Crush on Benjamin Bridge

Benjamin Bridge Vineyards

It’s late October and I’m walking the vineyard with viticulturalist Scott Savoy who gestures below our feet into the genius loci where multiple layers of loam and sandy loam are mixed with river stones. In the vested interest of micro-climate orientation he points out the modest mountain ridges to the north and south, the stretch of valley to the east and west, to the big Bay of Fundy beyond and back down to the earth. He notes the fault line running diagonally away from the crush pad and tasting room, through the vineyard and down the slope to the river below. Today the namesake belongs to the winery but Benjamin Bridge is first and foremost a place. We all want to know about its history because there is something very special here. In this valley the apples are different and the vines grow berries smaller and unique. It’s a place that pulls on the heartstrings of innate curiosity.

Related – Consider the Gaspereau Valley

It comes from the name of the bridge that crosses the Gaspereau Valley and pays tribute to the Benjamin family who dammed up the river to become the first industrialists here. The name is a historical one, not one of fashion, trends, aggrandizement or narcissism. The ownership and the management of Benjamin Bridge Vineyards are fully cognizant of their place within a King’s County pantheon, of the past and for the future. Who among them wouldn’t pay a king’s ransom to protect it? They fully recognize how the tenets of farming, progression, life, struggle and ethos came before them and will continue long after they are gone. Just in case their work in making sparkling wines headed up by chief winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers is not legacy defining enough they recently supplied a bottle of Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut Reserve 2012 to christen the first Irving Shipyard built Arctic patrol vessel. Sophie Trudeau used the bottle to christen the Harry DeWolf during an October ceremony on the Halifax waterfront. An interesting and poignant aside, this gesture.

Frost damage at Benjamin Bridge

The 2018 Nova Scotia harvest will live in infamy and perhaps not for the reasons everyone involved will want to remember. Frosts, rain, grape growing pressures and more frosts reduced quantities so drastically that emergency fruit was transported across two provincial borders from Ontario, a fact not lost as a notion that is pathetically-monopoly ironic. Annapolis Valley Vineyards were looking at losses of at least 50 per cent following a late Sunday frost overnight and into the morning of June 4th. Temperatures plummeted from the high 20s just two days earlier to minus three degrees celsius. There were some miraculous exceptions to the rule, like Avonport’s Oak Knoll Isle but damage ran from 20 to 100 per cent. Frost that settled in the lowest sections of valley vineyards were hardest hit.

All that happened to Nova Scotia’s wine industry plus more in, outs and twists than a Coen brothers comedy-drama and yet the greatest things happened anyway. The community of growers and producers banded together, traded grapes, shared experience and pulled each other through. This is a place where everyone understands that making wine is not about one vintage, individual accomplishments or accolades. Turning grape water into wine is a life-long partnership with the land, with the weather, the Bay of Fundy and each other. Success is wrought with challenges, adversity and responses to the contretemps of the day. Such tremendous odds give credence to Nietzsche saying “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” leading to an alignment with a maritime band of brothers and sisters. The year 2018 is the vintage during which the Nova Scotia wine producers in and around the Annapolis Valley were forced into a situation of needing one another and to become les retrouvailles, the reunited.

#lookoff in Canning, Nova Scotia

At the fore of this happenstance is Benjamin Bridge Vineyards, both in terms of being the helped and the helper. The Gaspereau Valley sparkling wine specialist is the unquestioned leader of their cottage wine industry and for so many reasons. Decisions made more than a decade ago to invest everything into this stretch of land south of the Bay carved through two micro-climate catalyst ridges for the purpose of creating the newest and most important innovative sparkling wine on the planet is nothing short of historical. The speed bumps may be serious but mark my words (and by many who have stated this before me), Nova Scotia is second only to Champagne for making the kind of sparkling wine we should and will want to drink. No disrespect intended to Franciacorta, Alta Lange, Prosecco, Crèmant de Loire, Bourgogne, Jura or d’Alsace. No ill will meant towards Sonoma County, Ontario, British Columbia, Tasmania, England or Roberston’s Méthod Cap Classique. I love you all but Nova Scotia can raise grapes for traditional method sparkling wine in ways and with results that blow everything else out of the proverbial water.

Not sure you need the banger. Jacket should scare them off!

Case in point, time and again, with variations on the theme, measurable and of a ceiling reckonable through infinite possibility. In this part of Canada vinifera varietals like chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier can linger well in the autumn months, reach brix levels ideal for sparkling wine and still maintain acidities at levels all other regions can only dream of. The effect of the Bay of Fundy creates a unique environment, plain, simple and complex. Imagine adding up the flow of all the rivers in the world and asking that accumulation to submit to the power of one body of water’s tides that lower and rise as much as 17 metres every day. The Bay is like an air pump that moderates climate. Frosts be damned the picking in the Gaspereau of grapes just ripe enough for making wine is the latest anywhere. In Franciacorta for example picking of chardonnay happens in early August, just to keep natural acidity. In California it’s July and in the dead of night. We have begun to taste Nova Scotia bubbles at eight, nine and ten years on their lees. The results are astonishing with a combination of texture and acidity never seen before. As I said, the ceiling is boundless.

