Page Archive for the ‘Syrah’ Category

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

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!

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

2015 Pinot Noir

On particularly trying winemaking days, I can usually convince myself that I would be perfectly content just growing and selling grapes.  This assumption was emboldened by a recent accolade received by all the wines made from Lowrey Pinot Noir.

With the stressful filtering and bottling sessions behind us, I nervously pour myself the first glass of newly bottled 2015 Five Rows Pinot Noir…and all the reasons we started a winery in the first place come swirling back.  The familiar hallmarks of our terroir leap from the glass and reassure my skeptical nose.  I experience the wine first in aromas and flavours, then in memories (good and bad) of my days spent in that vineyard.  The balanced finish and pleasing tannins give me hope that the 2015 Pinot Noir will create future memories for all those who choose to cellar it.

Thanks to Rick Vansickle for his kind words, and to all the Winemakers who do such wonderful things with our fruit.  Most of all, I thank the late Karl Kaiser – my words will never be enough to adequately honour him for the legacy he helped inspire.

 

2015 Syrah

After a second consecutive extreme winter in 2014-15, most of our Syrah vines simply said “uncle”.  The majority of primary buds were dead, and many of those that did bud out eventually collapsed.  We were left with a shoot here and a cluster there, making it very difficult to look after the vineyard in a balanced manner.  It was a pleasant surprise when we were able to eke out enough fruit for 4 barrels.

I will always associate the 2015 Syrah with living in a trailer beside the barn during harvest (our home was undergoing major renovation).  Those memorable Airstream days featured a leaky roof, cool weather, sleeping in a small bed with three dogs, exciting playoff baseball (the Jays losing ALCS Game 6 to the Royals – ugh) and, eventually, nice ripe Syrah!

The 2015 Syrah features a uniquely smoky nose, with hints of pepper and cassis.  The palate is more fruit-driven than the nose lets on, and exhibits the typical cool climate Syrah savouriness and texture that I love.

 

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

I’ve been crafting Cab Sauv longer than any other varietal, and this – the 11th Five Rows Cab – is a striking amalgam of its forebears.  It has the noticeable concentration of 2005 (another short crop year), the unmistakeable ripeness of 2004, 2007 and 2010, the floral subtleties of 2008 and 2009, the wonderful aromatic strength of 2011 and 2012, and it shows the versatility of being drinkable now and potentially ageable like the 2013 and 2014.

Then again, aren’t we all a patchwork of those that came before?

 

2017 Sauvignon Blanc

The summer rains of 2017 made vine vigour and crop level control in Sauv Blanc absolutely paramount.  The vintage was rescued by the dry heat of September, which helped to ripen what were now massive berries and clusters.  For once, we had the luxury of harvesting the crop with as much acidity as was desired (we opted for 8.5 g/L).

I’ve always enjoyed my Sauv Blanc a little on the “crisper” side, both as a food pair and sipping wine.  The 2017 is an example of that style, more so because of the conditions we faced than anything done differently in the winery.  We stuck with the tried and true formula of a 75% older French oak / 25% stainless steel fermentation ratio – all with X5 yeast.  The amount of malolactic fermentation that took place is my only secret…mainly because I have no idea.

 

2017 Pinot Gris

I think it’s okay to reveal that I’m usually partial to the barrel-fermented portion of our Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris.  Of all the wines we crafted in the 2017, however, my favourite was the tank-fermented Pinot Gris.

It was so tropical and lush that I toyed with the idea of keeping it separate and releasing it on its own.  The problem became one of logistics, as it was only 300L or so – making it an awkward volume to support a one-off bottling.  In the end, the final blend proved to be far more complex than the individual components, so I don’t regret the decision to give my precious tank over to the barrels.  We’ll always have that month of fermentation…

 

2017 Riesling

I consider Jean’s Block Riesling to be the most “personal” of our wines for many reasons, but mainly because I dial it in to my palate specifically.  I taste the fermentation constantly near the end of its time, and stop it at the precise point where I feel the residual sugar level balances the natural acidity.

It occurs to me now that the fatal flaw in “personal” winemaking is this:  you are the only one to blame if the wine is perceived to be out of balance by everyone else!  Thankfully for yours truly, the aromatics of this wine are the real star, and rival the Sauv Blanc in intensity – something I’d never have been willing to concede in year’s past.

 

The Five Rows Barn is set to re-open on weekends starting June 2nd, 2018.  See you soon!

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

For generations now, all major accomplishments on the Lowrey farm have been accompanied with the wave of a hat and a boisterous cry of, “Wahooooo!!”.  Whether it was planting our first field of Pinot Noir or harvesting our last crop of plums, I fondly recall my Grandfather doing this on numerous occasions.  As the years went on, the ‘Wahoo’ rallying cry crept slowly into everyday life, and could be heard over multiple St. David’s phone exchanges following Joe Carter home runs and Doug Gilmour OT winners.  With pride and nostalgia, I now channel his unabashed joy at the end of a long harvest.

