2021 Pinot Noir

2021 Pinot Noir

The 2021 growing season, and the red wines that resulted, are a study in contrast and perseverance.  In my vintage notes for the 2021 Pinot Noir there is written but one telltale comment, “One of those years.”

As a varietal Pinot Noir presents inherent contradictions.  In the vineyard, it is a grape that requires intense labour, constant attention and a heavy hand, at times, to properly manage the canopy.  In the winery, conversely, I’ve come to learn that restraint, patience and a gentle approach are critical to successfully translating terroir.

So that is why, given the difficult fall conditions of 2021, I took a different attitude toward crafting my Pinot Noir.  Instead of lamenting the breakdown of clusters and writing off the vintage, I took the long view.  Past vintages (and wiser winemaking colleagues than I) have taught me that the final sprint to cut out all of the rotten clusters and berries is not the end of the game, but actually just the end of the first half.  I’ve been witness to many great late-game comebacks in my life, mostly against my rooting interest, but this could represent a moment of redemption!

So it was with guarded optimism that we harvested our Pinot Noir on September 21st, surely to get them off before the next imminent downpour.  The ripening parameters were to my liking, but the field was soaked and my time was limited to cull out as much rot as possible prior to the handpick.  I conjured up my best Edward Scissorhands, minus the Johnny Depp looks, and set to work.

Once the fruit was picked, sorted and gently destemmed into one tonne bins, they were sealed for a four-day cold soak.  It is normally my hope that the wild fermentations would kick off right after the fourth day, but that is rarely the case.  Thankfully, in this instance the stars seemed to align and when I cracked the bin lids on day four, I was greeted with a nice firm cap of skins and whole berries and the wonderful smells of a burgeoning fermentation.  We were off to the races; the comeback was afoot!

Indigenous yeast fermentations can be a wild ride at times, but those driving the 2021 Pinot bins were models of consistency and aromatic beauty. Must temperatures hovered around 20C and peaked at 32C, and the bins were dry in seven days.

The bins were lightly pressed, then racked into five French oak barrels.  This is where the restraint and patience are put into practice.  Aside from the odd tasting session and biannual racking, there is not much to do over the next two years providing the wines are sound.

The final barrel tasting and blending sessions are the make or break moment when everything is on the line.  So many combinations, so many possibilities, it can send your mind in many different directions.  Some wines, however, present clarity in those moments and that was the case for the 2021 Pinot.  It ended up being “one of those years” when the cooperage variables of barrel age, forest, grain tightness and toast level all line up in sync with the wine.  The result is a wine that stars the terroir, while the oak and the winemaker play the supporting role.

Sometimes you just have to trust that the vineyard can be the hero in the end.

2023 Sauvignon Blanc

2023 Sauvignon Blanc

As the first buds of 2023 started to push from their winter cocoons, the countdown was on to see whether the fickle new trunks we painstakingly established the previous summer were up to the task of supporting vegetative growth.  It was a nervous, yet fascinating time to observe the delicate first spring growth of a Sauvignon Blanc grapevine.

We didn’t have to wait long.  The one thing about young trunks (young anything for that matter) is that they are vigorous and impatient.  Two years’ worth of underutilized nutrient supply awaited the voracious and deep roots of these vines.  Early season conditions were very conducive to growth, so much so that efforts were soon undertaken to balance the number of primary shoots on each new trunk.  It can be difficult to summon the aggressiveness required when thinning these vigorous canes, especially the year after a light crop, but the alternative is a crowded and unruly canopy – no thanks!

The rebound season stretched on through the summer months, with more than adequate precipitation to support the now thriving vines.  It became apparent that we were dealing with a bumper crop of large-berried clusters, so extra attention was paid to achieving proper fruit exposure and cluster spacing to combat fungal growth.  Thankfully, a relatively dry and cool September resulted in super-clean fruit.  The deficit in precipitation seemed to dilute the water status in the berries to the point where the intensity of flavours was more noticeable in the week leading up to harvest.

We chose to harvest our bountiful crop of Sauvignon Blanc on September 25th, and ended up with about 2300L of juice after the press cycle.  After cold-settling the juice, it was racked into eight French oak barrels (80%) and one tank (20%).  The barrels were of varying ages (2-15 years) and mostly neutral in their tannic contribution.

