The new wines are finally in bottle and I couldn’t be more excited to share them with all those who’ve been patiently awaiting their release. The pre-orders are flooding in, the labels are being written and now we begin the monumental task of waxing, labelling and shipping a year’s worth of wine in the shortest time possible. The Five Rows team is certainly up to the task!
For obvious COVID-related safety reasons and wine distribution logistics, we have opted to keep our barn closed to tastings for the remainder of 2020. Although we are truly saddened not to be able to offer our normal tasting experience, we hope that all will understand how critical the health of our small team is to the continued operation of our vineyard and winery.
On a much happier note, we will soon be unveiling an updated fiverows.com website, fully equipped with an online store. I realize as I write this that most of the new wines might already be spoken for, but selling through the remaining inventory will be a good test project for managing online sales in future releases. My worry is that an online store may be a little less generous than Wilma when it comes to Sauv Blanc limits, but we will strive to find a happy medium!
As always, orders can still be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org until the website is up and running.
For those who’ve been with us from the beginning, my hope is that the new website will feel both contemporary and familiar at the same time. This Blog, the Provenance bottle registry and much of the content will be the same, but the addition of the online store and a proper mobile version should make purchasing our wines a more user friendly endeavour.
Many thanks to Barry and his team at Insite Design for helping us adapt to a new decade and a new reality. The nostalgic in me will be saddened to see the old site go, as it represented the true beginnings of our brand and a time of limitless possibilities. Thankfully, the software may have gotten a little dated, but the original vision of the designers still inspires a confidence in us to keep chasing those limitless possibilities into a new decade.
Hand-harvesting for the 2017 Syrah took place on October 27th, with about 900 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 4-day cold soak, then inoculated with RX60 (Clone 100) and XPure (Clone 7) on day 6.
Both bins were pressed on November 13th, and then racked into five French Oak barrels (20% new oak). Malolactic fermentation took place in barrel and the wine was aged in oak for 24 months.
This wine showcases the familiar Lowrey Syrah aromas of black raspberry, cherry, smoked meat and peppercorn. Surprisingly smooth and drinkable at this stage, it features the typical Syrah savouriness along with good balancing acid to compliment the ripe dark fruit flavours. It should become even more expressive with a year or two in bottle.
2017 Cabernet Sauvignon
On November 14th, 2017 we hand-harvested 1771 kg of beautiful Cab from a combination of rows 7-10 & 16 in our Clone 169 Block and rows 11 & 12 in our Old Block. The fruit was very clean, but the stems were a little brittle on picking day due to a heavy frost sustained the night before. Although not great for maintaining green foliage, a few nights of freezing temperatures in the fall can actually have a beneficial concentrating affect on the berries.
The fermentations were allowed to start spontaneously after a 4-day cold soak, then inoculated with FX10 (Clone 169) and F15 (Old Block) on day 6. Peak fermentation temperature reached 30C, and the bins were pressed after 16 total days on the skins. Aging and malolactic fermentation were carried out in French oak (20% new) for 24 months.
Aromas include a dark fruit component of black raspberry, plum jam and cherry, as well as some floral undertones. Well-balanced, bright fruit shines through on the palate, but the underlying tannic structure is the secret sauce of this ageworthy Cab. Tannins will likely soften in 1-2 years and it should start to peak by 2025.
2017 Pinot Noir
The favourable vineyard conditions in 2017 allowed for a later than average harvest date for Pinot Noir. It’s rare that we can hang Pinot into October, but most times we do have resulted in memorable wines (think 2009).
We chose to hand-harvest 2484 kg of fruit from rows 2, 3, 4, 5 & 12 of our Old Block on October 3rd, 2017. The large, tight clusters were sorted three times on their way to three separate one-tonne bins, and fermentations were allowed to start spontaneously after a 4-day cold soak at 15C. One bin was allowed to ferment wild, one was inoculated at 1/3 sugar depletion with RC212 and the other with 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 (28% new) for 24 months.
The 2017 Pinot Noir features terroir-driven notes of wild strawberry, cherry, truffle and violets. Tannins are smooth initially, allowing you to take in the flavours and texture, then pick-up in intensity near the finish to extend the length and invite another exploratory sip.
I’m excited to see if this Pinot evolves as interestingly as those from other cooler vintages. Could be a candidate for long term cellaring (2025-2027).
