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Nova Scotia - Home of Tidal Bay

June 26, 2013

Twice a day 100 billion tons of sea water rush in and out of the Bay of Fundy, more than flows from all of the world's fresh water rivers combined.  For years, the Bay of Fundy has been a leading tourist attraction for this small Atlantic Province, slightly smaller than West Virginia and home to less than 1 million year round residents.  But for the last decade, a new attraction has been slowly developing, and it may someday rival the drawing power of the Bay – Nova Scotia wine country.  Yes, you heard it right; Nova Scotia is now home to 14 wineries that produce an estimated 50,000 cases of wine per year.  Fueled by an entrepreneurial collaborative spirit amongst the owners, the wineries are spread throughout the Province, with the epicenter in the Gaspereau Valley, a rolling green meandering river valley five miles south of the college town of Wolfville.  Here you will find Luckett Vineyards, amongst the newest wineries having opened its doors in 2010. 

Luckett Vineyards
Luckett Vineyards
Owner Pete Luckett, a highly successful serial entrepreneur born in Nottingham England, has turned his energy and passion for all things food and drink to crafting quality wines from local grapes.  Winemaker Mike Mainguy skillfully works the grapes from the 20 acre vineyard to produce ten single variety and blended wines in addition to several fruit based wines.  Ask Mike about his success and he'll tell you that continuous experimentation is key.  The short growing season means grapes with less sugar and physiological ripeness.  These challenges are offset by finding the right combination of acidity, aromas, and tannins offered by the native hybrid grapes.  Luckett's signature red, Phone Box Red, typifies the skill of the winemaker at overcoming the challenge.  A blend of Lucie Kuhlman, Marechal Foch, Leon Millot and Castel (see below), the wine spends 12 months in second year American oak barrels and produces a fruit rich, well balanced red, with 13.5% alcohol – no easy feat in the cool climes of Nova Scotia.  The 2010 vintage received Bronze awards from both the 2012 All Canada Wine Championship and the 2011 Canadian Wine Access judgings.

The Nova Scotia entrepreneurial spirit continued in 2012, when the first Appellation in the Province was announced – Tidal Bay.  Shunning the usual VQA strict regulatory approach for designating wine quality in most of Canada, the Tidal Bay appellation relies on an evolving set of standards that specify grape varieties, alcohol levels, vinification practices, pricing and most importantly, the approval every year by an independent blind tasting panel.  The stylistic goal is a crisp, aromatic, low alcohol, affordable white wine.

The Wines of Nova Scotia

Don't expect to taste fine Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah in Nova Scotia.  The harsh winters and short growing season just won't support grape varieties that need the heat and sunshine of a long summer.  Nova Scotia is home to hybrid grape varieties that are as unique in their names as they are in their global presence.

Red Hybrids

Baco Noir – A small clustered black grape high in acid and low in tannins, that produces a deep red almost violet colored wine with dried fruit, coffee, cedar and smoky aromas.  Proper ripening requires high heat so quality can vary widely by vintage.  Baco Noir is most commonly used in red blends.

Leon Millot

Leon Millot at Luckett Vineyards
Leon Millot at Luckett Vineyards
One of the three grape varieties “fathered” by noted French viticulturist Eugene Kuhlmann.  Kuhlmann was responsible for experimenting with hybrid grape varieties including Leon, Marechal Foch and one named for his daughter, Lucie Kuhlmann.  Leon Millot is high in malic acid and usually undergoes malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity.  Aromas include raspberries, cherries, and dried red fruit.  The wine is frequently blended for its deep red color, however single variety wines are also produced.

Lucie Kuhlmann – Similar to its siblings Leon Millot and Marechal Foch, Lucie Kuhlmann is a deep red grape variety that produces a slightly more tannin rich red wine.  Apparently the rumor is that Lucie was the favorite of Kuhlmann's daughters, the only one to have a grape variety named after her.

Marechal Foch – Foch as it is known, is the industry standard for red grape varieties in Nova Scotia.  The grape is dark red/violet in color producing a deeply colored wine.  Foch is named after Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Allied Supreme Commander of the British, French and American armies in France during World War I.

White Hybrids

L'Acadie Blanc – Considered by most to be the signature white grape of the Province, L'Acadie Blanc is often compared to Chardonnay.  Wines from L'Acadie are more full bodied than most Nova Scotia whites, often undergo malolactic fermentation and see some time in oak.  L'Acadie wines are characterized as having apple and pear aromas, crisp acidity and low alcohol.  The grape had its unheralded beginnings as V53261, at the Ontario horticultural research station, but after failing to meet productivity expectations was shipped to Kentville, Nova Scotia, where it found a home.  The grape is very versatile and is used in single variety, blends, and sparkling wine production.

New York Muscat – This hybrid grows wild in many parts of Nova Scotia and although prolific is a low yielding grape variety.  The resultant wine is highly aromatic and will easily dominate any white blend, and is therefore used sparingly.  On its own, New York Muscat wines are used to make sweet still wines, dessert wines and occasionally ice wines.  

Seyval Blanc

Sevyl Blanc at Domaine de Grand Pre
Sevyl Blanc at Domaine de Grand Pre
– Widely planted in eastern North America, Seyval Blanc is a cold climate tolerant white grape variety known as the Chardonnay of the East.  Seyval Blanc is a light, crisp white, similar in style to a dry Chenin Blanc or Chablis, with aromas that range from green apple, melon to citrus.  The grape is naturally high in acidity, and is best when it has undergone malolactic fermentation and some time in oak.  Interestingly, Seyval Blanc is the most widely plant grape variety in England.

Vidal Blanc – Perhaps best known for its role in producing ice wine, Vidal Blanc is a hybrid that has Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano) in his ancestry.  The grape is naturally high in acidity with aromas of grapefruit and pineapple.  Vidal is most common in sweet still, or dessert wines.

In addition to the hybrid grape varieties, several producers are growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling in limited quantities for blending.  One notable exception to the hybrid norm is the Benjamin Bridge Winery that produces traditional method sparkling wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.  

 

Growing Grapes in Nova Scotia

Half way between the equator and North Pole, Nova Scotia stretches the northern boundaries for growing grapes.  The hybrids are specifically developed to withstand the cold winters and short growing season which averages less than 150 days.  Vineyard location can be critical.  Most vineyards are located on south facing slopes, above valley floors to avoid frost and at elevations that take advantage of breezes from proximate water features such as the New Minas Basin.

As with so many unique grape varieties, the lack of marketing and government regulation prevent the up and coming Nova Scotia wines from being sold outside of the Province.  The good news is that the Bay of Fundy, Cape Breton Highlands, Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, Peggy's Cove and culturally rich Halifax are known joined by Nova Scotia wine country as reasons to tour this beautiful part of Atlantic Canada.




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·  Okanagan Valley - Land of lakes and deserts
·  Prince Edward Island -- Anne of Green Gables, Lobster and Wine?


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