L'Acadie Vineyards Blog
Welcome to the L'Acadie Vineyards blog and winery news
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!
The grapevines that grow at L’Acadie Vineyards would tell you that they’ve had to work hard to get where they are today and that they are extremely proud of the flavours that they extract from the warm, dry, rocky, sometimes inhospitable conditions that they grew up in. Now in their 15th year their roots reach over a metre deep and the deeper they go the more minerals, flavours and water they can access that give our Estate wines their unique character. Helping them along the way is a complex ecosystem of fungi, worms and bacteria that our organic practices have been carefully managing and nurturing. It is this link between terroir and organics that the best wines of the world are based on.
We chose our site for the rocks back in 2004. I had been making traditional method sparkling in Okanagan for years, and before that in Ontario, California and Australia, and we were looking for a site to produce the first sparkling wine for Nova Scotia. And we wanted to do it organically after my head was turned, and my path changed, at Summerhill Pyramid winery in Kelowna, an organic winery. As head winemaker, I saw the better flavours from grapes farmed organically, after many years working with conventional grapes. Our Nova Scotia vineyard search started in the 90’s on working vacations returning to Pauline’s home province of 9 generations. The Annapolis Valley was the focus with it’s climate moderated by the Bay of Fundy, and the Gaspereau Valley sub-appellation was intriguing for both it’s proximity to the bay, and shelter with the Wolfville ridge. The mantra at the time was “south slope, south slope…” but we found a ribbon of ancient seabed along the base of the south mountain, facing north west, that was calling to us. The south-facing other side of the valley had clay loam, typical for Nova Scotia, but I thought a better soil for sparkling was rocky and well drained, making it warmer in the spring and mineral rich from the fractured schist and sandstone deposits. Another plus was that the property had been fallow for decades, used for grazing horses, and we could skip the usual three year transition to be certified organic.
Plants weren’t always on land -their origins are in the sea being bathed in nutrients constantly, a nice gig. When they made their hardy evolutionary step to land they had to form an alliance with soil organisms to survive, a symbiosis. In exchange for a small amount of nutritious sap, the organisms living around their roots help them breakdown and make all sorts of nutrients and minerals available to the vines. But these microbes are delicate and the rise of pesticide-focused agriculture in the 1950’s reduced their populations significantly. The result is dead soil where the plants have to be fed fertilizers directly… an old adage in organic farming, “in organics you feed the soil, in conventional farming you feed the plant” But with this conventional approach the vines are also unable to extract flavour from the soil, resulting in wines with less terroir flavours, less sense of place, less soul.
We have farmed our site organically from inception, largely to promote a living soil for better terroir flavours. We planted with cuttings propagated in an organic mixture of peat moss, alfalfa and lime, and to decrease weed competition, used a dead mulch of wood shavings and later a living mulch of clover under the vines. Composts teas are brewed in our 300 litre brew tank with composted pomace from the winery, managed with aeration to encourage a fungal-dominant compost. An organic inspector once told me that they were convinced that compost tea and kelp foliars are all a plant needs to thrive in a living soil, by both stimulating growth and encouraging a healthy soil. Foliar teas also help disease control by crowding out opportunistic disease organisms on the leaves and clusters with beneficial organisms. Our recent participation in a three year provincial Terroir Study helped us understand more about our soil- prompting us to renew our cover crop of fescue with cultivation. Benefits are aeration and nutrient release and we are investigating new cover crops to match our terroir. Further studies with several universities are qualifying the types of organisms present in our soil, on our leaves and clusters, and in our wild ferments.
There are transitions to organics happening around the wine world, recently from British Columbia’s gigantic Mission Hill and their growing list of winery holdings, and large French wineries such as Roederer. A quote from their winemaker about the iconic, and expensive, champagne Cristal, ” At that price, I just don’t feel comfortable not being organic.” The organic practices at L’Acadie Vineyards encourage the terroir signature of our estate – minerality and slight saline flavours from schist and sandstone, and I am confident that future generations of our family will be producing estate wines such as Prestige Brut Estate and Estate L'Acadie with those flavours for years to come.
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”.
Do you know where the wine in your glass was grown? A winery can choose to use an appellation designation to give you validated information, and of course there is the required country of origin on the label, or wineries can simply share unverified vineyard sources on back labels. Much like appellation systems control a region’s wines, the Canadian Organic Standard controls organic wines and can be trusted to ensure the organic grape content in the bottle through rigorous inspections.
The Canada Organic symbol on a bottle of organic wine is controlled by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and is the only validation to consumers of organic grapes, organic wine production and no GMO products – all inspected by a certifying body. The traceability audit is one of the many facets of an organic winery’s operations that are scrutinized on an annual basis. Record keeping has to be exemplary for the inspector to trace wines back to specific parcels of vineyards, and to ensure proper chain of custody and non-contamination. And each grower that supplies grapes must be certified organic themselves, providing a vital record for the wine audit. This traceability is one of the major foundations behind the organic symbol on the bottle.
Scrutiny in food production has steadily increased for food safety, sustainable efforts and consumer demand. The pandemic has intensified that consumer demand, with authenticity and local origin catapulting to the main stage. Traceability is becoming more important to wine drinkers to ensure authenticity and avoid counterfeit wines, a problem associated with high end prestige wines that is now creeping into lower price points. Solutions such as Blockchain, a transparent and secure record system that is most famous for Bitcoin transactions, are starting to be applied to build trust between wineries and consumers. Is the future QR codes on bottles that trace the wine right to the grape source? Perhaps, but right now consumers can trust a symbol that is transparent, validated and authentic and that is the Canada Organic symbol.