The 2019 vintage will be remembered for its abundances. Primarily the abundant rainfall, which led to dense canopies, tight clusters and heavy disease pressure in all varietals. Botrytis removal was a full time job in the days leading up to harvest, just to assure the grapes would be acceptable to ferment! Luckily, Riesling is one varietal where a little bit of botrytis is the norm, and something we take into account when crafting our particular style.
Pressed juice was 100% fermented in stainless steel with two separate yeast strains: W15 (55%) and X5 (45%). Tanks were fermented cool (10C) for 37 days and stopped slightly off-dry (specific gravity 1.005) to balance the ample natural acidity – another abundance in 2019!
The 2019 “Jean’s Block” Riesling exhibits intense aromas of white peach, apple, pear and honeysuckle. It is refreshing yet balanced, and relatively full-bodied for a Riesling. The interesting texture might be the result of extended lees aging and the minor botrytis influence.
It is best enjoyed slightly chilled at 50-60F. I took the liberty of trying many bottles at many different temperatures to make this determination. This is as close to a Five Rows “Winemaker’s favourite” as I’ve ever been willing to admit.
2019 Sauvignon Blanc
What is it that makes our Sauvignon Blanc unique?
This is a question I’ve been asked with great regularity over the years, but always chalked it up to the fact that many people hadn’t tried Niagara Sauvignon Blanc before. As the years roll by, and more people continue to inquire about this wine they can’t believe is from a vineyard in St. David’s, I am starting to realize there might be more to the story – so lets dig in.
It always starts with terroir. There is a uniqueness to where these grapes are grown that is evident in the differences between our “Young” and “Old” blocks, planted a mere lane width away from each other. One resides in heavy clay and the other clay-loam. Remarkably, the fruit is vastly different in both flavour and ripening profile. Blended together they always make for a more complex wine.
In the vineyard, I tend to train and thin Sauvignon Blanc (and Pinot Gris for that matter) more like red varietals – with lower crop levels, good exposure, and “social distancing” of clusters to minimize disease.
Then there are the magic old barrels. I used to be embarrassed to admit I’ve been using the same barrels for ten years without properly sterilizing them (we don’t have a barrel washer), but I’m starting to think that these tartrate-laden vessels might be part of the reason our Sauv Blanc smells and tastes so distinctive.
In 2019, equal amounts of fruit were harvested from our Young and Old blocks on September 21st, with ideal parameters for crafting aromatic and lively Sauv Blanc (19.2 degrees Brix, 7.88 g/L TA). I chose to ferment 80% of the juice in mostly older French oak (12% new) and the remaining 20% in stainless steel.
Everything was inoculated with yeast strain X5 and the barrel-fermented portion went through partial spontaneous malolactic fermentation. All vessels were fermented cool (10 C) for 27 days and stopped at a specific gravity of 0.998.
Due to the COVID-related delay in bottling, this wine was nervously barrel aged for 2 months longer than initially planned. Thankfully, the extra bulk aging time seemed to benefit the aromatic complexity and overall texture of this wine.
It features intense notes of ripe pineapple, starfruit and lime along with great natural acidity. Best served between 55-65F.
2019 Pinot Gris
Roughly 1500 kg were harvested on September 21th, following a stretch of hot, humid conditions that had been absent for the majority of summer.
The rare luxury in 2017 was being able to harvest the Pinot Gris with good natural acidity (TA = 8.7 g/L) to balance the ripe flavour components in the juice. 80% of the juice was fermented in neutral French oak barrels and 20% in stainless steel.
Two different yeast strains (X5, R2) were used to ferment cool (9C) over 26 days, and stopped at a specific gravity of 0.998. Partial spontaneous malolactic fermentation took place in the barrel-fermented portion of wine.
The appearance of this Pinot Gris is unmistakable, with its golden straw colour and light pinkish hue. The aromas come in subtle layers: I get Honeycrisp apple, apricot, vanilla and fresh melon, but you’ll probably pick out a few more.
This wine is best served at 55-65F to highlight its balance and wonderful Pinot Gris texture.
For eleven years now, my entire month of March has been spent preparing our new wines for bottling and summertime release. I always look forward to this task, as it represents the culmination of many years of work and the chance to finally share those wines.