The vessels were warmed to 20°C and then inoculated with X5 yeast.  Once fermentations were established, the barrels were cooled to 8°C for about two weeks, then allowed to warm again to finish.  I find that pushing the lower end temperature limits of the yeast tends to maximize the aromatic intensity.  One must be cautious, however, not to overly stress the yeast – it’s a fine line!

The finished wine represents an amalgam of all the terroir-derived elements that Sauvignon Blanc enthusiasts would come to expect.  It is less overtly opulent than the light-crop 2022 vintage, putting it more in line with a typical vintage like 2019 or 2021.  Aromatically, there is an intense intermingling of tropical and citrus characters, with some typical Sauv Blanc gooseberry present as well.  The TA for this wine is 7.9 g/L, which balances well with the 8 g/L of residual sugar and contributes to noticeable length on the palate.

This wine evokes a personal feeling of satisfaction and thankfulness, born out of the travails of re-establishing a beloved vineyard.  Perhaps that is why I enjoy it so much.  I hope this feeling of rejuvenation and joy is perceptible to all those that give it a try.

2021 Syrah

2021 Syrah

The nadir of the 2021 vintage on our farm was surely encountered in the days leading up to the Syrah harvest.

Soaking rain, followed by consecutive days of dense fog and stagnant air combined to put our nearly-ripe Syrah on the precipice of breakdown.  I remember taking pictures of the pea soup fog and the mushrooms sprouting out of the vine trunks, just to have record of how dire the situation was.  Beset by an unsettling feeling, I began to notice that the skins on a few, then many berries were starting to lose their integrity and become discoloured and mouldy.  It was evident that some kind of fungal pathogen, likely Botrytis, was taking over and there was little time to act.

I’d seen this many times before, but not with such rapidity.  The only course of action was to get the grapes off as soon as possible and deal with the soggy consequences in the winery.

The vigilance in fruit selection we employed that foggy October day bordered on silliness, with all clusters having to be methodically pored over to remove the worst-affected berries.  The Syrah clusters were abnormally tight in 2021, which only added to their susceptibility.  We ended up with less than one tonne of fruit when all was said and done, our lowest yield to date, but to have any fruit to vinify in this freak scenario was a victory in itself.

My first concern as a winemaker when working with “soft” skins is the unknown extent of the botrytis.  Unlike white grapes that are pressed off the skins before fermentation, red grapes are fermented with skins and even given some extended maceration time afterwards if so desired.  Having a high percentage of compromised skins in the must can lead to many issues with fermentation dynamics and eventually fining or filtration.  So, with that in mind, the remedial protocol I employed was to forgo a cold soak, expediate the fermentation process and lightly press at dryness to limit overall contact with the skins.

The finished wine was pleasantly smooth from the get-go, likely due to a combination of limited skin contact and the clarification enzymes I added to remove unwanted botrytis metabolites.  I think the saving grace for this wine (but the kiss of death for the greater crop) was just how ripe the fruit was when the rains came and the fog eventually rolled in.  All components, including tannins, acid, pH and sugars were at or near optimal levels by the time we rushed in to hand pick.

It’s crazy to say, but at the moment this might be my favourite of the 2021 reds.  It features invitingly smooth tannins, but doesn’t lack structure or length.  I love the cool climate Syrah staple of pepperiness and blackberry, and the savoury components present on the palate.  Total production was 42 cases, two of which will be set aside for my own personal collection.

Just another unique entry into the ever-widening Syrah vintage variation spectrum.  After all, variety is the spice of life!

Glorious Mud


Being stuck in the mud never felt so good.  The usual nuisance of “sinking while pruning” seems a welcome hindrance this year.  My smile widens with each heavy step and I can’t help thinking that “thaw” is a beautiful word.

There are many things that signal spring to my internal body clock: bottling new wines, the smell of melted wax and new cardboard, writers cramp, bud counts, the Masters, muddy paws and baseball.  Together, they form a complex emotional mix of stress (bottling and dead buds) and thrilling relief (tasting the new wines and the promise of golf season).

April 2nd was my own personal vernal equinox this year, as we bottled all of our new wines (830 cases!) without a hitch.  It represents the culmination of three years of work for the 2012 reds and a year for the 2014 whites.  Big thanks to all of my helpers, from the case fillers to the bottle dumpers to the humble stackers.  I’ve said it before, but my biggest advice to someone starting a mini craft winery like ours would be to find a reliable mobile bottling line.  Glenn, Randy and Justin from Hunter Bottling make my life easy on bottling day.  The new truck is amazing!

