Deborah Hemming: Nova Scotia is becoming an important constituent of the Canadian wine industry. What makes Nova Scotia a choice location for growing grapes and making wine?
Pete Luckett: First, there has been a dramatic improvement in the last ten years in the quality and selection of grapes that are being grown in Nova Scotia and the province is becoming more and more recognized as a producer of quality wines. I also think that the level of professionalism attached to the industry in Nova Scotia is great. There are some really sharp and professional winemakers being used at wineries now as opposed to owner-operated, mom-and-pop type businesses. The industry has definitely moved to a new level in multiple ways.
Second, the wines that are being made in Nova Scotia are very in vogue right now. The grapes that can be grown and the wines that can be produced in the province are really what a lot of consumers are looking for. For the past 15 years, big flavour reds with high alcohol levels from Australia [such as Shiraz] have been popular worldwide. But right now, in the world demand of wines, crisp, acidic and fresh tasting new white wines are very in vogue. Nova Scotia can produce those very well. An example would be Nova Scotia’s new appellation wine Tidal Bay.
DH: What is an appellation wine?
PL: An appellation is a style of wine that is grown in a geographical zone such as Nova Scotia. The style of wine has to be made to certain standards, using certain varietals, and then passed by a tasting panel. Other examples of appellations are Bordeaux, Champagne and Chianti.
DH: What can you tell me about Nova Scotia’s appellation wine?
PL: In Nova Scotia, eleven wineries are making the Tidal Bay appellation wine. There are certain grapes that can be used to make a Tidal Bay: L’Acadie, Muscat, Seyval, Vidal, Giesenhiem, and Ortega. Each winery or winemaker has his own take on this style. The eleven Tidal Bays that are out right now are all quite distinct and different but they all share the same basic characteristics: they are all a very crisp, fresh and acidic style of wine that is great for summer. The Tidal Bay is similar to a Sauvignon Blanc but definitely with its Nova Scotia twist to it.
DH: What do you hope that an appellation wine will do for the Nova Scotia wine industry?
PL: Not only is an appellation wine an opportunity to supply great local wines to the local community, but Nova Scotia can now make world class wines which could -- probably not just yet, because the volume is not up there for most wineries -- but it could become a worldwide business. The objective of any business, no matter what you’re doing, is to become famous. This is an opportunity for Nova Scotia to become famous for a style of wine. The appellation will give unity to all of the vineyards that make it and Nova Scotia could become famous locally, nationally, and internationally for Tidal Bay. There’s huge potential and opportunity for the Nova Scotia grape growers and wineries to continue to ride the wave that is happening right now and move the grape industry to another level.
DH: In what ways do Nova Scotian wines reflect or harmonize with recognizably Nova Scotian food?
PL: The crisp, acidic whites I’ve mentioned are perfect for seafood, whether it be produced in Nova Scotia or whether it be produced on the other side of the world. During the summer season, we have an abundance of produce that comes out of the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia and these whites also pair very well with fresh greens and summer vegetables.
DH: What unique challenges do Nova Scotia winemakers face in terms of region, climate and business?
PL: Nova Scotia is a beautiful region with lots of potential land for offer. In some parts of the world, grape-growing land is outrageously expensive. But in Nova Scotia, it is still very accessible so that is definitely beneficial. The big challenge is the climate. We have a short, cool growing season and we have cold winters so we have to be creative and specific with what varieties we can grow here. We can’t grow a Shiraz or a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot. They’re just on the cusp of not being able to survive in Nova Scotia. So we have to be selective with what works. The grape industry is still very young and new. It’s still going through a giant learning and evolution curve. Right now, we’re trying to find out what does work for Nova Scotia.
In terms of business, agricultural labour is a challenge. A lot of the large farms in Nova Scotia, such as apple growers and different produce growers, use immigrant labour primarily from Jamaica and Mexico with very good success. This will benefit the grape industry as it grows but, right now, it’s not easy for a small grower to use import labour. You have to supply housing and airfare arrangement. It’s very complex and it’s challenging for a small operator to be able to get that organized and have a housing unit ready.
Marketing can also be a challenge. Taking the marketing of your business to another level is expensive. When you’re a small operator, it’s very difficult to build in a marketing plan that will help you sell your wines internationally. So, what we can only try to strive for is recognition, at first locally, and then eventually on the national level.
DH: You mention local recognition. As a winery owner, in what ways have you felt particularly supported by the Nova Scotia community?
PL: Most basically, I think that the consumer is very on board. It’s a great time to be growing a local product because the support of local generally is on fire right now.
The other big thing is the relationship that has been developing and just recently solidified with Acadia University [Wolfville, Nova Scotia] and the NSCC [Nova Scotia Community College]. Both of these schools have created programs that support the local grape industry. Acadia University, in particular, has created a research and development program [the Atlantic Wine Institute], offering services for taking grape growing to a new level in Nova Scotia. For example, Ontario has Brock University and Niagara College, both of which really devote their lives to viticulture and viniculture. We’ve never had that in Nova Scotia. To have this first step of a partnership with Acadia University is very exciting for the entire industry.
DH: In what ways will the wine industry affect Nova Scotia’s economic and cultural development?
PL: The spinoffs of any new business are great. Most wineries become a tourist destination and we’ve certainly seen that at our winery. Our customer base is quite varied: it’s partly Nova Scotian but a large component is tourists. Tourism is definitely a huge part of the wine industry.
Economically, the business plan for most wineries is still probably a bit tough.
The wine business is very romantic but to actually make it into a financial business that does well is challenging. For me, I can see that in several years we may turn that corner and turn it into a business that makes money. Most wineries in Nova Scotia that have started up or are starting up are all fortunately subsidized by a previous owner’s other business. To start it up with just your life savings is very difficult. It’s a front-end loaded investment business. But I do see that corner turning as the wine industry continues to evolve. I think there will be more momentum and more support. Who knows? Maybe we can even dream of some government support programs. But, fundamentally, it’s going in the right direction.
DH: In what shape do you hope the Nova Scotia wine industry will be in 20 years?
PL: Presently, there are 15 wineries in Nova Scotia. There are strong predictions that within the next five years, there will be 20 wineries. In the next 20 years, I would say that that amount could double: it could be 40-50 wineries. Once you get that mass scale of businesses moving in the same direction and doing the same thing, you can really garner some recognition. I see that definitely happening.
The growing of the grapes and the quality of the wines are on a dramatic improvement course. I see that continuing.
Of course, I’m immersed in it and I would never be negative about it, but personally, I only see it as a business that is being celebrated by the Nova Scotia consumer. To have agriculture take off in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, after a faltering apple industry that was on an incredible roll for 50 years and then lost its way and never really gained ground again, is a very good thing. To have a new agricultural industry in Nova Scotia is very exciting on all levels.
Deborah Hemming's research focuses on depictions of domestic culture and suburbia in twentieth century Canadian and American literature.
Deborah Hemming étudie les représentations de la culture domestique et de la banlieue dans les littératures canadienne et américaine du vingtième siècle.