I admit I had a personal stake in going to visit Nova Scotia wine country. As a Maritimer (if I can still call myself that despite having left 12 years ago), Nova Scotia’s burgeoning wine route makes it the closest thing I have to a home wine region. Yet, I hadn’t been. Finally, stars and conditions aligned, and off I went. And I came home pretty darn excited about the N.S. wine industry and its future. Allow me to share my findings…
Despite its proximity to the sea, Nova Scotia’s climate is considered continental. Usually found inland, continental climates are characterized by hot summers, cold winters, and minimal rainfall. So because Nova Scotia is coastal and influenced by the sea, its climate can be described as “modified continental.” In more simple terms, it’s usually called a cool climate grape growing reigon. The Annapolis Valley, where I spent my time, has some of the most favourable conditions for grape growing in the province. The valley is protected by an escarpment to the north and a set of mountains to the south, which means that it has the warmest temperatures and longest growing season in the province.
Due to the cool climate, hardy grapes thrive here, and so far hybrid grapes have seen the most success. These grapes were developed specifically to resist colder weather and disease. Popular white grapes are L’Acadie Blanc, New York Muscat, and Seyval Blanc, and popular red grapes include Lucie Kuhlman, Marchel Foch, and Leon Millet. Some Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Chardonnay is grown as well.
Many say that Nova Scotia’s signature grape is L’Acadie Blanc. It was created at Vineland Research in Ontario in 1953, but didn’t flourish until it was adopted in Nova Scotia in the 1970s. A versatile grape that can produce many different styles, it typically has citrus, grassy, mineral, and sometimes floral flavours. Some winemakers experiment with oak (I prefer the unoaked versions). It can be very high in acid, but can also lose acid very quickly if you leave it on the vine too long. I am told that some winemakers used to try to force it to be Chardonnay, but now seem more comfortable with letting it have an identity of its own that is uniquely Nova Scotian.
Although some interesting reds are made, Nova Scotia really excels with its whites, and especially with sparkling wine. The cool climate leads to high acidity, which makes for refreshing still whites and also means grapes that are well-suited to sparkling wine. The whites tend to be aromatic and intensely flavoured.
The New Appellation
Several winemakers I spoke to in Nova Scotia emphasized the collaborative nature of their local industry. For the most part, the winemakers all know each other, and they taste together and trade notes about what works and what doesn’t. And it was in part this collaborative spirit that drove the creation of Nova Scotia’s first appellation.
Tidal Bay is more of a stylistic appellation than one tied to a particular geographic region. You might call it a brand. Meant to represent Nova Scotia terroir, Tiday Bay is a refreshing, crisp, off-dry, and low alcohol white that pairs well with the local seafood. Some of these wines are more floral than others, depending on how much Muscat is used in the blend. The grapes must be grown in Nova Scotia, and the wines must be approved by a tasting panel. Though there are guidelines winemakers must follow, there is still room for them to be creative. If you compare the resulting wines, there is a distinct style, yet each seems to express the personality of the individual winemaker.
Coming Up Next Week: My report on the wineries I visited and the wines I tried in Nova Scotia...