Summer sunshine pierces my glass of chilled Brut Rosé. A dozen shades of green from the 65-acre vineyard all around me reflect and refract through this 2017 Benjamin Bridge vintage. Birdsong is carried on a fresh breeze that rustles among the leaves.
Kyla Welton, culinary and biodiversity manager at Benjamin Bridge in Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley, is leading an Estate Tasting Experience, one of three experiences ranging from the one-hour Open Tasting to the intensive three-hour Master Tasting. The Estate Tasting introduces guests to five of the winery’s finely tuned méthode classique sparklings.
She’s supposed to be talking about the wine in my hand, yet Welton can’t help but lovingly gaze about the vineyard and drift off into a reverie. “If you’re here at just the right time when the sun is coming up or at the end of the day when the sun is just going through the trees or if it’s really misty, you can hear the river and the birds.”
The subjects of her fascination are the very elements that make this rosé and other Benjamin Bridge sparkling wines among the finest in Canada. In a bubbly manner that speaks to her love of this land and her enthusiastic dedication to the winery, Welton offers a nuanced and informative introduction to Benjamin Bridge based on knowledge organically acquired by working all over the winery. She has assisted with wine production, hosted countless guests, and worked in the vineyard. She ensures the birds, bees, and trees are all accommodated, making for a healthy, organic ecosystem in which the vineyard can thrive.
“Nature has really been on our side,” she says as bees buzz about. In the distance are her gardens where she grows herbs and popcorn for the bites she makes to complement tasting experiences. She calls attention to a slope of younger vines in experimental, high density rows on land that was once an apple orchard. The winery’s Berkshire pigs tilled the soil in preparation for planting. At the base of the slope flows the Gaspereau River where the winery accommodates the traditional netting of gaspereau fish that migrate every spring. From the river’s opposite bank rises the other slope that forms the narrow valley.
“We’re this tiny microclimate within a microclimate,” Welton says. “A valley within a valley. We’re nestled at the back of the Gaspereau, a long channel within the Annapolis Valley. Even on the hottest days, we’re always getting this nice, cool breeze.” Benjamin Bridge in particular is ideally oriented. “You can see we’re south facing and slightly westward tilted, so we’re getting the maximum amount of sun.”
Gaspereau Valley’s Blossoming Viticulture Scene
Just a few kilometres away, the Bay of Fundy rises and falls twice daily on the world’s highest tides. “With that rise and fall,” Welton explains, “the winds are swept down the valley, controlling the climate. In the summer, it’s great for aeration on the wines, and in the winter, because it’s never frozen, it helps moderate the temperature. Our growing season is therefore similar to Champagne, France.
“This microclimate allows us to grow vinifera like chardonnay and pinot noir, which are integral to traditional methods. Our cooler growing season means harvest is anywhere from mid-September to early November. The grapes retain as much natural acidity as possible, giving our wine a freshness and brightness, that green apple note. For sparkling wine specifically, we want to do extensive aging to have those richer, deeper toasty brioche notes, but still have that brightness behind it.”
Wineries up and down the Gaspereau and out in the much wider Annapolis Valley itself benefit from these ideal conditions for traditional method and other bright wines. Varietals like L’Acadie blanc — whose name is tied to the region’s history — thrive here. The grape is distinct to the area and is a key ingredient in Tidal Bay, the region’s only appellation, a typically lively, fresh white with notes of green fruit, a dynamic acidity, and characteristic minerality, all of which speak to Nova Scotia’s terroir.
Almost all Nova Scotia wineries offer tastings. The most carefree way to sample wines and gain an overview of the province’s wines and wineries is to board the Magic Winery Bus or head out with Grape Escapes for curated tours, tastings, and small plates or lunch at wineries like Benjamin Bridge, Gaspereau Vineyards, L’Acadie Vineyards, Grand Pré Winery, and Luckett Vineyards.
Pete Luckett is a beloved East Coast personality, best known as the creator of the wildly popular Pete’s Frootique, a food emporium that sources unusual and delicious produce, preserves, meats, and groceries from around the world.
Menu items like charcuterie enjoyed on Luckett Vineyards’ outdoor Crush Pad Bistro with views over the vineyards and gently sloping Annapolis Valley all the way to the Bay of Fundy echoes the founder’s previous life as the region’s best grocer. Slices of sobrassada and prosciutto complement Korean peppers and wine jelly while contrasting local pickled vegetables and bitter Spanish chupadedos olives.
As an alternative to a group tour, head out on the Nova Scotia Good Cheer Trail, Canada’s first winery, brewery, cidery, distillery, and meadery trail. Traditional method sparkling wines at Benjamin Bridge are a highlight of any tour, group or self-guided, especially when they’re enjoyed on the sunny, new patio overlooking the vineyard.
Traditional Method Sparkling, a Nova Scotia Joy
“Traditional method sparkling wines go through two fermentations,” Welton says, continuing with the tour, “the first inside the barrel until fermentation stops, then in the bottle with a little yeast and sugar to kick start a second fermentation. The by-product is CO2. That’s how it becomes a sparkling. Sitting with the yeast as the flavour profiles are developing is called being on the lees, a crucial time in the wine aging process.”
Back in the vineyard, Welton offers her interpretation of the rosé, a sparkling that spent three years on lees. She starts with colour. “All grape juice is white. It’s getting its colour from Pinot Noir by soaking with the skins on.” Then to the nose. “Because it’s made with partial indigenous yeast, this one has an earthiness on the nose, almost a mushroomy note, which I really enjoy.” I give the wine a swish and a sniff, and as promised, there’s that earthiness.
She ends with flavour. “Brut means dry, so this is a delicate, light rosé. You get a little red fruit inclusion on the palette, a little playfulness, some undertones of strawberry. It’s more fruit forward than Reserve.”
We pause for sips. I hold the glass to the light again while savouring the flavour of summer sunshine, green vineyards, and fresh breezes.
MORE ABOUT ANNAPOLIS VALLEY WINE TASTINGS
Benjamin Bridge Estate Tasting: $250 for groups of up to eight guests, though the winery can arrange an experience for smaller groups. The Master Tasting Experience with head winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers costs $975 per private groups of up to eight, while the Open Tasting is just $12 per person.
Tours: The day-long Magic Winery Bus with stops at four wineries, including small plates and two wines at each winery, costs $100.
Grape Escapes Nova Scotia Wine Tours offers several tours. The Wine and Gourmet Lunch Escapes tour stops at three wineries, including Benjamin Bridge, and includes lunch and wine at Le Caveau, the fine-dining restaurant at Grand Pré Winery.
Where to Stay: Rooms in the grand Blomidon Inn are uniquely furnished with classic English Victorian period antiques. The autumn rate for a suite is $179 a night and comes with afternoon tea. It also provides the opportunity to explore the lovely town of Wolfville.
Note: Vacay.ca is partnering with Tourism Nova Scotia on a series of articles featuring journeys to enjoy in the province in 2020 and 2021. Check our previous articles on road trips across the province, exploring the South Shore, discovering the quaint charms of the Northumberland Shore, and new world-class delights on Cape Breton Island.