What are they up to on those vineyards?
Here goes one full circle on the vineyard ferris wheel. After 18 months of working in wine retail (where? here), hosting masterclass tastings, managing margins and staff, merchandising and marketing, it’s time to swap the city-wine-grind- life for a Nova Scotian-vineyard-heist. With very little export creeping out of Nova Scotia, here’s a wine region ripe for a little exposure. From June 2014 – 2015 I’ll document the weekly nitty gritty details of vineyard and winery, shine some light on the unfamiliar Canadian wine industry and spill all I learn and swill over this page.
For the geographically challenged Nova Scotia is on the very east coast of Canada – so nearly an island apart from a small strip which attaches a shoulder to the mainland. Taking advantage of the coastal breezes, clay and limestone soil, steadfast summer sun, wine making has sneakily been unfolding for the past 25 years. Specialising in snappy, aromatic whites and sparklings, fruity and spicy medium-bodied reds and, nature’s nectar, Icewine. The majority of vineyards are situated within calling distance of The Bay of Fundy in the lush Annapolis Valley.
My home for the next year is Luckett Vineyards , a 100 acre (40 hectars) farm ontop of Grande Pre hill. It overlooks the emerald green Gaspereau valley with The Bay of Fundy as the scenic backdrop. The first vines were whimsically planted 12 years ago, by my father Pete. The whim was a winner; a winery was built in 2010 to turn those grapes into wine. The rest is history in the making…
Introduction of this tale’s heroes
Marcel: Vine-keeper, key-bearer of the 100 acre farm, harvest hunter. After learning his trade in homeland Switzerland, he emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1997 and has been the farm manager at Luckett Vineyards since 2006.
Mike: grape whisperer, fermentation guru, barrel tickler. Taken captive from the Niagara wine trade and used to our benefit, he’s been the wine maker since 2011. You’ll recognise him by the ever-present pencil tucked behind his ear.
The grapes: Nova Scotian varietals are winter-warriors and quick sun bathers. Grapes need to be able to cope with the raw bitter winters and lap up as much sun as possible in the short growing season; the majority of these are hybrids* with unfamiliar names: L’acadie, Leon Millot, Castel. Vinifera* is becoming more popular and vintners are boasting success with Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.
*what the flip are hybrid and vinifera grapes? click here
Setting: Present day. Spring has arrived on the backs of wild honey bees and the sun shines over the first limey-leaves on the grapevine. Our grapes are just heading into their bloom after a 5-month cruel winter and wet-spring start. Crossed fingers they catch up on their sunbathing.
It’s tough out on the vineyard. For real. Our reliable steed, the red tractor, spends a lot of time heading up and down the vine rows with different contraptions on its back. The weight of the machine turns the earth into a hardened rock cake, making it hard for roots and worms alike to move around. Every June, Marcel begins the process of ‘ripping’. Two spade-like metal arrows attached to the back of the tractor slice in between each row, lifting the earth a little and letting the air in. This also creates little gutters for water drainage.
The angel’s share
Meanwhile, at the winery, Mike can be found in the barrel-cellar room. After fermentation, many of our wines are aged in oak barrels up to 12 months to add some vanilla and spice to the aroma, and a little more complexity to the taste (more oaking trivia to come in a future blog). Although the barrels are filled to the brim, throughout the year a small portion of the wine evaporates into the air and some soaks into the wood. This is referred to as the ‘angel’s share’. A couple of times a year, Mike siphons from the top barrel into the bottom of the stack. It looks a little like a blood transfusion. One stainless steel tank of each wine is set aside to replace what the angel’s took from the top barrels.