Winemakers know that the real end of vintage cannot be marked until the last of the reds are pressed and racked to barrel.  It is only then that the true celebrating and reflecting begins.  This can be difficult for the grape grower turned winery owner who is more accustomed to throwing a hat in the air as the last cluster of Cabernet Sauvignon is cut from the vine.  We’ll give Howie a pass here, because he worked so hard to keep the hungry birds at bay until the not-so-bitter end.

As the last days of August gloomily came and went, it became apparent that some kind of miracle would be required to ripen the later varietals in 2017.  The collective mood around the industry was grim, to the point where I actually started to make alternative arrangements in case the Syrah and Cab Sauv did not pan out.  None of us knew it at the time, but the late season heat wave that we had all but written off was slowly making its way across the prairies.

A wet summer had fattened up clusters to the point where early varietal yields were up nearly 20% across the board – surprisingly not at the expense of fruit quality.  The September heat arrived at the perfect time to kick ripening into gear, validating the old adage that a stellar Fall can save any vintage.  The Sauv Blanc and Pinot Gris came in clean and full of flavour, with the luxury of good natural acidity.  The Pinot Noir and Riesling required painstaking botrytis control, but we managed to get them off just prior to a biblical deluge of rain.

After dodging our own mini-hurricane season and a few brushes with October frost, Vintage 2017 came to a pleasing denouement.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah berries began to desiccate and concentrate in mid-October and the vines held foliage well into November, allowing for as late a harvest as was desired.  Wilma aptly noted, while we brought in the last of the Cab, that it seemed like we had favourable weather on every picking date this year – and she couldn’t recall that ever happening before.

That might just be worthy of a Wahoo!

Please join us to celebrate this memorable year at one (or both) of our upcoming Treadwell Winemaker Dinners.

 

Friday, April 21st, 2017

2016 Sauv Blanc

2014 Pinot Noir

Production: 143 cases

Aromas –  cherry, floral (violet), red licorice (Nibs), truffle, earth, mushroom

Palate –  typical “Lowrey terroir” profile of ripe cherry, pleasing acidity and evolved tannic structure

 

2014 Syrah

Production: 122 cases

Aromas –  wild black raspberry, pepper, cooked meat, tobacco

Palate –  ripe red fruit (cherry, plum), savoury core, smooth tannins make it hard not to drink right now

 

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Production: 123 cases

Aromas –  wild black raspberry, cherry, bell pepper, violet

Palate –  cherry flavoured candy, currant, dark chocolate, structural versatility to enjoy now with meats and cheeses or to lay down for another few years

 

2016 Sauvignon Blanc

Production: 220 cases

Aromas –  pineapple, starfruit, grapefruit, peach drink, vanilla bean

Palate –  ripe tropical flavours balanced by crisp citrus notes, lingering finish, best enjoyed just below room temperature

 

2016 Pinot Gris

Production: 110 cases

Aromas –  honeydew melon, apricot, whispers of single malt scotch

Palate –  full-bodied, balanced, signature Lowrey Pinot Gris texture, tastes like Wilma’s homemade butter tarts

 

2016 “Jean’s Block” Riesling

Production: 119 cases

Aromas –  intense and alluring, floral notes with strong citrus undertones, apple

Palate –  zippy acidity, a real depth of flavour, balanced finish, excellent food pairing wine, serve slightly chilled

Friday, June 24th, 2016

Vineyard workers sneeze in unison as the unmistakable smell of grapevines in bloom wafts across the peninsula.  Each pull of a shoot or yank of a sucker knocks thousands of pollen particles into the air – and eventually into our collective nasal passages to create one mighty “sonic bloom”.

What a difference a year makes.  I remember the abject despair with which I traversed these rows last spring, as one vine after another collapsed into oblivion.  The growing season of 2015 became more about rejuvenation than celebration in a number of varietals – particularly Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.

I can’t begin to describe the relief in watching the tender suckers I white-knuckled together last season become the strong, fully-budding trunks I see before me now.  There are still failures, but not nearly in the magnitude of 2015.  Ideal weather conditions have helped get us back on track and now I can shift my focus back to formulating a plan to shape and position these burgeoning vines.

Please stay with me here as I attempt to outline a mindset that some may find perplexing.  I was a weird kid (you can debate whether this has changed) who always found comfort in a well-organized strategy.  Toys were for displaying and cataloging, not playing with.  Upon receipt of the official Toronto Maple Leaf 1984-85 Fact Book, I set out to memorize the birthdays and relevant personal facts of the entire roster, just so I could be prepared if anyone ever asked me.  Kids growing up in the Google age will never experience the joys of memorizing useless facts – like Walt Poddubny’s pre-game meal or Bill Derlago’s favourite out of town restaurant.

So here is where my head is at when I look out over the vineyard on this first day of summer: roughly 150 rows to tackle, at an average of 3 rows per day, means that I should be able to finish properly fashioning my vines in about 50 days.  Factoring in that my progress will be slower as the days get hotter and the vine growth intensifies, and throwing in the odd “wife-mandated” day off, I should be done thinning in about two months.