Crush at Benjamin Bridge: Chris Campbelll, Godello and Jean-Benoit Deslauriers

The charge at Benjamin Bridge is led by founder Gerry McConnell who purchased the property with his late wife Dara Gordon in the Gaspereau Valley in 1999. McConnell worked with Canadian oenological consultant Peter Gamble and Sparkling Wine Consultant/Champagne specialist Raphaël Brisbois to establish vineyards, a protocol and a long-term strategy for making world-class bubbles. Within three years of launching the project they knew it would work.

Sunday morning, #Kingsport Nova Scotia

The unfortunate passing of Raphaël Brisbois left a huge hole in the hearts and the ethos of the BB project but great timing, fortune and intellect came to the company in the extraordinary ethic and cerebral meanderings of head winemaker Deslauriers. Originally from Québec, J-B joined in 2008 and for 10 years has explored, extrapolated and elevated the game. No combination of diversity and focus is more apparent than it is now at Benjamin Bridge.

Winemakers at work, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, Alex Morozov and Chris Campbell

The team on the ground and in the cellars is led by Head Viticulturist Scott Savoy and Chris Campbell who aides, abets and manages the trilogy of harvest, cellar and production operations. Alex Morozov is Assistant Winemaker to Deslauriers. Gerry’s twin daughters Devon and Ashley McConnell-Gordon have run the daily operations of the winery since early 2010, Keltie MacNeill manages the BB Club and Gillian Mainguy is the face of the place. Some of you may remember Gillian at Wines of Nova Scotia but now she is marketing, public relations and tireless world traveller on behalf the BB brand.

Racking chardonnay with head winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers

In the third week of October I spent 48 hours with the gang at Benjamin Bridge. Crushing, talking, pressing, tasting, pumping, discussing, racking, ruminating, walking and speculating. There is a foundation of land, people and spirit you can’t know until you come here to really know.

The base is the matter and what matters comes from the great base

The discussion with Gerry and Jean-Benoit is now woven into the fabric of relationship with Pascal Agrapart who has been making wines at Champagne Agrapart & Fils since 1983. BB is keen on keeping a lineage with Champgane, a connection, to pursue more richness, texture and wines structurally rounder and fuller. Says Deslauriers, “we’re looking for the growers taking a Burgundian approach to winemaking, in the vineyard first. Pascal’s wines have always had that compelling textural quality.” Has anyone in Canada ever taken a grower’s approach to sparkling wine is the question. Here in Nova Scotia these are the wines with a stamp, of an equation in confluence from estate plus local vineyards and growing environments. The wines are not in jeopardy by adding this richness. “We still recognize the parcels we have selected through the wines we have made. There is still an inherent Benjamin-ness to the wines, ” adds Chris Campbell. I tasted the following wines off the record, some unfinished and others still who are the children of experimentation but even more so as matters of conceptual links to the reasons why Benjamin Bridge even exists at all.

Minas Friday morning

Brut 2016

Part estate and part Kingsport chardonnay fruit, with effervescence not the thing but it should tell a story. Already showing off its richness, density and concentration, even herein the “entry level,” the first full vintage for and from Pascal’s influence and tutelage. Cool stuff in here, decoupement particulare, this taking of different parcels for micro-vinifications.

Brut Reserve 2016

Of chardonnay and pinot noir, from the oldest estate blocks. There is so much more complexity, legit and from the word go. The terpenes are exceptional ones, and that is something they can be, built on acidity. Even without bubbles you can fully relate to it as the wine it knows it is. Grapefruit and tangerine, dry and sumptuous. The base is the matter and what matters comes from the great base. Perspective comes at you in solicitation of your emotions and opinions in many ways. You don’t always need CO2 to make contact with sparkling wines.

The future

Blanc de Noirs 2016

Now into pinot noir this new perspective makes you want to admit that it may be that chardonnay and pinot noir come together with a higher ceiling as a sum of their parts. Here it’s the antithetical aromatics of lemon rosewater and an amaro-herbal-red currant thing. Also oranges with spirit and a linger that reminds of the best athlete, with the greatest potential, but not the flashy star who scores early and often. 

Brut 2017

The secondary fermentation is only a few weeks old and it’s a very primary notation, with the bubble still on the way up. The rise is lime as a slow crawl along a coaster’s upward track, welling with tension and a coursing flow of anticipation. By way of comparison there is a tonic phenolic uprising either not noted or now having dissipated from the 2016.

Peculiar samples

Brut Reserve 2017

Once again the youth and the young phenols of very early fermentation but also a course led by the most unusual of vintages, cold and wet all summer long followed by 30-plus degrees in September and October. That’s 30-plus higher than right now in 2018. The contact here is unlike ’16, almost agitating and certainly unsettled. It would prefer not to be bothered at this time.

Brut NV

A non-vintage ’16, tirage in ’17. Could be vintage-dated but isn’t and won’t be. Higher acidity and more of the tonic phenolic-ness that the young ‘17s are showing. So I conclude that the NV is less structured and as an acumen-accumulated base wine it’s like a Blanc de Noirs or a reserve when younger. The translation states they are not only on to something and a real pattern is forming but they really know what they are doing, in separating micro cuvées and the outstanding wheat from the excellent chaff.

Kingsport cabernet franc

While I tasted these unfinished wines and other tank samples I also assessed 10 new wines from the portfolio. Here are my notes. The prices are all Nova Scotia retail from the winery.

