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

Winter Events

We can now announce some details regarding a couple of exciting winter events we have in the works.

Firstly, I am floored by the response to our Treadwell’s Winemaker Dinner on January 26.  Based on the turnout to previous dinners, James and I had anticipated the usual 25-30 loyal Five Rows fans who had joined us in the past.  However, within a week of the dinner announcement this year it became apparent that we were going to need a bigger boat.  The enthusiastic request for seats meant the entire restaurant would have to be closed down to accommodate our ever-expanding group of friends.

What a great night it should be!  I’ve had a chance to preview the proposed menu and can report that Stephen and James have outdone themselves yet again.  The wines we have chosen to showcase are:  2011 Pinot Gris, 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Pinot Noir, 2008 Shiraz and 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine.  Most of these wines have been sold out for a while, so we had to source them from Wilma’s personal library (it took some convincing).  I also plan to bring along a surprise barrel sample, as this was very well received last year.  Any requests?

The 25th Anniversary Cuvée Celebration will take place March 1-3rd.  In an effort to reflect the nostalgic theme this year, we’ve decided to dip into our library for the Cuvée En Route tasting sessions.  Anyone wishing to visit us over that weekend is invited to participate in the first ever Five Rows Pinot Noir vertical tasting, featuring wines from 2007, 2008 and 2009.  I hope to collect some useful feedback to better advise those who’ve resisted temptation and continue to age these wines in their cellar.  Please email or call if you plan to stop in over the weekend so we can determine how many bottles might be required.

Mother Nature or Winemaker’s Nurture?

The last couple of weeks saw a flurry of action at our family vineyard.  The “perfect” summer of 2012 ended with a stretch of wet weather that spawned nervous moments and tough decisions.  Looking back, I probably worried more than I should have (what’s new) because the fruit hung on wonderfully through the intense downpours and resultant humidity.  In a nine day span we were able to harvest all of our Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.  It’s rare that all four of these varietals mature within such a short window.  Perhaps that is what we will remember most when we enjoy the wines of 2012, just how early and quickly everything ripened.  Even the later varietals taste like they are not too far off – a very exciting prospect!

As I fall into my daily ritual of fermentation checks (specific gravity, temperature and taste), I ponder whether this may be my favourite time to be a winemaker.  I enjoy the solemnity of this stage,  the wines are mine and mine alone.  It won’t be long until I share them with my friends, but for now they are mine to protect and nurture.  Each day there are surprises and letdowns, comebacks and revelations, but most of all there is respect for a process that I did not invent, nor will I ever perfect.  I will only get so many chances to do this in my lifetime.

I used to feel pressure at this stage to repeat past successes, but now I know that it is a foolish pursuit.  The wines will be what they were destined to be the moment the grapes were clipped from the mother vine.  The job of the farmer is what crafts these wines.  Sure, I control the fermentation with choice of yeast, temperature and nutrition, but I can no longer impact the natural elements of the harvested grape.  It is those natural elements, supplied by the Terroir, that make a wine special.

I hold out high hopes for these young wines as they bubble their way through fermentation.  The Pinot Noir is particularly intriguing this year.  The aromatics are so intense!  There are few things I enjoy more than punching down a bin of actively fermenting Pinot.  It is a grunt at times, but also very therapeutic and mesmerizing (according to Wilma).  Your entire year’s work reduced down to a single vessel of beautiful aromas and colours.  As I said, a good time to be a winemaker.

2011 Whites

2011 Five Rows Sauvignon Blanc:

The fight for quality Sauvignon Blanc grapes begins in earnest during the long, cold nights of winter.  Its buds are amongst the most sensitive of all Vitis vinifera cultivars.  Providing those buds make it through the rigours of winter and frosts of spring, the job only intensifies.  Picture the most vigorous growing vine or weed in your garden, then imagine somehow trying to harness it’s raw desire to grow, but not so much to harm its delicate fruit.  Now you’re talking Sauvignon Blanc!

