Visits Nova Scotia Wineries
I usually write reviews of wine events in Niagara’s wine country. However, my wife and I recently travelled to Nova Scotia and we took the opportunity to visit some of the wineries while there. I’ve heard different opinions about the quality of wines from Nova Scotia but I wanted to keep an open mind and make my own decision.
There are three areas that have more than one winery – the Lunenburg area, the Annapolis Royal area and the Wolfville area. Although Nova Scotia doesn’t have wine “appellations” as other wine regions, I was interested to learn about “Tidal Bay”. I saw this description on a number of wine labels but from different wineries so I had to find more. I found out that Tidal Bay is the first wine appellation for Nova Scotia. However, it doesn’t indicate a wine region but can be from wineries across the province. To obtain the Tidal Bay designation, all wines must be made from specific grape varieties, include 100% Nova Scotia grown grapes, follow a strict set of standards and be approved every year by an independent blind tasting panel. Some of the wines that can be used to make a Tidal Bay wine include L’Acadie Blanc, Vidal, Seyval, Ortega, New York Muscat, Riesling and Chardonnay.
Our wine tour started in the South Shore area at Petite Rivière Vineyards. It’s about a 35 minute drive from Lunenburg and our GPS indicated that we would have to take a ferry. However, a look at the map showed that you could avoid the ferry and drive around the LaHave River to the winery (cable ferries now cost $7 each way in Nova Scotia for a ride of only a few minutes). This was one of the few wineries in Nova Scotia that offered a complimentary tasting of a number of their wines. However, you could also try their two premium reds for a $5 fee. One of the wines we tried was “Three Churches of Mahone Bay”. It was a blend of L'Acadie Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, NY Muscat and Kentville White. L’Acadie Blanc seems to be the signature grape of Nova Scotia and, as mentioned above, one of the wines used in Tidal Bay. Most wineries we visited had L’Acadie in their portfolio. One of the two premium wines we tried included the Drumlins series – “Kissing Bridge” a blend of Baco Noir, Triomphe D'Alsace, Marachel Joffre, Leon Millot, and Lucie Khulman. This was a real learning experience for me because, except for Baco Noir, I’ve never tasted any of these grapes before. I found out that Lucie Khulman is a red French-American hybrid that seems to grow very well in Nova Scotia.
There was another winery in the area that we drove to – Lunenburg County Winery – only to find they were closed for the season. When we returned to Lunenburg, it was cool and rainy so we made a diversion from winery visits and went to the Ironworks Distillery. This artisanal distillery is located in a former marine blacksmith’s ship. They offered complimentary tastings of their rhubarb liqueur, raspberry liqueur, Grappa, and “Bluenose” rum which is their amber rum with a blend of caramel and molasses with a hint of spice.
The next two wineries we visited were in the Annapolis Royal area. Two wineries were open to the public and one, unfortunately, was by appointment only. The first winery was Bear River Vineyards. We were told that this is the only winery in Nova Scotia that uses 100% estate grapes. The wines we tried included a Pinot Gris rosé, a Chardonnay, a Riesling and a Baco Noir. All wines were really good. On our way out we got to meet the owner of the winery (Peggy Hawes). She was busy with the harvest but took the time to have a chat with us about the winery and the area.
We then went to Annapolis Highland Vineyards just a few minutes from Bear River Winery. It was interesting to learn that the grapes for their Chardonnay and Riesling were sourced from Niagara! We went all the way to Nova Scotia to try wines made from grapes probably not far from where we live. One of the most “interesting” wines we tried was De Chaunac – a French-American hybrid. I think I’ve only tried wine from this grape once in Niagara and that was at Lakeview Cellars. It’s mainly used as a blending wine so it was great to be able to try it as a single variety.
Nova Scotia’s main wine producing area is in the Wolfville area. We started out a Blomidon Estate Winery. Only three very small pours were offered for $5. The pours were almost too small to get a decent taste of the wine which was too bad because the wines that we got to try were really good. These included a very dry unoaked Chardonnay, a Rosé (made from a blend of L’Acadie Blanc, Seyval Blanc, New York Muscat, and Léon Millot) and a very nice 100% Baco Noir. There were a number of other wines in their portfolio but we were not offered a taste which was very disappointing.
Planters Ridge was one of our favourite winery visits. Four generous tastings were offered for $6 in proper wine glasses – not the typical small ISO glasses that other wineries seem to use. The winery is housed in a beautifully restored 150 year-old barn. We knew before our trip that Niagara resident, Natalie Spytkowsky, was the consulting winemaker for Planters Ridge. We were quite surprised when her picture appeared on a video being shown in the tasting room. We didn’t realize that Natalie and her partner, Darryl Fields, were an integral part in the start-up of the wine production at Planters Ridge. Some of the very good wines we tried here included a 100% L’Acadie, Tidal Bay and Quintessence Red (a blend of Lucie Kuhlmann, Castel and Marquette).
