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 Shiraz


Is it a Shiraz or is it a Syrah?  The debate over the name of this wine has played out numerous times around our tasting table since we released our first one back in 2008.  That 2008 “Shiraz” was a hit with our friends, but most agreed it was more reminiscent of a “Syrah” in style.

I get a kick out of this debate because it brings me nostalgically back to the origins of this grape in our vineyard.  We planted Shiraz Clone 100 back in the late 90’s at the request of Creekside Estate Winery, who were bravely setting out to turn Shiraz into a key part of their varietal portfolio and winery identity.  Fueled by the knowledge and vision of an enterprising Australian winemaker, Marcus Ansems, my parents agreed to plant the 11 rows of Shiraz that now stand tall along our driveway, across from Wilma’s lavender.

Upon planting, we quickly found out that these vines loved to grow!  They shot up like the most vigorous of weeds, making us wonder why few farmers had attempted to grow this grape variety in Niagara before.  The first cold winter would provide us the harsh answer to that question.

Just as the vines were starting to mature and bear their first fruit, we were hit with some cold winter conditions that killed nearly half the vines in our new Shiraz vineyard.  The Achilles heel of this fast-growing, high-cropping varietal was now all too clear.  Should we replant the vineyard or wash our hands with Shiraz altogether?  This was a tough call, but in the end we decided to give it one more shot.  Thankfully, the winters have been more co-operative since then and we’ve also learned a few tricks in the vineyard to help the vines overwinter better.  We switched from a Scott-Henry training system to a more simple, two-arm pendelbogen trellis.  More attention was paid to controlling vine vigour through soil nutrition and cropping levels.  The vines performed well enough to merit planting 8 more rows of a second Australian Shiraz Clone (#7) in soil with higher clay content to aid in vine development.  Both blocks are doing well to this day.

Due to the success of these Shiraz vineyards on our farm and the legitimacy brought to the varietal by Creekside (think luscious Broken Press Shiraz…mmmm!) it was a no-brainer that I would order a large run of labels adorned with “Shiraz” for my 2008 debut.  However, as it came time to blend my 2008 Shiraz – the jammy, hot (high-alcohol) and bold notes present in all of our favourite Aussie “critter” wines were nowhere to be found!  In fact, every time I sampled these barrels I felt as if I had just tacked up a horse and ridden through a fragrant lavender field, only to suddenly realize I was surrounded by blackberry bushes and Marijuana plants (for the record this has never happened…yet).  Alas, despite what thousands of freshly printed labels now proclaimed, my first Shiraz had just become a Syrah – and I didn’t mind one bit!

A second issue with growing Shir..I mean Syrah in a cool climate is that it tends to ripen very late in the season, making it a challenge to vinify in lackluster, “shorter” growing seasons like 2009.  For that reason we decided not to attempt a Syrah in 2009 as the acidity levels never seemed right for crafting a premium wine.

The opposite was true for 2010.  It will be remembered as one of the warmest vintages Niagara has ever seen.  The growing season started early and never slowed down.  Precipitation was spotty but adequate – just perfect for wine grapes.  We harvested the Syrah on October 11, much earlier than any other vintage.  Sugar levels hit an all-time high (24°Brix) and the skins and seeds showed excellent maturity.  Three rows were selected from the older Clone 100 block (#2,9,10) along with two rows from the younger Clone 7 block (#4,8).

The fruit was de-stemmed into bins, which were then sealed for a four-day cold soak on the skins.  Fermentations were allowed to start wild, then inoculated with a yeast known as “Enoferm Syrah” (an isolate from the Côtes du Rhône in France).  It was chosen for this ripe fruit because it’s known to be a good glycerol producer for smoother mouthfeel with typical aromas including violets, raspberries, cassis, strawberries and black pepper.  Fermentations lasted about 8 days with temperature peaks around 28°C.  I could tell early on that this wine would one day be something special!

Five barrels were filled following pressing.  The Clone 7 fruit was racked to a new Taransaud barrel and a two-year-old Billon, while the Clone 100 fruit was split between two older French and one American oak barrel.  The wine was allowed to mature in oak for 24 months.  We bottled 118 cases of this Syrah on March 26th, 2013.  This wine, along with all of our 2010 reds, is now available for purchase.