Wine writers have complimented us that our labels have an "abundance of information" and we couldn't agree more. Our goal is to enlighten buyers so they can make an informed decision in a marketplace crowded with marketing names and slogans. Here are five information nuggets that you'll find on our labels:
The most important information on our label is the Canada Organic symbol and certifying inspector, Pro-Cert. There is hard work, passion and risk-taking to make a certified organic wine and the status tells buyers that only natural inputs were used to grow and make the wine. You can't put organic on the label or website next to a wine unless it is certified with thorough inspections that include a traceability audit to ensure only organic grapes went into the bottle.
We declare the grape varieties that go into our blends on the back label. If you want to declare a varietal on the front label, current wine standards in Nova Scotia require at least 85% of the declared variety. An example is Estate L'Acadie, which is 100% L'Acadie blanc from our estate vineyard next to the winery.
We declare the geographic area where our grapes are sourced. We have several certified organic growers that we buy grapes from, and their certificates become part of our traceability. I'm a winemaker from British Columbia, a wine region that is built on a quality standard called Vintners Quality Alliance, VQA. In the early days, the VQA bottle mark contributed greatly to consumer confidence of 100% BC grapes. Now there is further refinement with smaller geographic areas such as Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Vancouver Island and more and more areas as they define their unique terroir. We follow the same format of declaring either Annapolis Valley, Gaspereau Valley or sometimes the larger geographic area, Nova Scotia, when the two areas (and a small new grower in Cape Breton) are blended.
We add dosage, called expedition liquour in France, to our traditional method sparkling wines when we disgorge. The goal is to balance acidity and quality enhancement -think of dosage as a thread that weaves all the components of sparkling wine together. We declare it on the back label in grams per litre (g/l) and it gives the buyer an indication of sweetness. For example Brut is a designation for sparklings that are between 0-15 g/l dosage, which most of our wines fall under. Remember that if the base wine had elevated acidity, which is not uncommon in our cool climate, the corresponding dosage might be high as well, but the taste might not be perceived as sweet.
We recently added a statement on our back label, "Suitable for vegan diets", after many of our fans asked for it. This means that we do not use any animal products in our wine - a practice that we have been following for many years.
These five pieces of information that we include on our labels are not required but we choose to include them to inform the buyer. I hope you find this useful next time you pick up a bottle of our organic wine.
Social media is humming with the release of a self-declared “clean wine” from celebrity Cameron Diaz and her partner. The issue in the wine world is that if her wine is “clean” then what does that make all other wines? She exposes 70 ingredients that her wine doesn’t have – a vegan, organic rose and white wine grown in Spain and made in France.
First of all, thanks to Cameron Diaz for initiating conversation about organic wines and I want to share the story behind our clean wine. It’s not just marketing buzz, it’s about passion and knowledge to follow a difficult path of commitment, transparency and traceability that is certified by government-led inspections. I’ve been at this a long time, first making organic wine as a BC winemaker and now for my own winery in NS, the first in the province. We promote our wines simply for what they are – certified organic symbol on the label along with other geeky transparent information such as dosage amounts, and that they are appropriate for vegan diets. We also talk about reasons why we farm and make wine that way – environment, terroir flavours, health. So maybe we should change this marketing direction? Instead of just talking about the natural inputs used in organic production, maybe what we don’t use? Such as, no glyphosates aka the weed killer Roundup. And no systemic pesticides that protect the vine from within. The residual ends up in your wine, and contact pesticides can leave residual as well, even if you wash grapes prior to pressing, which is not common practice. And talk about the animal aspects of growing and making wine. Not only do we not use animal inputs in our wine but also none in our vineyards – vegan agriculture.
We also don’t talk about all the ingredients and practices that can go into making conventional wines: gelatin, gum arabic, sorbic acid and other preservatives, colour, tannins, nutrients to name a few are all added to wines around us. We have been following our clean wine path for a long time and our enlightened fans understand the hard work that goes into making quality organic wine. So thank you Cameron Diaz for initiating the dialogue.
As we all embrace the new realities, I wanted to share with you our news and plans. More than ever we want you to know that you can trust our high quality certified organic wines that have the integrity and traceability of the Canada Organic symbol on each bottle.
Caitlin, our new vineyard manager, has been busy all winter pruning and tying, and her skills are showing with the growth we have had since budbreak. This milestone was a little late compared to normal but earlier than 2019, which had enough heat units to fully ripened grapes for sparkling and white wines. She has been getting to know our new grape hoe implement on the tractor as we cultivate and change our cover crop to manage our living soils and biodiversity.
Since March we have been bottling wines with social distancing and within our family bubble to maintain safety for our employees. I'm happy to report that 2019 Estate L'Acadie and Rose are on their way to the NSLC to fill the shelves again after being empty from the low crop of the 2018 frost-affected season. And there are many new exciting releases to announce on our social media channels later this year!
We have been offering curbside pickup by appointment and local deliveries during the pandemic to fulfill email and phone orders, and expect to expand to online sales with our new website. We are very excited about our web design and hope that you will enjoy the new features! Pickup and deliveries are now offered everyday 11-4pm.
Our reopening will follow Nova Scotia government requirements as they provide us with updates. Top consideration is the safety of our employees and family as well as yours. Private crush pad tastings and purchasing will be by required appointment starting June 19 for limited group sizes, only one group at a time. lacadievineyardsappts The tasting area will be sanitized, glassware will be washed to safe sanitizing temperatures and not handled before you pick up your tasting glass (no hand polishing this year). Entry into the wineshop will be allowed soon, once we evaluate our initial opening and cautiously prepare to ensure safety.
You'll notice familiar faces at the winery this year with Mike, (Uncle) Ian, our children Michael and Sydney and newly hired Megan. Social distancing will be practiced and they'll pop on their masks as required. Please bring your own mask for additional safety.
We look forward to seeing you at the winery this season!
Bruce, Pauline and family.