Nova Scotia Firsts
Winter 2008-2009 produced the most severe vineyard conditions experienced in many years. At one point, in the Gaspereau Valley, the temperature plummeted to -26˚C. Several tender varieties took a major hit. It was certainly a wake-up call after a long run of relatively benign winters. Interestingly, though, not all vineyards experienced the extreme cold. Notable exceptions were Blomidon Estate vineyards on the Minas Basin and Bear River in southwestern Nova Scotia. Temperatures in both locations dropped no further than -16˚C.
Nova Scotia is still a very young wine region and growers continue to learn just how important it is to choose the right vineyard site and, equally, to select varieties that will thrive best in each location. Still, viticulture has advanced sufficiently enough over the last 25 years or so that growers have a much better understanding of how to manage adverse conditions. While yields for some varieties will definitely be down this year, favourable conditions through the rest of the growing season could still produce some exceptionally good wines.
For the most part, the established wineries continue to do well. Nova Scotia’s wines now enjoy much wider distribution throughout the local system and are featured more prominently on restaurant wine lists. This year, two new kids arrived on the block, with others planning to open their doors in the next couple of years. Among them is local personality and entrepreneur, Pete Luckett. Luckett is widely known in the Maritimes for his Pete’s Frootique specialty grocery stores. He also runs an immaculate farm in the Gaspereau Valley, which includes an eight acre vineyard. Plans are well under way for construction of a winery building to be opened as soon as next year.
June was a particularly important month for the region. The first Atlantic Canada Wine Awards competition took place and the two new wineries opened to the public. The competition was organised by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS), Atlantic Chapter. I participated as one of eleven judges and, subsequently, had the pleasure of presenting the awards at the Catch Seafood Festival held in Halifax on June 27. There were 119 wines submitted and 13 wineries from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick received medals. This was a big step forward for the industry, which will help to focus attention on the growing quality of wines in the Atlantic region.
In addition to the gold, silver and bronze medals given in 18 categories, the following Best of Show awards were presented:
Best White Wine – 2008 Limited Edition Muscat Chardonnay, Gaspereau Vineyards, Nova Scotia
Best Red Wine – 2006 Marechal Foch, Sainte-Famille Wines, Nova Scotia
Best Fruit Wine – 2006 Blackberry Mead, Rossignol Estate Winery, Prince Edward Island
Best Dessert Wine – 2007 Muscat Ice Wine, Domaine de Grand Pré, Nova Scotia
Muir Murray Estate Winery
In the Wolfville region, the hub of Nova Scotia viticulture, the big news earlier this spring was the opening of the Muir Murray Estate Winery. This very ambitious project is the brainchild of Dr. Jonathan Murray, who moved to the province in 2003 from Bermuda. The winery is located just three kilometres outside the town of Wolfville on 20 acres of vineyards overlooking the scenic Minas Basin. The Estate also includes two other vineyards in the nearby Gaspereau Valley. Long term plans call for planting some 200 acres of vines, which would make this the largest estate winery in the province. Grapes planted are hardy hybrid varieties, while more tender viniferas are being planted at the two other sites. The winery launched a range of seven wines bearing such poetic names as Eagles Soar (Baco Noir), Valley Mist (Seyval Blanc) and Atlantic Tide (l’Acadie Blanc). On an initial tasting the wines compared quite favourably.
As a neophyte trying to enter the grape-growing industry, Dr. Murray found it difficult to know where to turn for help. “Everyone had their own way of doing things,” he says, “and they were all different.” Completely confused as to which way was best, he concluded that there was a need for a place where novice growers could learn the business. He therefore established the Annapolis Valley Institute for Education of Wine. Located on the winery site, the Institute offers informal, hands-on courses designed to encourage the general interest in the burgeoning wine industry and to foster excellence in winemaking.
At the other end of the Annapolis Valley, relatively remote Bear River is beginning to confirm its early promise as an excitingly different wine region. There are now seven growers in the region and the acreage under vines is rapidly increasing. The gifted and individualistic Chris Hawes, who established Bear River Vineyards a number of years ago, is Bear River’s pioneer and inspirational leader. For my money, Bear River Vineyards takes top honours for its imaginative and beautifully designed labels. The detested black fly never looked as good as it does on a bottle of Bear River Pinot Noir!
Annapolis Highlands Vineyards
In late June, without much fanfare, Bruce and Karen Enright opened their nine-acre Annapolis Highlands Vineyards. Located about three kilometres from Bear River, the vineyard’s high-level site appears rather exposed, but the grapes have thrived since initially planted four years ago. Varieties are a mixture of Nova Scotia’s established hybrids as well as the viniferas: Pinot Gris, Riesling, Cabernet Franc and some recently planted Gamay. Initial releases of Pinot Gris, Riesling and De Chaunac from the 2008 vintage are quite impressive, especially the Pinot Gris. The wines are available for purchase at the tastefully redesigned wine shop set in the middle of the vineyard.
Associate Winemaker Joins Blomidon Estate Winery
A couple of years ago, Blomidon Estate was taken over by the locally-based Ramey family. Things have been looking up ever since. Bruce Ewart, former winemaker at Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards and Summerhill in the Okanagan, and now a transplanted winemaker in Nova Scotia, has been making the wines while continuing to develop his own winery, l’Acadie Vineyards, which opened last year. Earlier this summer Blomidon Estate added an Associate Winemaker to the team. Simon Rafuse is a native Nova Scotian with a Master of Viticulture and Oenology degree from Montpellier, the prestigious wine school in France. He has worked in the Langeudoc-Roussillon region and in Alsace, and as well in the cool-climate Central Otago region of New Zealand. With Bruce Ewart continuing as Consultant Winemaker, Blomidon Estate now boasts a formidable winemaking and viticultural line-up.
While visiting the winery, I tasted through Blomidon Estate’s current range of wines as well as some yet to be released. As with most Nova Scotia wineries, whites are clearly the front runners, although the reds continue to improve. The winery has done very well in competition, receiving some notable accolades, including a bronze medal for the yet to be released 2008 Reserve Chardonnay at the All-Canadian Wine Awards. This impressive wine will be released at the upcoming Port of Wines Festival.
Cape Breton’s plucky and determined Glenora Distillery has fought off yet another legal challenge over the use of the term “glen” from the Scotch Whisky Association, which has alleged that the word could be confused with several Scotch malts that use the same term. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal that could have prevented Glenora from using the name in Glen Breton Rare Whisky.
The term is entirely in keeping with the rich Scottish traditions in Cape Breton, and is equally consistent with the bloodlines of the Cape Breton Scots behind the Glenora dream. The same can hardly be said for a number of today’s Scotch whisky distilleries, which are owned by multi-national corporations that have little natural affinity with their product!