Those who’ve joined our contact list will receive an email in the coming weeks with details of the new release.  Our goal is to re-open the barn by May 1st and I can’t wait for everyone to try the new wines!

Good to the last drop!



Cheers to A Successful Season!

My first experiences with the marathon that is a winery-based harvest came at Blomidon Estate in Nova Scotia, then later back in Ontario at Creekside.  I was completely unprepared for the long haul that loomed ahead.

Prior to Blomidon I was only familiar with the limited perspective of the grape grower.  When the crop was off, your job was done!  I was ignorant to the efforts that went into processing and fermenting our freshly picked fruit.  My early days in Nova Scotia taught me that it was far more difficult being responsible for the combined task of growing the grapes and making the wine.  Despite the initial ass-kicking, I somehow rationalized starting my own winery just a few years later.

I took much of what I learned at Blomidon and applied it at Five Rows.  As a smaller producer than most, I concede we have it easy compared to the big guys, and that is partly by design.  Our collection of varietals lends itself to a nice even picking schedule, with a bit of a break mid-harvest.  While everyone else is taking in Chardonnay and Merlot, we usually have the time to finish up pressing Pinot Noir and begin preparation for Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Each vintage is it’s own beast, a grueling battle with much reward at the end.  Days seem to go on forever early in September then rapidly get shorter as the season draws to a close.  The evening feast is the shining beacon at the end of each day and beer becomes your religion.

Then rather abruptly, like a wall of lake effect snow, it’s all over and you are left wondering what to do with yourself.  You are conditioned to getting up and hitting the ground running, now there is actually time for reflection and leisure.  The daily caffeine and adrenalin rush is no longer required, but can be hard to ween yourself from.

Mostly you try to get back to a normal life.  Your significant other barely remembers who you are and rightfully expects you to make up for three months of being absent and tired.  So now is the time to give back.

This year I spent my first day of “freedom” raking leaves in the snow, walking the dogs and picking up groceries…and enjoying every minute of it!

2012 Riesling Vinification Notes

2012 “Jean’s Block” Riesling

Vineyard:  Our Clone 49 Riesling vines budded out very early in 2012, perhaps two weeks ahead of a normal year.  Although this may sound advantageous, it was actually problematic.  A sudden frost followed bud-break and many fragile buds were frozen dead.  Luckily, we left an extra cane that could be tied down to add a few precious growing shoots to the sparse canopy.  The summer growth period proceeded nicely with warm temperatures and little rain.  A lighter crop load required less thinning and ripened quickly near the end of August.

Winery:  The bulk of our Riesling is purchased by Fielding Estate Winery.  In talking with Winemaker (and friend) Richie Roberts, I learned that he likes to harvest Riesling with fairly high acidity to give some vibrant life to the resultant wine.  As a bit of a “Riesling rookie” myself, I decided to experiment with this approach and harvest our 2012 crop at a higher TA value than I normally would.  We brought in our Riesling on September 13th (earlier than ever) and the pressed juice tasted beautiful!  The higher TA meant a juice with lower pH, and consequently a sluggish start to the fermentation.  Eventually, with the help of a little extra nutrient, the W15 yeast hit its stride and worked at a nice slow pace over the next month and a half.  The fermentation was finally halted on Halloween at a specific gravity of 1.006, a point where I perceived balance on my palate.  Over the winter months the wine was protein and cold stabilized prior to coarse filtration.  We bottled 96 cases on March 26, 2013.  The 2012 “Jean’s Block” Riesling is now available for purchase in our barn.

Price: $25.00

Alcohol: 12.0%

“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!!

2011 “Jean’s Block” Riesling


Many oenophiles consider Riesling to be the best-suited white grape varietal for the rigours of Niagara regional terroir.  It’s a treat to grow, with good crop levels and minimal finicky hand-labour compared to tight-clustered Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.  It has decent winter hardiness and tends to thrive in our slightly “cooler climate” (my current air conditioning bill might disagree with this categorization).

