Nova Scotia Wine Industry Prepares for Growth

Wine values on the rise as region plans for 1,000 vineyard acres

by Peter Mitham
Production of Nova Scotia wines fell between 2011 and 2015, as provincial wineries moved away from using imported grapes and juice. Case numbers could start rising again, however, as a prominent Canadian wine producer considers investing in the region.
Wolfville, Nova Scotia—Atlantic Canada is Canada’s smallest winemaking region, but it’s taking a major step forward thanks to fresh investment from one of the country’s biggest wine producers and a new winemaking lab.

Grimsby, Ontario-based Andrew Peller Ltd. hopes to plant 100 acres in Nova Scotia this spring, said Craig McDonald, senior winemaker for Peller. McDonald told Wines & Vines that Peller prefers to pursue a long-term lease rather than acquire property.

The company is carefully pursuing the plans, which Wines & Vines first reported last spring (see “Andrew Peller Eyes Nova Scotia Investments”). “There’s nothing official on deck as yet,” McDonald said. “We do have serious interest but are currently examining the long-term viability and analyzing the bigger picture.”

Varieties being considered for the Nova Scotia venture include Riesling and L’Acadie Blanc, as well as Seyval Blanc and Muscat. The varieties are destined for a wine that would reflect the province’s Tidal Bay style, https://winesofnovascotia.ca/tidal-bay/ conceived five years ago to express the best of Nova Scotia’s cool-climate, coastal conditions (see “Nova Scotia Plans Wine Appellation”).

The province represents a fraction of total grape wine production in Canada, with a new economic impact report from Frank, Rimmerman & Co. LLP pegging the industry at just short of 500,000 cases annually—a drop in the glass compared to the 21 million cases Canada produces as a whole.

Today, Wines Vines Analytics indicates the province has 20 wineries, up from 17 during the 2015 vintage the report examines. Winery revenues have increased 20% to $35 million from $29 million in 2011 (all amounts in Canadian dollars), the year of Frank, Rimmerman’s last report on the industry. Nova Scotia’s industry also has become more focused, with current production down from 656,000 cases in 2011 as the proportion of wines made with imported juice have fallen.

Frank, Rimmerman reports that wines made solely from domestic grapes accounted for about 150,000 cases sold in 2015, a figure largely unchanged from 2011. The reduced production fell almost entirely on wines made from a blend of domestic and imported juice.

“Sales from the large Canadian blended wine producers were down in Nova Scotia, in part due to a reduction in value brands sold in Nova Scotia,” Dan Paszkowski, president and CEO of the Canadian Vintners Association, explained in an email.

Overall winery revenues increased, however, because of an increase in the value of domestic wine sales from $12.9 million to $16.4 million, a 27% increase (on a per-bottle basis, revenue flowing to wineries increased from $7.14 to $9.08).

Blends of imported and domestic wine posted 14.5% sales growth, Paszkowski said, because “the growth of U-Vint locations and wine kit sales were included in the (international Canadian blends) winery revenue figure,” but not in the quantity figure. He added: “With improvements in data sources, the data has become more robust since the 2011 study. As such, it is difficult to make precise comparisons between the two studies.”

Supporting domestic production, the province announced a vineyard expansion program in December 2015 that aims to boost plantings to more than 1,000 acres by 2020 (up from 658 in 2015 and nearly double the 518 acres planted in 2011). Jobs have increased in step with the industry’s growth, rising to 934 in 2015 from 854 in 2011. The expansion is supporting the development of new services designed to support the industry.

Wine research lab
The federal and provincial governments joined forces in March 2016 to pledge nearly $500,000 for a new wine research lab at Acadia University in Wolfville (see “Nova Scotia Invests in Its Wine Industry”). The Acadia Laboratory for Agri-food and Beverage (ALAB) provides a formal venue for the research and work that Anthony Tong, an associate professor in Acadia’s chemistry department, has been performing for the Nova Scotia industry for several years.

The lab has been up and running since last fall, but its grand opening (when it will formally start to offer services to the region’s wine industry on fee basis) will take place later this spring. The services will provide a local option for wineries that previously relied on labs in Quebec, Ontario and California.

“There’s no lab in Atlantic Canada that does this,” Tong, who oversees ALAB, told Wines & Vines. “We have tremendous growth of the wine industry in this area, so the idea is to help the industry grow so they can get faster feedback and help them to troubleshoot their winemaking, improve the quality—that sort of thing.”

The lab is 1,000 square feet, but plans are in the works to expand it to 2,000 square feet following renovations to the campus Science Complex, which are set to complete in April 2018.

The facility is also a venue for Tong’s own research, which focuses on wine composition. An analytical chemist by training, Tong joined Acadia in 2007. He previously worked for Environment Canada and with ALS Laboratories Group. Since arriving at Acadia, he has assisted the local wine industry with composition analysis. It remains a focus of his academic research.

“My research is on the flavor and fragrance of wine, and how the chemical composition is impacted by the climate, and water and soil conditions, and how the chemistry goes during the fermentation procedures,” he said.

Business by the book
Notably, Nova Scotia is also updating its legislation to make the province a friendlier place to not only produce but also consume wine. There remain 105 dry areas in the province, where it’s illegal to operate a drinking establishment, and close to 60 where the manufacture and retail sale of alcoholic beverages are prohibited. A plebiscite can overturn the ban, with the most recent occurring at the beginning of February, paving the way for Bent Ridge Winery in Windsor Forks to open in 2018.

Notwithstanding the several dry areas, Nova Scotia is one of the few jurisdictions in Canada that allows direct-to-consumer shipments of wines from wineries across Canada (Manitoba and British Columbia also have liberalized their shipping laws). Nova Scotia has gone a step further, however, and is the only jurisdiction that doesn’t limit interprovincial shipment volumes.

Should other regions follow suit, they’ll get a chance to taste some cool-climate wines—especially sparkling offerings—that are helping make Nova Scotia an up-and-coming region in Canada, according to critics such as UK wine writer Jamie Goode.

“It’s this high acidity coupled with flavor that are getting people really excited about Nova Scotia,” Goode said at the Vancouver International Wine Festival in February.

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