Price: $50/bottle

Alcohol:  13.4%

Cellaring:  3-5 years

Treadwell Dinner


Rounding up the family and heading out to a fancy dinner is a foreign experience for many farmers.  The Clampett’s…err…Lowrey’s are no exception, and really don’t get out much.  My own culinary expertise is limited to impeccably microwaved Michelina’s (down to the second!) and hastily constructed lunchtime wraps.

“Pa”, however, puts me to shame with his mastery of outdoor, open-flame cooking.  He is aloof in the kitchen, but can skillet fry just about anything over his gnarled pile of burning grape trunks.  I once saw him make perfect toast using welding gloves, a long-handled frying pan and diesel fuel.  He ended the show by flipping eggs with a one-iron (he could never hit it anyway).

Suffice it to say, we always jump at the chance to get dolled up and host a civilized Winemaker’s dinner every year at Treadwell’s.  Thankfully for the patrons, we are only responsible for bringing the wine.   Seriously, we treasure the opportunity to share this annual experience with so many of our supporters.  The signed menu, seen below, has become a treasured memento for us, growing in names each year.  It’s something we display with pride in our barn and reflect on fondly with many of our guests.

As you can see, this year’s menu was a masterpiece.  I can easily recall the distinct flavours of each dish as I write this, a sure sign of a wonderfully skilled kitchen and chef.  My compliments to James and the entire staff for the seeming ease at which they managed each course.

Of the wines I tried on this evening, the 2008 Syrah was a highlight for me – perhaps for sentimental reasons.  We decided to raid the cellar and bring our last case to share on this appropriate occasion.  The smoked duck was an astute pair, picking up on the smoky, earthy and savoury elements of the Syrah.  Many commented on how much the flavours and mouthfeel had changed since they last tried it.  The classic Syrah pepper, earth and floral elements were still there, but the once subtle dark fruit components had come to the fore both aromatically and on the palate.   It leads me to think that this wine is probably best consumed during this exciting time in its evolution (for those who still have a bottle).

The sumptuous “pulled pork” course might have been James’ nod to our participation in the most recent Pigs and Pinot celebration in Healdsburg, California.  My parents were thrilled to visit Sonoma and represent Canada at the “Pinot Smackdown”, which they managed to escape without a scratch.

We ended the night with a barrel sample of the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc.  I figured this was appropriate given that Sauvignon Blanc is, in many ways, the reason we have forged such a strong relationship with Treadwell’s.  The feedback was promising with many not letting me leave without guaranteeing them at least a six-pack.

The 2012 has a ripe nose very reminiscent of the 2010, which makes sense because both were generally warm, dry years.  The mouthfeel and flavours were still a work in progress though, following bentonite fining, cold stabilization and possibly ongoing malolacitc fermentation.  As with most classy dames she didn’t want to give away all her secrets on the first date!

A heartfelt thanks to all who attended.


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.

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).

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.

The Longest Row

Where do the days go?

Every year, right around this time, I shift from basking in the joys of summer to flat out panic.  Days are spent trying to motor through jobs in the vineyard, but soon the stark reality sinks in.  There just aren’t enough days left before harvest to complete the monster list of tasks.

I find myself in a row of Pinot Gris on this hot Sunday, trying to rationalize how I seem to get into this mess every year, yet somehow manage to get most of the work done.  This brings no comfort.  The vines just keep growing (even on weekends).  There is minor satisfaction in each row of thinning and shoot positioning that I get through, but no time to really enjoy it.  I seem to remember more enjoyment in years past.  Perhaps this is tied to the fact we now have a winery occupying a large portion of our time.  As the sun beats down and I feel the sting of sweat in my eye, I begin to second guess why we decided to start a winery in the first place.  Growing grapes alone was sooo much easier.  No retail hours, no Interac, no problem!

Just as my self-pity hits a fevered pitch, and I’m convinced that I’ll never finish thinning this unbelievably long row of Pinot Gris,  I sense something beside me that causes me to jump with fear (only those who have been surprised out in a vineyard will truly understand my terror).  I went from mellowly singing along with John Denver to actually shrieking like a female punk vocalist.  Quickly wheeling around I found myself face to face with….what is that?….a coyote wearing sun glasses?  Alas no, it was only my Dad coming to aid his slightly heat-stroked son.  Without fail, the shock of abruptly meeting someone or something amid the tranquil cocoon of music and vines always makes me jump.