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Agent, $45.00, WineAlign)

Disgorged June of 2018, now four plus months in bottle. Right from the beginning it is energy, spirit and tension. It’s mostly chardonnay but suggests richness marked by toast and flint. Quite a smokiness, not from oak, but an autolytic one. A true wine of secondary fermentation, naked and smouldering. Richness comes naturally, in second term existential notability, followed by density and length. The linger turns to mineral and salinity and you really want more right away, to layer upon what’s still left lingering behind. This is the Benjamin Bridge project incarnate, defined, teachable house style. The words of Jean-Benoit Deslauriers echo in your head, “with the possibility of absolute transcendency.” Eventually. Drink 2018-2028.   Tasted October 2018  benjaminbridge  liffordgram  @Benjamin_Bridge  @LiffordON  @benjaminbridgevineyards  @liffordwineandspirits

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut Reserve 2012, Nova Scotia, Canada (275396, $74.95, WineAlign)

Now into a real vinous notion, with extra concentration that reminds you how Reserve wines have to be perfectly exceptional as still wine. The bubbles bring an added dimension but they are not the be all, end all. The richness here is taken to another level, still of course with a toasty edge but it’s the 2002 blocks of estate chardonnay and pinot noir (then 10 years old) that deal in this endearing fruit and enduring length. The sip expands and increases, with knowledge that it is that fruit, very apple orchard but a variety not fully known that drives this wealth. It’s also knife-edged and able to keep this youthful tension cut and fissured through the mouth. Not a sprinter but a climber able to amble and scramble up to heights for a decade plus. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted October 2018

The following two wines were tasted in 2017 and a few months earlier at #i4c 2018, Ontario’s Cool Climate Chardonnay Conference in Niagara.

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Estate Blanc De Blancs 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Agent, $119.50, WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle disgorged in May 2017, there alights a plugged-in, three-pronged, dazed, charged and enchanted energy about the Bridge’s ’13 Blanc de Blancs. The history of go it alone pure chardonnay is a relatively short one for the estate so this quickly makes up for lost time or rather with haste sets the timer and heads out at first light. “Like sittin’ on pins and needles, things fall apart, it’s scientific.” Wild, of talking heads temper and yeasts, done up in demi-muids, with a wilder secondary fermentative push riding on the coattails of the primary fermentation. Everything in this wine is a productive child of the vineyard, of no third party sugars or consultations. “How do you do that without making a Pétillant Naturel,” I wonder aloud. It’s a second ferment, non-contiguous is the reason, even if the former is both influencer and mentor to the latter. It certainly falls under the category of “micro-cuvée. Like its cousin and predecessor (Blanc de Noirs 2011), this ’13 BdeB is mired intensely inward within its own specificity and is not so much a sparkling wine with competitive soul. It is a pure representative of chardonnay grown in Nova Scotia for one purpose. So let’s talk about true stories and wild, wild life. “You get on board anytime you like.” Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2017

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Estate Blanc De Blancs 2012, Nova Scotia, Canada (Agent, $119.50, WineAlign)

The vintage 2012 marks the beginning of the Benjamin Bridge oak program, here with some purchased fruit from friends and neighbours Lightfoot & Wolfville. This January 2018 disgorged bottle spent 66 months on its very, very fine lees and represents the inaugural departure away from reductive chardonnay in traditional method housing. Its acidity is striking, ripping and amazingly shot straight up to light and ignite the olfactory nerve. That is seems another six months to a year will only lead to textural and mouthfeel home improvements tells us there is seemingly no ceiling for how long on lees these south Fundy shore valley sparkling wines can go. The research is still one in progress but this much we know. The house of Nova Scotia is built on acidity. It’s a commodity much of the rest of the wine-growing planet will want to pay anything to use. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2018

Now back to October 2018.

Benjamin Bridge Riesling 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

With time rieslings change drastically, much more so than traditional method sparkling, completely disconnected from their youth. So where is this going? Energy, tension, Nova Scotia. This is a Bay of Fundy riesling, ocean-wise, saline, poignant, direct. There are herbs and fennel but already this onset of glück and proverbial riesling stamp. Lemon-lime, tart angling, green to ripe apricot. Mostly fruit from grower John Warner, it’s not too edgy, a dry, albeit 15 g/L RS style. The Mosel frame is obvious and the ceiling for potential great but this strikes me as being three to four years away from really moving into another gear. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted October 2018

Benjamin Bridge Riesling 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

There is something I can’t simply put a nose or a finger on. It’s floral but also aerified, stratified, stratospheric, atmospheric. It’s sugary honeyed and very beeswaxy but not in a sticky way. The balance is a roundabout one where you have to travel the entire circumference in order to tie the whole room together. Something umami meets intangible allows you to imagine where 2016 will travel but it’s just an inkling coupled with a hunch. The wax is lit or rather unlit, snuffed, smouldering and beautiful. So worth this five years forward visit. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018

Benjamin Bridge Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Nova Scotia, Canada (Agent, Approx. $47.95, WineAlign)

The 2013 was the inaugural release and so here the fifth marks the man, the myth, the legend. Should sauvignon blanc be a Nova Scotia something, grown here is this tiny stretch of narrow valley? The answer is no but taste the impossible results and then try to say it with a straight face. A man who loves Sancerre and has the vision to stick with this project through unsurmountable odds and adversity deserves to drink his very own, very excellent sauvignon blanc. This 2017 strings forward a great moment of continuity although in less tropical, more saline and increased tension ways. There is an infiltration by tonic, lemon and lime and yet still explosively aromatic with citrus peel that connects the two vintages by way of this unequivocal substance and emotion. Let’s wait on this buffering streamer. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted October 2018

