Grapes have been growing on Canada’s East Coast since the early 1600s, but the wine here, one aromatic white in particular, has been one of the country’s best‑kept secrets – until now.
“There’s no better way to understand a wine than to visit where it’s made,” says Gina Haverstock, winemaker for Gaspereau Vineyards in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. We were standing on a hilltop, looking down over a half‑mile of vines, their grapes showing bright and plump through the bushy leaves.
It’s a trait of good wine that it is more than something to drink. Like a trick mirror, a quality wine is an aggregation of many things, imparting not only its own flavour, but that of the landscape from which it comes: the soil, the air and perhaps even the ethos of a place. In a glass of Torrontés, you’ll taste the cold wind of Argentina’s Calchaquí Valley, and in a muscadet, the sunshine of France’s Loire Valley. Canada’s East Coast has its own version of this in Tidal Bay, a deliciously subtle aromatic white, in which there is the salt‑touched sweetness of a Nova Scotian shoreline.
Tidal Bay’s ascent has been a long time coming. Though Nova Scotia is considered to be Canada’s oldest wine country or region – grapes have been planted here since the early 1600s – the industry was stagnant for generations, and attention was drawn west, to the vineyards of Ontario and B.C. The Annapolis Valley is the epicenter of this – as it’s home to most of the vineyards and wineries, but there are grapes grown around the province: on the South Shore, in Bear River and on the Northumberland Shore.
Nova Scotia continues to be associated with sparkling wines (its terroir and cool climate bears similarities to the French region of Champagne), however, beginning in 2012, an appetite developed among the province’s winemakers to establish a unique appellation for the area, and produce a distinctly Nova Scotian wine. Today, fourteen wineries produce their own version of a tangy white called Tidal Bay.
“Tidal Bay is a great way for a winemaker to express their idiosyncrasies within a set range,” says Haverstock. That set range is the strict standard by which Tidal Bays are produced, a stylization that includes a specific alcohol content (between 9 and 11% percent) and the requirement to use grapes grown in Nova Scotia. But with more than 20 grape varietals to choose from (pulling strongly on L’Acadie Blanc, Seyval, and Vidal), no two Tidal Bay wines are alike, either between wineries or from year to year.
Of course, Nova Scotia’s temperamental weather plays a significant role in each year’s selection of Tidal Bays – a hint of salt from the rolling seaborn fog that fills the Annapolis Valley and aromas of green apple, peach and lime as a result of a short, cool growing season.
Light and tangy, Tidal Bays are designed to pair alongside local seafood – a smorgasbord of lobster, crab, scallops and oysters. Clustered around the Minas Basin, no Annapolis Valley vineyard is more than 20 kilometres from the ocean. According to Rachel Lightfoot, of Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards, the constant sea breeze helps suppress the ravages of fungus, widely reducing the need for fungicides and other chemicals.
Nova Scotian wine isn’t yet readily available across the country, or widely known around the world, but the area is quickly establishing itself as a source of high‑quality wines in an intimate, almost exclusive, environment. At Domaine du Grand Pré, winemaker Jurg Stutz describes his desire to “bring the people in, rather than sending the wine out.”
It’s a philosophy that can be applied across all of wine country here. The majority of Nova Scotian wineries are small, with between 35 and 50 hectares of vines. At Domaine du Grand Pré, Stutz says he produces around 10,000 cases per year, a small number compared to industrial‑scale wineries that pump out half a million cases annually.
And the plan of “bringing people in” is working. The Good Trail Cheer, a suggested road trip of the best wineries, breweries and distilleries Nova Scotia has to offer, has helped boost post‑Covid tourism in the province, with several operators offering wine tours in the valley. Only an hours’ drive from Halifax, the Valley is a cradleland of agriculture while, the shores of Minas Basin are filled with visitable cheesemakers, breweries and orchards.
Though there is a variety of style among Nova Scotian wineries – some vineyards pushing the envelope, while others prefer traditionalism – Tidal Bay has become something of a group project. Simon Rafuse, winemaker at Blomidon Estate Winery, says: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
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