2019 Release

2016 Syrah

The surprise reaction to our 2015 Syrah (you had to be in the barn to catch the unmistakable “Syrah double-take”) has many people curious about what is in store for 2016.  In fact, you can hear a thorough breakdown of our 2015 Syrah at the 33:20 mark on this episode of Two Guys Talking Wine – a fun podcast with André Proulx and Michael Pinkus.

Hand-harvesting for the 2016 Syrah took place on October 11th, with about 1000 kg sourced from each of our Clones (7 and 100).  The fermentations were conducted in open top bins and manually punched down three times daily.  They were allowed to initiate spontaneously after a four day cold soak, then inoculated with RX60 (Clone 100) and FX10 (Clone 7) on day 6.  Both bins were pressed after a total time of 14 days on the skins, then racked to barrel and inoculated with malolactic bacteria MBR31.  The wine was aged in French oak (20% new) for 24 months.

Early on, I worried the 2016 Syrah would come across so ripe that it would be considered more of a one-off vintage than a typical example of our cool-climate style.  But as the wine evolved in barrel, I became more excited about its prospects of becoming something unique, yet familiar at the same time.  This complex Syrah comes at you with aromas of dark fruit, sweet peppercorn, and floral notes.  It is both ripe and savoury on the palate, with surprisingly smooth tannins; should age well to 2024.

Production:  133 cases

Price:  $55


2016 Cabernet Sauvignon

Based on the sheer number of inquires we’ve fielded on it’s release date, the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most anticipated red wines we’ve bottled in recent memory.

On November 9th, 2016, we hand-harvested 1500 kg of beautiful Cab from a combination of rows 8, 9, 10, 12 and 13 in our Clone 169 Block and rows 8 & 13 in our “Old Block” –  and in retrospect, I wish we had kept a few more rows for ourselves!

The fermentations were allowed to start spontaneously after a four day cold soak, then inoculated with FX10 (Clone 169) and F15 (Old Block) on day 6.  Peak fermentation temperature reached 30 C, and the bins were pressed after 15 total days on the skins.  Aging was carried out in French oak (25% new) for 24 months.

I’m of two minds on the 2016 Cab Sauv, in that it is showing very well right now – much smoother than similar versions at release (2007, 2010, 2012) – but I do feel this wine will only improve and blossom with age.  I can say this with much more confidence than I used to, based on the feedback we’ve received from the many people aging our Cab’s going back to 2004.

Showcasing an abundance of the classic cherry and cassis notes associated with our terroir, this wine smells as intense as it tastes.  There is a richness to the palate, with good balancing acidity and evolved tannic structure.  It should age well to 2025 and, perhaps, beyond!

Production:  108 cases

Price:  $55


2016 Pinot Noir

It stands to reason that the most difficult years to craft good Pinot Noir are usually the best years for later varieties like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Namely, it’s easy to overdo your Pinot when they are rapidly ripening in the hottest part of the summer (think 2007 vintage versus 2009).  Leaning on past experience, I took steps to delay the maturation process in 2016 – with a later thinning of green clusters (post-veraison) and less intense leaf removal.

All of these efforts did not go unnoticed, as in my harvest notes I have scribbled:  “By far the cleanest we’ve ever picked”  – Wilma

The advantage of older vines vs. younger vines was also apparent in 2016, as we saw the fruit in our younger block (Clone 777) ripen quicker and lose acidity much faster than our older block (Clone 115).  We chose to hand-harvest 2500 kg from rows 2, 3, 4, 8, 9 and 14 of our Old Block on September 13th, 2016.  The clusters were sorted three times on the way to three separate one-tonne bins, and fermentations were allowed to start spontaneously after a four day cold soak at 15 C.  Each bin was then inoculated with cultured yeast at 1/3 sugar depletion to aid in finishing fermentation (65% RC212, 35% W15).  All bins were pressed after a total time of 15 days on the skins, then racked to barrel and inoculated with malolactic strain MBR31.  The wine was housed in French oak (30% new) for 24 months.

The end result is an elegant Pinot from a hot vintage, with ample acidity and tannins that should help it develop in bottle.  Ripe with familiar, terroir-driven notes of wild strawberry, cranberry, cherry, truffle and spices, it should age well to 2024.

Production:  161 cases

Price:  $55


2018 Sauvignon Blanc

I embrace the opportunity to work with Sauvignon Blanc as a varietal, but over the years it has proven to be a wine of unforeseen challenges and pressure.

First there are the viticultural challenges.  Canopy management and vine balance proved to be those hurdles in 2018 –   creating adequate fruit exposure to combat the higher disease pressure, but not so much to bake the berries in the scorching heat.  Thankfully, no irrigation was needed in these deep-rooted old vines, which was advantageous in weathering the dry conditions we faced in May, June and July.

Each year the harvest timing decision in our Sauv Blanc is ultimately made on flavour development in the berries, which – like acidity levels – can vanish overnight if you are not careful.  Our rows were harvested on September 4th, with ideal parameters for crafting aromatic and lively Sauv Blanc (20.4 degrees Brix, 8.0 g/L TA).

Then there are the stylistic challenges (i.e. the pressure to get it right!).  Based on what has worked in previous ripe vintages, I chose to ferment 75% of the juice in neutral French oak and the remaining 25% in stainless steel.  Everything was inoculated with X5 yeast, and went through partial spontaneous malolactic fermentation.  All vessels were fermented cool (9 C) for 25 days and stopped at a specific gravity of 0.998.