Benjamin Bridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada (Agent, $47.95, WineAlign)

The difference between this and the previous vintage is turbidity, having it and not. It’s a negotiable varietal that doesn’t really prepare for winter and it’s not a match made in heaven with the climate. That said the adversity makes for wines of great interest. Not driven by rational motivation but by passion and love, from 0.75 tonnes of yield per acre. Explosive from the concentration delivered to each privileged berry. Dry extract is through the roof. The passion fruit on this ’16 is uncanny, almost tropical in fact it really is and yet in the end there is a revival of salt, tonic and lime. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 Sparkling 2017, Charmat Method, Nova Scotia, Canada (256289, $24.95, WineAlign)

You’ll be pleased to know that Nova 7 is a child of wild ferment and made in 15,000 cases. It’s not tied to any real natural winemaking processes, but considering all that is in the balance it was decided not to add any sulphur in the winemaking process, only before bottling. Hard line indeed. No messing with the aromatic spectrum, not the terpenes nor the esters or anything else, so that the wine has developed its full aromatic possibility. Just the greatest lithe hint of effervescence, the crushable one, better than mega purple sweet confections for people who want to drink flavour. Peach, strawberry and juicy fruit for the people, for everyman, woman and non gender specific imbiber, for people in the sticks who don’t, won’t and can’t drink grower’s Champagne. Aromatic backbone is New York Muscat, plus ortega, seyval blanc, l’acadie, vidal, riesling, chardonnay (and no perle). “It’s all a lot of oyster and no pearlA, perfect for this long December. And no need to swirl, so you get a kick from the natural CO2. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted October 2018

Benjamin Bridge Cabernet Franc Rosé Small Lot 2017, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $26.95, WineAlign)

“We knew in this season we wouldn’t have enough for a full-on commercial Rosé,” tells Jean-Benoit Deslauriers. This was harvested same day, red or pink, November 10th, whole cluster pressed for a few hours and then after débourbage transferred into concrete egg. There is remained for nearly six months and in March it was highly turbid at ferments’ end. No fining, no filtration, never a sulphur addition with thanks to natural acidities that protect. It’s a perfectly lovely oxidative note with creaminess brought by the egg, never to be stripped away. It emulates the Kingsport vineyard and the varietal. Orange skin, salinity and integrated variability, with good tonic bitters. Even a bit of firmness of tannin that says its come into its own now and will be a cerebral bit of fun for two or three more years. This is Rosé very much meant to be. There were in and around 200 cases made, this essentially estate exclusive, with a few exceptions. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted October 2018

Benjamin Bridge Cabernet Franc Small Lot 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $57.95, WineAlign)

Still from the Kingsport farm fruit, a whole cluster ferment, no messing with stems, fully oxygenated, no carbonic maceration, 30-40 per cent whole bunch. Total output is “a barrel and a bit.” An infused aromatic ferment, green spice and a char of tobacco, utter intensity, compelling and a phenolic reality. “A myth buster incarnate,” says JB, ripened beyond the sensory borders, miles away from other territories, with generosity and juicy ripe legs. From a warm vintage, nine months in neutral oak plus nine in the bottle. Then a decant and oh how the florals open up, furthered, blooming and intoxicating. More than just a fun little experiment so please wake up and smell the Gaspereau Valley. So lively, a wee salty and all energy. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2018

And one final tank sample.

Cabernet Franc 2017

A good portion of, as in 100 per cent whole berry, whole cluster fruit ferment. Heavily oxygenated, non-carbonic, from four barrels, to be bottled in December and then released next fall, so nine plus nine. There’s the floral rising from the glass, so pronounced. Strawberry, mint, cherry and liquorice, amaro, spice and tobacco. Green and pyrazine are looked for and not found. It’s the sand layer under the strat of mixed recent glacial run off rocks that mitigate the bubbling water beneath the soil and give this a tannic structure unheard of in Nova Scotia reds, Also remembering the urgency at the hands of the whole cluster ferment.  There are 900L available. Grab ’em by the growlers.

crush #interloper standing with harvest giants

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Consider the Gaspereau Valley

Benjamin Bridge, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia

No one gets us like we get ourselves. Not so long ago that statement still held more water than the combined towers in all of Canada’s small towns. Here’s another grandiloquent statement. Exceptional wine is made in British Columbia and in Ontario. The proverbial and parochial Canadian wine thinker is privy to that erudite credence, as are many global wine experts, but what of Nova Scotia? If you didn’t already know, Benjamin Bridge and more specifically, Peter Gamble have launched the revolution.

Related: The tides that bind: East Coast swing

Just past the mid-point of my July 2014 east coast swing there happened a planned yet improvisational reconnaissance with Gamble, Canada’s flying winemaker and A-team consultant. Gamble’s work with Stratus, Southbrook and Ravine Vineyards in Niagara, his partnership with Ann Sperling in B.C. and at Versado in Argentina are well documented. His work with Benjamin Bridge Vineyards is already the stuff of Canadian wine lore. What he will touch in his new appointment at Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards will make Nova Scotia history.

