A Maritimes partnership between a luxury golf resort and Devonian Coast Wineries should bear fruit
By: Ted McIntyre
It’s a fresh, grey autumn morning in Wallace, Nova Scotia, and I’m standing on the edge of the road, not far from the entrance of the luxurious Fox Harb’r Resort & Spa, staring south across 25 acres of fledgling wine vines, all of which gently cant toward Fox Harbour, a marginally protected inlet of the Northumberland Strait.
Under the guidance of Jonathon Rodwell, Director of Winemaking and Viticulture at Devonian Coast Wineries, Fox Harb’r has developed its own vineyard team, harnessing the expertise of employees already boasting extensive background in horticulture, agriculture and landscaping as a result of maintaining the resort’s 1,100 acres of gardens, golf course and grounds. It’s all part of what Fox Harb’r president Kevin Toth describes as “a very close professional relationship with Devonian Coast that includes a grape-grower sell/buy agreement and a strategic alliance to develop premium Nova Scotia wines from Fox Harb’r Vineyard.”
The genesis of the partnership harkens back to the late summer of 2014 aboard the motor yacht of Tim Horton’s co-founder and Fox Harb’r owner Ron Joyce. “I suggested to Mr. Joyce that the now-Fox Harb’r vineyard property would be a premium grape growing site and I would like us to develop it together,” recalls Carl Sparkes, who, along with his wife Donna co-founded Devonian Coast Wineries in 2011. “It was a great synergy for the resort, the winery and the North Shore. After many questions and a subsequent winery visit to taste some wine styles that could be produced there, we had a green light.”
The agreement is already bearing fruit—literally. From the resort’s current 19 planted acres (the remaining six will be planted this spring), Rodwell expects to harvest the first L’Acadie Blanc and Riesling grapes this coming fall. The resulting wines will be added to the impressive cellar at Fox Harb’r, with excess grapes being used in other Devonian Coast wines.
One of five varietals on the site—Riesling, Chardonnay, New York Muscat and Lucie Kuhlmann (a red French-American hybrid) being the others—L’Acadie Blanc is the signature white grape, encompassing nearly half of all grape plantings in Nova Scotia. Featuring a crisp acidity and lengthy finish, L’Acadie Blanc wines remind one of a Malborough Valley, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with aromas of cut grass and citrus, but a distinct minerality. Developed 64 years since ago at Niagara, Ontario’s Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, the attributes of this cool-climate hybrid make it a key ingredient to the region’s marvellous wine matches for its savoury seafood dishes and the backbone of Tidal Bay wines, Nova Scotia’s first appellation, Sparkes explains.
“Just like squeezing a little lemon juice on your seafood medley helps bring out flavours, the acids of our cool-climate whites bring tastebuds to life and enhance flavours, while adding a balance to the dish.”
While the Devonian Coast/Fox Harb’r collaboration marks yet another addition to the adjoining resort’s eclectic portfolio—one that ranges from clay shooting to a celebrated Graham Cooke-designed golf course—making wine, at first blush, appears ill-suited for such a short, cool growing season.
But a quick glance at the globe reminds one that Nova Scotia straddles the 45th parallel with Rhône, France. Yes, winters can be a tad harsher in the Maritimes, but winemaking here has come a long way since the Grand Pré Vineyards, an hour west of Halifax, took root in the late 1970s. With nearly 400 years of winemaking in Germany’s Rhinegau region in their blood, the trailblazing Jost family of Malagash established commercial plantings in the early ’80s, eventually growing their lot into the largest farm winery in the province. With momentum building, the Winery Association of Nova Scotia was established in 2003 and now oversees more than 70 grape growers and 600 acres under vine, supporting 15 wineries.
There have been some highlights along the way, including Jost’s own Vidal Icewine, the 1999 edition of which was honoured as Canada’s Wine of the Year at the 2000 All-Canadian Wine Championships.