Thanks to a cooler than normal spring, the 2011 growing season got off to a lazy start.  A hot, dry summer helped put things back on track, with Sauv Blanc ripening right around schedule in late September.  One vineyard trick we’ve employed in recent years is to remove leaves around the clusters early in the season on the cooler, “morning sun” (east-facing) side of the canopy only.  Then later in the season, after veraison, we remove leaves from the “afternoon side” as the daytime heat subsides.  This helps preserve flavour and acidity in the ripening berries and prevents sunscald.

750 kg of fruit was harvested from each of our two Sauvignon Blanc Vineyard blocks on September 22, 2011.  The conditions for fruit ripening were perfect.  Acid levels (TA) hovered around 7.5 to 8.0 g/L, but threatened to fall as warm conditions loomed later in the week.  The decision to take both blocks in one day was made.

As usual, the younger clay-based block was slightly higher in sugar (22.3°Brix) than the old-vine, sandy loam block (20.6).   I always find it difficult to describe just how intense the flavours are in these ripe Sauv Blanc berries.  Best just to visit us in September and sneak a few for yourself!

Four older French oak barrels (2 x 2007 DAMY and 2 x 2003 Berthomieu) were used to ferment 75% of the juice.  The rest was fermented in stainless steel.  All fermentations were carried out with X5 yeast at an average temperature of 12°C.  The fermentations were stopped at a specific gravity of 0.998 or, unscientifically, when I thought they tasted good.   99 cases were bottled on April 2, 2012.

Price:  $25.00/bottle

Aromas:  citrus (lemon/lime), grilled pineapple, gooseberry

Palate:  lime, star fruit, great balance

2011 Five Rows Pinot Gris:

I relish the challenges involved in successfully crafting Pinot Gris each vintage.  From thinning and leaf removal decisions to barrel/tank ratio and residual sugar content, the complex set of variables is alluring.  Every choice made affects the end product and must be considered carefully.  I’ve fallen asleep on countless nights labouring over such decisions.  In the end, it only makes a winemaker appreciate the finished product that much more.

We harvested 1.5 tonnes of Pinot Gris on September 22, 2011.  The fruit was adequately ripe (23°Brix) but starting to show signs of breaking down and rapidly losing acidity.  You come to realize that Pinot Gris tells you when to harvest, you don’t tell it.

After gentle pressing and a four-day cold settle, the juice was racked to three older French oak barrels and one tank.  It was then inoculated with R2 yeast at the normal rate of 300 ppm.  The fermentation proceeded very slowly over the next month with an average temperature of 11°C, until being stopped at a specific gravity of 0.998 and total alcohol of 13.0%.  Bentonite fining and coarse filtration were carried out before bottling 102 cases on April 2, 2012.

Visually, this Pinot Gris shows a distinct pinkish hue from the brief amount of skin contact.  The striking aromatics include apple, pear torte, vanilla and tropical fruit nuances.  The weighty yet velvety smooth texture resolves into flavours of ripe apple, melon, honey and cinnamon.  It truly leaves you wanting another sip.

Production:  102 cases

Price:  $25.00/bottle

Cellaring: 2012-2014

Serving:  serve slightly chilled (10°C) and decant if consumed in 2012

Dinner with “Bruce”

There aren’t many days on the farm that I don’t encounter an unknown automobile meandering slowly down our driveway.  They approach very cautiously, sometimes stopping multiple times, seemingly contemplating whether this could possibly be the place they were looking for.  If I’m working in the grape rows anywhere near the driveway I try to flag down these folks and invite them in for a tasting.  Most times I end up chasing their vehicle while waving my arms wildly.  Come to think of it, perhaps that is exactly why most of them speed away in a cloud of dust.

Then there are cars that come in with a purpose.  They see me in working in the rows before I see them, and they end up scaring the crap out of me as they sneak up and snap me out of my iPod-induced trance.  For some reason these are usually the unabashed people I end up becoming fast friends with.  Steven and Jennifer Vipond fall into this category.

Last summer I watched as a red Volkswagen Beetle pulled right up to where I was doggedly defoliating some Clone 7 Shiraz vines.  I trotted out to meet them and noticed the “Bruce Wine Bar” logo on their rear window.  We exchanged pleasantries and I subsequently sent them up to our barn for a tasting with Wilma.  Two hours later, I watched from the far end of that Shiraz row as the red Beetle pulled away.  That was how our relationship with Steven and Jennifer began.

