Fantastic Four

I’d like to thank Rick VanSickle for including us in his latest article   “The Fantastic Four: Exciting New Niagara Wineries That Are Setting The Bar For Excellence”.

It’s especially satisfying when someone takes the time to thoughtfully share the way we’ve chosen to craft and present our wines.  Rick has been a great supporter of Five Rows since we first opened back in 2008.  To hear him describe the unique manner in which my mother entertains her guests makes me happy and proud.  Rarely does a week go by wherein I don’t receive a heartfelt thank-you note from someone who has been introduced to our wines by Wilma.  I’m a very lucky Winemaker (and son).

To be featured alongside Kevin and Thomas is a fun coincidence, as our journeys have been somewhat intertwined.  It was back in 2002 that Kevin and I worked together at Creekside Estate Winery, a formative time when pie-in-the-sky dreams of starting our own wineries were just taking shape.  We spent many days discussing those future plans while working side by side in the very Queenston Road vineyard he now uses for his wonderful 2027 Cellars Pinot Noir.  Thomas discovered the Lowrey Vineyard while tasting some of the early Inniskillin Alliance Pinot Noir’s that we were fortunate to be a part of.  As mentioned in the article, he now sources fruit from our old Pinot block for his Bachelder series of wines.

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

2009 Pinot Noir Review – Spotlight Toronto

Five Rows would like to sincerely thank Mike Di Caro and Suresh Doss of Spotlight Toronto for visiting our winery last week and relating our story to their readers.  Mike’s article appeared in the popular “30 Days on Wine” feature that we look forward to every year.  You can read it here.

Kind words during the grueling harvest are always welcome – Thanks guys!

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Pruning in shorts?   So much for those ultra-thermal, -70°C rated  “Tarantula”  boots my Dad got me for Christmas.  They’re still in the box.  Sap is gushing from the tips of newly pruned grapevine canes and there are pink swollen buds on my Magnolia tree – it’s only March 20th.  It was officially winter…yesterday.

Vineyard managers across the region are scratching their heads while sporting cautious grins.  They should be tremendously excited about how early this growing season  promises to be.  Three weeks early is not out of the question at this point.  But our enthusiasm is guarded.  There will no doubt be multiple frosts between now and the end of May.  The extremity of those frost events and just how advanced the buds will be when they happen are nervous variables yet to be determined.

So we sit on a precipice of possible greatness.  A vintage for the ages or an apocalyptic frost event that fries most of our delicate shoot growth.  At least I can go golfing tomorrow to calm my nerves.

Shifting gears, it’s very exciting to have our 2011 Sauvignon Blanc featured in the April/May issue of Vines magazine.  To be included in the article alongside notable Sauv Blanc producers like Hidden Bench and Creekside is a thrill for us.  The photo shoot at the Botanical Gardens was a fun change of pace and really symbolizes the vibrancy of Niagara Sauvignon Blanc.  I don’t know how they talked me into a few of those poses, but you know what they say,  “When life gives you lemons…”

I’ve received numerous inquiries about the barrel sample of 2011 Sauv Blanc that was reviewed in the article, some expressing horror that they had missed a release notice.  Not to worry – all 100 cases will be bottled on April 2nd and hopefully ready for release by May 1st.  Please let me know if you’d like to reserve a six bottle case (


March 4th, 2011 is a day that will forever live in Five Rows lore.  It is the day our roadside sign was stolen.  We put it out in the morning and it was gone at the end of the day.  That hand-painted little red sign has probably helped sell more wines than I have.  I hate to see it go.

But this day, the day my sister Catherine turned 30,  had an interesting and unforseen twist in store.  Later on that evening at the Cuvee 2011 Gala, an annual competition celebrating the best in Ontario wines, our name was called in two categories: 2nd place for Best Sauvignon Blanc and 1st place for Best Pinot Gris.   We were surprised and thrilled to be recognized at such a prestigious event.  As longtime Niagara grape growers, Cuvee has always held a special place in our heart.  In past years when our friends at Creekside won awards for wines featuring our grapes, it always felt neat to know we played a small role.  To win this year with wines that I crafted from our own fruit is a completely different feeling that I’m frankly having a hard time getting my head around.

