Is Nova Scotia the next Champagne?

By / Magazine / July 8th, 2015 / 6

Although Nova Scotia can plausibly claim to be the cradle of viticulture in North America, the modern industry is really less than 40 years old. Original French settlers in the early 1600s planted vinifera grapes brought from their native France, however, the settlement was short-lived and we have little evidence as to whether they thrived or not.

In the modern era, based on scientific evidence at the time, it was widely accepted that local conditions were too harsh for classic vinifera such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir and the like to be cultivated successfully. So from the outset, the backbone of Nova Scotia viticulture has been based on winter-hardy hybrid varietals. Many people may have forgotten that the same held true for viticulture in Niagara as well as BC’s Okanagan Valley.

It was only in more recent years that this orthodoxy was challenged by a small number of bold growers in Niagara. The rest, of course, is well known. In both provinces, classic vinifera varieties now dominate, though hybrids do continue to play a significant, but definitely secondary role. Why then, does the same not hold true for Nova Scotia?

Nova Scotia’s climate is greatly influenced by its proximity to the sea. It is rarely extremely cold but neither does it get especially warm. The growing season is typically shorter and more temperate than the Niagara Peninsula. What has been learned, often by trial and error, is that proper vineyard site selection is critically important. As more attention is being paid to this issue, grapes planted in well-selected sites are doing better. Combined with better clonal selection and the application of other modern methods, certain grapes are showing increasingly impressive results.

Simon Rafuse, French-trained winemaker at Blomidon Estate Winery, puts it this way: “I think that as vineyard management practices improve and as we get a better understanding of site selection, varieties, clones, and rootstock, vinifera will make up more and more of the wines in Nova Scotia. That said, I think there is still a ways to go. Just because we can grow certain varieties doesn’t mean we should. We need to be able to ripen vinifera (to the level we want for different wine styles) consistently and at yield levels that are practical.”

Avondale Sky winemaker Ben Swetnam, also strikes a cautionary tone: “If you are going to grow vinifera in Nova Scotia, you need a backup plan — sparkling or rosé, for example.”

There is a certain well-known French wine region, northeast of Paris that has done rather well with such a backup plan. As studies undertaken by authoritative winery consultant, Peter Gamble, have shown, Nova Scotia terroir bears striking resemblances to said region. Perhaps it is no accident then, that traditional method sparkling wines are starting to gain such remarkable acclaim for Nova Scotia as they have for a couple of centuries in that other region we all know as Champagne.

94 Domaine de Grand Pré Riesling Icewine 2013, Annapolis Valley ($54.50/375 ml)

Barrel fermented and aged in New American oak for 10 months, this intensely aromatic and deeply concentrated sweet wine shows great complexity and finesse. Floral honey, orange, tangerine, spice and mineral are all evident on the nose, with rich, sweet lemon citrus, honeycomb, vanilla and white chocolate in the mouth. Crisp acidity brings dynamic balance to lingering citrus, white chocolate and spice on the finish.

88 Planter’s Ridge Riesling 2013, Estate Grown ($23)

Gentle scents of spring flowers and white peach yield to stone fruit and citrus flavours backed by crisp acidity and firm mineral. A rather lean but elegant wine.

88 Planter’s Ridge Quintessence White 2013 ($24)

Predominantly Muscat, with small amount of Frontenac Gris and l’Acadie, showing aromatic peachy floral and white pepper spicy notes. Lightly pungent Muscat, citrus and lychee kick in on the palate, with creaminess juxtaposed against gravelly mineral.

90 Planter’s Ridge Kayli’s Blend 2013 ($20)

A blend of 87% local honey with 13% Annapolis Valley Chardonnay, this intriguing wine reveals delicate honey, citrus and floral notes on the nose. Equally delicate on the palate, with light honeyed sweetness, it finishes with refreshing contrasting stony mineral character. Drink as an aperitif or with biscotti.

90 Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2014 ($24.95)

Intense floral notes suggest white spring flowers with a light scent of Gewürztraminer-like peppery spice together with tree fruits and a touch of strawberry. With classic Nova Scotia stony mineral and lively acidity, finishing just off-dry, this is another winning vintage for this now iconic wine.

91 Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Rosé 2011 ($44.50)

Pale onion skin colour with attractive fresh berry, floral and smoky/toasty aromatics. Sensations of lightly sweet fresh red berry and creamy softness contrast with bright acidity and crisp mineral on the palate. Offers simple elegance and charm.

89 Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut 2008 ($44.50)

With 4 years on the lees, this one shows lively mousse and plenty of creamy brioche on the nose with floral, citrus and mineral notes. Concentrated citrus and green apple, focused bright acidity and characteristic mineral grip on the palate lead into an almost bone dry finish. Can benefit from more time in the cellar.