Finally there are the logistical challenges.  We produced 220 cases of 2018 Sauv Blanc, by far our largest bottling, but I anticipate that will not be quite enough to meet the demand.  So why not just make more?  For starters, it is difficult to source clean, previously used white wine barrels.  The seven older barrels I currently use average ten years of age, and will need to be gradually replaced in the near future.  Incorporating a brand new barrel into the fray might be necessary, but at what cost to my preferred style?  I’m hoping the answer lies in a new barrel I’ve sourced (“Piano” – by Tonnellerie Rousseau) that comes highly recommended for it’s gentle treatment of aromatic whites.

These are the things I wrestle with up until I sample the recently bottled 2018 Sauv Blanc and realize that a wine of challenges and pressure has somehow become a wine of relief.

Production:  220 cases

Price:  $35


2018 Pinot Gris

Our Pinot Gris block is currently the smallest of our plantings.  Just an acre or so of vines, struggling away in the heaviest clay on our farm.  Although generally beneficial for wine quality, the clay soil has led to inconsistent vine vigour issues over the years.

I’ve never minded the small size of the block, as Pinot Gris is my nemesis when it comes to disease pressure, vine upkeep and training…so, of course, we’ve decided to plant more in 2019!  I will no doubt regret this decision on many occasions in the future, but for now I will bask in the joy of young vines and untapped potential.  Expect to taste this fruit sometime after 2021.

The warm, dry summer of 2018 helped produce some very ripe, thick-skinned Pinot Gris by early September. About 2000 kg were harvested on September 4th, after three days of painstaking Botrytis removal (not an easy task in PG!).  We chose to pick at an optimal TA level (7.7 g/L) to avoid having to supplement with tartaric acid.  60% of the juice was fermented in neutral French oak barrels and 40% in stainless steel.  The yeasts we chose to use were: R2 (for texture and flavour) and X5 (aromatic development).  It was fermented cool (9 C) for 21 days, and stopped at a specific gravity of 0.998.  Partial spontaneous malolactic fermentation took place in the barrel-fermented portion of wine.

The thicker skins are evident in the pinkish-gold colour and unmistakable texture of this wine, which also features aromas of apricot, baked peach, honey and vanilla.

Production:  135 cases

Price:  $35


2018 “Jean’s Block” Riesling

I was caught a little off guard by how fast the Riesling ripened in 2018.  I usually count on a few weeks between the end of the early whites and onset of Riesling, but the steadily rising sugar content, crashing acidity and mounting botrytis threat led to an abnormally early harvest date of September 17.

If you were ever going to craft a Riesling with a slight botrytis-affected component, this was the year.  Ask anyone in the industry just how quickly and intensely their Riesling and other mid-season whites were sucked into a black hole of rot, and they will shudder at the thought.  Our vineyards were stagnant with humid air for the whole second half of September.

This called for many pre-harvest days spent dropping affected clusters and berries before being comfortable with fruit condition.  The general rule of thumb is that 5% is an acceptable level of botrytized berries, but even 1% makes me nervous – mainly for filtration purposes.  Having said all of that, there can be good things about having a tiny bit of botrytis in your white wine, such as increased aromatic complexity, that might be apparent to some in the 2018 Riesling.

Pressed juice was 100% fermented in stainless steel with two separate yeast strains: W15 (55%) and X5 (45%).  Tanks were fermented cool (9 C) for 28 days and stopped slightly off-dry, at a specific gravity of 1.005, to balance the ample natural acidity.

The 2018 “Jean’s Block” Riesling exhibits a showy nose of floral, fruity and mineral elements; with hints of orange blossom, fuzzy peach candy and green apple.

Production:  135 cases

Price:  $35

The Five Rows Barn is set to re-open on weekends starting June 1st, 2019.  See you soon!

Overwhelming Response

I’m overwhelmed at the response we’ve received to our new wines and the number of keen visitors we’ve entertained over the last couple of weeks!  It is all we can do to write and apply labels fast enough to keep up.

I’ve become accustomed to putting off my vineyard work on weekends in May to stick around the barn and help the girls with tastings.  I must admit that I secretly enjoy this, as it allows me to overhear all the interesting and thoughtful reviews of my wines.  There is always a gut-wrenching fear belying my calm facade that these wines won’t live up to their predecessors.  You would think that after nine vintages of wrenching guts I might have learned to trust my palate by now, but it always takes a few satisfied customers to reassure me.

That is all part of what makes this time of year is so exciting, from the inbox full of pre-orders to the smiling faces of return visitors parading through the barn door.  The fact that people would think enough of our wines to pre-order them on spec, without even trying them first, is the ultimate in trust.  I treasure this trust as much as any award or five star review we’ve ever received.  The “pre-order” is my gold medal.

With that trust comes the pressure not to disappoint.  This challenge drives what I do in the vineyard every summer.  In the back of my mind is the knowledge that this vine I’m currently thinning will produce fruit to make a wine that someone may already have dibs on for next year.  On one hand it’s a very reassuring thought, but it also means there isn’t much room for error!

As the first buds of 2014 start to reveal themselves one precious leaf at a time, I confidently venture out to the vineyard and strive to earn more trust.




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


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.

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!

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.