This entry is the last in my mini-series on Nova Scotia wine. In case you missed it, here is my overview of Nova Scotia’s wine region, here’s my post about Luckett, Blomidon, and Gaspereau Vineyards, and here’s one about L’Acadie Vineyards.
Benjamin Bridge was designed to be a sparkling wine house from the beginning. Rather than using hybrid grapes like l’Acadie Blanc that are more common in Nova Scotia, they chose to focus on the grape varieties traditionally used in Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) to make their traditional method sparkling wine. Chardonnay takes up most of the space in their vineyard, which was certified organic in 2008.
Gerry McConnell and Dara Gordon first purchased the property in 1999. Next they brought in Peter Gamble (who consults at Ravine in Niagara, among others) and Ann Sperling (winemaker at Southbrook in Niagara) as consultants. Eventually they brought in a Champagne expert, Raphaël Brisbois. Finally, current winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers joined the team in 2008.
When we visited, Jean-Benoit was on site to take us through a tasting. Originally from Montreal’s South Shore, he worked at wineries in Santa Barabara and Chile before moving to Nova Scotia. Along the way, he took classes in biodynamics with Nicolas Joly. His passion for making sparkling wine in his adopted home came through with a nervous energy that practically bounced off the walls along with the indie rock soundtrack that wafted through the winery behind him. He clearly believes in the Benjamin Bridge project and loves what he’s doing.
We tried the 2008 Brut Reserve, which was still quite young, meaning tart and acidic. It should soften nicely by the time it’s released, but retain some of that crisp, green apple flavour. That year, 2008, they entirely abandoned malolactic fermentation, Jean-Benoit explained. (Malolactic fermentation happens after the initial fermentation, when tart malic acids convert to softer lactic acids.) He doesn’t want too much of a “lactic” (milk-like) quality to the wine, and feels that avoiding malolactic fermentation results in a wine that better represents Nova Scotia’s unique traits as a wine region (i.e. high acidity and crispness).
To get an idea of this, we embarked on a little experiment: tasting the 2004 Brut Reserve, which did not undergo any malolactic fermentation, against the 2005 Brut Reserve, which did undergo malolactic fermentation. The 2004 was fresher and crisper, though it was still rich and complex, and the green apple quality had softened considerably (compared to the 2008). The 2005, when tasted immediately after the 2004, tasted a bit flabbier in comparison. While both were well-made, excellent sparkling wines, I preferred the 2004 for its depth of character.
All the traditional method sparkling wine is aged for six or seven years, so that it’s ready to drink when released. This kind of commitment to aging wine makes it difficult to turn a profit, and eventually they came up with a solution: Nova 7. It’s meant to be drunk young and is made in a fairly consistent style, so can be released every year.
Nova 7 is made somewhat in the style of a Moscato d’Asti: it is lightly effervescent (Jean-Benoit prefers not to classify it as a sparkling wine), a bit sweet, and quite low in alcohol (6.5%). The first time I tried it, I felt like I was sticking my nose in a bouquet of violets and lavender; it’s quite perfumed. Yet when you taste it, there’s sweet pink grapefruit along with the floral quality, as well as relatively high acidity, so that it ends up being rather refreshing. It’s a fun, sexy wine! In Nova Scotia, it flies off the shelves when it’s released around Mother’s Day. It’s also one of the few Nova Scotia wines to make it across provincial borders; it was recently released at the LCBO in Ontario.
Perhaps the only unfortunate thing about Benjamin Bridge is that the high prices and limited availability of the traditional method sparkling wine means that not many people will get the chance to taste it. But the fact that they’re able to sell out every year despite the near Champagne-level prices speaks to the quality. In the meantime, some lucky consumers can whet their appetite with the more affordable and widely available Nova 7.
Special thanks to my friend Jeff Pinhey (a.k.a. @brewnoser), the master mind behind our Nova Scotia wine tour!