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Nova Scotia’s New Eden

Nova Scotia might soon be a remarkable source of high-quality, expensive sparkling wine—the Champagne of North America.

I spent last weekend in Wolfville and Halifax, invited to speak on the subject of Canadian wine at the annual dinner of the Atlantic Association of Professional Sommeliers. The good folks there seemed starved for both wine and wine news from the rest of Canada. They know their own wines well enough, of course—partially because, with only 10 wineries in the province, there is not much of their wine to know. That, however, is likely to change in the next decade, as a great new wine region is discovered by the outside world.

It’s called the Gaspereau Valley, and it’s a heart-stoppingly beautiful steep-sloped spur off the much larger Annapolis Valley (already famous for its apples). When I came over a crest and peered into the Gaspereau for the first time, I immediately thought of Germany’s Mosel Valley and pictured it covered with symmetrical rows of vineyard green. Indeed the planting is underway.

It was local pioneering winemaker Hans Christian Jost who got the ball rolling here. He opened Gaspereau Vineyards a couple of years ago, planting such local hybrids as the quite fine l’acadie blanc, the fragrant New York muscat (why not rename it Nova Scotia muscat?) and red hybrids like marechal foch and the exotically named lucie kuhlman. These are winter hardy and have less of the rustic horse barn “hybrid” taste so common to their Ontario counterparts. Jost has also planted vinifera like chardonnay and riesling (the first 2006 riesling is quite good).

Next month, momentum builds in Gaspereau with the “soft” opening of L’Acadie Vineyards by Bruce Ewart, a former winemaker at Hawthorne Mountain Ranch in British Columbia. He is focused on sparkling wine from organically grown hybrids, mostly l’acadie blanc—a good candidate for sparkling wine due to its high acidity and subtle, vaguely chardonnay-like apple fruit. He is also experimenting with making ripasso-style whites and reds from dried grapes (as is done in Italy’s amarones).

The future of Nova Scotia as an international magnet, however, may rest upon a sparkling wine project (again all organic) called Benjamin Bridge, established by Halifax businessman Gerry McConnell, Ontario winery start-up consultant Peter Gamble (Stratus, Southbrook) and McConnell’s wife and business partner Dara Gordon. A showpiece winery will break ground this spring, with a full opening slotted for 2010, timed with the release of some stunning sparkling wines already aging in-bottle—some dating back to 2002. The range will include bubblies based on chardonnay and pinot noir, along with some hybrid experiments, all made under the guiding hand of Raphael Brisbois, a consultant from the Champagne region of France.

I can’t say enough about how good these wines are. Too bad we will have to wait; although to slake public curiosity, Benjamin Bridge will be releasing about 300 cases of an earlier-drinking, muscat-based, off-dry bubbly called Nova this summer. If you can imagine, it’s even better, brighter and cleaner than Moscato d’Asti. I know I am re-thinking my summer vacation plans.

 

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