By Phillip Woolgar
More than 55,000 wine professionals from all over the world attended the ProWein International Trade Fair for Wines and Spirits in Dusseldorf, Germany last March. This year for the first time, these enthusiasts were able to taste the wines from one of the newer wine making regions of the world, Nova Scotia.
Wine making in Nova Scotia can be traced back to the 1600s, but the modern industry is only 38 years old. It began in 1978 when Roger Dial created Grand Pre Winery which today is Hanspeter Stutz’s Domaine de Grand Pre. In the same year, Hans Jost planted vines on the Malagash Peninsula which eventually became the Devonian Coast winery. The Winery Association of Nova Scotia was created in 2002.
Though still small by old world standards, Nova Scotia’s wine industry is growing aggressively. A press release from the Nova Scotia premier’s office of March 29, 2016 stated, “There are 23 wineries and 94 grape producers in Nova Scotia, and the industry accounts for $7.3 million in wages annually.” The province is determined to see the industry grow into an international player. It is putting money behind the words.
That press release announced the funding of a research lab at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. Mr. Ray Ivany, president and vice-chancellor of Acadia University explained the intended purpose of the project. “This new lab,” said Mr. Ivany “will allow us to contribute even more to the award-winning wine and agri-food industries in our region.”
In announcing the lab’s funding, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil hinted at the vision of the future of NS wines’ international markets when he said, “Nova Scotia’s wine industry has potential for tremendous growth that will lead to more jobs and more exports and our goal is to assist it where we can. It’s important to have quality lab services, especially as we look to the future of export.”
President Scott Brison of the Treasury Board of Canada has also indicated he’s got his eye on markets beyond Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast when he said, “Canada is an emerging player in the global wine market. This investment [in the new lab] will support the wine industry in Atlantic Canada.”
As part of the same growth effort, Nova Scotia joined Canada’s other significant provincial wine producers, British Columbia and Ontario on the nation’s ProWein team. The Canadian participation in ProWein was organized by the government of Canada, the Canadian Vintners’ Association, the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, the British Columbia Wine Institute, and the Winery Association of Nova Scotia (WANS).
Gillian Mainguy, manager of WANS was heavily involved in the selection of Nova Scotia’s representatives. “The efforts to include Nova Scotia came early in the [national] planning cycle,” Ms. Mainguy remembered. “I reached out to the member wineries of WANS to ask if anyone was interested in taking part in ProWein under the Wines of Canada brand…[We] ended up with two: Benjamin Bridge and Domaine de Grand Pré.
Benjamin Bridge Winery (BB) is located in the Gaspereau Valley. It is described at winesofnovascotia.ca as, Nova Scotia’s ultra premium sparkling wine house. Ashley McConnell-Gordon, Benjamin Bridge’s vice president explained the origin of the description. “Since 2000, we have been working with a leading team of international winemakers to produce world-class Méthode Classique sparkling wines. These innovative sparkling wines display the hallmarks of classic prestige cuvées from Champagne with a Nova Scotia signature.”
When told about the ProWein opportunity, Ms. Gordon saw a perfect match to BB’s vision of their future.
“We have an export plan for our winery,” Ms. Gordon explained. “that is focused on our traditional method sparklings, as well as select still wines, namely Nova 7. These products are already available across Canada and Japan and we anticipate the United Kingdom and other Asian markets in 2016.”
Nova Scotia’s other ProWein participant, Domaine de Grand Pre is now in the hands of Hanspeter Stutz, a Swiss business man who bought the estate in 1993. Hanspeter’s son Jurg studied grape growing and wine making at the highly respected Technische Hochschule in Waedenswil, Switzerland, where he graduated with a degree as an Oenologist. Domaine de Grand Pre is now producing wines from 100 percent Nova Scotia grown grapes that represent the Nova Scotia terroir, the combination of soil, climate, and other factors that make every corner of the earth its own unique place.
Nova Scotia’s climate is strongly influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. Spring temperatures range from 1°C/34°F to 17°C/63°F; in summer from 14°C/57°F to 28°C/82°F; in autumn about 5°C/41°F to 20°C/68°F; and in winter about −9°C/16°F to 0°C/32°F.