Godello, Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Proprietor Gerry McConnell

Godello, Consulting Benjamin Bridge Winemaker Peter Gamble and Proprietor Gerry McConnell/Godello, Benjamin Bridge Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Proprietor Gerry McConnell

I noted that “it is there, in the heart of the Gaspereau Valley, that the essence of Nova Scotia’s wine industry walks out from beneath the fog to reveal itself in an elongated moment of clarity.” I tasted with Gamble, Benjamin Bridge winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and proprietor Gerry McConnell at the Gaspereau Valley winery. The next day I toured the vineyards of Lightfoot & Wolfville with Peter, along with owners Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot, as well as winemaker Josh Horton. We also tasted through barrels. Other visits and tastings were done at Gaspereau and Luckett Vineyards. After the visit with Lightfoot, I was duly impressed.

Nova Scotia is home for Peter Gamble. When Gerry McConnell invited him to assess the potential for making wine in the Gaspereau Valley, Peter insisted, without equivocation, that the concepts of Vinifera and Sparkling be the driving equation. McConnell always wanted to make Sauvignon Blanc so the first idea was a given. But Sparkling wine? In Nova Scotia?

Peter Gamble had more than just a hunch. The Gaspereau’s cold, yet specific micro-climate was perfectly suited to ripening Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the classic varieties that make up traditional method, Champagne-styled Sparkling wine. The grapes in the Valley could be developed and harvested with the right level of brix (sugars) and acidity, as well as pH. Though still wines from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc were less obviously suited to the climate, setting their place in Nova Scotia’s wine future had begun.

Hans Christian Jost was the first to plant in the Gaspereau Valley, in 1992-1993. Gerry McConnell bought his (seventh generation Westcott family) farm land in 1999. “We know what we don’t know and we don’t pretend to know what we don’t know,” admits McConnell. It was Gamble (recommended to McConnell by Jost) who sparked the idea of bubbles in 2000.

“Our mission was sparkling wines, world class,” says McConnell. They hired the late, great Champenois expert, oenologist Raphaël Brisebois to consult after Peter went to England for some collaborative discussion with Tom Stevenson, the British writer who many regard as the world’s leading authority on Champagne. Then in 2008, Jean (Lebron) Benoit Deslauriers was drafted from California on Raphaël’s recommendation.

McConnell wanted to plant all 50 acres “but I talked him down,” jokes (not) Peter. It took nearly 10 years but in 2010 they began to release what they considered to be their first (2004) crop of world-class Sparkling, a Brut Reserve and Blanc de Noirs.

Benjamin Bridge Vineyard

Benjamin Bridge Vineyard

So what makes Benjamin Bridge tick out of a region that resides in relative global obscurity? Number one, the river that runs through the valley doesn’t freeze; it’s a tidal flow. That water keeps the lower part of the vineyard safe, like a warm winter blanket. It conveys the moderating effect of the Bay of Fundy. Two, the soils are extreme in granulation, in rocks and stones under clay. Three, there is great air flow, between, in and out of slopes. Four, the vineyards are south-facing, almost direct and in full advantage of the westerly sun. Last and just as important, “there is always a factor of luck.” Words to make wine by, from the ever thankful and pragmatic Peter Gamble.

The Benjamin Bridge pansophy adheres to low-yielding productivity. The average yearly production (excluding winter effect) is one to one and a half tons per acre. “We consider the fruit from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on this property to be Grand Cru,” insists Gamble. ” The climactic micro-reality is really important here,” adds Deslauriers, in reference to the BB style. “All great wines have the acidity to express a sense of their environment. We want to express the vineyard in the bottle.”

Related – Notes on previously tasted Benjamin Bridge Sparkling wines:

Nova 7 2013, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $25.95, WineAlign)

Nova 7 2012, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $25.95, Nova Scotia $24.99, WineAlign)

Nova 7 2011, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (256289, $25.95, Nova Scotia $24.99, WineAlign)

Brut Reserve Méthode Classique 2007, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, NSLC 1012526, $74.79, WineAlign)

Brut Reserve Méthode Classique 2005, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, NSLC 1012526, $74.79, WineAlign)

Benjamin Bridge

Here are notes on four new wines tasted.

Benjamin Bridge Wines from left to right: Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Brut Rosé Sparkling 2010, Brut Methode Classique 2009, Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008

Benjamin Bridge Wines from left to right: Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Brut Rosé Sparkling 2010, Brut Methode Classique 2009, Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008

Brut Methode Classique 2009, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (1018464, NSLC $44.99, 313106, B.C. $49.97, WineAlign)

Essentially, or at least philosophically a Blanc de Blancs, the blend is 57 per cent L’Acadie Blanc, 25 Chardonnay and 18 Seyval Blanc. The acidity is key and certainly elevated (12.8 g/L), keeping line tabs on the stone ground, clean fruit in gingered mousse. A defined elegance and accumulated synergy of site comes from a lower-slope perceived sweetness, down by the river. By no means piercing, there is a length here that lays down the foundation for the high-end, Vinifera-driven Sparkling wine program. The Brut ’09 conveys the growing environment, in freshness and in ripeness. A wine with such a refreshing upside.  Tasted July 2014

Brut Rosé Sparkling 2010, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (1015073, NSLC $44.99 WineAlign)

