Behind the scenes of a vineyard in Nova Scotia

As sad as I am to bid farewell to the warmth of Summer, I do love the Fall season in Nova Scotia. Shopping at the local farmer’s market is especially rewarding this time of year, as the tables are overloaded with freshly picked fruits and vegetables.

In many other parts of the Northern Hemisphere, grape growers are also preparing to harvest their fruit, but here in Nova Scotia we still have a little while to wait before any picking begins. In this cool maritime climate our grapes need all the time they can get to ripen on the vine; the sugars are still building in the berries, flavours and aromas are developing, after which acidity levels will begin to drop. The grapes will be ready to pick when the winemaker feels that the sugar, tannins, acids and flavours are balanced for the quality of wine they intend to make.

When you walk through a Nova Scotian vineyard, you may notice that the clusters are unevenly coloured – they are going through veraison, the colour change in the berries that signals the ripening process. The winter hardy, more resistant hybrid varieties that are planted widely throughout our province (L’Acadie Blanc, Leon Milot…) are ripening faster than their European cousins, the vitis vinifera varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc). The clusters of the hybrid grapes are more uniformly coloured and are a bit softer to the touch than the vinifera, whose berries may still be green and hard and require a lot more care and time on the vine to properly ripen. Every year, however, Nova Scotia is turning out very good wine made from vinifera.

At this point in the season, the vines may be netted to keep the birds and other prey from eating the ripening crop. Living in wine country sounds heavenly, but waking up to deafening cannon fire leading up to harvest is a huge drawback. The loud noisemakers are one of the best defences against those darn starlings that feast on the sweet grapes. I shake my head and sometimes have to laugh when I see my usually calm father in a struggle of man against beast and bird – raccoon traps, scarecrows, cannons, air riffles – drastic measures must be taken to ensure the crop is top quality. I guess grape growing teaches us that despite all of our efforts, ultimately some things are beyond our control.

And so, here in Nova Scotia, we will be waiting a little while longer until grape harvest. The hybrids are well on their way, but the vinifera takes it’s time. Last year, there were Cabernet Franc vines picked well into November which makes for some chilly harvesting when done by hand. After a rough start to the growing season, we got the warm weather when needed so there is the potential for a really great vintage.

Here’s to another harvest!