They are the proprietors of Bruce Wine Bar and Kitchen, located in Thornbury, Ontario.  The Lowreys and the Viponds hit it off right away and Jennifer even ventured all the way from Thornbury to help us hand pick our 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.  What an enjoyable time that was, our last hand pick of the season on a gorgeous Fall day.  They have carried our wine at Bruce ever since that fortuitous first meeting.

I’m pleased to say that I finally have the chance to travel to Thornbury and dine at Bruce.   They will be hosting a Winemaker’s Dinner featuring Five Rows on Wednesday, May 9th.  The menu will feature our 2008 Shiraz, 2009 Cab Sauv Icewine and mark the debut of our 2011 Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris.  If you would like to join us and meet Steven and Jennifer, please contact them at the restaurant or flag down the next red Beetle you see.  You just might get lucky.

Winemaker’s Dinner

We are currently finalizing plans for our second annual Winemaker’s Dinner to be held once again at Treadwell Farm to Table Cuisine in Port Dalhousie.  For those interested in attending, it will take place on Saturday, January 28.  I’m told that most of the seats are spoken for by returnees from last year, but there may be a few spots still up for grabs.  Best to contact James ASAP (905-934-9797).

The menu and wine pairings are still being conceptualized.  You’d be amazed at the amount of thought and debate involved in this process!  I don’t want to give too much away, but I may have convinced my mother to part with our final few bottles of 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 Pinot Gris and 2007 Pinot Noir to pour for the occasion.  I can’t think of a better curtain call for these wines.

Over the next couple of weekends (Jan. 14-15th and the 22nd) our barn will be open for tastings from 11-5.  We welcome anyone planning to attend the Icewine Festival to stop in for a complimentary sample of our 2009 Single Press Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine.

I’m proud to say that my little sister will be getting married on January 21, so we’ve elected to close Five Rows for the day and use the barn for pictures and festivities.  Congratulations Catherine and Steve!

2009 Whites

2009 Five Rows Sauvignon Blanc:

Roughly one tonne of fruit was harvested on a beautiful day in early October of 2009.  Half the fruit was sourced from our younger, more clay-based block of  Sauvignon Blanc, while the other half came from the older vines located in predominantly clay-loam soil.  Each block contributes distinct characters to the final blend.

The younger “clay” block tends to be less vigorous, leading to increased fruit exposure and consequently lends the riper, more tropical notes to the blend.  The older “clay-loam” block vines are extremely vigorous and require more intense hand labour.  Generally they are slightly more shaded, leading to the fresh citrus aromatics and crisp flavours that are classic characteristics of cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc.

As I mentioned last season, the key to achieving the full complement of flavours and aromas is a long, cool ferment carried out in a combination of older French oak barrels and stainless steel tanks.  For this wine I opted to go with a two-thirds barrel (2003 Jacques Garnier) and one-third tank fermentation regimen. The tank-fermented portion was allowed to age in oak for a few months prior to final blending.  All fermentations were carried out at around 13 degrees Celsius with X5 yeast.  68 cases were bottled on August 31, 2010.

Aromas:  vanilla, pineapple, lemon, lime

Flavours:  melon, lime, balanced finish

Technical data:  13.1% alcohol, 5.8 g/L residual sugar, pH 3.2

Price: $25/bottle

Production:  68 cases

2009 Five Rows Pinot Gris:

Pinot Gris is quickly becoming a standout varietal in the Niagara Peninsula.   Rick VanSickle recently wrote about this trend and chronicled a tasting of 17 different Pinot Gris.  Rick was kind enough to purchase a bottle of our Five Rows Pinot Gris to include in the tasting and you can read the exciting review here.

My view is that Pinot Gris is such a labour intensive variety to grow, it better damn well turn out to be a good wine!  It would not be worth the extra hand work and stressful pre-harvest nail biting to produce a mediocre, uninteresting wine.  “Good” Pinot Gris is without a doubt the most sought-after grape variety by premium Niagara wine producers at the moment.  It even has enough clout to be used as a bargaining tool by many growers to help them unload their lesser in demand, easier to grow varieties like Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.

