WITH ZEST: A taste of climate change: Last year’s June frost had devastating impact on Nova Scotia wineries



Nova Scotia wineries could be forgiven if they said the taste of climate change was a little off following the 2018 vintage.

The wine industry had been riding a crest of success over the last decade. With an ever-increasing thirst for local at liquor stores and huge increases in tourists visiting local wineries every year, the demand for Nova Scotia wine is at an all-time high. However, Nova Scotia as a cool climate — or at least by traditional viticulture standards — plays on the edge of climatic suitability. Luckily for many local wineries, warmer winters and a prolonged autumn has allowed vintners to experiment with varietals and styles once thought to be impossible to produce in the province.

Success has brought the burgeoning industry both national and international attention, and with it, increased demand. While spring frosts are not new to Nova Scotia, last June’s devastating cold spell, following a prolonged period of warm weather, saw temperatures dip significantly below the freezing point. The result brought catastrophic damage to the province’s vineyards.

Winery harvests, according to Jerry White of the Winery Association of Nova Scotia (WANS), “were down fifty-five per cent.” Similar challenges have been experienced in Ontario and throughout the wine world. In 2017, Chablis, one of France’s epicenter of fine wine production, lost a significant amount of production due to a spring frost.

Blomidon Estate winemaker Simon Rafuse says, “The impact of the frost was two-pronged, as it struck certain vineyards harder than others, and within in those vineyards, certain varietals were hit destroyed while others less so.”

In the case of Blomidon, Rafuse says, “our Baco Noir was hammered and production much lower than we’d like it to be.”

By comparison, their Seyval Blanc, a later budding varietal, was largely unimpacted, he said.

Rafuse considers Blomidon’s situation fortunate compared to others.

“Our production of local wines will be down about 35 per cent … but we were lucky we didn’t lose everything.”

How to handle?

The comparable lack of production compared to most vintages has posed some tough questions for individual wineries and the industry as a whole. Some producers are choosing to bear the brunt of the vintage, accepting the smaller return, while others have mitigated the impact by importing juice from other regions.

According to Rafuse, one style of wine that is best suited to survive the impact is non-vintage traditional method sparkling wines. The style is made by blending base wines from various vintages to create a ‘house style’.

“We’ve been building up reserve stock for a couple years now, so we are still able to bottle typical volumes of these wines. To compensate for 2018, we will beef up the reserves a little a bit next year,” Rafuse said.

While volumes of non-vintage sparkling wines are relatively unaffected, the company had made to make some tough decisions with respect to other wines. For instance, Blomidon chose to accept reduced production of its immensely popular Baco Noir in order to keep it a one hundred per cent Nova Scotian product.

In an effort to keep overall volumes up, he said, Blomidon did bring in some grape juice from other provinces. For example, its Blow Me Down White this year is a blend of Ontario Riesling and local Seyval Blanc fermented in Nova Scotia. Rafuse says Blomidon will be transparent in labelling, clearly indicating the wine as a Product of Canada, and will describe the source of its grapes, including the Riesling imported from the Niagara Peninsula on the back label.

Reading labels

The decision to bring in some juice from other provinces is welcomed by Jerry White, director of the Winery Association of Nova Scotia. The challenges facing the industry as a result of the frost, he says, is clear.

“We know demand will outstrip supply of wines made from local grapes but we are confident local consumers will understand it was a tough vintage and still support our local wineries by buying their Product of Nova Scotia and Product of Canada wines produced here in Nova Scotia,” White said.

“From an economic perspective, everyone (the wineries) wants to use as much local as possible, as it is less expensive than buying Ontario grapes and shipping them in.”

If consumers do buy a blended, Product of Nova Scotia or Canada wine, White says “why not support a local business instead of an international firm?” White also points to the transparent nature the industry is taking toward wine labelling practices. Expect to find wine from a Nova Scotia winery labelled one of four ways:

  1. One hundred per cent Nova Scotia — many wines will continue to be produced as one hundred per cent Nova Scotia. Additionally, any wine labelled as Tidal Bay, Nova Scotia’s signature wine style, can only be crafted from one hundred per cent Nova Scotia grown grapes.
  2. Product of Nova Scotia — wines must contain a minimum of eighty-five per cent Nova Scotia grown grapes. The eighty-five per cent rule is quite commonplace as an industry standard in the wine world.
  3. Product of Canada — expect to see more wines sold from Nova Scotia wineries as Product of Canada this year. These wines must be made from Canadian-grown grapes and contain at least some Nova Scotia grape content.
  4. International Canadian Blends — these wines (formerly labelled as Cellared in Canada) may be labeled as ‘international blend from imported and domestic wines’ if primarily from international grapes or “international blend from domestic and imported wines” if mostly Canadian fruit.

If you are unsure of the provenance of wine, White encourages you to “have a conversation with your local winery.”