Blooming Gorgeous

Look sharp because you might miss it:  the unassuming and lacey floret about to blossom on the grapevine. The cherry and the apple are showy in their blossom; flowers bright like birds, perfumed like women. But the grapes require a keener observation. You’ve got to bow your back and bend your knees to see the delicate and neat design or inhale the subtle and prim aroma.

A LAcadie vine on the cusp of blooming into the unassuming white flower

A L’Acadie vine on the verge of blooming into the unassuming white flower

Why so little fuss from the grapevine? Perhaps because they are a solo, self-pollinating act – a hermaphrodite. The vines dress for no one but themselves.

The pre-blossom forms are ball-bearing sized, tight, green fists and often mistaken for miniature grapes; but soon the petal hats, called ‘calyptra’, will fall off to reveal the white flowers. Remember to shout ‘hallelujah’ to the dry weather we have had for the past week as heavy rain drops can imprison the calyptra and prevent the release of the flower. These don’t-give-a-tinker’s-curse-how-I-look flowers have both ‘bits’, the stamen and a carpel.  These organs will produce a seed, and around the seed will grow a protective, sweet and tangy, jelly capsule: our grape. What we press, swirl and guzzle is nothing more than the armour around the sacred seed.

Compared to European regions, we are relatively ‘late bloomers’; furthermore, we are about a week behind blossoming compared to last year. However, our vineyard manager, Marcel, says it is nothing to worry about as our variates are muscular heroes. This is also a time for predictions, as not every flower will pollinate we can determine what the yield will bring for the forthcoming harvest. Things are looking positive in Nova Scotia.

Cross your heart

Grapes have been known to become friendly with their neighbours

The famous bastard grape, Cabernet Sauvignon

The famous ‘bastard’ grape, Cabernet Sauvignon

too. A few hundred years ago a Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet Franc plant were living merrily side by side, when cross-pollination occurred: enter a Bordeaux hero, Cabernet Sauvignon. The same relationship flourished between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, creating the South African protagonist, Pinotage.

Marcel says there is always cross pollination in vineyards, but (and this is a good bit), the fruit will remain the same. The seed’s genetic imprint will change, but the grape will remain honourable to its roots.  If you were to plant the seeds of these grapes, who knows what kind of magic-crossed-potion would appear at harvest time.

Can you dig it? Pruning grapevines in Nova Scotia

As the birds begin whistling and singing for spring, our friends the grapes are waking up from their long winter’s nap. Isn’t that just lovely? How delightful.

No. Not according to our vineyard manager, Marcel. It’s not lovely nor delightful because most of Nova Scotia’s vineyards haven’t started pruning yet.

Why not, you lazy slugs? Ah yes, because it LOOKS LIKE THIS…

Oh there you are grapevines. I htought you were just a load of magic wands dancing in quinoa

Oh there you are grapevines. I thought you were just a load of magic wands dancing in quinoa

Snow is no foe to our friend the grape. In fact, in Canada snow is the shawl around the shoulders of the vine, protecting them from bitter winds and ice.

But snow does hinder the intrepid pruner, blocking access to the vines and smothering the shoots like an overprotective snowmum.

Stay pruned folks!

It’s important to prune so that you get the maximum potential out of your plant. By removing last year’s wood you keep the vine young and rejuvenated, encouraging a consistent  healthy yield year after year.  Left to its own devices, fungus and bacteria can set in on the old wood; the vines get competitive with their neighbors and decrease the fruit produced.

Dormant yoga

When dormant, you can twirl and bend their ballerina elastic vine limbs into whatever position you like. The VSP (Vertical Shoot Positioning) method is usually used in Nova Scotia, where last year’s shoots and canes are stripped from the vine apart from two young shoots; these two will be flexed along the lowest trellising and become the new canes for next year’s growth.

Problems arise after nap time. Upon waking, the vines send sap through their joints that hardens like toffee, creating brittle shoots which can snap off in your hand like old starfish arms. Losing a shoot means losing half of that plants’ crop.

This has been an unusually snow-laden winter, with 15 foot snow drifts peeping in through people’s bedroom windows. All has been delayed until the snow subsides, but now the sap is telling us that pruning waits for no man. It’s time to take action.

First, Marcel clears the way.

Snow blowing the snow from between the vines.

Snow blowing from between the vines.

With the plough attached, the tractor clears between the vines. We humbly thank thee tractor.

We humbly thank thee tractor.

 

Eye of the storm.

Eye of the storm.

 

 

Grab the shovels. Dig it.

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Shelley, Richard and I grab the shovels.

Unveil the vine!

Unveil the vine!

Start pruning!

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After the vine has been dug out, Marcel begins the pruning. Look – he’s smiling!

It’s a lengthy, grafty process that is a race against the next snowfall. Each climate, world-wide, presents its challenges to the grower and this is one of Nova Scotia’s biggest difficulties. It’s the price we pay to play host to vineyards here, but also what gives a completely unique acidity and crispness to our wines. I know Marcel would never say this out loud, nor probably allow himself to whisper it in his head, or even indulge his subconscious in a brief, flirty moment – but he really wouldn’t want it any other way.

