternoon, I was struck by the harmonious way old vintages seem make way for new ones.  Just as the 2012 Cab Sauv grapes were processed into bins in the back of the barn, the last few cases of 2009 Cab Sauv were making a hasty exit out the front door!   The interior floor space freed up by these case sales was much needed for the incoming bins.  A second example arises as the 2012 Shiraz finishes fermentation.  It would need to be pressed soon, meaning the 2010 Shiraz must be racked out of barrel and blended, so the wood can be re-used to house the pressed 2012’s.  This poetic cycle appeals to my love of order and flow – one in, one out.  The fact that 2010 and 2012 were very similar growing seasons deepens the bond between these two wines that now share both lineage and cooperage.

I would like to thank all the people who have braved the wet weather to pay us a visit over the busy months of harvest.  I apologize to those “first-timers” who came at a time when our once plentiful stacks were now gone or critically low.  We do still have limited quantities of 2009 Pinot Noir and 2009 Cab Sauv Icewine available, and we plan to stay open for tastings until Christmas.  Please stop in if you have a chance.

Cheers to a great vintage!!

The Wine That Almost Wasn’t

We are in the midst of a summer for the ages – and that’s all I’m willing to say at the moment.  I will spare the superlatives in an effort not to tempt fate.   So much can (and probably will) go wrong between now and the end of harvest.  Suffice it to say we are mere days away from taking in the first of our fruit.  That’s silly early!

While experiencing these ideal conditions I like to reminisce about years when we weren’t so fortunate.  I remember well the late, cool and wet summer of 2009.  Conditions were optimal for the early varieties, but proved a serious challenge for ripening Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.  We thinned down to ridiculous levels (a few bunches per vine) but the acid levels in the grapes remained very high in both varieties.  I clearly remember making the sad decision not to harvest any of this fruit for our Five Rows wines.  It was decided to sell the Shiraz to another winery and hang the Cab Sauv for Icewine.  Before the Icewine nets went up, my ever optimistic Mother made the suggestion to go through our Cab Sauv blocks and select only the ripest of bunches in an effort to salvage a couple barrels worth of fruit.  Every ounce of winemaker in me screamed no, but how could I say no to Wilma?  The next day we set out to do our tedious selective picking.

So begins the tale of our 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon or as I like to call it “The wine that almost wasn’t”.  This elegant wine is now for sale in our barn, which is a minor miracle based on how many times it was written off.

It was intensely aromatic from the get go, but took 30 months in some magical old barrels to achieve it’s current mouthfeel, structure and flavour profile.  During those 30 months in my beloved (but soon to be retired) 2002 Gillet barrels, this wine was always an afterthought.  In fact, I even looked into selling it as bulk a couple of times just to get it out of the barn.  Fortunately, there were no takers.  Sometime around the two year mark spent in barrel, things began to change and those two black sheep began to get my attention.  I found myself tasting them at least once a week, just to make sure I wasn’t going nuts.  I began to feel that this 2009 Cab could actually one day don a Five Rows label.  My first thought was to use it as a silent partner with our 2010 Cab, but the blending trials flopped.  I proceeded to try a Shiraz/Cab Sauv blend, but that idea was also eventually nixed.

The resilient 2009 Five Rows Cabernet Sauvignon had managed to dodge every bullet I could muster.  There was no other option than to let it rightfully stand on its own.  I now consider this wine to be a secret bonus for those open-minded oenophiles who don’t practice vintage discrimination.  There are people who will never try this wine simply because it was made in 2009.  That just leaves more for the rest of us.  This Cab is texturally gorgeous and delivers classic Lowrey Cab Sauv aromatics (blackberry, cherry, cassis) and wonderful balance that literally appeared out of nowhere.  50 cases were bottled on April 6th, 2012.  It will be fun to compare and contrast this wine with the big bombers on the horizon (2010 and 2012).

Library Update


This is a Five Rows Library update for those who are still cellaring our 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon:

Bottle #535 (only 30 bottles left in the collection)

Date Consumed:  July 7th, 2012

Setting: Our annual trip up north to Hurricane Point on Pigeon Lake for a quick summer recharge session.  A beautiful Bobcaygeon sunset prelude to a night of fishing and Texas Poker.

Occasion:  Celebrating a ferocious Muskie encounter the previous evening – “Son…I think we’re gonna need a bigger net”

Meal:  Steve’s Famous Chicken Chili

Musical Accompaniment:  Cuff the Duke – “Listen to your Heart”

Conversation:  Old times at the cottage and Bella’s swimming prowess

2005 Five Rows Cabernet Sauvignon:  Have not visited this vintage for a couple of years.  Aromatics have intensified tremendously and include ripe Burbank plum, black currant jam, vanilla and mocha.  I’m most pleased with how the tannins have softened and matured since we last indulged.  I’ve always felt like this Cab needed time to reach it’s full potential, now my patience has been realized.  It was a pleasure to drink.  Perceptible flavours include candied cherry, red licorice, mocha and vanilla bean.  It’s hard for me to advise people not to consume this wine right now, but I believe it still has some life to live yet.