In the throes of judging 1,700 plus Canadian wines at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada I slipped away to reconnect with Mike Lightfoot at his property in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The last time I paid the family a visit, Mike, Jocelyn, Rachel and winemaker Josh Horton were planning, scheming and on the cusp of breaking new ground, figuratively and literally speaking. The new Lightfoot & Wolfville winery facility was beginning to take cerebral, engineered, augurate and anticipatory shape. It’s now well into the building phase, in fact, at some point this summer L & W’s unprecedented facility will open to the public. When it does it will change the wine landscapes that include more than just Wolfville, the Gaspereau, Annapolis Valleys and Nova Scotia. It will reset the needle, compass and artfully strategized standard for Canadian wineries everywhere.
Related – Consider the Gaspereau Valley
Mike and Jocelyn have taken a once thriving apple farm and turned its rolling hills into Nova Scotia’s most progressive organic and biodynamic winery while also perpetuating the raising of animals in the heritage meets modern agriculturist way. In 2014 I made the following ambitious statement. “Lightfoot & Wolfville will take everything anyone has ever thought about the Nova Scotia wine industry and turn it on its head. Hybrids and local varieties will continue to be a part of the stratagem. In the unpredictable climate of Nova Scotia’s wine growing regions that is a necessity but it’s what chardonnay and pinot noir will do that will put the province on the map and the world’s stage.” Mean it.
The external vineyard planted near Avonport called “Oak Island” is perched on a hill with a view of the Minas Basin at the head of the Gaspereau Valley. “Le Corton,” as it is known, or as I like to call it, “Oak Isle Knoll” is where consulting oenologist Peter Gamble has placed 100 per cent certainty in the future success of Vinifera grapes. Vigorous vines will increase the possibilities for chardonnay, sparkling plus a host of expected and eclectic varieties, like riesling, sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer, chenin blanc, chasselas and scheurebe.
Mike and winemaker Josh Horton ushered me through a tour of the new facility. A state of the art retail shop, quick production kitchen, al fresco pizza oven and a subterranean cellar, private dining facility and commercial kitchen to make iron chefs drool. The mammoth-sized, reemployed beams alone are pieces of reclaimed and refashioned wood to send one into a state of awe. It felt as though I were walking through the massive hull and underbelly of a great romantic period ship.
Mike Lightfoot has spent the past 15 years watching Nova Scotia’s wine industry transform from an unknown cottage entity to a destination that attracts thousands of visitors, heavily weighted to the summer months. He is drawing on experience but also careful to avoid repeating the mistakes some of his peers have made in trying to build and develop wine tourism at their nearby facilities. He is also grateful for what they have accomplished and how they have opened the door for the possibility of L & W’s imminent operation. Mike points out how in July and August the trail of cars moving along the Evangeline Trail is endless, cars that travel right past his property. Truly a case of “if you build it they will come.”
I sat down with Mike and Josh to taste 10 wines, some new and some revisits, for perspective and to expound on some personal theories of L & W relativity. Josh Horton is coming into his own as a winemaker and just in the nick of time. The nigh fact of this property’s history and ineluctable expansion will weigh on the ancienne ideology but Horton’s de facto ability and unaffected personality equip him with the tools to face the challenge head on. The future is now for Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards.
Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Extra Brut 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada ($45.00, WineAlign)
Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot presented an early, less leesy glimpse of their 100 per cent estate chardonnay at i4c in July of 2016. It was a different animal than this recently disgorged (late February/early March) sparkling wine. The Extra Brut lives up to its designation, from fruit grown on the shores of the Minas Basin under the auspices of a markedly warm year with exceptional phenolic ripeness and 25 per cent malolactic gain. The time relative to texture lees accumulation is approximately 40 months and it’s an accurate representation of Nova Scotia low and slow. The flavours are wisely developed ripe and spicy, leaning into a moment or two of oxygenation, but seemingly richer than the amount of lees time that was given. Now emerging from the shell of not just a warm but a great chardonnay year (as previously proven by the Ancienne released two years ago). The notion here is of a sparkling wine that has been brought home, a B de B that you need to get to know. There are layers and layers of character that fold and unfold. The precision, focus and rendering is citrus tamed, mouthfeel in perpetual expansion and contraction, length linear and elastic. And it’s just the beginning. Drink 2017-2023. Tasted June 2017
Lightfoot & Wolfville Pinot Noir Ancienne 2014, Nova Scotia, Canada ($40.00, WineAlign)
Pinot Noir Ancienne is a product of a wild ferment and here in 2014 is possessive of a larger percentage of estate fruit, but still with a significant portion skimmed from (Al) McIntyre’s Blomidon vineyard. The typical Nova Scotia growing season means this was harvested during the last week of October and at approximately 20.5-21.5 brix, but of a lower crop level. Like the inaugural 2013 this still carries the elegant, highly cool climate provincial stamp, not skinny or lean by any means but certainly lithe and helped calmly and curatively along by 3rd and 4th fill neutral oak. The ’15 will be bottled in July, which will be 100 per cent estate fruit. Here is the second image of Nova Scotia pinot, built upon a well-designed foundation and an architectural struggle in search of structure. Ancienne is old-school, traditional, hand-made, artisanal. It is a wine that others will not yet know what to do with but the launching point is precise, progressive, poignant and teeming with wonder meets possibility. The fruit purity and transparency speaks to the honesty delivered. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted June 2017
Lightfoot & Wolfville Pinot Noir Ancienne 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada ($40.00, WineAlign)
Retrospection, reflection and what we know now places this so obviously in the exact spot where it began. So now we establish a minimum five years going forward to reach the sweetest of sweet spots. This now gives perspective and a reference point for where ’14 is and will be going forward. This 2013 is less immediate, a wonder of first time luck, pomp and circumstance. It is nothing short of remarkable. Last tasted June 2017.
