Friday, June 28, 2013

Tasting at Five Rows Craft Wine of Lowrey Vineyards

Earlier this month, I went to visit Wes Lowrey of Five Rows Craft Wine, a beautiful little spot in Niagara. A multi-generational wine-growing family, they produce tiny amounts of wine under the Five Rows label. We met in the morning in their charmingly rustic barn along with noted wine writer Rick VanSickle, to taste their lineup of 3 whites and 3 reds. Their website gives a bit more information about their history. Wes is carrying on his family's heritage of grape growing in St. David's Bench, with the family deciding to produce small amounts of their own wine in 2001. The Lowrey's sell their fruit to some fantastic wineries, with Fielding Estate the one I know best.

Wes is doing some very interesting things. They label all their bottles by hand, assigning each a serial number. You can register this number on their website, and provide comments including tasting notes, how long you put it away for, what you drank it with ... truth to the notion that to truly understand how people drink wine, you have to go out and connect with them yourself. Because market research and retail sales figures can only tell you so much. Wes also doesn't like to brand the corks. At the moment, all the wines are bottled under cork, and Wes reports a very low level of TCA-taint. He feels that branding the cork with the Five Rows logo is unnecessary as the logo is already present on the label, and he wants to avoid another level of cork handling.

So, the tasting. I didn't know what to expect at all, but as usual, you try to look for certain things - varietal character, vintage character, regional specificities, overall balance and harmony, and structure. And all the wines showed brilliantly. I was so surprised to see wines that had so much depth and soul ... real complexity here. Very exciting stuff indeed. Wes is a big believer of single varietals over blends - to showcase true each varietals true personality. And while many winemakers give the same speaking points, what a rarity to come across one who's wines actually represent that ideal. Bravo!

2012 Sauvignon Blanc: 156 cases produced, 60% fermented and aged in 5-8 year old French oak barrels, 40% in stainless steel. Wes wants to plan more white varietals. He gets freshness from the stainless steel, tropical notes from the neutral oak. There's a blast of green aromas here, good juicy fruit, ripe citrus. Great acid on the palate, extracted and really dry, and an almost lemony finish clinging to the palate.

2012 Pinot Gris: 70-75% in oak for 6 months. Wes is looking for more weight on the palate to take the edge of the acidity. Lots of lees stirring, with some skin contact before pressing. A bit more tropical fruit here, some creaminess, very round - good fruit. Acid and tension, on an extracted finish. Wes adjusts his proportions of oak and tank depending on how each vintage acts.

2012 Riesling: This is Clone 49 (Alsatian clone), planted on the recommendation of other growers the Lowrey's consulted. Vines with 5-6 years of age. Wes doesn't worry about sugar levels in the whites - he says the challenge is always about managing the acidity. Waxy nose, slight creaminess, but very ripe. Slightly sweet palate, again that really well-extracted finish. 12% abv.

2010 Pinot Noir: Quite rich here, cherry, crushed roses, and almost mushroomy. Lean palate, cranberries, and noticeably hard(er) tannins, high acid on the finish. Two blocks of pinot noir planted - new block produces riper fruit, while old block has more of those "funky pinot notes". Old vine pinot noir goes to Leaning Post Wines.

2010 Shiraz: So the name. Shiraz or syrah? It says shiraz on the label because both clones planted (Clone 100 on sandy/loam soil over clay, Clone 7 on mostly clay soil) are Australian. But the style is clearly anything but, hence the impromptu label rewrite. All reds here get 24 months in French oak. Wes gets 4 new barrels every year, with 2 for pinot noir, and 1 each for cabernet and syrah. End production is about 1/4-1/3 in new oak. Good peppery notes, white pepper in particular, with slightly jammy fruit. Thick and concentrated, but fine tannins - very tight at the moment.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon: Young block planted is Clone 169, with another block planted across the ravine a mix of 4 clones. Old block gives mid-palate texture and structure. Wes' annual struggle is "Can I get it ripe? We have to really thin it to give people an idea of what cab sauv does on its own in our terroir." Immediately darker, with graphite minerality aromas. Intense, tight and really structured, with almost ashy tannins.


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