As a rookie winemaker, I’m always nervous having my wines subjectively judged by others.  I make wines that appeal to my palate, but worry they may not always appeal to yours.  The fact that Cuvee winners are judged by my winemaking peers gives me an uplifting feeling of validation and acceptance.  So many days as a winemaker are spent banging your head off a barrel repeatedly in frustration, that its nice to have a night where your head can swell for an altogether different reason.  Don’t worry, my pruning tuque still fit this morning (thankfully it stretches).  In all seriousness, I don’t see this award as a pat on the back, but as more of a kick in the ass to keep working hard and striving to get better.

In the days leading up to the Gala I read a couple of reviews from Michael Pinkus and John Szabo that gave me an inkling our wines might have shown well.  Both writers felt our 2009 Sauvignon Blanc merited inclusion in their personal Top 5 lists from a pre-Cuvee media tasting.  These reviews meant a lot to me, but I still didn’t hold out much hope of bringing home any hardware in a room filled with award-winning juggernauts.

Surprise, surprise.

PS: The irony of losing a sign on the day you win some big wine awards is that people still manage to find you the next day.

Out With the Old, In With the New


It’s an exciting time at the Lowrey Vineyard.  The majority of 2010 fruit has been harvested, and the usually stress-inducing  late varieties are ripe already!  Summer wine sales have exceeded our initial projections and we’ve sold out of most vintages much sooner than expected.  I still have to pinch myself at times to make sure this is all really happening.

I’m continually amazed at the awesome people who happen upon our winery each weekend.  It turns out that if you build it, they really will come.  They pick me up on rough days and drive my passion to continually push viticultural boundaries.  They are always patient when I’ve got a barrel to fill or tank to clean, so I will always try my best to craft wines that keep them coming back.

As the old vintages sell out, I quell my nostalgic thoughts with the early reviews of our 2009s.  We’ve been selling a few hastily labelled and waxed bottles of our new 2009 Sauvignon Blanc to a few customers who refused to leave until I could prove to them that this wine was not ready to sell yet.  They ended up winning the argument and left with bottles 1 through 12.  We are now taking case orders for this wine ($25/bottle).

In other news, we’ve recently made a decision not to actively promote our wines through submissions to wine writers.  I’m happy to arrange a tasting for any reviewer at any time, but unfortunately we just don’t have the quantities to send samples to all those who have put in a request.  Up to this point in our evolution as a craft winery we’ve relied mainly on “word of mouth” to sell our wines, and I see no reason that needs to change.

Love for the Label

I must confess that on occasion I purchase a bottle of wine solely based on the packaging.  Don’t lie, I know you do too.  After narrowing my search down to a couple of contenders, I’ll often end up choosing the wine whose visual appeal I find more intriguing.  This is especially true of those wines I intend to age in my cellar.  They are the ones that look so stately all lined up on the rack, the ones I will debate over and over in my mind when to drink.  There is a strange bond formed with these wines over time, making it very heart-wrenching to finally insert the fatal corkscrew.  I see the beautiful packaging as a constant reminder that this wine is a unique, living work of art.

It has always been very important to me to have my wines showcased in a way that catches people’s attention and relays our message of quality and scarcity.  For this reason I’m very proud of our label designers, Insite Design, for some recent praise they’ve received on their work.  The Five Rows label has been commended by many global wine design sites (here is an example), as well as being included in a prestigious packaging annual entitled “Boxed and Labelled – New Approaches to Packaging Design”.

Also keep an eye out for “The Art & Design of Contemporary Wine Labels”, a soon to be released book written by Toronto author Tanya Scholes.  A true wine label aficionado, Tanya contacted me shortly after our initial launch to get some details about our winery and inquire if she could use our label and story in her book.  I look forward to seeing her finished product in August.



Our 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon took a road trip recently, and ended up finding a new home in our nation’s capital.  Beckta Dining & Wine, on Nepean Street in Ottawa, is the latest member of our extended Five Rows family.  I haven’t had the opportunity to dine there yet, but countless “foodie” acquaintances have assured me that our wine is in good hands.  The refreshing philosophy at Beckta is to “change involved and sometimes intimidating culinary experiences into the comfortable and remarkable”.  Sounds like my kind of place!

Closer to home, Five Rows was recently featured in an article by wine writer Rick VanSickle of the St. Catharines Standard.  You can read it here.