Before we visited Gaspereau Vineyards we stopped at the Fox Hill Cheese Company. Unfortunately, there was not much going on there and, surprisingly, no cheese to sample. However, on the way out we saw a brochure that offered a free wine and cheese sample at Gaspereau. We showed the brochure at the tasting bar and they suggested we do a wine tasting beforehand to decide on the wine we wanted for our “glass” of wine and cheese samples. For $5 we could choose four wines to try so we chose the Riesling, L’Acadie, Gina’s Red (a blend of Marechal Foch, Marquette, Triomphe D’Alsace and Lucie Kuhlmann) and a 100% Lucie Kuhlmann. After sampling the wines, we decided on Gina’s Red and L’Acadie for our wine and cheese sampling. We were quite surprised when they poured us a full glass of wine each. It was a sunny and warm day so we took our glasses of wine and cheese tray out on the patio and enjoyed the pleasant surroundings overlooking the vineyards.
We were a little disappointed with L’Acadie Vineyards. We were told before we left that they were well known for their sparkling wine on a par with Benjamin Bridge. However, we only got to try one sparkling and that was a rosé. They offered three very small samples for $5. Besides the rosé, we chose the L’Acadie and a Marechal Foch done in the appassimento style. We noticed on the blackboard that the other sparkling wines could be sampled at $6 for a 2-ounce pour. I asked if I could try one that best represented their winery only to be told that none of these wines were being opened that day! My advice to this winery would be that if you are not offering a wine for sampling, don’t advertise it in your tasting room. This does not leave a good impression.
At Domaine de Grand Pré Winery we came across another Niagara connection. The person in the tasting room who served us was a fellow student of the Ontario Wine Society – Niagara Chapter’s scholarship winner. We also knew a number of his teachers at Niagara College so we had a very pleasant chat. Various levels of wine tasting were available ranging from $5 to $12. We chose the $8 sampling which included six wines – L’Acadie Blanc, Rosé, Muscat, Léon Millot, Castel and an apple crème liqueur. We also got to try their sparkling and the Pomme d’Or Ice Cider.
I cannot comment on the wines at Luckett Vineyards because we were totally ignored in the tasting room. I guess this winery is so successful that they dropped the ball on customer service. When we arrived on a Thursday afternoon there was a lot going on. It’s one of the few wineries that serves lunch; a winery tour bus called the “Magic Bus” just arrived; there were a number of tours going on, etc. This meant they were understaffed in the tasting room. Only one person was there and he had to serve customers as well as handle the cash register. Not once was our presence acknowledged. Another staff member walked in and we asked if we could get some help and he just said you have to wait for the other person to finish what he’s doing. At that point we just walked out in frustration.
One of our most enjoyable visits was at Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards and this is a winery that’s not even open yet. We first met Rachel Lightfoot at one of the i4C (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration) events in Niagara-on-the-Lake. We told her we were visiting Nova Scotia in the fall and she said to e-mail the winery and she would arrange a tour and tasting. Because it’s not open yet, finding the winery was a bit of a challenge but we finally arrived at the site of what will be a fabulous new winery building. To greet us was owner Mike Lightfoot. Since this was the site of the new building under construction, he told us that the actual production area was a few driveways down the road and Rachel would meet us there and conduct the tour and tasting. Rachel is the assistant winemaker and although they were right in the middle of harvest, she kindly took the time to tell us about the production of the wines and showed us the plans for an impressive new building. She then led us through a tasting of five of their wines and they were all delicious! I just hope when production increases we will be able to get their wines in Ontario.
We started with the 2015 Tidal Bay a crisp and light blend from the certified organic Lightfoot Estate. This was followed by the 2015 Rosé (a blend of Pinot Meunier, Geisenheim, L’Acadie and Frontenac) and the 2015 Pinot Rosé (100% Pinot Noir). We then got to try their premium wines. The 2014 “Ancienne” Chardonnay which is certified organic fermented in barrel and cellared 18 months in French oak. This was my wife’s favourite wine of the trip. My favourite was the 2014 “Ancienne” 100% Pinot Noir with grapes sourced from two different vineyards. I look forward to hearing more about the completion of their new building and the progress of this very impressive winery.
We visited two other wineries outside of the Wolfville area – Sainte Famille Wines and Avondale Sky Winery (photos below). The tasting room at Avondale Sky is in a beautifully restored old church building. The wines were okay but with names like “Lady Slipper”, “Stubborn Head”, “Drops of Amber” and “Ferry Road”, it’s not a winery I can take seriously.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Nova Scotia and learning more about the local wine industry. There are also a lot of craft breweries and Cideries opening up. More information on some of the wineries can be found at Nova Scotia Wineries and : http://winesofnovascotia.ca/.
Photos by © F.G. Couch
* Fred Couch is co-founder of Ontario Wine Society - Niagara Chapter
Views from Ontario Vines ~ Fred Couch