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FOOD AND DRINK

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Meet the Wine That's Putting Nova Scotia's Emerging Wine Scene on the Map

Consumers flock to buy Benjamin Bridge's Nova 7 for its unique zip. Head winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers says it could only be made in Nova Scotia

Nova 7 has been called “a category unto itself;” Globe and Mail wine writer Beppi Crosariol, who also reported that people hold parties just to celebrate Nova 7, described it thus: “imagine a white table grape jumper-cabled to a car battery.”

Because it’s so unique, this fruit of the muscat grape pretty much flies off the shelves wherever and whenever it’s released – not only in its home province Nova Scotia, but also in Ontario LCBO stores, and anywhere else that is fortunate enough to get some in stock.

Nova Scotia is producing some really incredible wines these days, garnering critical attention and awards despite the fact that it can be difficult to track down much of the stuff outside of Atlantic Canada. Benjamin Bridge has emerged as one of the province’s foremost wineries, and its flagship product, a deliciously aromatic, semi-sweet, lightly sparkling wine called Nova 7, is fast becoming the province’s wine icon. It’s the signature Nova Scotian wine that serves as introduction to oenophiles from elsewhere in the world – when they’re lucky enough to be able to try any.  

Who gets the credit for Nova 7? It was conceived by Benjamin Bridge’s head wine consultant Peter J. Gamble and is made byhead winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers – who in turn passes the credit on to Nova Scotia’s cool maritime climate. It’s reflective, Deslauriers says, of the foamy tidal shores of the Bay of Fundy where the grapes are grown.

A fine balance

“The brightness of the wine is a direct byproduct of the unique microclimate of the Bay of Fundy. We have to stay very close to the product, to involve indigenous fermentation, to do what we can to limit the involvement of third party products,” says Deslauriers, who has made wine in Santa Barbara, Calif., and before that Chile. He chose to come to Nova Scotia because he wanted to be a part of an exciting and emerging wine region. “By all standards we are still an emerging wine region in a stage of infancy,” he says, “And there is so much ahead of us.”

Courtesy Benjamin Bridge

Jean-Benoit Deslauriers

The uniquely cool terroir in Nova Scotia ripens grapes in a way that Deslauriers compares to using a slow cooker, which preserves more of a grape’s natural acidity and lends some wines a level of freshness that isn’t always easy to achieve in other locations. “That is what makes our wines unique, we tap into that level of freshness; you can literally taste the saline, that Maritime coastal brightness,” he says. “Nova 7 (for example) tells the story of our specialized environment.”

Staying true to the authentic flavour of Nova Scotia is number one priority for the winery. “It is an interesting proposition to apply artisan practices on a large scale, and one that eats into your free time,” Deslauriers laughs, “That’s the Nova 7 balancing act. Every year the objective is to make the best Nova we’ve ever made, and every year as we learn more about the terroir, the better it gets.

“We’re sensitive to the momentum and demand, and potential for growth, but not so much as we are ensuring that at the end of every day we end up with the best artisan product,” Deslauriers continues.  He compares this need for balance – between meeting a huge demand and satisfying quality standards – to the story of Cyrano de Bergerac. “You can either be smart or good looking, and you can’t have both.”

In fact, this year it be even more difficult to get your hands on a bottle or two of Nova 7. “(2015 was) a year of low yields, so from a qualitative standpoint it is an amazing year, but not so much quantity,” says Deslauriers. Smaller yields mean that more solar energy is concentrated into fewer grapes on the vine, giving an intensity of flavour and more density.

On a more hopeful note

Benjamin Bridge recently released a new product that should interest Nova 7 fans, or those who love the other beautiful wines produced by them but are looking for something a little more cost conscious.

In November of last year, Benjamin Bridge NV (which stands for non vintage) had its first release. “It is a traditional method sparkling wine, like our brut reserves, that we sell for $29,” he says. “This one has been aged for six years as well, and it has been extremely well received here since we launched it in November. Demand is definitely healthy, this may be the next big thing for us.”

Superfans of this winery who are residents of Canada may want to consider joining the Benjamin Bridge Club, which offers access to exclusive member only releases and quarterly wine pick-up parties (as well as a 10% discount on all wines). One snag: You’ll have to join a waiting list, because as is often the case with Nova Scotian wine, demand exceeds availability right now.

If you’re flying into Nova Scotia, a drive out to visit Benjamin Bridge in the beautiful Gaspereau Valley is a worthy way to spend an afternoon, and private tours and tastings are available on request. If you’re short on time, you can also partake in a tasting at the Benjamin Bridge kiosk at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.  

(This article was originally published on March 18, 2016)

Published Wednesday, December 28th 2016

Header image credit: Courtesy Benjamin Bridge

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