I’m most efficient working down each row from left to right and prefer not to leave an unfinished row at the end of the day.  One veteran move is to always work on the shady side of the row (west side in the morning, east side in the afternoon), as it will keep you cooler throughout the day and the contrast will be better for locating unwanted growth.

My traditional starting point would be the Pinot Noir blocks, but the Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are showing the strongest vigour this year, with an inordinate amount of secondary shoots and an explosion of centrally located growth – all of which must go!

There is a method to this mindset, as I find greater motivation when jobs have a clear start and end point.  It is one reason why we release wines only once per year.  The wine is bottled and the wine is sold, then we start all over again.  It may be what appeals to me most about farming – every season has a harvest, an ultimate prize to work toward and celebrate upon it’s completion.

That’s enough typing for now…I’ve got three rows to finish.

 

 

 

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

2013 Pinot Noir

In looking back at my harvest notes for the 2013 Pinot Noir, I’m immediately drawn to the “Fruit Condition” section where I have written:  excellent; “Some of the nicest we’ve ever picked.” – Wilma.  I remember it well, and it makes me smile as much now as it did when she said it on September 18, 2013.

We hand-picked 90 boxes from rows 3, 4 & 5 and 64 boxes from rows 8 & 9.  These are the rows that I traditionally use, and they represent a good cross section of terroir from our oldest vines.  The Pinot was sorted four times:  first I do a quick pass on my own before we harvest to remove any obvious rot; then each picker must inspect clusters as they cut them; a third inspection takes place as boxes are loaded onto the wagon and finally again as they are dumped into the crusher.  Those select few Pinot berries that made the final cut ended up filling two fermenting bins.

After a four day cold soak at 18°C, the first bin containing rows 3, 4 & 5 was inoculated with RC212 yeast and the second bin (rows 8 & 9) was inoculated with W15.  Fermentation lasted about a week, with peak temperature around 34°C.  Wines were then inoculated with malolactic bacteria strain MBR31 and racked to barrel.  After 24 months in oak (100% French, 20% new), the wine was blended and eventually bottled on April 6, 2016.

Aromas:  “Like walking into a pantry”; ripe cherry, dried spices, truffle

Palate:  light velvety texture; good balance; enjoyable now, but just enough tannin to make you want to lay it down for a while

Production: 145 cases

 

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

A later Spring than 2012 (few are earlier) led to an interesting vintage that felt like a constant uphill battle.  The growing degree days were just not adding up, so an effort was made to dramatically reduce crop level at veraison.  Then we waited…and waited some more…until all the leaves had fallen and finally picked our Cab on November 15, 2013.

The fruit was quite desiccated on the vine at this stage, almost a late harvest look, and we actually ended up with close to 23 degrees Brix and reasonable acidity.  The drastic thinning gamble had worked, but at the expense of tonnage.  We ended up with only 117 picking boxes of Cab Sauv from five rows that would have normally yielded 150 boxes.

The fruit was processed into two bins and after a four day cold soak, Bin 1 was inoculated with FX10 and Bin 2 with F15.  Finished wine was blended, inoculated with MBR31 bacteria and racked to barrel where it would spend the next two years.  Two new French barrels were used (Taransaud and Billon) along with a couple of wily veterans.  The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was bottled on April 6th, 2016.  This wine will surprise many people.

Aromas:  cherry, blackberry, anise, loose-leaf tea

Palate:  flavours as intense as the nose; nice texture; savoury; integrated tannins make it both drinkable and cellar-worthy

Production:  100 cases

 

2013 Syrah

*See 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon for the challenges associated with this growing season.

As we nervously hung our Syrah into November for the first time, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be writing a description for a Five Rows 2013 Syrah – the grapes just didn’t look right.  They tasted fine, the lab numbers were good, but the berries looked wrinkled and raisin-like.

A harvest date was finally settled upon, but to our astonishment we awoke that day to….frozen Syrah-sicles!  An overnight frost had thrown a wrench into the plans, making for a unique harvesting and de-stemming experience.  The stems were so brittle that I was concerned the berries wouldn’t properly separate from the rachis going through the de-stemmer, adding unwanted bits of stem to the must.  In the end – I needn’t have fretted, as the semi-frozen berries rattled off the rachis with ease.

82 boxes were harvested from Clone 7 rows 2 & 3, along with 57 boxes from Clone 100 (“Old Block”) rows 1 & 2.  The Clone 7 was inoculated with RX60 and the Old Block with F15.  Both bins were pressed after a week-long fermentation.  The whole batch was aged in French oak; three older barrels and one new (DAMY Rouge).

This wine was incredibly smooth from the get-go, and frankly I have no idea why.  Perhaps it was the extended hang time and wilted berries, perhaps it was the frost – yet more proof that the most unique wines often result from unforeseen circumstances.  It was bottled on April 6th, 2016.

Aromas:  lavender, cassis, vanilla, cooked meat, thyme (“Smells like a lamb dinner” – Wilma)

Palate:  smooth as silk, very savoury, hint of pepper, finish dominated by dark fruit

Production:  100 cases