A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the 2010 Brut Rosé is possessive of intricate intensity and unparalleled elegance for the style and genre. It is the watershed bottle, anywhere in Canada. These bubbles are the confluence of early picked red berries, distinct platinum minerality and bitterless savoury edges. Whether or not the bitter principle is masked or eliminated by a feigned sweetness matters little. “You taste so bitter and so sweet, oh I could drink a case of you darling and I would still be on my feet.” This sets the new benchmark for Rosé sparkling out of Canadian soils. It’s so blush and melodic it’s blue. In fact, the treatment here is tender, slow and steady, sad even, also spare and beautiful.  Tasted July 2014

Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, WineAlign)

The 2008 Brut Reserve is composed of 61 per cent Chardonnay and 39 Pinot Noir. If any wine in the Benjamin Bridge continuum defines the legacy left behind by Raphaël Brisebois and passes the sparkling torch to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, this ’08 is it. Here is the vintage that begins to emulate the grower’s Champagne of the motherland, in deeper learning, understanding and connection to the estate’s vineyards. At present this is such an infant, reductive and with a blowzy palate that suggests a fidgety, elemental state. The attack is in burgeoning mousse. After spitting, the wine persists, as if there remains a mouthful, causing the cheeks to expand. The citrus is weighty in texture and this ’08 goes deeper than the previous Brut reserves. Three years will be required to allow for a settling and 20 years lay further ahead for secondary, tertiary and quaternary development.  Tasted at the winery, July 2014

Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (1019689, NSLC $27.79,  WineAlign)

The 2013 marks the inaugural release for a wine that is “the by-product of an unconditional labour of love in commitment.” Gerry McConnell always wanted to make Sauvignon Blanc, Peter Gamble fostered the dream and Jean-Benoit Deslauriers made it a reality. A de facto Sauvignon force is behind the wine, 13 years in the making. Fashioned from drastically low yields, the ’13 SB is concentrated in literally handfuls of berries. It’s a style that could almost be considered eccentric. It feigns lees effect, slow fermentation, years of barrel age and late harvest. It’s a magnetic, beast of intensity, goes sweet up the middle (7 g/L residual sugar) and finishes extremely dry. There were 206 cases made.  Tasted July 2014

Lightfoot and Wolfville

This apple farm turned organic and biodynamic winery 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.

Young Vines in Lightfoot and Wolfville's Oak Knoll Vineyard

Young vines in Lightfoot and Wolfville’s Oak Isle Knoll Vineyard

Up on a hill near Avonport with a view of and at the head of the Gaspereau Valley is “Le Corton,” the Oak Isle knoll. It is here that Lightfoot and Wolfville, with the expertise of Peter Gamble, are banking on the future success of Vinifera grapes. There is more vigor up here in these vines (as compared to Benjamin Bridge) and the varieties planted are dual in purpose. One hand can make a serious Chardonnay, the other a Sparkling. It’s a question of vintage and ripening. The plan is essential for making wine in Nova Scotia.

Owners Jocelyn and Mike Lightfoot in the cellar at Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

Owners Jocelyn and Mike Lightfoot in the cellar at Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards

The winery will manage Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Chasselas and Scheurebe with New York Muscat and Vidal. I tasted through the 2013 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir resting in barrel, along with a most intriguing 2012 Late-Harvest Chasselas.

Lightfoot and Wolfville Winemaker Josh Horton with barrel samples of 2013 Chardonnay

Lightfoot and Wolfville Winemaker Josh Horton with barrel samples of 2013 Chardonnay

Pinot Noir 2013

This will be L &W’s first Pinot Noir, from 15 year-old vines in Canning, near Blomidon Estates and aged in three year-old (Stratus-used) barrels.  The fruit comes by way of a grower named Al McIntyre, who was convinced to reduce yields by dropping fruit, as he traditionally made Sparkling from more vigorous vines. The profile is both fresh fruity and gravelly, like Burgenland, or perhaps Baden. Bright, black cherry meets marly earth. The tannins are present and accounted for post-traditional two-year Burgundian élevage. This is Nova Scotia Pinot Noir and it is remarkably pure.  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay 2013

From a sample out of a neutral barrel transferred halfway through the process into two year-old barrel. The old world autolytics are textbook and this Chardonnay has already added much of its weight. The reduction at this stage is at a nearly indiscernible level. If this does not intimate Chablis, it would be tough to imagine what does. Beautifully clean Chablis, with a wild yeast accent and tropical accessories. The tannins head straight for the back of the cheeks. This is Chardonnay from Nova Scotia? Yes, it is.  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay 2013

From a sample out of a brand (medium toast) new barrel with Meursault the intended target. It certainly leans Côte de Beaune, with a lemon, honey and wet glade aromatic soup. The latter note comes across as something herbal without being earthy and sorry to use the M word but the minerality is definitely in here. Rich and glaring in grape, not wood tannins, the length is a testament to future endeavors.  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay 2013

A blend of the two samples brings the ghosts of the farm’s apples together in the glass. Overall the fruit came in (early November) at 21.5 to 22.8 brix. The pH falls in at 3.18-3.2 and the total acidity 9-10 g/L.

Chasselas Late Harvest 2012

A sweet wine with stinking acidity and a dry finish. At 100 g/L, this has both sugar and acidity through the roof. “It wanted to be this,” notes Josh Horton. “We didn’t plan to go this route, but we did.” Unleashed and wild LH.

