When people first planted vines in Canada, they were not called visionary. They were called crazy. How could such a cold, northern country produce fine beverages from grapes, which need a milder climate? Well, without that cold weather, Canada wouldn’t have become the world leader in ice wine, for example. And if you take a closer look, you realize that regions across Canada have managed to create admirable wines, from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, to the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, or even in the Eastern Townships in Quebec, just to name a few. And now, Nova Scotia, on the East Coast, is also rising as a high-quality wine producer, especially when it comes to bubbles.
Vines with Acadian roots
Pop! The sound of celebration. It can be heard all over the cellar at L’Acadie Vineyards. This 30-acre vineyard is in Gaspereau, less than 100 kilometers northwest of Halifax. But nope. Nobody is getting married, nor celebrating a birthday. It’s actually the sound of bottles being disgorged. This is the last of many steps used to produce méthode traditionnelle sparkling wines — a second fermentation in the bottle — just like in Champagne. In fact, a lot of equipment in this cellar is imported directly from Champagne, including the magnificent traditional wooden pupitres, or riddling racks, that still have the word “Epernay” on them, which is the most renowned town for Champagne production.
The choice of equipment and method of production are no coincidence. It’s only because winemaker Bruce Ewert wants the best, to produce the best. No wonder the head of L’Acadie Vineyards is considered a pioneer in the area. About 10 years ago, he saw the potential for sparkling wines. “When you can ripen grapes in our unique climate and have good acid retention and moderate sugar levels, you have excellent conditions for sparkling wines,” he says. “You can’t get any cooler than our climate here and still grow grapes. We’re right on the edge, but being able to do that, when you have those conditions, sparkling wine really thrives, much like in Champagne, it’s always on the edge.”
L’Acadie Vineyards is also the first certified organic vineyard in Nova Scotia. Not an innocent choice. For Bruce Ewert, it’s a way to ensure a true reflection of terroir. “Because the soil is living, we’re encouraging microorganisms living in the soil, and there are a lot of mineral flavours in the wine, thanks to the roots that go very deep in that rocky, gravelly soil.”
L’Acadie is not only the name of the vineyard. It’s also the name of the main grape used to produce their sparkling wine. It seems that everything here has Acadian roots, even the vines, that are part of the Grand Pré landscape, which UNESCO named a World Heritage Site in 2012. The place really is rich in Acadian history. At the heart of this wine region is the Grand Pré National Historic Site, where the 1755 deportation of the Acadians, known as the Great Expulsion, is memorialized.
A “Bridge” to Champagne-quality level
Less than 5 kilometers from L’Acadie Vineyards, just across the Gaspereau River, is Benjamin Bridge Vineyards. It’s now one of the most famous wineries in Nova Scotia. Whereas L’Acadie uses hybrid grapes, Benjamin Bridge grows vitis vinifera, including the three grapes that are used in Champagne: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. All it took was winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers’ determination. “It’s not without a challenge”, he says, “but the efforts and the risk are worth it.”
What makes the Annapolis Valley a perfect place to produce sparkling wines is its location — in a cool climate, of course, but tempered by the Atlantic Ocean. According to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, the ocean is not the only element that has an influence. The vineyards are close to the shore of the Bay of Fundy, known to have the world’s highest tides. “The Bay of Fundy has a very important moderating effect, and it gives all our wines a signature. They all have this typical freshness, with a great sensation of minerality.”
The Benjamin Bridge winemaker qualifies the future of Nova Scotia sparkling wines as “very promising.” Bruce Ewert, of L’Acadie Vineyards, adds: “Nova Scotians have embraced the culture of sparkling wines, and now we’re ready to show the world.” In fact, some of the Nova Scotia sparkling wines have already won awards during international wine competitions. “That really turned the heads of wine writers in France and in the United Kingdom,” says Bruce Ewert, laughing.
The fine persistent bubbles, the bread-like aromas, the saline flavours, the creamy texture, the perfect ripeness and acidity … the result is that Annapolis Valley méthode traditionnelle is to Canada what Cava is to Spain: a high quality sparkling wine, with a true identity. Now, how crazy is that?
If you go
Plan at least 2 days to enjoy the Annapolis Valley and its vineyards. Nova Scotia is also a great place to learn more about the Acadian history, especially around the Grand Pré National Historic Site, which is open from mid-May to mid-October.
Benjamin Bridge Vineyards: www.benjaminbridge.com
L’Acadie Vineyards: www.lacadievineyards.ca
Domaine de Grand-Pré: www.grandprewines.ns.ca
Grand-Pré National Historic Site (Parks Canada): www.pc.gc.ca
Annapolis Valley Tourism: www.valleytourism.ca