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Snapshot of Nova Scotia: growing a wine industry with hybrid varieties in maritime Canada.

For most people, wine in Canada means the wine industry in Ontario and British Columbia, but after a recent visit to Nova Scotia, I think this province will soon be added to the list of serious Canadian wine regions. The wine industry is somewhat scattered, but a concentration of wineries can be found near the town of Wolfville, about an hour northwest of Nova Scotia's capital city, Halifax.

Located at 45[degrees]N latitude, Nova Scotia has a maritime climate. It is cool in the summer and cold in the winter. A short season of 150 frost-free days with about 1,000 growing degree-days (base 10[degrees]C) defines the growing season. Consequently, growers have adopted hybrid varieties for their wines to suit these conditions. Winter temperatures can dip to -13[degrees]F/25[degrees]C, which places most vinifera varieties in harm's way. In almost every aspect of viticulture, the use of hybrid varieties appears to be the correct decision.

Nova Scotia is clearly an aromatic white wine region, and it excels in this category. L'Acadie Blanc (pronounced "LACK-uh-dee) is a white hybrid developed at the Vineland Station in Ontario. It was imported into Nova Scotia and has taken root as the primary white variety. The wine is usually dry to off-dry and is fragrant, clean, vibrant and fresh, moderately fruity and perfectly complements the regional cuisine of white fish and shellfish. Other whites include New York Muscat, Seyval, Vidal and the expected attempts at Riesling and Chardonnay. In addition, German hybrids such as Siegerrebe and Optima are being planted.

The red varietals include the tried-and-true Marechal Foch, Leon Millot and Baco Noir. A hybrid called Lucie Kuhlman is sometimes planted for use as a blending wine for color and depth.

The vineyards

There are 50 vineyards covering 410 acres in Nova Scotia. The vineyards are large, and for the most part supervised by professional vineyard managers. While it appears that Nova Scotia receives less rain during the growing season than vineyards in the Mid-Atlantic region, it is still a distinctly maritime climate subject to the whims of the Atlantic Ocean.

However, there aren't many serious problems in the vineyard. Although familiar fungal diseases--downy mildew, powdery mildew and black rot--are present in the vineyards in Nova Scotia, these are at a much lower level of pressure than in vineyards farther south in the Mid-Atlantic region. Most growers said they spray three to six times per season. Insect pests are also very moderate, with only the erineum mite and aerial phylloxera suggested as problems in the vineyard.

Hybrid grapegrowing has built-in advantages. We spend a lot of time in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region trying to keep vinifera varieties clean. It was a lesson to see how hybrid and native varieties lend themselves to sustainable farming with a lot less fuss and worry--and still make delicious wines.

The soils are clay-based and need drainage assistance even on slopes, much like the Niagara Peninsula. Consequently, all new vineyards have 2-inch tile drains installed every row. Spacing is quite close between vines--from a meter to 1.5 meters on average, even with L'Acadie Blanc. Vines are own-rooted except for the vinifera, and hilling up is not yet being practiced.

Everything is grown on the vertical shoot positioned trellis, using mainly cane pruning. There is a movement, however, toward cordon-spur to lower pruning and tying costs. Winter injury can be a problem, and the hybrids can be quickly retrained. Vines are hedged two or three times per year.

Cover crops are planted in every row or alternating rows, and mostly consist of native plants. I have never seen more or bigger dandelions anywhere. It was hard to determine vine vigor and balance, but it appears that soils are moderately fertile, and the vines are kept under control. Yields for most varieties are 2-4 tons/acre. True ice wine and sparkling wines are specialty products.

Because of a general lack of agricultural labor, grapes are machine harvested, and the wine industry has a widely accepted and used seasonal agricultural worker program. A 50-acre vineyard we visited uses six Jamaican workers, and it is claimed that the program is extremely effective for them. It works much the same as the H2A program in the United States. Vineyards get the same workers each year, pay minimum wage, provide housing and transportation; the seasonal workers then go home every year in the winter to see their families. Growers say they are skilled, trustworthy, responsible and very hardworking.

The wineries

There are 13 wineries and, just as the vine-yards are professionally managed, the wineries are staffed with professional winemakers. Their training and skills are reflected in the quality of the wines we tasted during our four-day visit. Other than one red wine that may have had a touch of VA, every wine was at a minimum technically correct and, at best, highlighted the varietal character and delicate terroir of a cool region.

The wines are sold mostly in winery tasting rooms in the province and at Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. stores. Last year the NSLC significantly lowered its mark-up for local wines in order to help the wine industry. Its mandate promotes economic development--not to make the most money possible--yet another example of Canadian enlightenment. This has really helped to boost awareness and sales of Nova Scotia wines in the local wine market.

