It was July 2014. As my family and I grazed and lazily traversed our way around Cape Breton Island, the decisive, proximate sojourn came catgorically to mind, in lucid, axiomatic extension, extrapolated in thought as naturally and forcefully as a Fundy tide. A call to the upper Annapolis Valley, along the shores of the Minas Basin towards points in and around Wolfville and Grand-Pré of King’s County. Maybe check out the wine scene aforementioned only a week before by Peter Gamble.
What happened next could not have been imagined in any wildest dream. The samples I tasted in the barrel cellar at the yet to open Lightfoot & Wolfville winery were too good to be true. Peter Gamble told me this. “We consider the fruit from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on this property to be Grand Cru.”
The first vintage of these ground-breaking wines are now in bottle. They are called Ancienne, as in old-school, traditional, hand-made, artisanal. The irony is not lost in the use of a word that might also translate to endemic or indigenous, for wines made from Burgundian grape varieties raised on Nova Scotia soil.
The divulge is now. The wines are currently pouring at a private function at Obladee Wine Bar and will be open for tasting at Bishop’s Cellar in Halifax from 5-7 pm EST. For Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot, along with Rachel, their oenologist-prodigal daughter come home from Brock University, winemaker Josh Horton and Gamble, the realization, without equivocation, is that their pioneering accomplishments signal the turning point for growing vinifera in Nova Scotia. Today is the first release of Ancienne, the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013’s from Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards.
The concept may seem entirely outlandish but hear this. Planting, cultivating and vinifying Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to craft Nova Scotian wine is no castle in the air, no giant beanstalk, no pie in the sky. These wines are made from 100 per cent locally raised fruit. Nova Scotia grapes. European roots.
In 2014 I went through the barrels with Josh, Mike, Jocelyn and Peter. Blending trials too. I saw the light. No, really, I walked into the tunnel and towards bright light. I knew then and even more so now, after tasting them a year later in bottle, that there is no going back. Here marches forth the future of vinifera in Canada.
I was duly impressed at the passion, knowledge and maturity to belay their years manifested in the tutorials from Josh and Rachel as we tasted through the wines on July 27th. The Pinot and Chardonnay are really nothing short of amazing, especially considering the absence of reference points from Nova Scotia soils. Most important are the levels of maturity and understated character. Gamble and his protégés have allowed the fruit to speak without encumbrance. They are neither stark nor beyond ripe and oak has been used with terrific restraint. Not sure how he could have known it would work but to Gamble, as a veteran of decades of Canadian harvests, it must be an absolute revelation.
Related – Consider the Gaspereau Valley
The Chardonnay was planted in 2009 in a block that sits on the crest of the hill on the Wolfville vineyard site. For the 2013 vintage of Ancienne Pinot Noir the fruit came from grower Al MacIntyre’s Racca Vineyard in the Blomidon/Canning area. These vines are approximately 15 years old. The L & W journey fell upon great fortune with the Racca Vineyard fruit, allowing the team to gauge possibilities for the future. The successive (2014) vintage will be the first year L & W harvested fruit from their estate Pinot vines (Planted in 2012 at their Avonport site). Rachel tells me that “given the philosophies behind the Ancienne tier, we will likely use exclusively estate-grown fruit in the future.” The ideology includes farming practices in adherence to both organics and biodynamics.
The Chardonnay is made from six of (eight total) barrels, using a minimalist approach, with no fining (use of a rock stopper) and an élevage of 18 months in (18-20 per cent new) and the rest, older barrels. The last two barrels will likely go to 24 months for a reserve wine. There are 1600 bottles produced with future targets currently set at 2500+. The Pinot Noir was also bottled after a light, coarse filtration (using a rock stopper), but no fining. At this point there are approximately 600 bottles produced. The goal is 1500-17oo bottles. Here are my tasting notes on the new releases:
Welcome to the new Chardonnay ethos, an east coast compages for la belle nouvelle écosse, the new borderland for Canadian vinifera. The respite found in Lightfoot & Wolfville’s first release is like breathing for the first time. As I noted a year ago while tasting through (mostly older) barrel trials, I have unearthed a Canadian winery animated in the architectural rendering of Premier Cru Chablis. Full textured, creamy aromatics, layers of lace and luxe, popping acidity and with length stretched to service now and later. Approximately 135 cases made. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted July 2015
If de novo for Pinot Noir is to be found in Nova Scotia then count me in because the inaugural release from Lightfoot & Wolfville is the trailblazer for and from the extrinsic frontier. Tasting the painstakingly measured yet barely handled 2013 for the first time (from bottle) is like falling into a glass of Nova Scotia cherries. Somehow there is this simultaneous and virtual voyage abroad to imagine a comparison with Nuits-Saint-Georges, in its earth crusted, sanguine, welled up tension that begs questions and belies answers. A year yonder the taste from barrel and what can be said? Pinot Noir adjudicated, into a cortex of recognizable consciousness and thus into the natural Nova Scotia mystic. Ignore and forgive the dope of first returns, for no one could have imagined such ripeness and immediate gratification. Future releases will dial back in the name of structure. That said, in 2013 there is a red citrus, ferric debate that will send this to an exordium seven years down the road. Impossible inaugural release. Approximately 50 cases made. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted July 2015
More releases will be forthcoming in the coming weeks.
Good to go!