Drinking Well Early
Young, savvy winemakers are helping shape the new Nova Scotia wine industry
It wasn’t long ago when going to Nova Scotia to make wine might not have been considered an enviable position. These days, though, there’s a real sense of excitement, with potential for stellar sparkling wines and an influx of new investment and youth.
Gina Haverstock, Simon Rafuse and Jean-Benoit Deslauriers are three young winemakers making things happen on the East Coast. All are Canadian, two Nova Scotian, and all have impressive international experience.
Halifax-born Rafuse, 29, the winemaker at Blomidon Estate Winery, holds a master’s degree in viticulture and oenology from Montpellier SupAgro in France and recently finished his diplôme nationale d’œnologue at Montpellier. He had stints in Central Otago, at Shaky Bridge Wines, at Château de Lancyre in Languedoc-Roussillon and in Alsace at Domaine Zind-Humbrecht.
Rafuse says his experience at Zind–Humbrecht, where he helped with its 2008 Clos Windsbuhl Riesling, was particularly formative.
“I did quite a lot of work in that vineyard, and the setting is just unbelievable,” he says, adding that, with the limestone sub-soil, “You can taste that layer of rock in the wine — in all of the Clos Windsbuhl wines, in fact. Those salty, stony mineral flavours will always remind me of that place.”
Rafuse likes what he sees in his home terroir, based on his first vintage. “The 2009 L’Acadie Blanc should be a fun wine because it marries exuberant citrus and mint aromatics with a yeasty, brioche, Muscadet-like character from extended lees contact,” he says.
Like Rafuse, Haverstock, winemaker at Gaspereau Vineyards, is from Nova Scotia — a Cape Breton girl, from Port Hawkesbury.
In addition to a BSc in oenology and viticulture from Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, Haverstock, 32, trained at Austria’s Emmerich Knoll in the Wachau, Domaine de Simon Bize et Fils in Savigny-lès-Beaune and spent a harvest in New Zealand with Church Road Winery in Hawke’s Bay. She also worked at Georg Breuer in Ruedesheim, Rheingau — one of the best riesling producers in the world — for one year, plus another harvest.
Haverstock thrived at Breuer and raves about its 2004 Rottland Riesling, from one of its four Grand Cru vineyards, “Not only because I helped process the grapes, inoculate and evaluate the wines through fermentation and helped blend them, but also because I was especially drawn to the distinct terroir of that vineyard, with its abundance of blue shale,” she says.
Haverstock’s first vintage at Gaspereau was 2006, and she immediately applied her international experience. Consequently, her award-winning riesling garnered national attention. “I was racking the riesling,” she remembers, “with my head in the tank, when the aroma evoked memories of racking riesling in Germany! It was a proud moment.”
Benjamin Bridge winemaker Deslauriers, 32, took a different path from his hometown of Montreal on his way to joining this sparkling wine specialist producer.
“My science background helped me land some wine laboratory work early on, which was my introduction to the industry, along with some master classes in biodynamics with [biodynamic wine pioneer] Nicolas Joly,” he explains. Deslauriers worked four vintages in Santa Barbara with Casa Barranca in Ojai, California, and did assistant-winemaker duty for Vino Organico Emiliana in Chile, helping with the 2007 vintage of two biodynamic wines, Coyam and “G.”
In addition to his work with Benjamin Bridge, Deslauriers brings a refreshing garagiste mentality to the local industry. The first wine under his own Caveman Jones label, a 100-percent grenache produced while he was still in California and dubbed “M is for Mutton, M is for Monster Truck,” will be released later this year.
“I was so attached to the wine,” Deslauriers says, “that when I took the job at Benjamin Bridge, I arranged for my barrels to be consolidated in a container with an order of California wines going to the NSLC (Nova Scotia Liquor Commission).”
Deslauriers’ choice for his proudest moment thus far in Nova Scotia reveals his focus on quality. “I would say a micro cuvée of sauvignon blanc that we made in 2008, that was harvested below a ton per acre,” he offers. “The wine truly embodies the fact that the vines focused all their energy to (literally) a few berries. It resulted in a strange combination of volume and elegance. For 10 minutes after a sip, the sensory impact is still being felt.”
When they could make wine just about anywhere, what is keeping these young winemakers in Nova Scotia? Their answers can be distilled to two points: the crisp, mineral notes resulting from the terroir, and the fact it’s a fantastic place to live.
“I think the short answer is possibilities,” says Rafuse. “This is a growing industry with a lot of excitement surrounding it, and it’s fun to be involved early on. There’s everything to discover here.”
Haverstock adds: “To have some small hand in the way the industry is headed in the future is exciting and rewarding. It is so wonderful to be passionate about a career and to find a job in that career in a place you love.”
90 Benjamin Bridge 2004 Cuvée Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia, Canada
Pricing not yet available
The highly anticipated first release of its premium traditional method sparkling wine made from pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier is stunningly good. Slightly golden yellow, it has fine mousse, classic bready notes alongside green apple and lemon on the nose, and a palate that will be mistaken by many for top-level champagne. (Craig Pinhey)
87 Benjamin Bridge 2009 Nova 7
A lightly frizzante (so light it is under screwcap) Asti-style wine, with a slightly pink tinge, Nova 7 is off-dry, with rose petal, tropical melon and peach notes that are undeniably muscat. Low alcohol, this is a fun aperitif, although it does have some acidity under the sweet grapey flavours: not surprising, considering the terroir. (CP)
88 Gaspereau Vineyards NV Vitis Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia, Canada
This blend of black grapes (Luci Kuhlmann, Dechaunac and baco noir) has proven popular with sommeliers as a classy local food wine. It starts with spicy clove and blackberry/black cherry fruit notes, but has integrated oak, too. The palate is somewhat “Old World Italian” dry, with a smooth mid-palate, spicy fruit, smoky old oak and a drying finish. (CP)
87 Gaspereau Vineyards 2009 Rosé
NS $16 winery
Nova Scotia has proven to be a reliable source of excellent, refreshing rosé, owing to the cool-climate acidity, combined with improved winemaking and viticultural practices. This is a textbook example: bright, pinkish red, with an inviting nose of grapefruit skin and strawberries, with that ever-present minerality. The palate is medium-bodied, with the fruit coming through even more, and a finish that’s clean and tart, balanced with just enough residual sugar. (CP)
87 Blomidon Estate 2009 Baco Noir Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, Canada
Just bottled, and still very young, this wine already shows amazing intensity in the nose, with “spice box” notes of allspice and chocolatey wood, a strong ripe herbal aroma that takes getting used to, and loads of black cherry fruit. In the mouth it is a soft, fruity wine, with very smooth texture and a dry finish. It will be interesting to see how this develops. (CP)
86 Blomidon Estate 2008 Reserve Maréchal Foch
An award-winning dry red that requires some time to appreciate. It starts with a dusty, cedary, rather closed nose, but there’s also that Nova Scotia foch signature, sour cherry thing going on. It opens up with time to smoky, antique, oak, and the fruit is there: berries with lots of acid. This is a complex wine that will age well, based on other reserve foch from similar terroir. (CP)