This post is part of our on-going series, Canadian Wine — specifically, Canadian Wineries and the remarkable wines they produce. This month we visit what may seem like an unusual location - Nova Scotia! But, as Meaghan Carey tells us, Benjamin Bridge winery is putting the province on Canada's wine map!
Last summer on a beautiful sunny day I found myself whisking through the winding roads of the Gaspereau Valley in Nova Scotia to visit one of my favorite Canadian wineries, Benjamin Bridge.
With no signage, a large rock marks the spot of this boutique winery that’s been capturing international attention. Turning off the main road and descending along the hillside, we were greeted by rows of vines and vistas of the valley and river opening out to the Atlantic Ocean.
Benjamin Bridge was initially designed to be a sparkling wine house by Gerry McConnell and Dara Gordon, who purchased 60 acres along the Gaspereau River in 1999. With a passion for the land, the couple desired to make world-class wines in their home province of Nova Scotia. In 2000 the couple tasked Peter Gamble (founding executive director of Canada’s Vintners Quality Alliance – VQA) and his wine making partner, Ann Sperling, as consultants on a three-year term to assess the viability of the land. To their delight the land and business flourished.
Two years later they began working with world-renowned Champagne expert, Raphaël Brisbois, to guide the development of their sparkling wine program. After a lengthy search to find the right match for the vineyard, the current head winemaker, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, arrived at Benjamin Bridge in 2008.
There are many people who are surprised to hear that wine is being made in Nova Scotia, especially sparkling wines that have been touted as worthy rivals to highly regarded Champagnes. With their wines, sparkling and still, now being poured in restaurants across Canada, Benjamin Bridge is certainly doing their part to put Nova Scotia on Canada’s wine map.
Like the classic rock that wafted through the winery during the visit, there’s an unpretentious ease to the wines of Benjamin Bridge. The winemakers take risks and understand that not every risk has a reward; they experiment with the grapes to produce small lot wines, learning from the land and the grapes with each wine made.
Benjamin Bridge is a certified organic winery, but do not expect to find that certification on the labeling or boastfully on their website. Nor do they find it necessary to chase wine competition accolades; instead, they let the wines speak for themselves. This confident ease and fun spirit shines through in their wines. From sparkling to still, the Benjamin Bridge wine collection captures the land — and the people behind it — wonderfully.
To underscore the passion and respect for the land that the winemakers hold, head winemaker Jean-Benoit compared the process of wine making to the work of a musician:
As a winemaker you make the wine the land and the climate wants you to make, not the wine you want to make. A musician makes the music he wants to make, a wine maker does not have that luxury.
Thankfully the land and the climate of the Gaspereau Valley wants to produce beautiful wines that have an aromatic freshness balanced by a slight minerality from the coastal terroir. The long growing season in Nova Scotia complements the grapes, which include the classic Champagne grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The region is one of only a few in the world that share a similar growing season and climate to the Champagne region in France.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of drinking a Benjamin Bridge wine yet, the perfect introduction is the perennial favourite Nova 7. This slightly effervescent, Moscato d’Asti-style wine has a cult-like following, and with one sip on a hot summer day you’ll understand why. A unique blend of white and Muscat grapes, it’s made with very little intervention during the cellaring process, which means each vintage will be a unique interpretation of the wine's signature aromatic and lively profiles. Released each spring to much fanfare in Nova Scotia, eager wine lovers are curious to see what the new vintage will reveal. It holds the impressive distinction of being the top-selling wine in Nova Scotia in 2014, the first time a Canadian wine was the top seller in their local market. Nova 7 is a lovely way to start an evening, pairing well with seafood, spicy foods or simply with good friends and conversation. Consider starting your next summer dinner party by pairing Nova 7 with Nova Scotia scallops, spiced and seared to perfection.
Benjamin Bridge wines are limited and seasonal in production, which means offerings at the winery and at wine retailers across Canada will vary throughout the year. This also means when you see a bottle of Benjamin Bridge at your local wine retailer you should buy it immediately! With their expansions into international markets it’s certainly an exciting time for this Nova Scotia winery.
Capturing the Land: Benjamin Bridge Wine was written by Meaghan Carey. Meaghan shares her musings on life as she attempts to cook good food for family and friends from her small kitchen, on her blog Un Assaggio of Food, Wine, and Marriage. Raised in Cape Breton, Meaghan returns home as much as possible and loves to welcome friends to this picturesque corner of Canada each summer. Connect with Meaghan on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.