On 6 December 1917 the world’s most violent explosion – until the atomic bombs of WW2 – occurred in Halifax in Nova Scotia on Canada’s east coast.
Two ships collided, causing a fire. The blaze ignited munitions on one of the ships, causing an explosion that devastated an entire region of Halifax. Almost 2,000 people died and 10,000 were injured.
The rumblings caused by the Nova Scotia wine industry have not been as huge as that blast. But the province’s fledgling wines are fast developing a reputation, as a series of tastings last month showed.
Even after the end of prohibition in 1927 provincial governments in Canada limited the number of licences to produce wine. A ban on new winery licences that lasted almost half a century only ended in 1974.
Nova Scotia currently has 17 wineries and about 650 acres of vines. Perhaps another 50 properties grow fruit.
French settlers tried to grow grapes in Nova Scotia during the mid 17th century but extreme cold killed the vines. Winter temperature sometimes reaches minus 30 C.
New varieties have since been introduced that can tolerate extreme weather. Ollie Bradt created the region’s signature grape in 1953 at the Vineland Research Centre in Niagara, Ontario. It is a crossing of Cascade and Seyve-Villard 14-287, both bred by French horticulturalists.
Cuttings of the new variety were sent to a research station in Kentville, Nova Scotia, where the grape was given the name l’acadie blanc after Acadia, the original New France colony in eastern Canada.
Canada is one of the few wine-producing nations where domestic production does not dominate the market. Less than half of the wine is consumed locally. Asian countries are the largest importers, particularly China and Japan.
Nova Scotia producers set up the Tidal Bay appellation in June 2012 to encourage winemakers to create a unique product recognisable as Nova Scotian white wine. Winemakers must follow specific rules such as using only grapes from Nova Scotia and specific varieties.
Nova Scotia generally makes better whites than reds because the latter need more sunshine to ripen.
Jost Vineyards is the province’s largest and oldest wine estate. Hans Christian Jost established the winery with his father three decades ago, along with a boutique winery called Gaspereau.
In 2011 Carl and Donna Sparkes set up Devonian Coast Wineries with the idea of establishing a portfolio of wineries. They bought Jost and Gaspereau in 2012. Carl Sparkes is the only Nova Scotian vineyard owner on the board of the Canadian Vintners Association. He believes Nova Scotia has a distinct style driven by terroir and climate.
The couple were the first Canadians to have a booth at ProWein, the annual global trade fair in Germany. In November they plan to attend ProWein in China, and last year they opened a 3,000-square-metre Jost Clubhouse to market Jost wine in Suzhou, in southern China.
This year they launched a new sparkling wine, Selkie. The name comes from Celtic mythology – a selkie is a seal that comes onto land and changes into a dark-haired woman.
One of the region’s major successes has been the Benjamin Bridge winery. Unlike many of the other vineyards it is only by appointment because all wines are pre-sold. Dara Gordon, a co-founder, believes sauvignon blanc has great potential in Nova Scotia.
Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers provided a sample of the inaugural release of sauvignon blanc, the result of 13 years of experimentation. The 2013 is an amazing wine with intense aromas that tastes a bit like a mature vouvray.
Deslauriers obtained the concentration of flavours through reducing grape yields and techniques such as freezing some of the grapes. This intensified the flavours to produce a wine he described as “extreme”. The result is a wine that is worth seeking out.
Deslauriers’ sparkling wines are a revelation. The 2009 Benjamin Bridge brut methode classique (a proprietary term) is as good as champagne and English sparkling in terms of quality. It consists of 60 per cent l’acadie blanc with the balance chardonnay and seyvall blanc.
Because of the long and slow maturing period in Nova Scotia, winemakers can leave fruit on the vines until the first week of November when the grapes are ripe yet still retain acidity. In most other parts of north America harvest occurs in August and September.
This delay produces zesty flavours of green apple and limes plus a crisp and marvellous mousse (that sensation of bubbles exploding in one’s mouth). The wine spent four years on lees.
The 2010 Benjamin Bridge rose is a 50:50 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir. It smells of apple blossom and tastes of tart rhubarb, raspberries and crisp apples and is another delightful sparkling wine.
Another fine wine is the 2009 Benjamin Bridge Borealis, named after the magic display of lights in the sky at dawn in the Arctic and Antarctic regions known as the Aurora Borealis (Aurora was the Roman goddess for dawn).
It is a combination of vidal and New York muscat grapes, and tastes of ripe apricots, apples and cinnamon. It is a lovely dessert wine that is rich, complex and inviting.
Benjamin Bridge also makes the most popular wine in Canada, Nova 7. It is a low alcohol (7 per cent) sparkling that is a blend of perhaps a dozen grapes including New York muscat, and tastes a bit like moscato, the Italian fun wine. Think of Nova 7 as a wine for all aspects of a meal, winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers said.
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