The wines

L'Acadie Blanc, the premier white variety, doesn't need to reach 23[degrees]Brix to make a stylish wine, and those I tasted were very balanced in their acidity, often tempered by a touch of residual sugar. Some L'Acadie wines are blended with other varieties to add more complexity and body, including one notable wine at Jost Vineyards that combined L'Acadie Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.

The New York Muscat wines have Muscat aromas and can be spicy on the palate. I also tasted several Seyval, Vidal, Riesling and Chardonnay wines, and even a Sauvignon Blanc. The Siegerrebe was balanced and delicious with the racy, mineral character so often associated with Riesling. Optima is being used to make true ice wine. Other sweet wines are made from maple syrup (try it on ice cream), fruits and distilled spirits.

The red and white vinifera varieties struggle a bit to express their varietal characters, which need more than a 150-day growing season to fully develop, but the red hybrid varieties Marechal Foch, Leon Millot and Baco all make very pleasant wines with a bit of a tart edge. Blending can help to build a better wine. I tried a Cabernet-Foch blend that was ripe and very vinifera-like in its flavors and phenolic structure. Even so, I would argue that reds will always be a sideshow to the excellent white wine potential in Nova Scotia.

Wine industry and research forum

While I was in Nova Scotia, I attended a wine industry and research forum whose purpose was to bring the issues of the wine industry to the local research community at Acadia University, Nova Scotia Community College and the Nova Scotia Agricultural College. It was an opportunity for the wine industry to survey the research "landscape'' and create partnerships with academic assets that can help them to solve problems, improve quality and grow the industry. Leaders inside and outside the ivory tower recognize that the wine industry has significant growth potential, and they are reaching out to make things happen.

We were all surprised by the amount of potential viticulture and enology research and education assets available in the area, in the form of 15 scientists from many disciplines including horticulture, entomology, biotechnology, biochemistry, business, engineering, environmental sciences, extension and outreach. Federal and provincial funding agencies presented their programs to the audience, and I was struck by the variety and volume of funding opportunities that exist for provincial agriculture. In one case, a development officer was all but begging the industry and researchers to submit proposals. Another federal funding agency said that 13 of 14 submitted grants had been funded. These are not conditions that are evident in the U.S. research community.

Canada does not have the type of land grant-based extension education system that exists in the U.S. Instead, provincial departments of agriculture collaborate with private consulting firms to provide extension services to agriculture industries. It is a system that appears to work quite well. In Ontario, Kevin Ker provides viticulture services, and Wendy McFadden-Smith covers the IPM needs of the wine industry. They are both tops in their field. Nova Scotia will develop similar resources through a company called AgraPoint.

Dr. Debbie Inglis, the director of the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University in Ontario, explained how CCOVI achieved a leadership role in the Ontario wine industry, which has 12,000 acres of vinifera winegrapes, the largest acreage in eastern North America. She offered partnership opportunities to the agricultural college in Nova Scotia and advice for building its own viticulture/enology research infrastructure.

This is an exciting time to be a wine producer or consumer in Nova Scotia. Since Roger Dial planted the first vineyard at Grand Pre in 1980, and thus launched the modern wine industry in Nova Scotia, other pioneers such as Hans Christian Jost and his father have paved the way for many new entries. That's the way it always happens.

I got the same sense of camaraderie that was evident in developing wine regions that I have been a part of on Long Island, N.Y., in Oregon and now Pennsylvania. I am also reminded of Missouri, a state that has successfully developed a regional industry based on American and hybrid varieties. Nova Scotia has done the same thing, and it is up to growers and winemakers there to decide if they want to chase the international varieties on that particular stage. It was clear that the European varieties are a much greater challenge to grow and vinify. It may be better to stick to what they know and do well.

More information about the wine industry in Nova Scotia is available at Information about CCOVI at Brock University in Ontario is available at


* Nova Scotia supports 13 wineries, many of them concentrated near the town of Wolfville.

* Aromatic white hybrid grapevines seem well suited to the cool summers and cold winters.

* Low disease pressure, professional personnel and public/private extension services indicate good potential for the region.

Mark L. Chien is statewide viticulture extension educator for the Penn State Cooperative Extension based in Lancaster, Penn. To comment on this article, e-mail
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Title Annotation:WineEast
Comment:Snapshot of Nova Scotia: growing a wine industry with hybrid varieties in maritime Canada.(WineEast)
Author:Chien, Mark
Publication:Wines & Vines
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Aug 1, 2010
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