The Women of Nova Scotia’s Wine Industry: Rachel Lightfoot

This year, our friends at Devour! The Food Film Festival will be celebrating women in gastronomy! We are proud to be a partner again in this amazing celebration of food, wine and Nova Scotia. Futhermore, our in-store tasting next week (Friday, October 28, 2016- buy tickets here) is dedicated wines made by women and enjoyed by all.

In anticipation of these fantastic celebrations of women in food and wine, we have assembled some profiles of some wonderful women in the Nova Scotia Wine Industry. Here is the first profile, stay tuned for more in the coming days!


rachelOne of the newest women in the NS wine scene is Rachel Lightfoot.  Rachel has the good fortune to gain her experience as assistant winemaker right here in Nova Scotia, by working at her family’s burgeoning winery: Lightfoot & Wolfville.

In a business that can be overwrought with egos, Rachel, exudes an ease, confidence and humility in her role that is as refreshing as a glass of Tidal Bay.  Here’s what she has to say about becoming a
winemaker!

1)    When did you first start to take an interest in wine and when/why did that interest develop into a career path?

My parents started planting vineyards on our family farm in Wolfville while I was in my first year of university at Dalhousie. I was working in the vineyards during my summer breaks and we would frequently drink wine with dinner at home. I started out by tasting as many different wines as possible and reading about them as I tasted. It wasn’t long before I developed an appreciation for wine as something beautiful and a career worth pursuing. The fact that I could sustain my lifestyle in Nova Scotia while working on a legacy project with my family was important to me. I was also excited that my work would build on something bigger—the Nova Scotia wine industry as a whole—which could be really important to our province. These things culminated in my following wine as a career path and way of life.  

2)    Can you briefly mention the steps you took from wine lover to winemaker?

I completed a Bachelor of Science degree at Dalhousie University, followed by the Grape & Wine Technology program at Brock University to gain the basic understanding of biology and chemistry required.  After that, I worked in a few wineries in Niagara to gain practical winery experience before heading home to Nova Scotia for work.

3) Your title is assistant winemaker; how does that differ from winemaker in terms of roles and responsibilities?

The role of Assistant Winemaker is typically fulfilled by someone who has less winemaking experience than the Head Winemaker. The Assistant Winemaker works closely with the rest of winemaking and vineyard teams and reports directly to the Head Winemaker. They are involved in a myriad of tasks, but the main objective is to oversee the day-to-day winery operation under the guidance of the Head Winemaker. At Lightfoot & Wolfville, we are a small, family-run winery that is still in the start-up phase. We have a small, core team and because of this our roles are quite fluid. My main role is to help Josh, our Head Winemaker, with general winery operations. However, we all end up being involved in many other aspects of the business. It is important to Josh and I, who identify as winegrowers, to be very involved in the vineyard also. For me, this is what makes working at a small winery particularly appealing. Everyone chips in and applies their skills wherever needed. It’s far from monotonous.  A typical day could include anything from creating harvest plans, hardware store runs, writing tasting notes, performing blending trials, delivering baby lambs, mixing horsetail/compost teas, working with label designers, cleaning tanks, giving tours, etc.

4)    Have you worked in other wine regions outside of NS?  In what other region(s) would you like to make wine?  

I worked for a few wineries in Niagara from 2013-2015. There are definitely other regions I’d like to visit and learn from, but I am presently content with investigating our own terroir and what works best here. Lightfoot & Wolfville is currently in a very crucial infancy stage. I feel it that is most important for me to be home in Nova Scotia right now working with our team on this project. My top picks for regions I’d like to visit are the Mosel valley, the Loire valley, Champagne, Burgundy, and Tasmania.

5) What is your favourite wine region? Favourite grape?

I have a hard time picking favourites—it depends on context and mood. I am quite fond of Chardonnay and feel that it has a promising future in Nova Scotia.

6) What do you love about making wine in NS? What do you dislike about making wine in NS (challenges)?

I love the camaraderie; the times when it feels like we are all working together to build something of significance. One of the first things many outsiders comment on is how cool it is that all the wineries work together here in Nova Scotia. I feel fortunate for that culture. However, it can be challenging when working with a weather-dependent crop in a notoriously erratic climate.  

7) What is a major difference between making wine according to biodynamic principles and conventional winemaking methods?  

A major difference would be less intervention under biodynamic method—e.g. wild fermentation. Wild fermentation allows “ambient” yeast strains that exist on the fruit and in our cellar environment to carry out the fermentation; without adding packaged cultures of yeast. Wild fermentation is less predictable and there is a higher chance that the fermentation could become “stuck.” Biodynamic winemakers argue that these risks are worth the reward of more complex wines that truly showcase their terroir.