Vinifying Riesling is where things get a little more complicated.  So many different styles and so many variables to experiment with.  Although we grow Alsatian Clone 49 in Jean’s Block, the resultant wines I’ve crafted tend to be an amalgam of varying Riesling profiles.  The 2011 vintage features the subtle, mineral-laden nose of an Alsace Riesling, but the richness and depth of flavour of my favourite German styles.  The natural acidity is the strength of the wine, balanced with a touch of residual sugar.  Over the years, I’ve found that Riesling takes a while to open up after the stress of filtration and bottling, so we usually release it later than our other whites.  Riesling fans will tell you that it’s a mistake to drink it too young anyway!

In the ongoing quest to improve wine quality, we decided to employ a different pressing technique in the fall of 2011 – a gentle, whole-bunch squeeze in our old wooden basket press.  It proved to be very time consuming and a huge headache to clean out, but I think the end product justifies the extra effort.  I also experimented with a different yeast, R2, on 50% of the juice, while using my old standby, W15, on the other half.  Fans of our Pinot Gris might recognize some of the elements that R2 brings – rounder mouthfeel, tropical fruit notes – in this Riesling.

2011 “Jean’s Block” Riesling is a wine that means a lot to me personally.  I welcome you to come by starting this weekend to give it a try.  There are only 48 cases available, so we must limit purchases to 4 bottles per customer.  Retail price is $25 per bottle.

An Ode to Oak


I’m generally not an emotional guy.  Why then, am I having such a difficult time parting ways with the first two barrels that ever held my wine?

The time has come to cruelly determine which of our used oak barrels must be sent out to pasture, literally.  I’ve been through wars with these veteran barriques.  They’ve seen good wine, bad wine and everything in between.  Some have been a working fixture in our barn for eight years.  Now you must decide which old soldiers can no longer carry out their job, good luck with that!  This unceremonious send-off just doesn’t seem to befit such a valuable part of our winery.

Good oak is the winemaker’s not-so-secret weapon.  Sure they are expensive (our largest capital expense from year to year) but they are essential.  I’ve come to learn that new oak should never be taken for granted and never be used in overabundance.  Too much new oak can mask and possibly ruin the fine subtleties of an aging wine.  Restraint should always be exercised.

My attachment to each individual barrel is surely due to the small size of our operation.  Over time I become acutely aware of their “personalities” through weekly tasting and topping regimens.  Some are big softies, while others are boldly complex.  Some barrels make the retirement decision easy for me.  No amount of sterilization can rid them of the contaminants they’ve accumulated over the years, so out the door they go.  But what about the barrel who’s only knock is it’s old age and bland neutrality?  That is the dilemma staring me in the face right now.

Back in 2004, under the guidance of Creekside Estate Winery winemakers Rob and Craig, I assembled a two barrel blend of Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from our vineyard.  With a pool of twelve barrels to choose from, we experimented with 50L from here and 25L from there until we all agreed upon a blend that I could confidently open a winery with.  It was decided that the wine should be housed in a couple of beautiful, two year old French oak barrels made by Burgundian cooper Claude Gillet.  The wine would stay cloaked in these barrels until 2006, when we bottled our first Five Rows release – the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Those same two Gillet barrels proved tremendously versatile with each successive vintage of Five Rows Cab Sauv.  What they lost in intensity each season, they gained in character and elegance.  This past week I racked some 2009 Cab Sauv from the Gillet twins and was pleasantly surprised at the finished product.  I didn’t hold out much hope for the 2009 Cab at this time last year, but an additional 12 months spent soothing in neutral oak really did the trick.  We’ll bottle the 2009 Cab Sauv this spring.

So there they sit after ten long years of service, empty and willing…but sadly there is no wine to fill them.  Now the decision is upon me.  No more stalling filibusters, it’s time to take these two out behind the barn and “pop the bung” for good.  I swear I’d have an easier time putting down Old Yeller.  At least he had rabies.

One day soon I’ll crack a bottle of 2004 Cab Sauv in their honour.  Few times will I enjoy a bottle more.

barrel graveyard


Now that I have a few moments on my hands, it’s probably a good time to do a little housekeeping and update everyone as to which wines we currently have available.  After a busy summer, I regret to inform that the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris have officially been sold out, but the following two wines can now be enjoyed:

2008 Five Rows Cabernet Sauvignon

Much will be written about the fabulous “Bordeaux” reds from Niagara in 2007 and 2010.  Little to nothing will be written about the late-ripening reds from 2008 and 2009.  For that reason, I am perhaps more proud of the Cabernet Sauvignon we grew and vinified in 2008, than any other wine we’ve produced.

