Eileanan Breagha joins Tidal Bay party



While wineries around the province were dealing with the effects of a killing frost early last June, Ken MacLellan, owner of Eileanan Breagha in Cape Breton, was dealing with a different issue.

“The lake sheltered us from the frost quite a bit. Some of … the one- or two-year-old vines had a bit of damage but nothing else,” MacLellan said of his River Denys vineyard. “But we had yield issues from raccoons and critters coming in and eating a lot of our Muscat and sweeter (grapes).”

Eileanan Breagha made Tidal Bay this year for the first time, joining 11 other wineries in producing the province’s appelation wine. To get the Tidal Bay designation, a wine must be approved by a blind tasting panel and follow stylistic regulations.

“It’s the best marketing tool we have in Nova Scotia for our wines, and when you taste them they are the best wines we make,” said MacLellan, who described his Tidal Bay as “very last minute.”

“We only got to the last tasting panel. We weren’t even close to being ready earlier on, so we had just one shot at it. Lucky it went through. We needed special approval because it came in higher than 11 per cent (alcohol), we’re at 11.5,” he said.

Eileanan Breagha produced just 30 cases of Tidal Bay, making it from a unique mix of L’Acadie Blanc, Cayuga, St. Pepin, Seigerrebe and New York Muscat. Last fall’s crop of Seigerrebe and Muscat was especially hard hit by critters.

“We should have enough to do quite a few cases next year, we’ll try to be more on top of our issues,” said MacLellan, who shares winemaking duties with his father and brother.

Jerry White, the executive director of the Winery Association of Nova Scotia, described Tidal Bay as “the flagship for Nova Scotia wine,” and its fastest growing product segment.

“We launched it in 2012 and this year, if not for the frost, we probably would have done about 30,000 cases. That would represent about 20 per cent of the industry,” White said. “The grapes that go into it, while interesting but not outstanding on their own, when they come together they produce a signature wine better than the sum of their parts.”

White said overall wine production in the province this year is down about 50 per cent because of the frost.

“That’s obviously a blow for a small industry to absorb, but this is something that northern wine growing regions go through,” he said. “Ontario’s experienced it a couple of times, Bordeaux has experienced it a couple of times. It’s a challenge we’re going to have to rebound from.”

This year’s Tidal Bays were unveiled at a Halifax hotel on Friday. The reduced grape yield means wineries have had to make strategic decisions about which wines to produce, but the requirements for Tidal Bay have not been relaxed. It has to be made from only Nova Scotia wine, and the four primary four grapes are L’Acadie Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Geisenheim and Vidal.

WANS doesn’t know yet how many cases are avaiable for sale.

“The wineries haven’t told us what they have produced at this point, they’ve been so busy with production, bottling and labelling,” said White. “Some of them might have gotten the labels on just this week.”

There were 12 wineries pouring Tidal Bay on Friday, and they had widely varying stories of how badly they were hurt by the frost.

“We really lucked out, all of our losses were in grapes we don’t make Tidal Bay out of,” said Simon Rafuse, winemaker at Blomidon Estate, located on the shores of the Minas Basin. “So our L’Acadie and Seyval were pretty much on par, within normal range, Muscat was OK, so we were able to make as much Tidal Bay … as we wanted.”

But in Falmouth, on the Avon River, the damage was much worse.

“Last year we had six varieties in the blend, but because of the frost it’s down to two: L’Acadie and Riesling, that’s all that was worth using,” said Saint Famille’s Tony Barkhouse, whose yield was down 90 per cent. “It’s a good thing that we had some bulk wine in storage, or we would have been up the creek. It was that bad.”

“We made a couple of hundred cases, and that’s about it. (Last year) we had 400 cases, so we’re cut right in half.”