Five Rows: From Hidden Gem to Cult SuccessHead 15 minutes south of Niagara-on-the-Lake, past the lush Virgil Memorial Forest, alongside the turning Niagara River, and you’ll find St. Davids, a small town of roughly 700 people nestled in the middle of Ontario’s wine country. “We hear many happy tales from visitors bound for Niagara-on-the-Lake who happen to stumble upon this hidden gem,” says Wes Lowrey. Wes is a fifth-generation winemaker and viticulturist at Lowrey Vineyards and founder of Five Rows Craft Winery, a craft winery located on a 35-acre vineyard along the St. David’s Bench appellation. Coming from a family of viticulturists led Wes to have a fascination with the natural world. He decided to pursue microbiology at the University of Guelph, where he spent his spare time studying yeast and fermentation chemistry. Although he’d been aware that his family tended to some highly sought-after grapes, it was only in a university beverage management course that Wes discovered his family’s appellation was making world-class wines. “I’d always been privy to the accolades received by the wines made from our vineyard at Inniskillin and later Creekside Estate Winery, but it wasn’t until I heard our vineyard mentioned glowingly by the professor of this course that it really sunk in—Niagara was making world-class wines. From that point on I was hooked,” he says. For five generations, Wes’ family tended to the sought-after vines at St. David’s Bench appellation and provided grapes for some of the most prestigious wineries in the country. Despite the success the vineyard was already having, Wes began to feel drawn to a larger calling. In 2001 he realized he needed to open up his own craft winery. “I saw my father working alongside my grandfather and wanted to replicate the special bond they shared. When the opportunity came to start a very small craft winery to complement our vineyard, I jumped at the chance,” shares Wes. After working as a viticulturist at two other wineries—Creekside and Blomidon Estate Winery in Nova Scotia—he moved back home to St. Davids and started his own craft winery on the estate. “I realized that smaller wine production meant more time for me to personally look after the vines. This proved to be beneficial two-fold, in that it allowed for greater control of vine balance and flavour production, while also giving me critical firsthand knowledge of the terroir and how to best harness it in the wines.”
Short Supply & Strong DemandAt Five Rows, wine is truly of the essence. With only 400 cases made per year, the appointment-only tastings run from late June until they run out (usually mid-August). Tastings are served in an intimate, wooden barn that also happens to be the space where the wine is made, hand-labeled, and stored. Amidst the utilitarian backdrop, the room is cozy, authentic and so are the people. Even if you’re not family, you’ll get treated like you are, in more ways than one. Wes half-jokingly warns, you may get talked into helping the team thin a few vines of Pinot Noir before you leave. He insists the vines are tended to with his own two hands, and yours! The result? Incredible wines that sell out fast.
“Being located on the St. Davids Bench, we are best known for our ageable red wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir), but one might be surprised to know that our fastest-selling wines every year are our aromatic whites: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling,”It’s no wonder the winery has achieved such a large fanbase. But how does a small craft winery manage such cult success? “As more people discover our wines, it can be a challenge to maintain a mom and pop shop feel. Selling out of wine within a few months every year has helped create demand and buzz for our product. I think spurning the temptation to expand production beyond our comfort level has kept us just enough under the radar to rely mainly on word of mouth for promotion,” he explains. A community feel is to be expected at Five Rows, Wes likes to keep his customers as friends by maintaining a practice that is as transparent as possible. “We’ve found that having good communication with both return customers and newcomers alike is the key to keeping people aware of our ever-dwindling supplies,” he shares. Wes keeps a Winemaker’s Blog on the Five Rows website with regular updates on the grapes, the process, and his family. “Being a father now to two young girls has given me a new perspective on land stewardship and sustainable practices, and is also reflected in the familial feel of Five Rows,” he says.
When asked about what’s to come in the next few years for Five Rows, Wes shares:View this post on Instagram
“we like to consider ourselves that cozy little keepsake or tradition that you can always count on for comfort. Nothing flashy or showy, just a reflection of hard work and humility that hopefully continues for generations to come. I see no need to change our formula drastically, but I’m always experimenting with new barrel and yeast treatments that could help to express and frame our terroir.”However, he was quick to follow up by mentioning that he’d hope to compliment the barn with a wine cave or underground cellar to better store and display their older vintages. According to Wes, one of the strengths of Niagara wines is their ability to improve with age, something his own wines are known for— if you can hold off on cracking a bottle open right away. Just one sip of their passionately made varieties and you’ll know why Five Rows is an off the beaten path destination that is well worth searching for. St. Davids alone is a wonderful “place within a place, much like appellations in viticulture,” says Wes. It too is a hidden treasure not many have the opportunity to experience. How fitting then that Five Rows is a secret gem within St. Davids. A special spot Wes has dreamed up with an overwhelmingly deep connection to the land, to winemaking, to family and where visitors are greeted like friends and leave as family.
• • • • •