The rise of traditional method sparkling wine in Nova Scotia
Traditional method sparkling is having a moment in Atlantic Canada, but is it Nova Scotia's signature wine?
Tradition is a word that is used frequently in Atlantic Canada, but usually in reference to culture, such as our music, food and unique way of approaching life. This emphasis on tradition is oddly perfect for a region that is quickly gaining recognition for traditional method sparkling wine.
Traditional method, also called méthode classique, and historically, Méthode Champenoise, is a technique in which secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. This leads to sparkling wines with fine bubbles and toasty aromas and flavours. The long, intimate contact with the lees (dead yeast) creates the toasty notes that are the signature of traditional method sparkling wines.
Why Traditional Method Sparkling Wine is Produced in Nova Scotia
The L'Acadie Vineyards 2006 Brut was the first traditional method wine released from Atlantic Canada, in 2008. There was an immediate pickup in the Nova Scotia wine community; the region’s restaurants were particularly proud to serve fine sparkling wine made locally. Wine writers and sommeliers from across Canada and around the world are very interested in our little pocket of bubbly production, and for good reason.
Traditional method sparkling wine made in Nova Scotia tends to be crisp and acidic, even austere — particularly the Benjamin Bridge cuvées. As the region matures, other styles are beginning to emerge, and there is no doubt that more will come. For example, L’Acadie produces a traditional method off-dry rosé that is fun and fruity, spending a short time on the lees.
The terroir in the region, particularly in the Gaspereau Valley, is perfect for dry sparklers. It is a cool climate, but without extreme cold in winter. This encourages the production of grapes that are rarely grown elsewhere in Atlantic Canada: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. L’Acadie is also common because it can achieve the ripeness that is ideal for sparkling wine.
Current Traditional Method Sparkling Wine Producers in Nova Scotia
Three of the five wineries currently producing traditional method sparkling wines are based in the Gaspereau Valley — Benjamin Bridge Vineyards, L’Acadie Vineyards and Gaspereau Vineyards, with great results. Not far away, Domaine de Grand Pré and Blomidon Estates are seeing similar success.
According to consultant Peter Gamble and winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers at Benjamin Bridge, the acid, sugar and phenolic ripeness of the chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier from their estate mirror the grape requirements in Champagne. The low-yield grapes produce a level of dry extract – the “solid” left behind when you remove all water and alcohol from grapes — that is higher than some premium Champagne. The dry extract is another indicator of body, quality and longevity, according to Deslauriers.
Benjamin Bridge has grabbed the attention of wine critics most recently with their 2004 releases — a Brut Reserve, Blanc de Noir, and just this winter, a Brut Reserve Late Disgorged — which tastes incredibly young and austere. The 2004 Late Disgorged is a bit richer due to extended time on the yeast, but it still fits the Champagne model.
Bruce Ewert and wife Paulette Scott founded L’Acadie Vineyards in the Gaspereau Valley specifically to grow l’acadie blanc grapes for sparkling wine. They recently released the 2008 Prestige Cuvée, the third vintage of their award-winning wine. The 2007 won a gold medal at the Wine Access 2010 Canadian Wine Awards and it was the top scoring sparkling wine at the competition. L’Acadie Vineyards also produces a sparkling rosé, Vintage Cuvée (a second-tier wine, but still traditional method) in Blanc and Rosé, and a traditional method organic apple cider.
Ewert is experimenting with different levels of malolactic fermentation and the winery and estate vineyards have also been certified organic. Almost all future releases will sport the ‘Canada Organic’ logo.
Domaine de Grand Pré has released traditional method wines since 2010. The Champlain is a fairly elegant and dry 50/50 blend of l’acadie blanc and seyval. The Ice Cuvée (soon to undergo a name change) is also a blend of l’acadie blanc and seyval, but it is dosaged with 10% vidal icewine, giving an intensely fruity nose and off-dry palate.
Blomidon Estates, located in the Annapolis Valley, is the latest winery to release traditional method bubbly, in 2011: the off-dry, Vouvray-styled Crémant made from seyval blanc and the Cuvée L’Acadie, made from 100% l’acadie blanc. Winemaker Simon Rafuse says that they will soon release a blanc de blanc that is more to the Champagne model — quite dry and made from 100% estate chardonnay.
Wineries Planning to Release Traditional Method Sparkling Wine
Gaspereau Vineyards, under the guidance of winemaker Gina Haverstock, will officially release its first traditional method wines in 2012, from grapes sourced from a combination of estate fruit and from various vineyards in the Annapolis Valley and Bear River area. The NV Riesling, 2009 Chardonnay and 2009 Pinot Noir were ‘soft’ released last year, in very limited amounts.
Following the success that Benjamin Bridge, L’Acadie Vineyards and Domaine de Grand Pré have experienced with their traditional method wines, several other Nova Scotia wineries are currently working on traditional method wines or planning to release them in the future.
When deciding whether or not to enter the world of traditional method, wineries need to consider whether or not it is financially prudent to do so. Will the Canadian and Nova Scotian markets become too saturated with traditional method wines from Nova Scotia? Can wineries afford the additional cost of producing these special wines?
Is Traditional Method the Signature Wine of Nova Scotia?
Deslauriers believes that traditional method sparkling wines should be the signature wine of Nova Scotia. “We are able to let the grapes reach optimal phenolic maturity, something impossible to obtain in late August or early September, when warmer growing regions are forced to harvest due to the rapidly increasing sugar content in the grapes,” says Deslauriers.
Ewert agrees, but he would like to see authenticity rules established for traditional method sparkling wine produced in Nova Scotia. Currently non-traditional method wines can be labeled as sparkling wine in the province, a practice that is forbidden under VQA rules in B.C. and Ontario.
“Continuing on the present path will erode any potential image by allowing deceptively labeled, artificially carbonated wines. A more sustainable path is having enforced declaration and a separate quality standard that does not allow carbonation,” says Ewert.
There are some factors that might prevent traditional method sparkling wine from becoming Nova Scotia’s signature wine.
“I don't think it will be the signature wine,” says Jürg Stutz, winemaker at Domaine de Grand Pré, “mainly because of the small market we're facing in Nova Scotia and the growing competition from other parts of the world.”
“Traditional method sparkling wine has an amazing propensity to express the unique Nova Scotian terroir,” says Haverstock, “[it] will be, at the very least, an unofficial signature wine of Nova Scotia.” Haverstock notes that Tidal Bay has already been declared an official appellation wine of Nova Scotia.
Simon Rafuse, winemaker at Blomidon Estate Winery, says that Tidal Bay is a good signature wine because it can be sold at an attractive $20 price point. However, Rafuse won’t rule out traditional method as Nova Scotia’s traditional wine.
“If we're able to ship direct to consumer [in other provinces], then yes, absolutely,” says Rafuse. “Unfortunately, the production cost of traditional bubbly [means] that we won't ever be able to compete in the lower-end of the sparkling market [$15-$20], and so I think we'll hit a ceiling.”
Despite their reservations about the viability of traditional method sparkling wine as Nova Scotia’s signature wine, Stutz, Haverford and Rafuse agree that Nova Scotia produces excellent sparkling wine.
“No matter what, the future of sparkling wine in Nova Scotia is bright indeed,” says Haverstock.
Traditional Method Sparkling Wine Production in Nova Scotia
Number of producers: 5
Total production: Approximately 50,000 bottles or 4,200 cases
Projected production by 2015: Approximately 77,000 bottles or 6,400 cases
Popular grapes: l’acadie, chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier, seyval, geisenheim 318, riesling, vidal, marechal foch
Photo: Dan Dickinson