Gaspereau Vineyards

After a morning spent with the Lightfoots, Peter Gamble brought me to taste at Gaspereau Vineyards with Rebecca Griffin, Associate Winemaker & Vineyard Manager at the winery’s parent entity, Devonian Coast Wineries. Gaspereau winemaker Gina Haverstock, who I tasted with at Brock University’s Technical Sparkling Wine Symposium in May, was away on holiday. After being guided through Haverstock’s Rieslings, I can safely say that I will look forward to tasting future (and hopefully library vintages) with her on my next visit east.

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards - Front Label

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards – Front Labels

Griffin led us through renditions of Nova Scotia’s signature white Tidal Bay, an Icewine and five exceedingly promising Rieslings. The tightly wound and magnanimous acidity of the lot impressed not just for their food versatility but also their kinship with some of the greater Riesling producing regions of the world. Both Clare Valley and the Beamsville Bench came to mind, as well as the Okanagan Valley and Alsace. Here are notes on the wines tasted.

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards - Back Labels

The Rieslings of Gaspereau Vineyards – Back Labels

Riesling Black Dog 2010

The vintage gives rich fruit, tempered by a mineral and lime layering. Though very dry and somewhat angular with a clamp down bite, the warmth inherent and abundant flavours give it bounty.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Black Dog 2011

Tighter even, full-on snare driven Riesling. Less luxuriant than the ’10, with more pierce, a zigzagging beat in angles and relentless drive that’s “gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.” Gets the lead out with a juicy burst of orange zest. This Black Dog is a howler and goes on for minutes on end.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Warner’s Vineyard 2011

This single vineyard Riesling shows more brightness, in white fruit and an increase in mineral. Conversely it also displays a reductive funk. Wild, in ferment, with eyes that never lie and a timeless, earth-driven, low and slow layering.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Estate 2011

Bottled in a 500 mL format because of drastically low quantities. Only 125 cases in the half litres were made. At first it’s fresh, bright orchard fruit with a minor key in funk. Moves into ginger, lime and the white heat of lit limestone, or more specifically, gypsum. Smells a bit like machine gun powder, leading to a plugged in “ignited fever and I can’t put out the flame.” Hot Riesling in a band of gypsies, with a rat tat tat sound and a nose for excitement.  Tasted July 2014

Riesling Tri0 2012

The Trio is assembled from Warner, Black Dog and Estate vineyards. Richer, warmer, rounder Riesling. The aromatics are more pronounced but also muddled together. Not as stark as compared to the others. Not so much sweeter as rounder, fuller and less piercing. Still, the Gaspereau Riesling funk persists.  Tasted July 2014

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

 

 

The tides that bind: East Coast swing

Tide's Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

Tide’s Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

Tides. The Maritimes. The new viticulture.

Headed out for the East Coast, pulled by a great maritime tide, family in tow. To a cape and back. Ontario-New York-Massachusetts-New Hampshire-Maine-New Brunswick-Nova Scotia-New Brunswick-Quebec-Ontario. The voyage imagined as a whole is revealed as an ebb that rides a crest outward bound for the tip of Cape Breton Island. A drive to reaches with no ability to seek accessory in further extensions. The inward sail as a retreat back to the Big Smoke, requiring returns equal and proportionate to the outward gains. Each day the tides carried us to promulgate layovers, to begin flowing again each seriate day, at the hour of its reversal.

Corneybrook Falls, Cape Breton Island

Corneybrook Falls, Cape Breton Island

Some tides 101. Tides are the periodic rise and falling of large bodies of water. They are created because like magnets, the Earth and the moon are attracted to each other. The gravitational force of the moon is one ten-millionth that of earth, but when you combine other forces such as the earth’s centrifugal force created by its spin, you get tides.  The sun is important as well, but in minutia as compared to the moon.

Water is what the Earth holds on to and every day (well, actually in a span of 12 hours and 25 minutes), there is a period between two high tides. Spring tides occur during the full moon and the new moon. Neap tides occur during quarter moons.

Tide out, Big Cove, Northumberland Strait

Tide out, Big Cove, Northumberland Strait

Are you in or are you out?

On the Northumberland, very free, and easy

Tide in, on the Northumberland, very free, and easy

Of all the impressive vistas, formidable rock faces and seemingly endless, edge of the world bodies of water to perpend, way out and beyond on the east coast of Canada, none feast more blatant than the Bay of Fundy. Each day 160 billion tonnes of seawater flows in and out of the Bay that intersects Maine, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Nowhere else in the world resembles the scabrous shorelines, islands and waters of this wondrous place.

Now you can’t break the ties that bind
You can’t forsake the ties that bind

The Bay of Fundy lies in a rift valley known as the Fundy Basin and is home to the world’s biggest tides, highest in the Minas Basin, Nova Scotia. “The uniqueness of the Fundy tides can be attributed to three factors, the shape and size of the bay, the substantial amount of water that flows in and out of the bay, and the gravitational pull of the moon, which pulls the water towards itself, causing a bulge on the ocean surface.”

The Flower Pot Rocks

The Flower Pot Rocks

In a quirk of geographical fate, the amount of time it takes an incoming wave to get to the end of the Bay of Fundy and return to the ocean coincides with the time between high and low tides – 12.4 hours. “Like a father pushing his daughter on a swing, the gentle Atlantic tidal pulse pushes the waters of the Bay of Fundy-Gulf of Maine basin at nearly the optimum frequency to cause a large to-and-fro oscillation.” The galance is simply awesome.

