L'ACADIE VINEYARDS: Bringing bubbly to Nova Scotia
As Nova Scotia’s wine industry continues to grow, winning accolades and awards the world over, it is clear to see that sparkling wine is becoming one of our signature products. Despite the fact that wine grapes have been grown in the province since the 1600s, and in more modern times we’ve had wineries here since the late 1970s, these naturally sparkling wines are a much more recent arrival. The man responsible for bringing them here is L’Acadie Vineyards’ Bruce Ewert.
Fourteen years ago Ewert brought his family here from British Columbia with a vision. He knew he wanted to make sparkling wines in Nova Scotia, and had been visiting the region for years. Ewart had worked most of his life in the wine industry, and says that “as winemakers get long in the tooth, you start to focus, you have specialties, and sparkling wine is mine.” He just needed to make it happen on a 30-acre parcel in the Gaspereau Valley.
A SORT OF HOMECOMING
Nova Scotia wasn’t exactly an unknown to Ewert. He spent seven years working for Peller Estates in British Columbia, Ontario and Truro, which was where he met his wife, who was raised in Alton, Nova Scotia. “We’d had all our kids out in the Okanagan but came out here on a lot of vacations, watching the industry, tasting the wines, looking at land,” he says.
Ewert started in the wine industry in 1986, at Peller Estates, “climbing the corporate ladder.” He had been responsible for larger scale wineries producing 400,000 cases, but then he moved to the VQA wines division, which was responsible for small wineries within larger ones. He left Peller Estates to travel with his wife, working on vintages in California and Australia, then, in 1995, came back and worked in the Okanagan, British Columbia, for an estate winery, Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards, part of the Sumac Ridge Wine Group. “This was a lot smaller than I had been working with Peller Estates, very focused on quality, and on sparkling wine,” he says. Ewert stayed there until 2001, when he moved to Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna, British Columbia, and had his head turned by organic wine making. (If you’re wondering what a pyramid winery is, Summerhill is a good example. It has a million-dollar replica of the Great Pyramid in Egypt, orientated to true north, built with no metal, where wine is stored for pyramid aging. The wines apparently taste better because of the strengthening force of sacred geometry. Now you know.)
“I saw the better quality, better flavor from the living soil of organic wines. They’re really focused on sparkling wine, too, and it continued to hone my love of sparkling wine,” he says. Ewert didn’t build a pyramid at L’Acadie, but he did bring several of the principles of Summerhill Pyramid Winery with him.
DOING THINGS DIFFERENTLY
Ewert arrived in Nova Scotia and set about doing everything in a completely different way than how other Nova Scotia winemakers were practising their craft. From day one, every consideration at L’Acadie Vineyards has been part of a very careful and focused effort by Ewert and his small team.
For a start, they bought property on the south side of the Gaspereau Valley, which faces northwest. “People were looking at us sideways, thinking ‘Why would you not plant on a south facing slope?’ Because that was the mantra at the time,” says Ewert. “But as we’d seen in the Okanagan, you can plant on different slopes depending on what variety and what style you were doing, and we wanted to plant all L’Acadie Blanc on our estate with the intention of doing sparkling wine.”
Ewert chose to plant where he did because there is a ribbon of terroir on that side of the valley that he knew would provide the right conditions for the flavour he wanted out of his grapes. “It wasn’t just the slope and the aspect, it was because the ground sits on an ancient seabed which is very well drained and rocky,” he says. “When the glacier receded, that made the Gaspereau Valley. It melted last on the north side, and retained a lot of its glacial till so that we get fractured sedimentary rock like slate with fossils of shells in it.”
Interestingly, Ewert says that a million years ago the Gaspereau River used to flow in the opposite direction, and it deposited a lot of silt and clay on the south side of the valley. The result is soils that are heavier, have more water-holding capacity, more vigor with the vines. “When we bought this land on the north side, we anticipated that we’d get high mineral flavor with balanced vigor, and that’s what we’re getting,” he explains.