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
Lightfoot & Wolfville Chardonnay Ancienne 2014, Nova Scotia, Canada ($40.00, WineAlign)
The name Ancienne and the proximate irony appraised is not lost for its translation as endemic or indigenous for wines made from Burgundian grape varieties raised on Nova Scotia soil. The sophomore chardonnay speaks in a vernacular a year to the wiser but at the expense of excitement, which is actually a good thing. A step back taken will result in two going forward, as I shall explain. The same regime exercised mimics the ’13, of 20 per cent new, 18 months in barrel, but a slight course altered with some reductive play in ’14, as an experiment but also as a plan. There seems to be more lees richness and spice notes that flit like direct darts on the palate. Different clones are harvested at different times, so now the vinifications are staggered and layered, which really shows on the stratified and almost germinating palate. Another year older allows these vines to bring diversified variegation, more Nova Scotia and as a consequence, less winemaking. The growth here is fascinating and enlightening. In the interim it may compromise the flavour profile and the wow factor but in the long run it is structure, longevity and impressibility that will give the green light to estate grown, Minas Basin success. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted June 2017
Lightfoot & Wolfville Chardonnay Ancienne 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada ($40.00, WineAlign)
The ’13 seems to at first have really softened but that’s only relative to tasting it side by side with the 2014. It’s also leaner when considered side by each though still carries weight and creaminess on the palate. Winemaker Josh Horton also pours an unfiltered experimental bottle. It is so clean, almost indiscernible to the filtered ’13, except perhaps with more bite on the palate and yet less creaminess than the ’14. Lasted Tasted June 2017.
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
Lightfoot & Wolfville Chardonnay Ancienne Reserve 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada ($56.00, WineAlign)
The Chardonnay was planted in 2009 in a block that sits on the crest of the hill on the Wolfville vineyard site and the Ancienne Reserve is a barrel selection more than anything. It sees an additional six (to 24) months and because one of the barrels was new, it’s therefore 50 per cent new. Now tasting this for the second time a year later (the first time being at i4c 2016), the wood is melting and dissolving so all is coming together, but the unmistakeable L & W acidity meets Nova Scotia vines spice and bite is all over the palate. There is length here to last a decade. Never ending. Nothing if not a coup for new world/cold climate/NS chardonnay. You will not understand unless you taste it. Consulting oenologist Peter Gamble and his protégés Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot have allowed the fruit to speak without encumbrance. This chardonnay is neither stark nor beyond ripe and oak has been used with terrific restraint. I am not sure how Gamble could have known it would work but to a veteran of decades of Canadian harvests, it must be an absolute revelation. Drink 2017-2023. Tasted June 2017
Lightfoot & Wolfville Tidal Bay 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada ($22.00, WineAlign)
The blend is l’acadie, geisenheim, chardonnay and riesling plus a smidgen of vidal. Just a great year, the l’acadie coming from rocky soil and the difference maker in the use of riesling. There is some residual sulphur, still activated citrus tablet and its aromas are propitiously fresh, from lean to piercing. The palate carries terrific texture and flesh, great citrus and a bit of unction. It even suggests fleshy citrus and stone fruit, with just that minor note of peach to make this so drinkable. The vinifera provides the structure while l’acadie is the back bone and this has plenty of it. The reams of citrus are simply striking. The better to best yet, a no doubter and without argument. For Tidal Bay it’s almost perfect. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted twice, at L & W and blind at NWAC17, June 2017
Lightfoot & Wolfville Schuerebe 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada (WineAlign)
The schuerebe comes from up on the Oak Isle in Avonport, now just past the stage of baby vines, this the introduction as far as a style is concerned. That style combines elevated sugar and acidity. It’s highly floral and of incredible acidity, from vines that ripen later than riesling, though the plants are young of just a few years. Schuerebe is a wine that can beat its own sibling chardonnay in a wine competition, with some fat and flamboyance, alcohol near 9.5 per cent and those sugars (whose actual number is pointless) will track across some complex notions and age three to six years with ease. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted June 2017
Lightfoot & Wolfville Pinot Noir Rosé 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada ($28.00, WineAlign)
The Rosé from pinot noir is 100 per cent estate varietal fruit destined for this purpose and not from a bleed, or as one. At $28 it doesn’t hit the same $20 Rosé crowd, here dry, saline, south of France ringing and as a ringer. The notes are distinctly lime and grapefruit, floral but not quite meunier floral. “When pinot noir can give you structure you keep making it this way,” notes winemaker Josh Horton. Good plan. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted June 2017
Lightfoot & Wolfville Pinot Noir Rosé 2015, Nova Scotia, Canada ($28.00, WineAlign)
L & W’s will surely appear, perform and consummate as the lightest of all Rosés in any Canadian flight and as pinot noir it suffices to say all that needs in terms of rusty, rustic and taut. There is good salinity, perhaps one or two elevated blowsy notes of sulphur but all is forgiven in consideration of fine precision, presence and lightness of being. The minor leesy and lactic fromage melts into acidity and tasted blind it could be the closest of Moira cousins, à la Malivoire. Lemon and lime finish and very long. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted June 2017
Good to go!