Our annual bottling date with the mobile line has always fallen in the last week of March or first week of April, giving us plenty of time to get the wines VQA approved and labelled before release. This year, our scheduled date was April 1st (no joke). A stickler for routine, I dutifully prepared my wines with blinders on until, thankfully, someone wiser than I provided some welcome perspective – I needed to stop and smell the Sauv Blanc. Although we were technically still allowed to assemble a large enough crew to bottle, it just didn’t feel like the right thing to do, given the uncertainty surrounding viral spread. Despite my initial hesitation to postpone bottling, doing our small part to keep the virus at bay became a no-brainer.
So, unfortunately, those eager wines did not make it to bottle on the early hours of April Fool’s day, and I am left with the queasy feeling of holding onto inventory longer than anticipated. There are intertwined concerns of letting people down, wine stability, temperature control, tank space and a looming summer without visitors.
On the flip side, I can’t discount that for some of the wines, this slight delay might actually be a good thing. Although my ego tells me that I had the wines exactly where I wanted them, perhaps some extended bulk aging could prove beneficial – tannins are still being refined, flavours developing, aromatics building.
I always figured that bottling all of our varietals in one day was risky, but never anticipated a situation like this. Thankfully, the folks at Hunter Bottling have been more than accommodating, offering us a make-up date in July when things have hopefully settled down.
A wine bottling delay really isn’t anything to complain about in the grand scheme of things, so I’ve trained myself to think of all the great wines I’ve heard tale of through the years that were the result of unplanned “innovation”. Sometimes it takes extenuating circumstances to get people to think outside the box and try new things. That said, I’ll probably rack my Sauv Blanc out of barrel sometime soon…just to be safe!
In a time of tremendous uncertainty and worry, I find myself taking solace in the simple things that I took for granted before…like being able to write a journal entry while sipping a fantastic glass of wine that I didn’t make.
Since I last wrote, there have been a few noteworthy events in our life: another vintage in the books, a new niece, a move, a renovation, another move, and an Ada. Oh, Ada….
We welcomed our second daughter (Ada Elizabeth) in the wee hours of January 2nd, 2020. She arrived with an abundance of spunk and cuteness, but also a few unexpected challenges. We were suddenly thrust into a situation that I was totally unprepared for emotionally. Thankfully, she was born long enough before the arrival of COVID-19 to allow her to receive amazing care from the neonatal staff at McMaster Children’s Hospital. She is not completely out of the woods yet, but her vulnerable little head has healed enough for us all to breathe a little easier. Seeing her grow and thrive over the last four months has given me a shot of inspiration when I really needed it.
Luckily for Ada, she has a strong mother with great wound care skills, three doting grandparents, a cousin very close in age and one extremely excited sister. Unluckily for said sister Frances, she’s had to endure much more time with a father ill-prepared for full time child care in a pandemic. You may find this hard to believe, but she now insists that I pretend to be “Grumpy Bear” or “Grumpy Dwarf” when we play together, while she is always Sunshine Bear and Snow White, of course!
My treasured days in the vineyard have been few and far between of late, as two kids tend to require two parents (should have seen that one coming). The days I do manage to get out there are, admittedly, a welcome change of pace. It turns out that growing kids is way harder than growing grapes.
My hope is that Ada will read this one day and wonder what all the fuss was about, but I also worry that the current reality may linger into her world going forward. We will do our best to adjust to the new normal both as parents and as wine growers, embracing the challenges and endeavoring to craft wines that help everyone else feel a little less Grumpy.
As my two year old daughter continues to grow up faster than I can fathom, I find myself fixated on how much of her current life she will actually retain as memory. This leads to a wide array thoughts: what are my own earliest memories? does she have any idea why people like wine? is it too early to teach her how to sucker grapes? (come to think of it, not remembering that job would actually be advantageous)
One thing Frances and I certainly share is a special relationship with our grandparents – and this ties into my earliest memories at the age of three. I have hazy notions of time spent at the farms of two sets of grandparents and accompanying them on vacations up north. I’m sure my recollections of those times have been shaped by listening to family stories over the years, but I treasure them nonetheless. Perhaps my first vivid, individual memory involves my parents bringing my baby sister home from the hospital when I was four, and soon Frances will get to experience that same life-changing moment.
Not surprisingly, most of my other early memories are either farm or tractor related. I often recall being put to bed with the late summer sun still shining, while my dad was finishing his tractor work within earshot of my bedroom window. I wished (and probably cried) that I could’ve been out there with him, and to this day I find the sound of a tractor very soothing, almost reassuring. I guess Frances comes by her own fascination with Grandpa and his tractor very naturally!