Trying climatic circumstances called for extreme measures in the vineyard.  As the harvest approached, it became apparent that early season thinning and leaf removal efforts were not going to cut it in 2008.  We doubled our efforts and dropped more fruit than I am normally comfortable with.  The winery I envisioned, however, could only be built on these tough decisions.

On October 24th we harvested only 68 picking boxes from two full rows of our Clone 169 Block.  The fruit was very clean and showed surprising ripeness in both flavour and tannin for its 22.5 degrees Brix.  It was a pleasure to pick and process.  We went on to harvest 82 more picking boxes from our “Old Block” on November 2, after extracting as much life as we possibly could from the dwindling foliage.

The two blocks of fruit were processed into separate one tonne bins, and cold-soaked on the skins for five days.  I decided to try a new yeast strain, Zymaflore FX10, with the slightly riper Clone 169 fruit.  FX10 is known to produce wines defined by their elegance through a combination of structure, volume on the palate and intense colour.  The Old Block fruit was fermented with F15, a new favourite yeast of mine after a successful experiment in 2007.   Both ferments concluded uneventfully after six days with peak temperatures around 30C.  The wine was left on the skins for a further 4 days of post-ferment maceration before pressing.

Malolactic fermentation was carried out in 1 new and 3 older French oak barrels.  It was left in oak for 24 months before final blending and bottling on April 6th, 2011.  Based on previous vintages, I felt that two full years spent in barrel and resisting the temptation to use more new oak were essential to properly aging this Cab Sauv.

The two blocks produced remarkably different wines, ultimately leading to an interesting, complex blend.  I’m always amazed at the differences between individual barrels of wine from the same vineyard.  Is it due to terroir, clonal difference, oak influence, yeast strain, fermentation dynamics or all of the above?  As the years go by I hope to peel back the layers and discover just what makes our Cab Sauv end up the way it does.

The 2008 is an elegant wine, with an aromatic intensity that is unexpected by many who’ve tried it.  It has a delicate, soft mid-palate that suggests early drinkability, unlike 2007.  It is very reminiscent of the 2004 Five Rows Cabernet Sauvignon at this early stage.

2010 Five Rows Riesling  “Jean’s Block”

The 2010 vintage was a hot one.  Niagara vineyards amassed more growing degree days than any year in current recorded history.  This is perfect for ripening reds but can present challenges to producing crisp, aromatic whites.  It was very easy to produce “flabby” and “blousy” white wines in 2010 if grapes were over-thinned, over-exposed to sunlight or left hanging too long.

We harvested and pressed about one tonne of Riesling from Jean’s Block on Septmeber 30, a full two weeks earlier than in 2009.  The picking decision was based strictly on acid and flavour.  Around mid-September the grapes had plenty of sugar (19 degrees brix) to make the style of Riesling I was after, but it took a while to coax out the wonderful flavours I remembered from last year.  Waiting too much longer to pick was a risk, however, as acid levels were declining quickly in the late summer sun.  So September 30th was the day I pulled the trigger.

Following the addition of pectinase enzyme, pressed juice was cold-settled at 4 degrees Celsius for two days.  The clear rackings were then inoculated with W15 yeast, a great choice for optimizing bright fruit characters in aromatic whites.  It’s also a good cool-fermenter, able to withstand temperatures as low as 10C.

I was able to stretch the ferment over two months at an average temperature of 11C.  It was stopped at a specific gravity of 1.005, a level that I felt exhibited balance to my palate.  You have to be careful when stopping a ferment for off-dry balance as sometimes the carbon dioxide bubbles can lead to a raised perception of acidity, tempting you to halt the ferment too soon.  My rule of thumb is to taste often until I find the right balance, then wait 12 hours before killing the ferment.   It seems to have worked for most of my whites thus far.

Over the course of the next three months, the wine was cold stabilized, fined with bentonite and sterile filtered.  78 cases were bottled on April 6, 2011.  As with the 2009, this Riesling went through a lengthy period of bottle shock before I was comfortable that it had returned to the wine I remembered in tank.  Consequently, we waited to release the Riesling three months later than our other 2010 whites.  In the end this proved advantageous, as the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris both sold out very quickly.

Aromatics: citrus, peach, floral notes

Palate: a surprisingly weighty Riesling, it has ample acid to balance the slight amount of residual sugar; pleasing minerality and fruit characters

Price: $25.00/bottle

Production: 78 cases