L’Acadie Vineyards produced Nova Scotia’s first certified organic wines, which means not only are the grapes grown organically but also that the winery itself and its processes are tested and certified. “It means a lot of paperwork to get the grapes certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency,” says Ewert. “But having the organic grapes, you’re just halfway there.”
Organic was important to Ewert because he believes that organic production means better quality wines. “The terroir, because it is more living, is more vivid and more expressed, so we have a very mineral rich terroir on our estate,” he says. “Those mineral flavours and salinity that comes from being on the Bay of Fundy are more pronounced because it’s a living soil. The bottle ferment and the aging of those bottles for up to 10 years is a lot cleaner and more clear because we don’t have those residual pesticides in the wine.”
Nowadays there are other organic wineries in the province, and Ewert has encouraged other growers to grow organically in order to sell to L’Acadie. “Those growers are just as passionate as we are for these methods,” he says.
Starting a winery is a big risk, and it’s a business that takes years of investment before you actually end up with a product that you can sell. But it certainly paid off for Ewert and his family. Their first release was a very well received 2005 Prestige Brut, the first traditional method sparkling wine in the province. Both their 2007 and 2010 Prestige Bruts won silver at the Effervescents Du Monde, an international sparkling competition held in Dijon, France. “This is a competition of the best sparkling wines in the world, with blind tastings by European-trained judges,” says Ewert. “So it felt incredibly satisfying to win both times.” (Their wines have also garnered numerous awards at various festivals and events in Canada.)
“Before we bought it, our property was a 30-acre hobby-horse farm. It had been an orchard in the past, but there had been no winery here. To go from that level of canvas to winning awards in France with the wines from that property is very satisfying,” says Ewert. “We were surprised to win. But it did well for us, and in terms of recognition for Nova Scotia.”
Sales have been strong, and L’Acadie Vineyards is reaping the rewards of its success. The focus, though, has always been on quality over quantity, so they aren’t looking to produce vast quantities of wine, but they are expecting growth in the next few years. “We’ve grown slowly, going from 500 cases to 2,000 cases. We expect more growth, because export, especially to Vancouver, is happening,” he says.
As well-established as our wine industry is, Ewert still needs to educate people on a few things. While in Vancouver recently for a wine festival, he was interviewed on a local radio station, and the first thing the host said was that he had no idea that grapes grew in Nova Scotia. “That was the most common thing people said to us at the festival, but once they got it, they said ‘Tell us more about L’Acadie Blanc,’” he says. “It feels good to be getting that recognition now, and to have our wines in some prestigious Vancouver restaurants and clubs.”
When Ewert released his first wine, there were some wineries that produced artificially sparkling wines at the same time. “There was confusion in the marketplace,” he says. “People didn’t understand how artificially carbonated wines were made — which is just chill it down and inject carbon dioxide — and it got off to a bit of a rocky start for a region that could someday be known for this. We decided at that early stage that I would consult with and help other wineries produce traditional method sparkling wines, in the hope that effort would result in the region becoming known for traditional methods sparkling wine and not artificially carbonated wine.”
It seems like his efforts paid off. “I can say a cautious yes, it did. I think we have some other steps to go before I can say it wholeheartedly. We need not just consumers in Nova Scotia but around the world to not be confused by these other wines. We’re well on our way, and that’s encouraging and satisfying that it has happened.”
The other part of the education process is convincing people that they don’t need to save bubbly for weddings and celebrations. “We’re doing a lot of events with food and showing off the versatility with food pairing,” he says. “For instance, chocolate goes with one of our fruitier rosé bubblies, salty potato chips with longer aged bubbly like our vintage cuvee. When we first tell people that our sparkling wines go great with potato chips, they laugh, but it’s a surprised, comfortable laugh.” Now you know what to pick up for your next party: a bottle of L’Acadie Vineyards Vintage Cuvée and a bag of salty chips — a delicious and surprising combo that is bound to be a conversation starter.