“I like the idea of being very focused with my wine.” – Adam Lowy
So this is what happens when a former wine agent decides to start making his own wine. Good to know, and it’s great to see that Adam Lowy, proprietor of his very own label Cloudsley Cellars, is making good on a career-changing dream – risks be damned.
Lowy spent nearly two decades working for Lifford Wine and Spirits, a premier purveyor based out of Toronto, tasting and dealing nothing but the best wines, including those of Thomas Bachelder’s Three Terroirs project from Oregon, Burgundy and Niagara. A diehard lover of wines from Burgundy, he knew from his experience that the Ontario wine scene was on to something, specifically when it came to pinot noir and chardonnay – the classic Burgundy varietals. So, in 2014 he left to chase his dream of crafting and bottling the best expressions of pinot noir and chardonnay from various vineyard sites within the Niagara Escarpment – a place that’s very much akin to Burgundy’s terroir.
He leased a building that he’s turned into a winemaking operation, complete with barrel room and stainless steel fermenting tanks, and has joined the ranks in becoming a bonafide ‘garagiste’ producer of only pinot noir and chardonnay – much like Bachelder, who operates his namesake label out of what he refers to as “the Bat Cave”, owning no vineyard land of his own.
Lowy isn’t Cloudsley’s winemaker, per se. He leaves that title to Matt Smith, who was brought on in 2017. But it’s a partnership heavily influenced by Lowy’s tasting experience and thus, his high standards. Make no mistake, this is Lowy’s baby and he is the front and centre face of the label.
“I don’t want to confuse people into believing that I am the winemaker,” says Lowy. “Put it this way, I’m very involved in the entire process – from site selections, to when we harvest, to how we make our final selections in barrel. But I rely a lot on Matt to bring that process to fulfillment.”
As it stands now, Lowy works exclusively with Glen Elgin Vineyard Management’s Craig Wismer and the rest of the Wismer family – owners of several prestigious vineyard blocks within the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation of the Niagara Escarpment region. Known for producing excellent fruit, these highly sought-after properties are also sourced by many other producers including Adamo Estate Winery, Bachelder, Leaning Post and several more.
When asked why he’s making wine from just one single sub-appellation in Niagara (there are a total of 10 within the region), Lowy says rather confidently: “I like the idea of being very focused with my wine. I ended up choosing the Twenty Mile Bench because this is where I think the best vineyards are for making Burgundy style wines.”
That very focused intent means that Cloudsley’s output is a mere 1,500 cases with the possibility of expanding to up to 3,000 cases in the long run. But that’s about it. “It’s designed to be a small project,” assures Lowy. Will he stick with just the two varietals, perhaps a gamay or a rose someday to add to the portfolio? “I wouldn’t say never. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. It dilutes the message.”
It is obvious that pinot noir is Lowy’s true passion. In fact, he’s produced up to seven single vineyard pinots. Conversely, he works with just three vineyards for his chardonnay. Each varietal is produced at three distinct levels – village style (mainly for restaurants), regional blend and single vineyard – all made with fruit from the Twenty Mile Bench.
“Choosing this place to source all my fruit from has come from extensive tasting as well as talking with growers and winemakers,” says Lowy. “Being from southern Ontario, what intrigues me the most is that we have a world-class wine region on our doorstep, similar to Burgundy in that we have a cool climate and limestone soils. This combination works particularly well for conveying terroir in chardonnay and pinot noir.”
Adds Lowy: “While there are many great pinot producing regions, nowhere comes as close to Burgundy stylistically. Some people may prefer the big pinots of California or the intensely fruit driven wines from New Zealand, but for those who love Burgundy, Ontario offers a similar profile.”
“The most rewarding part for me is to see how people react to the wine. It’s an immensely gratifying experience.”
Despite Lowy not farming his own vineyard land, he’s still conscious of the importance of sustainable farming, saying that it’s “very important from a moral standpoint. I work with the growers and I believe in low intervention. You simply cannot make good wine unless you treat the vineyard well and properly. It would be my hope that we would move more towards organics, but in the meantime, we do what we can in the pursuit of great wine.”
He continues, saying “We are always learning and making adjustments, but the fundamental techniques and philosophy has remained unchanged: great fruit handled with great care, wild yeast, French oak and an extended élevage.”
