The ice age of two million years ago shaped the land and soil of Nova Scotia. In tandem with the moderating effects of the Atlantic Ocean, it has created vineyards unlike any other in the world. Situated in one of the cooler climate limits for viticulture ( 45 degrees north latitude), Nova Scotia has had a long tradition for viticulture, dating back to 1600’s.
For almost 30 years Nova Scotia’s wineries in the Annapolis Valley, Malagash Peninsula, Have River, and a few very small areas, produced acid-driven, light, and thin wines. Now, the warming climate ripens grapes better, especially for sparkling wines. Mostly hybrid grapes are planted, except for chardonnay that is now being used for sparkling wine production.
L’Acadie blanc, New York muscat, and Seyval blanc and vidal are the main white grapes planted. (For a complete list see side bar). For red wines, growers settled for Baco noir, Leon-Millot, Marcheal Foch, Luci Kuhlmann and pinot noir.
Until 1983 very few ventured into viticulture in Nova Scotia. Some claimed the growing season to be too short and/or too cool, others cited overly cold winters. As an experiment, Roger Dial, an American professor lecturing at the Acadia University, dared to open Grand Pre winery in the sheltered Annapolis Valley on the west coast. He correctly decided to plant winter-hardy grapes varieties, including a Russian vine – mishurinits. The others were Seyval blanc, aurora, L’Acadie blanc and North American hybrids.
The first wines tasted less than mediocre, and remained that way until Roger Dial relocated. Today, the winery is owned and managed by Hans peter Stutz, a Swiss entrepreneur who planted winter hardy German hybrids including kerner, ortega, and a few Geisenheim Institute clones from Germany. (Geisenheim is
the premier vine research and educational institution of German viticulture, and has developed several cool climate varieties by hybridizing cold resistant species).
Grand Pre’s wines taste better than those I remember tasting 30 years ago. Today, 120 hectares of productive vineyards exist in the province, but the potential is much bigger. Benjamin Bridge winery belongs to a wealthy investor whose objective is to produce fine sparkling wines using the most suitable vitis vinifera and hybrid grapes.
This winery’s Blanc de Blanc flagship sparkling wine, tasted recently, almost has the taste of a well made champagne. It is made using home-grown chardonnay in the Gasperau Valley by using the mehtode champenoise, and in very small quantities. It is sold on an allocation basis and costs $ 280.00 in Ontario.
Other sparkling wines from the same winery are also very fine, but cost much less than the flagship product. Grand Pre produces fine wines, as does Hans Christian Jost who owns and manages 20 hectares producing approximately 30 000 plus cases with additional purchases from nearby grape farmers.
In the 1990’d there were only a few wineries in Nova Scotia (mentioned above). Now at least 10 wineries operate, including Gasperau Vineyards, Blomidon Estate Winery, Ste. Famille, Avondale Sky, Planter’s Ridge, Luckett Vineyards, Lightfoot and Wolfville, and Annaplis Highland Vineyards.
The complete list of grapes planted – Gewurztraminer, Pearl of casaba, kerner, traminette, New York muscat, valvin, Frontenac gris, Petit milo, Minnesota muscat, cayuga, Geisenheim clones, Siegfried, siegerrebe, ortega, auxerroius, chasselas, pinto gris, chardonnay, riesling, L’Acadie blanc, mishurinitz, seyval blanc, vidal and rkatsiteli.