And while you’re not likely to ever see a 95 point red emerge from this part of the world, Devonian Coast, the East Coast’s largest winery, is in savvy hands. The Sparkes family’s farming roots, after all, run deep in Atlantic Canada, going back to 1761 when Carl’s ancestors left Devon, England and settled on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula. But they were also innovators; Carl’s grandfather was the founder of what is now the Atlantic Cool Climate Crop Research Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Consequently, Sparkes knows that the key to winemaking success is to play to your strengths. “I was very familiar with the climate and the fact that it helps create the special wine styles that we are able to grow here,” says Sparkes, who has nurtured his winemaking expertise over the years with tours of the U.K., Northern Europe, the Patagonia region of Argentina and Washington State, among others. “We are focusing on the grapes that make the best wine when the acid is higher and greener notes are expressed. Our Tidal Bay appellation is the perfect example of that, as are the Rieslings and, of course, sparkling wines.”
Devonian Coast, which includes Nova Scotia’s Jost, Gaspereau and Mercator Vineyards under its umbrella and counts more than 250 acres of vineyards in the province, has grown 60% since its founding and now ranks as the eighth-largest winery in Canada. Producing upwards of 35 wines, including one fermented from maple syrup, Devonian currently sells in six provinces and even has a retail outlet, the Jost Clubhouse, in Suzhou, China. Still, Sparkes plans to further refine the portfolio by replacing many red vineyards with higher-value and better-suited white grapes, while expanding the core into other markets.
But it’s the stuff closer to home, hanging on the young vines of Fox Harb’r, that have Sparkes and company waiting in anticipation. And if their recent past holds any clue, it should be something worth toasting.
Three Devonian Coast wines lead off this month’s reviews.
|2015 Jost Coastal L’Acadie Blanc Riesling ($14.99) Grapefruit, citrus, Granny Smith apple, a wee bit of pear and a nice mineral grounding follow through from the nose to the tongue, with a crisp, attention-getting acidity that enables the tastes of savoury seafood and sharp cheeses to shine through, while leaving the palate clean and refreshed. 88|
| Devonian Coast Maple Wine, Nova Scotia ($19.99) How many Canadian wines can legitimately claim to have been aged 35 years in wood? That’s the case for Devonian Coast’s Maple Wine.
Harvested from Nova Scotia’s maple forests, the syrup is carefully cool-fermented until the desired concentration of residual sugars is achieved. This earthy ochre concoction is mouthwatering stuff, but with sufficient acidity to balance the intense maple, toffee and brown sugar flavours. It also makes a great glaze for salmon. 90
|Gaspereau 2014 Lucie Kuhlmann, Nova Scotia ($21.99) A red wine grape developed for cooler climates, with a skin that bleeds a velvety, deep burgundy red, Gaspereau’s flavour-packed Lucie Kuhlmann is a little lower in alcohol (12%), with robust aromatics of smoky dark cherry, cranberry, cassis and oaky vanilla. Some savvy oak aging has countered the common acidity of many Nova Scotia reds to provide surprising structure. 88|
|Creekside 2012 Laura’s Red, Lincoln, ON ($19.95) Named for the original owner, Laura McCain of the McCain Foods empire, Creekside’s 2012 Laura’s Red capitalizes on that great growing season for Ontario reds with a wonderfully harmonized Bordeaux blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 3% Syrah, 2% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. Arguably the best edition since being launched in 1999, there are big flavours of plum, black cherry, cassis, clove spice, black pepper and toasty oak notes. Full bodied and complex, and finishing long and strong, this vintage is a great one to lay down for extended aging. Certainly one of the better reds you’ll find in Ontario for under $20. 91|
|19 Crimes Shiraz Durif 2014, Victoria, Australia ($18.95) Here’s the coolest wine website video you’re likely to run across, highlighting a stirring rendition of Irish poet John Boyle O’Reilly. This blend of Shiraz and Durif (Petite Syrah) opens with baked cherry pie notes wafting up from the swirled glass. But there’s also mocha, cocoa and herbal notes—even a little eucalyptus sitting there, along with ample pepper and acidity to mesh nicely with spicy stew and beef dishes. 88+|
|Thornbury 2015 Chardonnay, Gisborne, N.Z. ($18.95) A subtle pineapple nose with velvety creamy texture and tropical fruit medley to taste, with an oaky roof owing to some time spent in French barriques. There’s lots to sing about on the palate, although it’s not all in perfect harmony. Would probably do well with another year in the cellar. 88|