90 Blomidon Estate Winery Estate Grown Traditional Method Sparkling 2011, Annapolis Valley (to be released this summer, $40-45 range)

Sourced entirely from grapes grown in Blomidon Estate’s Woodside vineyard, the wine is predominantly Chardonnay with smaller amounts of Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Riesling. Showing very lively mousse with delicate floral, citrus and biscuit on the nose with rounded citrus and green apple flavours emerging on the palate. Finishes with great minerality, zingy acidity and a luscious creamy overlay.

90 Blomidon Estate Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 ($22)

Intriguing floral, peach and tropical fruit with a suggestion of mango and a subtle spicy scent, shifting to dominant sappy green apple in the mouth. With creamy texture, mineral and a dry grippy finish, this is very well made in the Burgundian style.

88 Blomidon Estate Winery Estate Grown Reserve Chardonnay 2013, Annapolis Valley ($35)

Unfined, unfiltered and barrel-fermented with further aging in French oak for 2 months, this richly scented, complex wine shows mellow citrus, hazelnut and light buttery toast on the nose with dominant green apple on the opulently creamy palate. Finishes with very dry oaky notes, likely needing a little more time for oak to integrate more fully.

92 Blomidon Estate Vin de Paille 2012, Annapolis Valley ($35/375 ml)

French trained winemaker Simon Rafuse has created an outstanding wine based on the traditional method of drying grapes on a bed of straw. Very deep golden amber in colour, the wine unfolds a deeply perfumed, very complex bouquet revealing apricot, lemon honey and agreeable, lightly oxidative notes. Richly rounded, creamy and unctuously sweet on the palate, showing lemon and orange citrus character countered by great acid balance and mineral grip, finishing with lingering floral, lightly honeyed notes and stone fruit.

87 Luckett Vineyards Phone Box White 2014 (tank sample), ($22)

Good aromatic intensity, showing citrus, pungent Muscat floral and green herbal scents, with crisp, clean lemon citrus flavour backed by drying mineral and zesty acidity. Finish is just a touch off-dry.

89 Luckett Vineyards Tidal Bay 2014 (tank sample), ($22)

Elegantly fragrant floral, yellow and green fruit with a trace of honeyed lemon citrus. Succulently fresh, citrus-led fruit in the mouth with typical lively acidity and minerality with an elegant splash of creaminess on the harmonious, lightly off-dry finish.

90 Luckett Vineyards Ortega 2014 (tank sample), ($22)

Deeply perfumed floral, ripe peach and citrus aromatics are reminiscent of Viognier. Zesty ripe yellow fruit with a touch of honey, crisp acidity, mineral and light balancing creaminess in the mouth culminate with white peach, a light touch of residual sweetness and dry mineral grip.

88 Luckett Vineyards Estate Grown Buried White 2014 (tank sample), ($38)

Buried in oak barrels for one full season in the same vineyard where the grapes were grown, this most unusual wine shows soft mellow citrus and floral scents, with creamy lemon citrus, butterscotch, bright acidity and terroir-driven mineral on the long, toasty buttery finish.

89 Gaspereau Vineyards Riesling 2013 ($18.99)

True Riesling varietal character on the nose with delicate floral scents, lemon, a trace of lime, mineral and a light whiff of petrol. Lime comes to the fore on the palate, backed by characteristic Nova Scotia lively acidity and mineral grip balanced with a splash of creaminess on the off-dry finish.

88 Gaspereau Vineyards Muscat 2013 ($18.99)

Deep yellow straw coloured with characteristic floral and lightly pungent, peppery Muscat intensity. Delicate citrus and stone fruit flavours are supported by nicely balanced acidity and minerality with lychee flavour lingering on the finish. An excellent pairing for spicy Asian dishes.

88 Avondale Sky Winery Traditional Method Sparkling wine 2012 (Not yet disgorged, planned release, November 2015)

When released, there will be at least 1,000 bottles of this aromatic sparkler. At present, it reveals aromatic fresh red berry and floral scents with yeasty brioche. Strawberry flavour comes to the fore in the mouth with characteristic NS mineral and forward acidity, finishing very dry.

89 Avondale Sky Winery Select Small Lots Gewürztraminer 2013, Estate Grown, Avondale Peninsula ($20)

A charming, delicate wine showing good varietal rose petal scents with a touch of peppery spice and a whiff of smoke, shifting to soft red berry flavour, rounded, creamy texture and lingering floral and berry fruit on the finish.

88 Avondale Sky Winery Pinot Noir Blanc de Noir 2014 ($26)

Opens with lively fresh floral and strawberry scents. Both raspberry and strawberry flavours are evident in the mouth, backed by brisk acidity, mineral, a splash of creaminess and light residual sweetness.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sean Wood is a weekly wine columnist for the Halifax Chronicle Herald. He has written for both national and international wine magazines and travels frequently to report on wine regions throughout the world. He has provided consulting services to government on wine-related issues as well to the hospitality industry. Sean also serves frequently as a wine judge. His book Wineries and Wine Country of Nova Scotia was published in September 2006.

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