As is evident in Rick’s article, getting good fruit is only part of the equation.  Each winemaker seems to have their own method of coaxing out the best in their Gris.  A few years back, a couple of wise Creekside winemakers introduced me to the benefits of fermenting a portion of Pinot Gris in older French oak barrels.  I’ve experimented with different oak/stainless blends ever since.  The barrel-fermented wine always seems to have weightier mouthfeel and more complex aromatics, so in 2009 I decided to go with a 2/3 barrel, 1/3 tank final blend.  I’ve always had good luck with a yeast called R2, so I stuck with it and fermented at the coldest temperature the yeast could tolerate.  This led to a slow and beautiful month-long ferment.  70 cases were bottled on August 31, 2010.

Aromas:  honey, apple, pear

Flavours:  vanilla, melon, spice, left slightly off-dry (1)

Technical Data:  13.0% alcohol, 8.5 g/L residual sugar, pH 3.46

Price:  $25/bottle

Production:  70 cases

Both of these wines are now available for purchase at our winery, on our website or can be enjoyed at select licensees.  We are happy to announce the addition of two new members to the Five Rows extended family:  Ruby Watchco in Toronto and Brookstreet in Ottawa!  Ruby Watchco will be carrying our 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Pinot Gris while Brookstreet will be pouring our 2007 Pinot Noir and 2009 Pinot Gris.

Good Reviews

When the back aches from successive days of thinning Pinot Gris that is trellised annoyingly too low (remind me to raise that damn bottom wire next year) its especially nice to retire to the winery for a pleasant afternoon tasting with someone who has recently “discovered” our wines.  This has happened quite a bit lately, which signals to me that our wines are finding their way to the right people despite our lack of promotion.

My mother has shouldered the load for the majority for these pop-in tastings which she quite enjoys.  Despite her claims of nervousness, I think she has really found her niche.  She is passionate about our vineyards and loves to talk wine, especially Pinot!

We both feel very lucky when we receive firsthand positive feedback from our guests.  It’s by far the most rewarding part of what we do.  I’m still humbled and tremendously grateful every time people decide to purchase our wines.

Good reviews from a wine writer are nice too.  Read what Michael Pinkus of Ontario Wine Review recently wrote about our 2007 reds here.

Vineyard Update

It dawned on me today, as I  hurriedly thinned Pinot Gris in the midst of an earthquake, that I hadn’t given a thorough vineyard update in a while.  So here goes…

Mother nature is two weeks ahead.  I’m three weeks behind.  This good news / bad news situation is the familiar refrain I’ve heard in talking to many grape growers throughout the peninsula.  We’ve seen a boon of growth in all vines over the last couple of weeks, leaving us scrambling to keep up with the expedited hand labour chores.  Adequate rainfall, heat, and blistering sun are making my vines very happy, but leaving me a little worried.  Disease pressure has been low to this point (kiss of death) but the current humid conditions will challenge even the best of viticultural practices.

The accelerated growth creates the need to shoot-thin and shoot-position all vines before we are able to start hedging.  As always, vine vigour was particularly problematic in our Shiraz blocks, so I targeted them first.  After two weeks of what felt like hacking through a rainforest with a dull machete, I was happy to kiss the Shiraz good-bye and move on to the more manageable Cabernet  Sauvignon.  We are well through bloom in all varieties, and very close to berry touch stage in the Pinot Gris.  Air flow through the canopy is critical at this stage, as is fruit exposure for optimum fungicide penetration.

I’m happy to report that the young Pinot Noir vines we planted last season are doing very well, with less than 5% vine failure.  In the spirit of Father’s Day, I give my dad all the credit for these thriving vines.  It was he who ploughed the field ad nauseam to his own exacting specifications, he who sat vigil through many winter and spring evenings waiting to fire up the windmill, and he who artfully maneuvered the grape-hoe around each baby vine with the deft touch of a surgeon.  Judging by a couple of the catastrophic first year fields I’ve witnessed while out consulting this year (upwards of 60% vine death), I really believe that the use of the windmill combined with proper site selection and field preparation helped save our bacon.

PS:  I send a special thank-you and congratulations to Insite Design for designing an Ontario Wine Awards silver medal winning wine label that still makes me proud every time I slap one on a bottle!