Thankfully, this was just the spark I needed.  Together we finished that marathon row and then hiked back to the barn for lunch.  Upon arrival, Wilma informed us that we had just missed out on a “crazy Shiraz flurry” and delighted to tell us how much she enjoyed tasting wines with the exuberant group.  The excitment on her face brought a smile to mine.

The reward of opening a winery was never more clear.  How selfish of me to think of it as a burden, even on this grueling day.  Five Rows started as a hopeful brand but has evolved into our lifestyle.  For this brief moment in time, we are able to achieve success together as a family.  Despite our foibles, the jobs eventually get done and wine seems to magically disappear out the door.  I’m increasingly aware that our current arrangement is unique, and not one that can last forever.  Therein lies both the paradox and the beauty of Five Rows.

Let’s all enjoy this “Shiraz flurry” while we can.

2008 Five Rows Shiraz Vinification Notes

2008 Five Rows Shiraz:

The tale of Lowrey Shiraz began many years ago with a firm handshake.  Our relationship as a grower for Creekside Estate Winery started in the late 90’s and continues to this day.  Shiraz is a staple for Creekside, grown and vinified to perfection year after year.  Given this success, we naively agreed to plant some of these vines soon after our partnership began.  Little did we know just how sensitive and vigorous Shiraz could be!

This combination of winter sensitivity and summertime vigor is a challenging prospect for the grape grower.  Early in their lives, these vines saw some pretty severe winters that almost led to their extinction in our vineyard.  Massive re-plantings and constant re-trunking were needed to restore their numbers.  Our hard work and patience was rewarded with some stellar vintages in the 2000s, ultimately inspiring me to take a crack at making my own Shiraz in 2008 (and yes, it will always be “Shiraz” not “Syrah” to us because we planted it for an Aussie!).

The fruit for this wine was harvested on October 23 following some pretty dodgy conditions in the summer of 2008.  We initially thinned the vines down to two bunches per shoot, but had to remove additional clusters in the fall, as it became clear that ripening would be a challenge.  We hand-harvested about one tonne of fruit from each of our Shiraz clones (7 & 100), then sorted before de-stemming into fermentation bins.

A long cold soak was employed to help with colour extraction and tannic development.  I chose to ferment the slightly riper Clone 7 fruit with RX60 yeast, but opted for F15 with the Clone 100 bin.  Ferments were carried out at an average pace, with four daily punch-downs.

One new Taransaud barrel, two older French and a lone American oak barrel were used for the maturation process of this wine.  Malolactic fermentation was carried out in barrel.  After 24 months in oak, the final blend was assembled and allowed to mingle for about 8 more months.  This exciting wine was bottled April 6th, 2011.

Aromas:  blackberry, black currant, lavender, smoked game

Flavours:  dark chocolate, coffee bean, raspberry

Production:  105 cases

Technical data:  13.0% alcohol,  pH 3.30,  TA 8.55

Price:  $50.00/bottle

Come One, Come All


As we head into the summer season, I would once again like to extend an open invitation to all wine lovers.  Please do join us for a tasting over the coming months during our weekend retail hours (11-5).  It’s an exciting time at Five Rows, as we’ve just released our 2008 Shiraz, 2008 Pinot Noir, 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 Pinot Gris.  The weekend barn traffic has ramped up dramatically in recent weeks and there has been a very positive response to our new products.  Anyone wishing to reserve a case, please call or email sometime soon.  History has shown us that these wines will not be around very long!


A Day in the Life of a Grape Farmer


A Day in the Life of a Grape Farmer

3:30am: Awaken to frost alarm.  Fire up the windmill for a few harrowing hours until dawn.

7:30: Groggy Winemaker Son arrives.  Exchange pleasantries and play fetch with “grand-dogs”.

9:00: Dew finally gone, off to hand-pick some Five Rows Shiraz.

9:03: “Man, they look beautiful!”

10:30:  coffee #5

10:30 – 6:00:   A sun-filled, back-achin’ day of quality Father/Son/Shiraz time.