By: Tamlyn Currin
16 May, 2023
Thanks to climate change and increased viticultural knowledge, Canada’s second-smallest province is developing a distinctive wine industry.
It may not be so surprising that Nova Scotia, a small, heavily wooded peninsula on Canada’s eastern coast, is the world’s largest exporter of Christmas trees, lobsters and wild berries. Less expected for a province on the cold northern Atlantic seaboard is a wine industry.
In fact, Nova Scotia is Canada’s oldest wine region – vineyards were first planted here in the early 1600s. But winegrowing never really took off here until the early 21st century, when, thanks to climate change, an influx of viticultural knowledge and a new focus on sparkling wines, the region began to develop a wine industry with a distinctive identity. Currently the province has 19 wineries together producing 1.9 million litres (502,000 US gallons) of wine. Wines of Nova Scotia claim that the economic impact of the local wine industry is CA$245 million.
These are not numbers to be sniffed at. More importantly, neither are the wines, as I discovered at a recent tasting of Nova Scotia wines organised by Wines of Nova Scotia at Carousel in London.
The province sits in a complex meteorological crossroads. As the peninsula is almost entirely surrounded by water, its vineyards are never more than 20 km (12 miles) from the ocean, which brings coastal fogs that moderate the temperatures. Yet its east coast lies at the convergence of three large air masses, and it is in the pathway of major east-moving storms. Annual rainfall is on the high side, at 900 mm (35 in) inland and more than 1,500 mm (59 in) on the coast. Vineyards tend to be relatively flat and are usually on sandstone and/or slate. Cool, salty sea breezes shape wines that are very high in acidity (sometimes eye-wateringly so) and offer delicate fruit.
Most of the wines are made from hybrids, which make it possible to make drinkable wine in this marginal climate. If you’re familiar with Lucie Kuhlmann, Geisenheim 318-57, Léon Millot, Petite Pearl and Marquette, then you have the march on me. The flagship variety is L’Acadie Blanc – a cross between Cascade and Seyve-Villard 14-287 (yup, I hadn’t heard of those either) – which makes up roughly a third of production.
Not surprisingly given the high acidities in the grapes, sparkling wine is the hero here. Producers are making everything from simple tank-method fizz to pet-nat to long-lees-aged traditional-method sparkling – some of which could, I suspect, put some champagnes to shame. It would be interesting to do a blind tasting, to find out. I was very impressed with the serious elegance of the wines from Benjamin Bridge– a producer who is not only making great wine but also has a rather beautiful backstory (thanks to Kate Burns). I loved their pet-nat and, given half the chance and half the distance, would quite possibly end up filling half my fridge with their piquette.