Top 10 Tips for Icewine Lovers

Not many people know this, but the benefits from drinking Icewine include glossy hair, increased endorphins, a good sense of humour, endurance, being 24% bullet proof, rhythm, the power of persuasion and an uncanny knack for foreign languages.

Or, at least, these feel like concrete facts whenever I’m drinking it.

Note the one word and capital letter of Icewine.  This signifies it is a Canadian product and made to the very strict standards of the VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance). Labelled in other countries, such as Austria or the USA, as Ice Wine; or in the original German home, as Eiswein; the Canadian wine delicacy is made from frozen grapes harvested in temperatures between -8 and -14 to create an intense, mouth-quenching dessert wine.

What’s the method to this madness?

Water freezes before sugar and acid, so when frozen grapes are pressed the concentrated sugar and acid drips out before the water.  It’s like wringing out the gold from a trophy and fermenting it. The Vidal grape is the most common variatal used in Icewine, chosen for its thick skin and ability to sustain its shape over long periods of time.  It takes 3 consecutive nights at -8 or more for the grapes to be thoroughly frozen. Harvesting happens in the dead of night, so cold that people lose their fingers (not really, but Icewine deserves this kind of reputation).  The grapes are often pressed outside to let Mother Nature guard the arctic temp so the water doesn’t start sneaking into your honey nectar. The juice you receive is roughly 15% of what you would take from a press of regular grapes, which, asides from the painful labour, can explain the golden price tag.

Harvesting by night to keep the grapes frozen

Harvesting by night to keep the grapes frozen

Savour the flavour

Expect a firework of flavours: mango, butterscotch, lemon zest, honey, figs and green apple.  Many people assume the sweetness will take your mouth hostage in some sugar heist. But that cold climate electric acidity produces the perfect balance of sweet and sour. It’s tangtastic. Drool inducing, lip smacking, curling your tongue into origami.

Ask not what your Icewine can do for you, but what you can do for your Icewine

  1. Serve after dinner, well chilled. You only need fairy sips from a third of a normal glass of wine to experience true tongue-dancing happiness.
  2. There’s no cooler way to show up to a party then as the one who brought Icewine and blue cheese. A tangy cheese will complement the Icewine sweetness like yin to yang.

    Blue cheese is a great friend to Icewine

    Blue cheese is a great friend to Icewine

  3. Keep it in the door of
    your fridge and take a congratulatory swig every time you reach in to get your milk. The high sugar acts as a preservative which means Icewine will last as long as a jar mayonnaise.
  4. Add it to a bone-dry sparkling wine to create a honeyed richness.
  5. Roast halved apples or pears in Icewine at a high temperature for 45 minutes. Serve when fruit is caramelised, top with crème fraiche and drizzle with the pan juices.
  6. Simmer some mushrooms in Icewine for half an hour then add a shot of espresso for a seriously delicious pasta sauce. (Thank you Katie & Mateo!) See more recipes
  7. Cocktails!
The Cold Old Fashioned

1oz Canadian whisky

1oz Red Icewine

Splash of soda

Add cherries and orange slice

Lychee Chill

2oz Icewine

1oz lychee juice or nectar

Garnish with raspberries

 

Icewine Martini

1oz Icewine

1 ½ oz vodka

Splash of soda

1 frozen grape

 

  1. Drink it WITH your dessert.

Ever tried to serve a whopping, chunky red wine with your dessert? Next to the sweet flavours in your pudding, a beautiful Barolo turns into vinegar. Then some caffeine-fiddler guest asks for a coffee, then everyone wants a coffee, then it’s getting late, thanks for everything… party over. The tangy sugar content of Icewine will stand up to your dessert and complement the flavours like lime to a gin and tonic. Then your party is just beginning.

  1. Drink it on birthday mornings with strawberries. Flip, make it your family Crimbo tradition.
  2. Prices of Icewine have rocketed in the last ten years, due to the fame and success of the Okanagan and Niagara. Nova Scotia, being the new-kid-on-the-block, is producing award-winning Icewine at a portion of the price. Snap it up! Show it off! Drink it up!

Nova Scotia Icewine Festival 2015

Jan 31st/Feb 1st and Feb 7th/Feb 8th

@ Grande Pre Winery. Get your tickets here 

Whallops of events to get involved in, including Icewine dinners at Luckett Vineyards .

 

Get down on your knees and pick.

A commonly asked question out on the vineyard is ‘why do your grapes grow so low?’. The type of vine training and the positioning of your grapes on the trellis depends on your location.

Have I mentioned Nova Scotia is cool? Cool climate, yes. This means that we grow the grapes on the lowest trellising, close to the ground, like stockings hung on a low mantlepiece. It’s warmer down there at night, encouraging the grapes to ripen even when the sun goes down. This also allows a large feathery canopy of leaves for photosynthesis, like a great ostrich bottom turned up to the sun with its cracked, spindly trunk-like neck stuck into the ground.

We grow the grapes close to the ground, keeping a grand feathery leaf canapy.

We grow the grapes close to the ground, keeping a grand feathery leaf canopy…

 

...much like an ostrich.