Grand Manan Lighthouse

Grand Manan Lighthouse

Nicknames abound. Its waters near St. John and west to Grand Manan Island are known as the “aquarium without walls,” and the shores near the 1984 dinosaur bones unearthed at Parsborro harbour are called “nature’s jewel box.” It’s the winemakers of the Gaspereau Valley who conspired to coin the most significant moniker. Fundy is hereby known as “Tidal Bay.”

Tidal Bay Blends 2013

Tidal Bay Blends 2013

Tidal Bay is the first wine appellation for Nova Scotia and is crafted from carefully selected varieties, produced exclusively by (now) 12 wineries. To be labeled Tidal Bay, maximum brix levels and minimum acidity (9 g/L) must be reached. Pressing takes place by bladder or basket, all in the name of a “regionally recognizable local style.” The 100 per cent Nova Scotian blends “pair well with seafood and ocean views.” Though essential to the maritime wine oeuvre, the Tidal Bay wave remains young and the wines a work in progress. I will connect with the full range in a year or two, perhaps on it 15th birthday, in 2017. Here are three tasted in July.

Gaspereau Vineyards Tidal Bay 2013

Gaspereau Vineyards Tidal Bay 2013

Gaspereau Vineyards Tidal Bay 2013 (Winery, $21.99)

Aromatics are the show in this cool breeze blend. Combines Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and (13 per cent) mitigating and rounding Muscat. In character of what it sets out to define, this 2013 Tidal Bay concentrates Nova Scotia brightness with tight acids and a clear, stain removing shout into the machine. A warm streak of Fundy salinity soothes the savage cool-climate beast.  @gaspereauwine

L’Acadie Vineyards Estate L’Acadie 2011 (Winery, $21.99)

Made from Nova Scotia’s most promising L’Acadie Blanc variety in combination with Chardonnay. Winemaker Bruce Ewart coaxed maximum freshness and a consolidation in balance. Chardonnay gives body but does not steal the show. Acids are prominent yet never treacherous. Though not technically an example of  Tidal Bay, the sexy, waxy, saline and bright personality make it distinctly Nova Scotia. Tasted at the Governors Pub, Sydney.  @lacadiewine

Luckett Vineyards

Luckett Vineyards

Luckett Vineyards Tidal Bay 2013 (Winery, $20.00)

Heterocyclic aromatics go bonkers in this blend of Traminette, L’Acadie and Vidal Blanc. Smells like ready to ripen Sauvignon Blanc, grassy, high in citrus and spiked by capsicum. An ear-to-ear smile of brightness and acidity drives the blend and you might ask it, “you walk cool, but darlin’, can you walk the line?” In the Nova Scotian world of Tidal Bay, Pete Luckett’s take can do just that and so it will not break the ties that bind.  @luckettvineyard

And when we are strangers, wherever we go,
There’s always a side that we still do not know;

Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick

Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick

Tidal bores, red mudflats, flowerpot rocks, sea caves, the largest whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere, all impossible irregularities that belong to the Bay of Fundy. So what? The muddy beaches and chocolate rivers might be characterized by the Acadian expression, “Quelle baraque!” or, they might induce chills, “gorziller,” hallucinations even. When a moment is taken, they become unique, quirky barometers to re-calibrate the mire of mundane repetitious behaviour and one’s dizzying and insignificant place in this great big world.

The fascinating geology of the natural rock formations at the Hopewell Rocks, on the Bay of Fundy, is a history worth learning.

Chocolate coastline, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick

Chocolate coastline, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick

and some days I am a door wide open,
shouting to the wind, singing to the sea.

Chase Lobsters, Port Howe, NS

Chase Lobsters, Port Howe, NS

Shake’s head. Emerges from the dream. Begins to put the pieces together. Memories of a long trip. An east coast swing.

Hole in the Wall, Grand Manan, New Brunswick

Hole in the Wall, Grand Manan, New Brunswick

From Black’s Harbour to Grand Manan Island, through St. John’s and up to Big Cove by Baie Verte. A Northumberland Straight traverse past Port Howe, Am Baile Mór, Inverness, a jog up to Cheticamp and Corneybrook. Around the Cabot Trail of Cape Breton Island, a sidetrack to Bay St. Lawrence and Meat Cove, then a decussate and a zig-zag of the fiords to mark an “X” in Sydney.

Cooking lobster on Grand Manan

Cooking lobster on Grand Manan

Up the heart of the province, past Truro, down the Annapolis Valley and a u-turn back up and into Wolfville. It is there, in the heart of the Gaspereau Valley, that the essence of Nova Scotia’s wine industry walks out from beneath the fog to reveal itself in an elongated moment of clarity.

Campfire lobster supper

Campfire lobster supper

The tractive is a thing to and of itself. The pauses to gather at points along the process remember lobsters roasting over an open fire, a cottage visit with new-found friends, a hike into the cavern of a waterfall and a swim in a tidal river. Memories are made in rites of passage, though in the end, like the photographs, they too will be demurred by time. Indelible stamps they are, cemented in commitment to reaching and by necessity, descending summits. A  road trip to the eastern part of Canada realizes the bigger plan. The key is making it safely home, before the tide rolls in.

Next up will be the wines of the Gaspereau Valley, inextricably linked by a prodigal son come home in the name of Peter Gamble. Until then, take it slow and easy, on the East Coast.

East Coast cottage country

East Coast cottage country

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello