L'Acadie Vineyards Blog
Welcome to the L'Acadie Vineyards blog and winery news
Is wine vegan? Yes, all L'Acadie Vineyards wines are vegan and organic, and we also follow vegan viticulture. So what can makes other wines not vegan? We all know that wine is grown in the vineyard, that practices and weather can play a significant role in ultimate wine quality. So let's start there.
Vineyard management varies depending on varieties, vineyard location and philosophy. Our location is deeply rooted in Gaspereau, Nova Scotia and we grow several varieties - L'Acadie blanc, Leon Millot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Click here for more about our terroir. The latter varieties are in the vinifera family and are more sensitive to disease so require more attention. Strategies include hilling the trunks in winter, leaf removal next to clusters and shoot positioning for air circulation, periodic sulfur applications on the leaves and plant residue teas. That brings us to philosophy, which really has two camps - conventional and organic. We have been organic since first planting our estate in 2005/2006 and our nutrient management includes beet extracts for a nitrogen source rather than animal manure. Synthetic inputs are not allowed in organic systems and these include petroleum-based fertilizers, glyphosate weed killer, and a host of systemic and contact pesticides that ultimately make it into your wine.
Winemaking is the more direct source for non-vegan inputs. The most prevalent is gelatin, derived from animal slaughtering. It is a protein fining agent that is routinely added to hard press juices to reduce the bitter tannins that were squeezed from the skins. And there are other proteins used to similarly reduce bitterness and astringency in wines - egg whites for barrel aged reds, casein (cow milk) for correcting oxidized wine, and isinglass from fish bladders. So what do we use? Bentonite is a clay that has amazing clarification and stabilization benefits, and a riddling aid to help the yeast slide down the bottle for traditional method sparkling. For tannin management, we only make reds when the season gives us ripe tannins and phenolics(don't bother looking for 2018 and 2019 vintages), and after careful maceration techniques and aging in barrels we don't need to reduce astringency.
Organic winemaking is low intervention. And as Heather Rankin at Obladee Wine bar in Halifax said it once, "You have to know a lot to do a little". So very little inputs and essentially nudging the wine along its evolution path to become what it was meant to be in the vineyard, a wine with soul and transparency. Organic certifiers audit our grape sources and all our inputs, and the Canada Organic logo on our bottles is your assurance.
Join our organic wine clubs! Click here for more information
Ferments are finishing and vintage is winding down, making this a good time to review vintage through a winemaker’s lens. Vintage 2020 was a shining star in contrast to the dismal pandemic backdrop, and Nova Scotia winemakers needed it after the 2018 June frost and very cool 2019 season. A mild winter and record heat units in 2020 made it a growing season to remember, the most grapes we have had from the Estate. Many days shattered the 30C window and it was dry, but with enough well-timed rain for our established blocks of L’Acadie and Leon Millot. These 10 year old vines have worked hard over the years to extend their roots metres deep in well drained gravels of schist and sandstone, depths that show fair resistance to drought conditions. In contrast, new blocks of two year old Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and Pinot Noir needed irrigation almost every two weeks.
We pruned sparkling blocks to 20-24 buds/vine last winter and yields were 8 tonnes/hectare…if you are comparing us to Champagne (which we happily encourage) their yields are up to 10 tonnes/ha. A hurricane forecast jump started harvest on September 17 but luckily we were not affected, and we continued the sparkling pick for four weeks with an awesome group of local pickers, many that have been with us since the beginning. During that time acids only decreased minimally in true Nova Scotia fashion and the happy result is that we have many tanks of diverse sparkling bases to create our sparkling blends – some with steely acidity, some richer with more of a citrus direction. As always, seeds were brown and lignified, physiologically ripe, and bragging rights to other sparkling wine regions We pruned other blocks for Estate L’Acadie and picked ripe golden sun exposed grapes before Thanksgiving and either crushed for skin contact, or pressed whole cluster for a Tidal Bay blend, our first! The blend will be about 15% Seyval from one of our growers in Falmouth on heavier soils. Appassimento techniques for a small amount of red continue in the cellar and we expect to finish pressing this week. Yields were low in the Leon Millot block and birds outsmarted our netting - wish we had more. Be prepared to be wowed with Nova Scotia 2020 reds, released in a couple of years. It was a pleasure to have an intern from the NSCC Cool Climate Wine and Viticulture program with us for vintage -she helped with small lots, did most of the lab work and press loading and emptying. Very passionate about wine and a keen learner...expect to see more of her in our industry in the future.
Vineyard activities will continue into December with Caitlin busy rock picking and hilling the lower blocks, turning the soil under the L’Acadie and starting to prune. You might have noticed us renewing our cover crop if you visited this year. Timothy was chosen for its shallow roots and compatibility, and we will continue planting it every other row in the spring. Organic principles are to avoid bare soil for extended periods and cover crops are significant. Vegan agriculture is a part of our certified organic ethos and excludes all commercial livestock, harming of animals and inputs of animal origin. Stay tuned for more blogs about that!
Making sparkling wines on the fringe of possibility has its rewards and risks. On the positive side of the equation is world class sparkling wine with ripe grapes at enviable acid levels and moderate sugars. We are right on the cusp of not being able to do what we do, but grapes seem to react to the stresses and reward us with our signature cool climate flavours. It’s been 15 years since planting our estate vineyard with L’Acadie blanc and we have seen remarkable adaptation and resilience to the rigours of a cool climate. And those risks are many – winter damage if temperatures dip below-20C , frosts on either end of the growing season and attaining enough heat units to ripen in our short growing season.
But is our region being affected by global warming? Is it getting easier? That’s a question posed to me recently by a wine writer. My answer: A guarded yes. Yes, when you look at how our climate has warmed over the last 50 years when research scientists at Agriculture Canada in Kentville determined it was too cold in Nova Scotia to support a wine industry. And yes, to the possibilities of vinifera growing here. But our region’s cooler personality can still rear it’s ugly head, like the 2018 spring frost, or described by many as a spring freeze. Temperatures dropped to -2.8C at our estate on June 4 and damaged 80% of our young primary shoots. This was a first for the region’s relatively young grape industry and affected some crops levels severely. We had a second bud burst in late June and those secondary shoots made up for lost time and showed remarkable growth, racing to achieve flowering and verasion at the historical benchmarks and ripening grapes for sparkling wine. An amazing adaptation to a 120 day season compared to our normal 180 frost free days. Crop levels were low, which was beneficial for future growth considering the stresses that the vines endured. We had to adjust distribution for our small production of 2018 still wines and NSLC was accommodating to allow us to restrict their shelf space for a year, so that we could sell direct.
So should we expect more fluctuations in weather, more extreme events? Is that the compromise to the benefits of a warming trend? A look at historical harvest information for sparkling – dates, sugars, acids, is an interesting exercise to see the effects. Champagne has heaps of data for this type of analysis and they have shown that harvest dates have been getting earlier to achieve optimal balance of moderate sugars and enough acidity in their warming climate. I experienced this when I was making sparkling in BC’s Okanagan Valley where the sugar accumulation outpaced ripening in +35C heat and I had to pick before sugars were too high and acid dropped out. But unripe grapes are not ideal for quality sparkling wine and just picking earlier in not always the answer. We’ve had enviable ripeness at our estate for 10 years, including last year. The seeds are lignified, brown, and there are ripe flavours. And harvest dates don’t seem to be trending earlier significantly, as shown in the 10-year harvest record below. And not major fluctuations either. It’s a small sample set compared to Champagne’s 100+ years of data, but significant for our emerging region. Hopefully these enviable quality indicators will continue for many future vintages, in our “cooler climate”.