The growing season in Nova Scotia ranges from 100 to 200 days, with a well-distributed pattern of high rainfall of about 900mm/35in a year inland, and over 1500mm/59in a year on the coast. Typically in Nova Scotia, there is 400-500mm/15-20in of precipitation distributed evenly during the growing season. This high precipitation also means a higher frequency of storms than anywhere else in Canada. Precipitation is slightly greater in late fall and early winter because of the more frequent and intense storm activity.
These conditions combine with Atlantic coastal breezes to produce the wines of the Nova Scotia terroir, often described as fresh, crisp, and bright. They are unique enough that in 2012, the region’s wine makers developed a signature wine that was given its own appellation, Tidal Bay. Tidal Bay is the first appellation assigned to Nova Scotia. The wine is an aromatic, cool climate, white wine. It is currently being produced by twelve wineries in Nova Scotia. While each is distinct from the others, all meet the Tidal Bay standards created by a team of wine makers, sommeliers, and wine experts, and each is watched closely through every step of the winemaking process to insure that it maintains the standards
Tidal Bay wines can be any combination of the approved grape varieties, but must demonstrate the distinctive taste profile that reflects the classic Nova Scotia style: lively fresh green fruit, dynamic acidity and characteristic minerality. Tidal Bay wines must also be relatively low in alcohol, no more than 11 percent.
Benjamin Bridges’ Ms. Gordon discussed the creation of the NS appellation. “Our lead wine consultant, Peter Gamble, conceived of the white wine appellation for Nova Scotia. The wineries of Nova Scotia believed that it would help elevate the region as a serious cool-climate wine producer to create a premier white wine that would embody the quintessential characteristics of Nova Scotia terroir. A Tidal Bay wine must be a still, white wine that is fresh, crisp, dryish with a bright aromatic component. There are a set of standards with permissible grape varieties, approved processing techniques, etc. A tasting panel assesses the wines blind each year.”
WANS’s Ms. Mainguy added, “The winemakers of the Winery Association of Nova Scotia formally developed the premium white wine appellation from the 2010 vintage.
“The development of the appellation involved the creation of strict new grape-growing and winemaking standards on a par with the world’s toughest, and the creation of an independent tasting panel to assess all wines wishing to use the ‘Tidal Bay’ designation.
“Stylistically, the wine is a white with a bright ‘signature Nova Scotia’ aromatic component. The wines show vibrant, expressive fruit on the nose, and a refreshingly crisp palate. Nova Scotia’s very cool-climate maritime terroir is unrivaled in the world for making this type of wine.”
Hanspeter Stutz of Domaine de Grand Pre agrees. Mr. Stutz is justifiably proud of the Nova Scotia roots of his Tidal Bay wines that were selected White Wine of the Year for the 2010 Tidal Bay at the 2011 Atlantic Canadian Wine Awards, and awarded a gold medal for the 2011 Tidal Bay at the 2012 All Canadian Wine Championships. Mr. Stutz proclaimed, “we believe Nova Scotia should develop its own varieties, styles, and vineyard procedures that will thrive with our local soil and oceanic climate.”
Mr. Stutz saw the ProWein festival as an opportunity to bring to the world his message of the excellence of Nova Scotia’s wines. Referring to the festival, Mr. Stutz said, “this show was a great success for us…ProWein Germany brought us into contact with some very interesting people around the world…Canada wines are definitely on the world’s radar screen…A lot of visitors and professionals were surprised at the high quality of Canadian wine…I am sure this will be the start of a healthy export market. Our special terroir for white and sparkling wines came up many times…I was impressed with the responses to our Riesling and Tidal Bay.”
Last December, the province announced the goal of reaching 1,000 acres of vines by 2020 up from the current 632. Way back in 1986, Nova Scotia’s wine pioneer Roger Dial speculated that it would take 3,000 to 5,000 acres of vines to secure Nova Scotia’s place among the world’s wine producing regions. The pioneer’s original vision appears to have been a bit clouded. As witnessed at ProWein, Nova Scotia’s wine makers have made their mark by relying not on quantity, but quality.