Nova Scotia Wine: 2016 Harvest Update

There is a chill in the air, signalling that Fall is officially here and that the Nova Scotia grape harvest will soon be underway.  In warmer wine growing regions, it is not uncommon to begin to harvest in late August and early September. Nova Scotia, on the other hand, is a cool, coastal region and the grapes need to soak up as much sun as possible to properly ripen the berries, so our harvest is typically well into October.  

However, the 2016 season has been a bit of an anomaly and a gift to local grape growers. It has been an near textbook season to date! In order for grapes to ripen perfectly, they need warmth, sun and some and just the right amount of water stress- all of which have characterized this year’s season. Many in the industry are hailing this season as one of the best in the history of Nova Scotia wines!

Ripening before Harvest

During the ripening period before harvest, grape sugars rise and acid levels drop while the grape’s colour, flavours and tannins continue to evolve in what is called physiological ripening.

Grapes grown in Nova Scotia usually struggle to acquire high sugar levels and acid levels can be searingly high. This year, we expect riper wines than usual and softer acids due to the dry season and the warmer-than-usual nights.  I don’t think that the acids will be so low that we risk moving into the “flabby” category, but I am assuming that there will be a softer texture and roundness to all of the wines from the 2016 vintage.  

Dispatches from local vineyards

All of local varieties are ripening ahead of last year and harvest is already underway for some growers!

Ben Swetnam, winemaker at Avondale Sky Vineyards, remarks that grape ripeness on September 27th is comparable to ripeness levels of mid-October of last year. He says they will start harvesting on October 3rd and plan to have everything picked by October 21st.

Blomidon Estate Vineyard started harvesting their L’Acadie Blanc grapes on the 27th of September, while Planter’s Ridge plans to begin harvesting on October 6th.  Generally, the French-American hybrid grapes such as L’Acadie Blanc, Muscat and Castel are the first to be picked, while the European varietals hang a little longer on the vine.

The grapes destined to go into sparkling wines at Benjamin Bridge were picked even earlier in the season, however, because high acidity is desirable in the base wine for bubbly.

Bruce Ewert of L’Acadie Vineyards in the Gaspereau Valley said that they received only ½ inch of rain in June this year, compared to last year’s 1 inch of rain per week!  If the drought had continued he may have considered irrigating the Estate vineyard, which is planted on an ancient rocky and well drained seabed. Thankfully, the roots of these ten year old vines are deep enough to access water and some rain came in July to offer some reprieve.  At L’Acadie, the harvest is about a week ahead of schedule and they also started picking even earlier for sparkling wine.

Cool Climate Wines

It’s interesting to note that despite this summer’s heat, Nova Scotia still falls into the category of a cool climate wine growing region, where the average temperature during the growing season is around 16 degrees Celsius. One has to factor in the fact that the growing season is not simply the warm months of summer, but all the time from Spring’s bud break to Fall’s harvest.  This very warm summer may have put us slightly above the average around here, but we will remain a cool climate wine region.

Overall, the 2016 vintage in Nova Scotia will be a standout vintage producing high quality wines.  In the future, it will be interesting to do some vertical tastings of certain wines to see how much temperature and weather influence a wine’s style!