Every emerging wine region needs a magnet. Something to draw us city folk into wine country. In British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, it is the magnificent temple to Dionysus that Anthony von Mandl built at Mission Hill. In Quebec, it’s the Chapelle Ste. Agnès Vineyard, a tiny piece of the Rhône in the Sutton Mountains of southern Quebec, established in 1997 by Montreal antique dealer Henrietta Antony. In Ontario, it could have been the proposed Frank Gehry winery for Le Clos Jordanne, until Constellation put the project on the back burner after they purchased Vincor. Currently in Niagara, the draw is such architectural eye-openers like the ones of Stratus, Tawse, Flat Rock Cellars and Jackson-Triggs.
For Nova Scotia I predict that the crowd-puller will be a new winery in the Gaspereau Valley called Benjamin Bridge that is set to open in an interim building early next year. In keeping with the new wave of Canadian wineries Benjamin Bridge’s owner Gerry McConnell made his fortune in another field (mining) before getting his feet into the vat, so to speak.
Given Nova Scotia’s climate he wisely decided to concentrate on sparkling wines, but he has set his sights ambitiously high. McConnell wants to make sparkling wine up to the standard of Champagne’s grandes marques. To this end, in 1999, he purchased a 50-acre property with an 1845 barn and did an initial vineyard planting of 10 acres. He then hired consultant Peter Gamble. When he told Gamble of his vision, the former winemaker for Hillebrand suggested that if one wants to rival Champagne one needs to have a Champenois winemaker — which is exactly what McConnell did.
Oenologist Raphaël Brisbois has worked at Piper-Heidsieck in France, Omar Khayyam in India, Mount Dome in Washington and Blue Mountain in BC. Gamble and Brisbois have been experimenting with sparkling blends since 2002, using Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Vidal and Nova Scotia’s signature white grape L’Acadie. Gerry McConnell has given them carte blanche to leave the wines on the lees as long as they feel is warranted.
Currently, the wines are partly being made in the cellar of the old barn and partly in a more modern barn across the road. Design is well underway for a spanking new facility that will also feature a hospitality centre. This will be the magnet for the region.
I was in Nova Scotia in June to taste the wines. They are, without question, the best sparkling wines I have tasted in Canada. Gerry McConnell is about to realize his dream. Watch for these wines. They’re worth the trip to Nova Scotia.
Benjamin Bridge Tasting Notes
A blend of Chardonnay (45%), Pinot Noir (35%), L’Acadie (20%) and Vidal. Deep straw colour, active mousse; a nose of honey, leather and apple with a light floral note; very fresh and tangy, lemon and crab-apple flavours with a strain of minerality, very elegant and youthful with great length, ending on a grassy note. ****1/2
A blend of Chardonnay (70%), Pinot Noir (15%) and Vidal (15%). Straw-coloured with a lime tint; honey, barnyard, mature Chardonnay nose; broad with a lovely mouthfeel, creamy and minerally at the same time, with a grace note of apple blossom; great length. ****1/2
Blanc de Noirs 2002
100% Pinot Noir. Old-gold colour; toasty, brioche nose; dry, elegant and creamy with lively acidity. Great balance and length. *****
Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Golden colour with a green tint; beeswax, gooseberry and sweet nose, very intense; full-bodied sweet gooseberry and elderberry and lime flavours; tart finish. A great Sauvignon in Loire style but with more intensity and vigour. *****
A blend of Muscat and Pearl of Csaba. Moscato d’Asti style with less carbonic gas and livelier acidity — orange, tangerine and carnation on the nose; off-dry, beautifully balanced peach and orange flavours with a hint of sweetness. A unique wine. *****
Marechal Foch 2005
Dense purple, vanilla, leather and black fruits on the nose; leafy blackberry and blackcurrant flavours with a note of dried roses; firm structure with lively acidity. Reminiscent of Teroldego from the Alto Adige. ****
Marechal Foch Reserve 2005
Deeper and denser than the Marechal Foch 2005; a nose of ripe plums and prunes; sweetish Amarone style, bold and mouth-filling with a lively spine of acidity. ****1/2
Marechal Foch 2006 (barrel sample)
Twenty months in American oak, 50% free-run juice and 50% press. Dense purple-black; spicy, minty, blackberry; full-bodied, with a medicinal note; lively acidity. ***1/2
Vidal Icewine 2004
Golden colour; intense apricot and honey with searing acidity; sweet grapefruit flavour and a brittle finish (reminded me of Aspirin). Needs a few years in bottle. **** (or ***** with some bottle age).
This column was originally published in the October 2008 issue of Tidings. Look for it on newstands soon. Please visit TonyAspler.com for more.