To that end, it has become abundantly clear that in her world I am just a conduit to the “real farmers”: Grandma and Grandpa. Frances doesn’t seem overly impressed that I play a minor role in the farm and winery operation, instead she fancies me as more of a farm chauffeur, ferrying her back and forth to her beloved St. David’s wonderland. She has a certain way of keeping my ego in check that manages to be both cute and matter of fact, “No Dada, those are Grandpa’s grapes.” I’ve been forced to learn the hard way that there is perhaps no more fruitless cause than trying to impress a two year old with your knowledge of terroir.
The times we spend together now may or may not form her first memories, but I will derive no greater joy than watching her continue to develop her own special bond with the “real farmers”.
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
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
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
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
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
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
The Five Rows Barn is set to re-open on weekends starting June 1st, 2019. See you soon!
It takes special people to inspire the kind of trust that I usually reserve for my own mother when pouring my wines. James and the staff at Treadwell Cuisine are those kind of people.
Our relationship with the Treadwell family dates back to our initial foray into the wine business some ten years ago. In fact, it was at a Treadwell supplier dinner in 2008 where we nervously introduced the first Five Rows wines to the public – 12 bottles of 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon in special makeshift labels. They made us feel so comfortable that we never left, eagerly tagging along from Port Dalhousie to downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake.
They understand that we are grape farmers first and foremost who happen to make a bit of wine, and promote our brand accordingly. It is the place that has introduced our wines to more people than any other, and I truly consider them to be an extension of the Five Rows tasting room.
With great pleasure we announce the dates of our annual Treadwell Winemaker Dinners. Please join us on January 26 or March 2nd for some wonderful food pairings that will inevitably make our wines shine their brightest.
As always, I promise to bring Howie and Wilma!
Now that the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon is finally in barrel, it’s time to take a relaxing look back at the complex 2018 Vintage. Legitimate attempts are made to positively reminisce, only to get bogged down each time with flashbacks to rainy days and rotten fruit. It turns out that there will be nothing “relaxing” about this exercise after all!
I will never take a dry October for granted again. It becomes apparent, in a year such as this, how extremely fortunate we are as winemakers when late fall conditions are either dry or warm or both. We come to accept that early harvest weather is nearly always variable due to August and September heat and thunderstorm threats, but in recent years we’ve been treated to glorious October and November days that were perfect for ripening Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. This was certainly not the case in 2018! However, do not despair Cab lovers, the last month of hang time does not tell the whole story of 2018 – making it a truly one of a kind and intriguing vintage.
After a normal budbreak date and good initial bud survival rates, the vines took off and never slowed down. Continued lush growth, even through a very dry season, illustrated how important the rainy year of 2017 was to replenish the water table for deep-rooted, old vines. In fact, 2017 and 2018 would prove to be polar opposite vintages from a climate pattern standpoint, which should make for some interesting comparative tastings in the future.
As the summer progressed, wary farmers would shy away from predicting just how good the season was shaping up to be, perhaps because they could sense an eventual turn for the worse. I’ve learned the hard way to trust the intuition of wise old farmers…and only hope that I can become one someday.
A very hot, humid stretch in late August brought about a rapid transition through veraison and left winemakers drooling at the possibilities. Negatively, it also ramped up disease pressure from both botrytis and Grape Berry Moth, creating breakdown chaos all over the peninsula. All the early varietals were ready to pick at once – and two weeks early at that!
It was setting up to be an easy glide into the later varietals, when the aforementioned rains innocently started to fall. What followed was a miserable cycle of vineyard work, fruit sampling, cursing, thinning clusters, sampling again and more cursing. It took much perseverance and the continued ruthless thinning of rotten berries to salvage any kind of quality crop.
As a grape grower, it was a minor victory just to have all of your fruit accepted by wineries in 2018. The predominant post-harvest feeling among winemakers was that the early varietals showed much promise, but achieving peak phenolic ripeness in the later stuff (Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc) was hit and miss depending on the vineyard. My hope is that the summer heat, combined with the late season grunt work, was enough to produce a Cabernet Sauvignon worthy of a Five Rows handwritten label.
Perspective is understandably clouded in the aftermath of a challenging vintage, but my years in this industry have taught me that time will soften my feelings about 2018, just like time in barrel will soften the wines.
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.
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…
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!
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!