Lowy’s sales and importing background clearly gives him an advantage for being able to break through a crowded field, but he knows just as well as anyone else in the business, that in the end, it’s the wine that does all the talking. “I think it absolutely helps to know the business,” says Lowy. “But it also helps that this is coupled with a deep love and understanding of great wine and being able to communicate that effectively.”
Below are the wines I tried during my visit to Cloudsley Cellars earlier this summer:
Cloudsley Cellars 2017 ‘Twenty Mile Bench’ Chardonnay
This is a regional level blend of two Twenty Mile Bench vineyards (Foxcroft and Wingfield) with Foxcroft making up the dominant portion of the blend. This is a tasty chardonnay that’s got a salty, mineral-driven core and is vibrant with balanced acidity. It’s not considered their best chardonnay, but this wine speaks volumes to the quality of their magnificent portfolio and is priced accurately. ($35)
Cloudsley Cellars 2017 ‘Foxcroft Vineyard’ Chardonnay
The Foxcroft Vineyard is a popular vineyard for winemakers to source fruit from. In the last few years, I’ve tasted at least seven different expressions of Foxcroft chardonnay from various producers who each have their own style and method for making this particular fruit sing. All have been excellent, but perhaps none have been as well put together as this one. When I first tried this 2017 vintage from Cloudsley, it was at the Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration in Niagara and the wine had only been in bottle for five weeks. At the time, I remember praising it as one of the more memorable chardonnays I tasted throughout the event. Re-tasting it this past summer only solidified that feeling. Acids are neatly in check, perfectly balanced providing an intense freshness on the palate. There’s a good dose of minerality to go along with a salty fresh finish. An excellent chardonnay from a very well trusted vineyard. Still memorable. ($50)
Cloudsley Cellars 2017 ‘Wingfield Vineyard’ Chardonnay
The single vineyard chardonnays from the Wismer Wingfield Vineyard have been a particular favourite of mine ever since I first got to try one made by Thomas Bachelder a few years ago. Much like Foxcroft, this is a next level single vineyard, one of Niagara’s grand cru spots that should make chardonnay lovers feel extra special for having experienced a taste of it. So, I was very curious about Cloudsley’s take on this fruit and found it to be just as terroir expressive as I expected it to be. Stony and minerally fresh all the way through, there’s that salinity I was looking for on the mid-palate and just a lovely texture overall. Do yourself a favour and taste this side-by-side with the Foxcroft and notice the subtle differences terroir makes. ($50)
Cloudsley Cellars 2017 ‘Twenty Mile Bench’ Pinot Noir
This pinot noir is a blend from grapes sourced from the Wismer family’s Glen Elgin and Homestead vineyards. There’s notes of underbrush and cedar on the nose. The palate is clean and crisp, with perhaps more than just a hint of under-ripened fruit to go along with a mineral mid-palate. The finish has some grip to it. Overall, this is a positive effort on a regional blend, however I expected more from it for the price. ($35)
Cloudsley Cellars 2017 ‘Glen Elgin Vineyard’ Pinot Noir
Just 90 cases were produced of this single vineyard pinot from a vineyard that’s known for its thinner soils due to its closer proximity to trees. It’s therefore very pale but beautiful in colour, practically shimmering in the glass – a foretelling of what’s ahead. Bright red cherry fruit on the nose, accented with stone and some cedar brush. There’s bursting acidity on the palate with a cran-cherry edge to it that gives way to a bit of spice and a noticeable mineral presence. It’s stone clean, pure and fresh tasting. ($50)
Cloudsley Cellars 2017 ‘Homestead Vineyard’ Pinot Noir
A real showstopper of a pinot. This is single vineyard pinot in all its glory. It’s noticeably darker in colour than the practically see-through Glen Elgin pinot. Deep and intensely flavoured, this is a very complex wine that deserves to be contemplated. The palate is rich and savoury, inducing flavour notes of brambled fruit, herbs, earth and minerality. The acids are impeccably balanced. Cellar worthy for years to come, this one had me pondering it long after I tried it – as in a week later, I was still thinking about this wine. It undoubtedly finds itself sitting among a small handful of excellent, stand-out worthy pinots to come out of Ontario’s 2017 vintage. ($50)