The official story is that I was waiting for the list of ingredients from our wine pairing dinner in Halifax over the holidays; but a slightly more true reason is that I’ve been enjoying the down time a little bit too much. Between the…. erm.. let’s call it ‘steady’ pace of work at Unilever, and the equally intense pace of what I expect entrepreneurial vineyard development to look like post-Master, I can’t help enjoying being a little lazy now and then, while I can. You got me, I was catching up on sleep! (An alternative fact of the matter is that the pairing portion of the story started getting too long, so I’m separating it into its own blog post, and also I got distracted making some pretty charts and graphs for the audit I’m working on. You know how it goes.)

The giant bunch of grapes tells you where most of the Nova Scotian wineries are. And they’re not far away from the world’s best scallops in Digby…hmmm…. methinks some wine pairing is in order!

Let’s rewind a bit and go back to my Nova Scotian holiday. I originally had no intention of returning to Canada for Christmas this year, as I’m returning home in the summer for my next stage, or internship (more to follow on that later). But my sister and her little family decided to move to Halifax in the fall, so it seems like a good excuse to have a family Christmas in a new location, and take the opportunity to taste a few wines from the Nova Scotia area. (Yes, they make wine there! And no, it’s not all ice wine.)

I was actually turned onto Nova Scotian wines by some university classmates, one who studied wine and hospitality with me at Guelph years ago, and the other who happens to be the daughter of a retired Nova Scotian vineyard inspector. At their home in Toronto, I was able to taste some lovely port-style wines with the region’s signature zingy acidity, which whetted my appetite to see what other surprises this province might have in store for me. It’s hard to find these wines in the LCBO, as the wine list at our beloved local monopoly skews viticultural reality somewhat. In fairness, Nova Scotia is a relatively new wine region, with commercial activity beginning only in the 1980s. New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and even Newfoundland had at least one winery starting in the 1990s. So even in the context of Canada’s whole wine history (with plantations as early as the 1810s), this is still quite young.

Brrrr…maybe there’s some icewine under that frozen lake! A snowy lakeside walk. The locals seem to be celebrating the cold snap, though, so I better buck up.

Suffice it to say that, upon arrival there, I know next to nothing about Nova Scotian wines. But the happy coincidence of knowing a vineyard inspector means that I have access to some inside intelligence on the local wine production scene. Though many of the wineries are closed down for the holidays, a few have open doors and vignerons willing to chat. The first stop is at Gaspereau Vineyards where winemaker Gina Haverstock introduces us to the wines of Nova Scotia.

At Gaspereau Vineyards, Gina describes the wines she makes a little too eloquently as someone flat out refuses to leave. Oh snap! Those trees are throwing shade at the vines. Literally – the shadows they cast, even if only for a few hours in the day, means the Riesling vines closest to the forest remain under snow.

Like many new world wine regions, Nova Scotia produces a wide range of grape varieties. However, to help point wine drinkers towards a signature for the region, Wines of Nova Scotia has recently created an appellation wine called Tidal Bay. The main grapes in the wine are usually L’Acadie Blanc, Vidal or Seyval, three hybrid grapes grown in this region. (Hybrids are love children of European vitis vinifera grapes like Ugni Blanc or Muscat, crossed with other grapes, in our case non-European/non-vinifera, to create more cold-weather-resistant varieties.) In lesser quantities, the Tidal Bays can also include French grapes such as Muscat, Chardonnay and Riesling. Each winery has its own signature blend so it is uniquely theirs while still crisp and aromatic, recognizable as a Tidal Bay. Think about the concept of terroir, which actually extends beyond the soil of the vineyard to encompass the local climate, topography, vineyard practices, local traditions and some argue even the regional gastronomy. The Nova Scotian diet, dominated by seafood – clams, scallops, haddock and lobster – pairs wonderfully with the Tidal Bay wines, so this could be considered a terroir wine.

Better get it right! This is what happens when you cross the wrong grapes…

Hybrid grape varieties play an important role in Nova Scotia’s wine industry due to the cold climate. Some French varieties (vitis vinifera) exist here: Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc to name a few. But many of the stars of the region are hybrid grapes, not found outside of North America. This includes the region’s star white – L’Acadie Blanc, a winter-hardy grape with medium acidity. It’s quite dry and fresh, which is why it is often a major component in the local Tidal Bay wines. As a standalone wine it is fresh and easy to drink, especially when paired with seafood. (And when I say that, I am imagining a cold Bordeaux-seafood platter with oysters, shrimp, clams……mmmmm.)

There isn’t quite enough space to talk about all the hybrids, so I’ll focus on my favourite red, a recent discovery, the Lucie Kuhlmann. This is another winter-hardy variety (the Nova Scotians have to be very practical about this) with berry fruit, smokey and even spicy notes. While cool-climate red wines are often characterized by their light body, high acidity and low tannin due to the shortness of the growing season, this wine has a medium acidity, body and tannins, so it is a nice option for those looking for a local option packing a bigger punch and arguably better balanced.

Looking over the Annapolis Valley from Luckett’s Vineyard. The view of Minas Basin from the deck at Blomidon Winery. The geography surrounding wine country is characterized by tidal basins like this one: this is an inlet off of the Bay of Fundy, which is known for having the highest (and lowest) tides in the world. So…. no shortage of water, I suppose.

Our next stop is Blomidon Estate Winery, where I’ve been connected to the winemaker Simon Rafuse through the alumni network of ex-Zind Humbrecht interns. Simon introduces us to Nova Scotia’s signature style: sparkling wine. Sparkling wine makes sense in cooler climate wine regions (like Champagne!) because the ideal ingredients – grapes with high acidity and lower sugar levels – are readily available thanks to the shorter growing season. Simon shows off three of his sparkling wines; the tasting starts with a fruity, off-dry Crémant, and finishes with a crisp and zingy Late Pick Chardonnay. The latter is my favourite, and it seems the locals prefer zingy as well so clearly I’m starting to develop an East Coast palate!

Lobster traps piled up while trawlers (? trollers? squid jiggers? Fishing vessels! I’m not up on my nautical lingo!) hang by the pier. Though this is ocean, the inlets still freeze up so some of the boats are pulled up onto land in between fishing trips. An abnormally calm day shows the sea and sky mirror images of each other.

The holiday includes lots of family time for me, plenty of eating and drinking, and of course, some touring around to see the sights (though mostly snow covered). And there’s no visiting Nova Scotia without stopping by Peggy’s Cove. Though the cove is famous for its lighthouse and big waves, we are just in time to catch the unusual sight of tranquil waves reflecting a picturesque and pink sunset.

Taylor siblings enjoying the sunset at Peggy’s Cove.

So farewell, farewell to Nova Scotia’s charms,
For it’s early in the morning and I’m far, far away.

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