Benjamin Bridge might now be the best known winery in Nova Scotia. Even if it’s just a few years old, its name is now recognized country-wide, and further, thanks to the popularity of its salmon-hued, aromatic, tiny-bubbled lychee-bomb called Nova 7. If you haven’t tried it, many places in Halifax have it by the glass, and the low alcohol content is a bonus for some people.
I’ve been lucky enough to taste many of Benjamin Bridge’s still and sparkling wines. The sparklings have been raved about by wine critics, and their quality is now known throughout the world. I’ve seen too many snobby wine drinkers turn their noses up a Nova Scotian sparkling, and I can’t help but laugh. I’ll try to explain to those haters how the climate and terroir in the Gaspereau are perfect for bubbly, but it is sometimes a waste of breath. Those fools who disregard Nova Scotia in favor of pricier Champagne are missing out, and missing the point. Whatever, more beautiful, hand-crafted, small batch traditional method sparkling wine (the same time-consuming, quality aimed production method used in those prized French houses) for me.
“Those fools who disregard Nova Scotia in favor of pricier Champagne are missing out, and missing the point.”
If you’re not totally convinced about the quality of sparkling in our province, just have a comparison blind tasting at home with some friends, I dare you. Pick up a bottle of sparkling from L’Acadie, Benjamin Bridge, then a few French ones. Or simply book a tour and tasting at Benjamin Bridge.
The Benjamin Bridge winery is by appointment only. I’ve never asked why, but based on my experience in visiting them I could probably say that it’s because they want to uphold a standard with greeting their visitors, therefore preparedness and focus is key. I think it’s also easier to taste the effort put into a wine when in a small tasting room without the hustle and bustle of 100 other visitors.
A group of bartenders, servers, wine-industry folk, and wine enthusiasts tripped to Benjamin Bridge for an afternoon with the winemaker, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, and their assistant winemaker (who has come to work in Gaspereau from Champagne.) Our group was willing to shell out for a more in depth tasting, that included special wines from their library, and catering, by Frais Catering in Wolfville. We opted for the master class. By all means, don’t let this scare you, they have affordable tastings for novice wine drinkers, and everything in between.
We were welcomed and then toured the production area with Deslauriers, whose passion, poise, and good looks are only surpassed by his winemaking. He often says that a wine being able to convey the terroir of a region, or the story of a place, is essential to the success of a wine.
“[Deslauriers, the winemaker,] often says that a wine being able to convey the terroir of a region, or the story of a place, is essential to the success of a wine.”
I’ll use layman’s terms to reiterate one of the founding philosophies of Benjamin Bridge; they don’t screw with their wines. The terroir and climate are only elevating what they are trying to do, and they don’t need to force it to be something it isn’t. An example of this is the way their wine is fermented. All wines (and alcoholic beverages, for that matter) go through a fermentation process, where grape juice comes in contact with yeast, which over time creates a chemical reaction that excites the liquid, and from that fermentation comes carbon dioxide (or, the bubbles,) warmth, and alcohol.
Benjamin Bridge differs, and few wineries follow this wholesome path, in that its fermentation happens naturally, from the flora that is found in nature, in the winery. There’s yeast all around us. That’s how a juice box left in the back of your fridge for two month becomes inflated, pungent and bubbly; that juice was fermenting naturally.
Some wineries, and there’s no shame in it, add bought yeast, to wine to speed up the process. Deslauriers and his team wait for magic to happen; they think of wine as holistic.
The tasting was held in the upstairs in a room, with a large boardroom-style table and a floor to ceiling window looking out on the vineyard. The catering crew presented food on dozens of plates and cutting boards, mostly cold or room-temperature hors-d’oeuvres, breads, pickles, crackers, cheeses, seafood and pastries, all made by Frais. Each board had a small, carefully written sign on it, to identify the foods. The vegan in our group was even presented with his own snacks, including a cashew based vegan cheese, a vegetable terrine, and a mushroom pate. When a plate or board was empty, it would be replaced immediately with something new. The small bites were beautiful, like the smoked salmon and creme fraiche on a slice of their housemade everything bagel. Most of us had never had gougères, a light-as-air, timbit sized French cheese pastry, and were enamored with the rich but weightless buttery snacks.
We were given the royal treatment at the winery, and were there just shy of four hours. The culminating point of the tasting, was comparing an 2004 Blanc de Blanc with the same wine, but unfiltered. (The term Blanc de Blanc can be found on Champagne and sparkling wine labels and translates to white from white, which references the traditional grapes used for Champagne–Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The only white grape of those three is Chardonnay, yet all three are used for “white” bubbly. The meat, or must, of the grape whether red or white, is white, and produces white juice. To make red wines, the juice is simply left in contact with its skins to add character, tannin and varying degrees of color.) Side-by-side it was unmistakable which was unfiltered, being more like a golden, foggy wheat beer than a wine. It had been in contact with all that dead yeast sediment for years longer than the beautiful, filtered refined version we were tasting beside it, and all those toasty, bready aromas were there to echo it. I felt privileged to try one of the best crafted wines in Canada, in the winery where it was made, alongside so many beautiful friends and colleagues. In such a young industry it is refreshing to see a small winery do so well, but, always, with such humility.
“I felt privileged to try one of the best crafted wines in Canada, in the winery where it was made, alongside so many beautiful friends and colleagues.”
Nova Scotia will become a wine destination, and it will create jobs. If you can, learn something about the wines in our province so next time a friend visits you can brag about the crisp, fresh and aromatic made in NS, and the how expert chefs pair it with the bounty of local seafood. So, next time you’re about to buy your 10th bottle in a row of Argentine Malbec, maybe spread the love somewhere else, like, here. If it’s good, drink local, not always, but often.