Grape Expectations: Your Guide to Wine Grapes in Nova Scotia

Last week a group of us from Bishop’s Cellar spent gorgeous, sunny day walking through some idyllic vineyards with a viticulturalist and winemaker as our guide.  The experience of being outside and actually seeing where it all begins with the vineyard site, the soil, the vines and grape varieties always enhances my appreciation for wine. Especially for wines crafted in a cool climate such as ours where there are many setbacks and challenges along the way. After tasting the wines at Lightfoot & Wolfville the other day, I can say that their efforts have paid off.  The same can be said for many other local wine producers whose wines and dedication to their craft continues to impress.  

Though some of the local wines that I have recently been most excited about have been made from vinifera varietals ( international “noble” varietals like Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), the Nova Scotia wine industry is still very much based on some unique hybrid grapes.  Hybrid grapes are different than crossings, which are generated from two grape varietals from the same species;  for example Pinotage is a crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault.  Hybrids are made from two different grape species; usually the European grape species (Vitis Vinifera) and a native North American grape species.  Hybrids have the benefit of resisting many diseases and are popular in cool / cold climate viticulture where most European varietals would struggle and not be able to sufficiently ripen grapes to make wine. Though we are seeing more plantings of Vitis Vinifera in our soils (stay tuned for a future blog post on this!), hybrid grapes still dominate.

Here are but a few of the hybrid grapes growing in our local vineyards, along with some wine recommendations so you can taste them for yourself!

WHITE GRAPES

L’Acadie Blanc

This is by far our most popular white wine making grape.  It was developed in 1953 by a grape breeder in Niagara, Ontario at the Vineland Research Centre and it never really took off in the Niagara region, where it actually over-ripened.  It was not until it put down roots in NovaSoctia that it was given the name L’Acadie Blanc.  It is a cold hardy variety and can survive to −25°C. Its loose bunches make it less susceptible to fungal disease, so it is a good choice for organic grape growing.  

L’Acadie is similar to Chardonnay in the fact that it can be made into a variety of different wine styles.  Look for crisp and dry styles, medium bodied and oaked, dried grape versions, traditional method sparkling wines and icewine.  

Try: Luckett Vineyards L’Acadie Blanc or L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut

New York Muscat

This is my 5 year old son’s favourite grape by far; when you smell it and taste it, you’ll know why – it is intensely aromatic, “grapey” and sweet.  The varietal was created at Cornell University’s Geneva experimental station in New York and is a cross of Muscat Hamburg and Ontario.   

Lychee fruit aromas and flavours dominate and the palate is relatively light when made as a single varietal.  It is a key blending component in many Nova Scotia wines to add aromatics.  

Try : Gaspereau Muscat or Benjamin Bridge Nova 7

Seyval Blanc

Typically made into a crisp dry wine or off-dry wine with aromas and flavours of citrus fruits and a certain minerality.  Outside of Nova Scotia, you can find Seyval growing in England and the cooler Finger Lakes region of New York state.

Try: Blomidon Seyval Blanc

Vidal Blanc

Vidal Blanc is a hybrid bred from the crossing of the non-descript French grape Ugni Blanc and another hybrid, Rayon d’Or. Vidal has very thick skin to help it withstand the freezing cold which makes it an ideal choice for top quality icewine.  Though it can be made into a still wine, it is most commonly used for Nova Scotia icewines and the result is a nectar that tastes of honey, wildflowers and stone fruits with a backbone racy acidity that keeps the wine fresh.

Try: Grand Pre Vidal Icewine

Geisenheim

This cross between Riesling and Chancellor shows a lot of its German parentage.  The wines are aromatic like Riesling with hints of green fruit and citrus and zesty acidity.  

Try: Avondale Sky Bliss or Avondale Sky Tidal Bay

RED GRAPES

Baco Noir

Baco Noir was once commonly grown in France, but now it is restricted (along with other hybrids) from commercial use by European Union regulations.  In 1951 the variety was brought to Canada and is now grown in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia. Baco Noir is an early ripening, winter-hardy varietal and has become Canada’s most successful red hybrid varietal.

Baco Noir is a rustic wine that is naturally low in tannin, though it has a juicy acidity. Wines produced from this grape can benefit from oak aging for added structure.

Try: Blomidon Baco Noir

Lucie Kuhlmann

This is a sibling variety to the two other popular Nova Scotia red grapes;  Marechal Foch and Leon Millot.  It is a vigorous and cold resistant vine that produces more tannic wines than both Marechal Foch and Leon Millot.  

With good vineyard management, Lucie Kuhlmann makes balanced single varietal red wines that are have good structure and elegance.  It takes well to oak ageing and it also used in many local red blends.

Try:  Planter’s Ridge Quintessence Red