Sometimes it takes an award to shine a light on years of quiet diligence. That’s the case with father-and-son Howard and Wes Lowrey, who recently received Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award sponsored by BASF Canada Inc. The award is given annually for viticulture excellence in Ontario.
Organized by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), the Cuvée event is one of the largest celebrations of Ontario’s VQA wine, showcasing each
winemaker’s favourite selection to a crowd of 800 guests in Niagara Falls.
The Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence award winner is chosen by an expert panel that makes field visits throughout the growing season to monitor quality. This year’s judges included Kevin Ker, Helen Fisher, Andy Reynolds and Jim Willwerth.
The Lowrey’s were recognized for their three-acre Cabernet Sauvignon block located within their family-run, 5th generation vineyard located on the St. David’s bench in the Niagara peninsula.
“With Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s pretty hard to ripen in our climate,” says Wes Lowrey. “At St. David’s, we have a few more degree growing days.”
This particular block was hand-planted in the late 1990s with a known clone and rootstock. The soil varies from sandy to sandy loam to heavy clay – a fact that’s immediately evident when disking. Some vines are vigorous while others are held back by the heavy clay.
“You have to get to know each row and each vine,” says Lowrey, who carries a pocket notebook and scribbles notes frequently. “After 20 years, I treat them as individuals.”
After soil samples are analyzed, the Lowrey’s top up with N-P-K supplement when needed.
Hand thinning and leaf removal are part of the management routine. Until recently, deleafing was considered a practice that should be gentle, not disturbing the plant. However, the Lowrey’s have experimented with mechanical deleafing in Cabernet Franc and Riesling varieties. They were pleasantly surprised by the results.
“For premium wines, we still like to deleaf by hand,” says Lowrey.
The intensive vineyard management extends to scouting for disease, particularly downy and powdery mildew. Fungicide use is timed with the weather.
The judges visit mid-season, after bloom, then again prior to harvest. At this point, they are looking for vine balance – the ratio of canopy to the crop and fruit maturity. The grapes are laboratory tested for sugar,
tritable acidity, pH and phenolics. The judges then use both vineyard scores and fruit quality assessments to make their final decision.
“As the leader in grape crop protection, it is a great honour to have the opportunity to recognize excellence in viticulture, and the Lowreys are deserving recipients,” says Scott Hodgins, horticulture brand manager with BASF.
For a sense of their farming philosophy, go to www.fiverows.com. Lowrey writes:
“Five Rows Craft Wine and the Lowrey vineyard are family-run operations that keep us in the boots most days. We welcome you to visit but apologize if you find us on the tractor or under vine.”