…looking much like an ostrich.

 

So for the fingerpicking grape pickers it means you pluck upon your knees. Or, as some of the whistling old boys do, you sit on a bucket to save your joints from creaking like graveyard gates.

Who's that? Why, it's the lovely Amelia!

Praise the grapes! Who’s that kneeling at the alter? Why, it’s the lovely Amelia!

Trellising is usually constructed of metal or wooden posts with wire supporting the vines upright. Although there are a cajillion different ways of setting up your trellising,  the main objective, like a cruise-ship sun lounger, is always to assist in sunbathing.

'Basket' trellising in Greece to protect the grapes from harsh winds

‘Basket’ vine training in Greece to protect the grapes from harsh winds

How does your garden grow?

Beaujolais will often use the ‘Gobelet’ method, attaching the vine to a stake and letting them grow freely; in Germany they will use the ‘Mosel Arch’, bending the canes into the shape of a heart and giving the appearance of a tree; in Greece they will protect the grapes from harsh winds by growing the fruit inside basket-like vines, cleverly called ‘Basket’ vine training.

We use the most common method, VSP (Verticle Shoot Position), meaning the vines grow skywards, and the fruit grow below the canopy. An ideal balanced structure would be 1/4 fruit and 3/4 leaf, leaving enough space for light and air around each bunch. As well as keeping the grapes warm, this method saves time on leaf and shoot thinning, as the grapes aren’t hidden in the shadows of the leaves. That’s why they’re low. Not, as some ray-of-sunshine remarked, because the Lucketts of Luckett Vineyards are notoriously short. No.

Being so exposed in a sizzlier climate could risk the grapes getting sunburnt, but there’s not much risk of that here. Have I mentioned it’s a cool climate here? It is, yes.

Now we’ve picked the grapes… what happens next?

Stay tuned you winos, you.

Ta da! Stripped.

Ta da! Stripped.

 

Sugar, sugar.

Out with our restaurant patio furniture! In with the grape crusher!  The grapes are wrapped up like presents in bird-defending netting, pruners razor sharp, staff giddy. We hold our breath…

Birdies back off. Leon Millot vines wrapped up in protective netting.

Birdies back off. Leon Millot vines wrapped up in protective netting.

Luckett Vineyard's 'Crush Pad Bistro' reveals its true identity. Gone with the dining furniture!

Luckett Vineyard’s ‘Crush Pad Bistro’ reverts to its name sake. Patio furniture removed. Crusher moved in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are we waiting for?  Sugar. This measurement of sugar content in grapes is referred to as ‘brix.’. The winemaker waits for the goldilocks moment when the brix are ‘just right’. Picking too early can result in green and vegetal notes in the grapes; if the grapes are left for too long you run the risk of rot, split fruit from rain, burnt flavours from too much sun, and a battle of the birds. It’s cut throat timing.

Brix levels vary depending on the varietal of grape and regional climate. For example, a chunky Californian Cab Sauv could have brix as high as 27, whereas the same varietal grown in Bordeaux may be picked at 23. Cool (in both senses) Nova Scotia brix levels have a legal minimum level of 15 and usually rise to a maximum of 22.

There are three ways to test ripeness in your grapes.

1. Taste them.

This can be tricky, but here’s how we do it at Luckett’s:

Taste the grapes to check the sugar. Here'show you do it.

Taste the grapes to check the sugar. Do it like this.

2. Look at them.

Impress your friends with your Sherlock power of deduction skills by following these quick and easy clues.

Do the grape skins look ripe in colour?

No → leave them a bit longer then.

Yes → brill.

Look at the seeds:

Green seeds → need more time.

Brown seeds → brill.

 3. Bring out the refractometer.

In real language this is called The Sugar-Reading Thing. See below for a step-by-step guide.

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1. Pick a random selection of grapes from a single varietal lot.

2.Mash up the grapes and cover the refractometer slide with the juice.

2. Mash up the grapes and cover the refractometer slide with the juice.

Look inside the lense!

3. Look inside the lense!

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4. Step inside the eye of a refractometer: the sugar level is shown on the left side.

Theoretically, to get an alcohol measurement you multiply the brix number by 0.55. The reading above was taken a few weeks ago from our L’acadie grapes, as of today these grapes are at 19 –  we’ll ideally pick at 20. Are you sitting comfortably boys and girls? The harvest story is about to begin…

Nova Scotian wine, anyone?

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.

Here...

There…

 

... to here.

… to here.

From this…

 

...to this.

…to this.

Where the..?

canada unfiltered

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.

NS unfiltered

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…

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Introduction of this tale’s heroes

Enter protagonists.

Marcel - The Vineyard Manager

Marcel – The Vineyard Manager

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.

 

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Mike - The Winemaker

Mike – The Winemaker

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.

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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

Bloomin’ gorgeous

A L'acadie vine - just heading into bloom

A L’acadie vine – just heading into bloom

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.

Up-heave ho!

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.

Ripping - Aerating between each row.

Ripping – aerating between each row.

The angel’s share

The 'angel's share'

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.

Stay tuned folks!

radio tuning