Though you maybe can’t tell from the title, this is Part 2 of a two-part series on Wining in Nova Scotia. Be sure to read Part 1!
Our first wine-tasting stop in the Annapolis Valley was at a winery that accepts visitors by appointment only and is not even visible from the road. Detailed instructions are necessary since it is totally unmarked. Armed with Google Maps and the directions I received from the winery by email, we still managed to get a bit lost. We knew we were on the right road but had missed the telltale stone etched with the civic address. We parked up on the street and could see the grape vines down the hill so we knew we were close, but the only building in sight was a giant barn, which seemed deserted.
It started to rain so I started to get a bit panicky. Where was the winery?? After a phone call and even more directions, we went around the barn and further down the hill to find the main building, which was built seven years ago to house some of the winery’s newly acquired equipment.
We finally found our host, Keltie. Officially, she is the Tasting Room Manager at Benjamin Bridge, but clearly she is so much more given her intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of the winery, from the smallest detail about the grapes and their growth cycle, to the press time for each.
Benjamin Bridge boasts over 40 acres of vines, with a blend of both Vitis vinifera as well as hybrid species. Why? Vitis vinifera are the European varietals we know and love (e.g. chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling, etc.), and while the Annapolis Valley may be in the same latitude as Rioja in Spain and the south of France, sadly the vinifera grapes don’t always fair so well in our harsh Canadian climate. As a result, hybrids are created using French and American species to maintain the flavour profiles of the much-loved vinifera species, while making them a little hardier. At Benjamin Bridge, l’Acadie Blanc, New York Muscat, Seyval are good examples of hybrid grapes that grow exceptionally well in the area.
Our tour of the vineyard was cut short by a much-needed downpour (it hadn’t rained in three weeks before our arrival – you’re welcome!), so we moved inside for the tasting portion of our visit (yay!).
We started out with the Benjamin Bridge Brut Méthode Classique 2008, a crisp and vibrant sparkling, made with mainly hybrid grapes but using the traditional method. [By the way, if you need a refresher on sparkling winemaking techniques, re-read my New Year’s post!] This wine has earned the attention of many wine critics around the world.
We then moved on to the crisp and citrusy Tidal Bay. This is Nova Scotia’s first wine appellation, and there are currently twelve versions made by different wineries across the province. The only rules for making a Tidal Bay are that the grapes used must be grown in Nova Scotia, must be hand harvested, and in low yields (which makes for higher quality grapes). The wine style is meant to be the ultimate expression of this cool-climate terroir.
Next we tasted the Cabernet Franc rosé, which I loved. This varietal is indeed a vinifera grape, but one that seems to fair quite well in Canada. The grapes hang as long as possible on the vine and are handpicked in November, which is quite risky if you think about potential frost. This is a small-run wine, meaning that very few cases of it are made and you aren’t likely to see it at the LCBO (this also means we were sure to buy a few bottles to bring home).
Tasting Notes: The typical Nova Scotia minerality shines through on the nose of this wine, backed by a strong floral character, citrus and the typical vegetal notes of cabernet franc. This wine has great acidity, which is also typical of Nova Scotia wines, and is super refreshing, with notes of green apple, lemon and stone fruit on the palate. This wine is also oak aged for a couple of months to balance out the acidity and give it some depth. At 10% alcohol, it is a perfect backyard sipper to share with friends. On really hot days, you may need to just go ahead and open another bottle.
When we were there, in early July, the vines were just starting to bloom. Keltie informed us that in some cases the grapes hang as late as mid-November. You’d think that a lot of intervention would be needed to protect the vines from frost, but Benjamin Bridge uses a relatively hands-off approach. Luckily, the cool climate helps promote natural acidity in the grapes and allows for a longer hang time, with the Bay of Fundy moderating the temperatures. [On a side note, the vineyards are officially certified organic, even though the winery does not put this designation on its labels.] The Benjamin Bridge approach is to let the grapes do their thing, let the land do its thing, and let nature sing in each wine produced.
The last wine we tasted is the one that put Benjamin Bridge, and perhaps Nova Scotia wines in general, on the map: Nova 7. This rosé sparkling wine was a surprise hit in Nova Scotia liquor stores a few years ago, its popularity spreading across the province and eventually across the country, simply by word of mouth. It has sold out every year since. It is so popular that it is now available in kegs in certain bars and restaurants. Of the 14,000 cases Benjamin Bridge produces, 11,000 are Nova 7, giving you an idea of its popularity and of the small production of its other “more serious” wines. Nova 7’s grape recipe changes from year to year, but typically includes L’Acadie, NY Muscat, Ortega and other hybrids.
Tasting Notes: The first thing I noticed was its screw cap. Not what you’d expect for a sparkling wine, but a great way of preserving bubbles and freshness. This wine is so different from everything else we tasted that day: peach, strawberry, lychee, papaya, but still an undercurrent of the minerally freshness so typical of the region. There is quite a bit of residual sugar in this wine that makes it go down really easily. It is also quite low in alcohol (7%), making it the perfect wine to pair with seafood or spicy thai food. It is also just the thing to drink as an apéritif with canapés, or (who am I kidding) just on its own.
I have yet to meet anyone who didn’t like this wine. I highly recommend picking up a bottle or 6. Whether you are serving it to wine novices or wine aficionados, it is really a great way to introduce people to Nova Scotia wines. The 2014 vintage was released at the LCBO in early June, and is almost gone, with only a handful of bottles left in select stores. It is worth the $25 a bottle, and would make a great gift, if you can bear to part with this precious elixir.
Despite being so difficult to find, Benjamin Bridge is one of the most well-known and highly acclaimed Nova Scotia wineries. Many wine critics agree that it is making some of the best sparkling wines in Canada, and even “world-class” ones at that. So as always, I encourage you to try it and decide for yourselves. And if you can’t find any bottles at your local LCBO, I have good news: you can order online!
As always, happy wining!
This post is being submitted to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC27), the theme of which is coincidentally “bubbles”. I’m always happy to plug Canadian wines to wine readers around the world. Be sure to read the other entries and start voting after September 13!