Benjamin Bridge growing around new 18-tonne grape press
One way to draw a crowd to The Port, the NSLC’s fanciest store, is to announce a free pouring of the new Benjamin Bridge sparkling wines.
But for winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, the introductions of a new 2015 rosé and a 2014 brut on Thursday were overshadowed by a delivery to the winery that same day of an 18-tonne, three-metre high Coquard grape press from France.
“It’s actually so large that it required an open container, it wouldn’t fit in a normal container because of its height. It came straight from Champagne to Nova Scotia,” Deslauriers said. “It required the most specialized equipment at the Port of Halifax to take it off the ship and then onto an oversized trailer.”
And in terms of how a press this large and this specialized works, it’s a long way from stomping grapes with your feet.
“It allows us to make extremely precise separations between the different stages in the pressing,” Deslauriers said. “For Champagne it’s really important because you only want a certain portion of the pressing, which is called the cuvée. So, this is a press that’s designed to separate it with extraordinary precision. In terms of our ability to not extract any unwanted colour in a red variety, that is a press that will provide spectacular results.”
The top Benjamin Bridge sparklers have several times been judged superior to the best offerings from Champagne in blind tastings, but Deslaurier is confident their traditional method wines will be even better once the new press, the first Coquard in Canada, is in operation.
(Traditional method sparkling wines, often called TMs, are Champagnes in everything but name. By international agreement, only wines made in the Champagne region of France may be labelled as such.)
“Coquard presses have been made since 1924 in Champagne,” he said. “There was this natural selection process, this evolution, based exclusively on the demands and the specificity of Champagne and traditional method sparkling that led to the creation of this plate press. It’s an incredible tool to make traditional method sparkling, there are no other presses like that in the world. It’s probably the most iconic tool at the disposal of winemakers in Champagne to work their magic.”
But it’s a tool that Deslauriers isn’t certain to use right away. Even though the new press has arrived a month or so before the grape harvest is expected to begin, it might not go into operation until next fall.
“We’re building a new winery, and we’re building a brand new crush pad and a brand new work space,” he said. “This space will actually be designed for the Coquard press, so we have to put the press in place and then build the building around it because it’s such a big piece of equipment, and it’s going to be the centrepiece of our sparkling process. We don’t know if that can happen between now and the middle of October, which is when the grapes are going to be ready to pick. So, there’s a distinct possibility that we will be using the Coquard for the first time next year.”
“You cannot find a more applied illustration of our willingness to go above and beyond to make the best possible wines. There’s a long list of things we did to demonstrate our willingness to do everything in our power to put the Nova Scotia terroir at the forefront.”
Deslauriers said buying the Coquard is just the latest example of Benjamin Bridge going outside the box, whether it’s fermenting grape juice in concrete eggs or introducing Pet Nat (pétillant naturel) in a can, which the winery did this summer. It raised eyebrows, but 50,000 cans of Pet Net were sold.
“There is a mandate to do something out of the ordinary, a mandate to innovate, to be on the edge. Sometimes it means we take tremendous risks,” he said. “It’s not something that can replace the high ceiling of our environment, our terroir or our vineyard. Great wines are always made in the vineyard, but it is one of those elements that you do have control over.”