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Nova Scotia (Provincial Appellation)

Investigating Nova Scotia’s South Shore

The LaHave River Region is composed of a combination of slate, and a mixture of hard granite with eroded gravel. Indeed, tasting the wines showed some preliminary evidence that the soil may impart a mineral/chalky character to the wines.

by Mark DeWolf
December 9, 2003

This morning I had the pleasure of sitting down with Phillip Wamboldt and Dr. Chris Naugler to preview some of the first wines to be released by the new Petite Riviere Vineyards & Winery. The winery is scheduled to open in May of 2004.

The new winery will be the first grape based winery to emerge on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, although vineyards have existed in the region for some time. Previously Wamboldt’s fruit has been contracted by Jost Vineyards to make a variety of wines, including the highly successful Petite Riviere Rouge.

In addition to talking specifically about the wines being sampled, there was an enlightening discussion about the LaHave River Valley as up-and-coming distinct viticultural region. A point that kept coming back into the discussion is the unique soil structure of the area. These vignerons know their terroir…their excitement is palpable and, I might add, contagious! The region as a whole is composed of a combination of slate, and a mixture of hard granite with eroded gravel. Indeed, tasting the wines showed some preliminary evidence that the soil may impart a mineral/chalky character to the wines. Other distinguishing factors of the region include relatively low precipitation levels, high summer temperatures and an extended growing season. Vineyards in the region are planted to a mix of well established French-American hybrids and well chosen Vinefera. The “vinifera-ists” are making a real stand in these parts!

The grapes used to make the following wines were all sourced from vineyards owned by Mr. Wamboldt and Dr. Naugler. Wamboldt’s Harmon’s Hill and St. Mary’s Vineyard are the source of the Seyval, L’Acadie Blanc, Leon Millot, Lucy Kuhlmann and Marechal Joffre while Dr. Naugler’s Bear Hills Vineyard provided the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The wines:

#1) 2002 Cotes de LaHave Blanc ‘Sur Lees’ (blend of Seyval Blanc and L’Acadie Blanc) – Phillip Wamboldt has provided a wonderful example of the potential for Nova Scotia’s South Shore to produce clean mineral laden white wines. The nose shows restrained elegance with a nice combination of leesy character intermingled with chalk (perhaps a defining character of the region) and dill. The palate is clean and tart with lots of green fruit and green apple character.

#2) 2002 Chardonnay – The nose of this wine suggests a relationship between Nova Scotia and that other great cold climate viticultural region, Chablis. In the nose, there is a minerally complexity reminiscent of slate/wet stone combined with popcorn and a yeasty character. The palate is clean with some of the yeast character carrying over. 100% malolactic has softened the acidity of this wine. Arguably the acidity is a bit too soft relative to the style of the wine, and for an appellation which can be expected to yield crisp, rather than fat, Chardonnays over the long haul.

#3) 2002 Cotes de LaHave Rouge (blend of Leon Millot, Lucy Kuhlmann, and Marechal Joffre) – A blend of French-American hybrids that have been previously used with success to make Jost’s Petite Riviere Rouge. Relatively pale in color, this recently bottled wine is already showing some complexity in the nose and an interesting marriage of varietal flavours. My initial reaction was slightly underripe, like a young country chianti, with some briny notes, combined with distinct berry fruit character and a slight gamey quality. The palate has nice weight, with green/sour fruit character, a hint of chalk, and a fine tannic structure.

#4) 2002 Cotes de LaHave Rouge- Barrel Aged Reserve (another blend of Leon Millot, Lucy Kuhlmann, and Marechal Joffre) – The same components as the previous wine but picked at higher levels of ripeness (22 brix versus 16-18 brix) with some oak aging. From the color, this wine is clearly different from the previous. The concentrated dark purple has my nose in high alert before I have stuck it in the glass. Ripe cherry fruit, anise, some oak sweetness and an underpinning of something herbaceous are all present. This is a powerful wine with a rich texture, a purity of fruit and chalk (am I seeing a trend here?). This is a well made wine from excellent fruit which shows huge promise for maturing in the bottle. Every new wine region struggles to find the right terroir-varietal combinations, and the right varietal marriages for the bottle and marketplace. This particular hybrid combination may well be the signature “meritage” for this exciting new winegrowing region.

#5) 2003 Pinot Noir (6 week old tank sample) Past the obvious yeasty character, there is some serious fruit in this wine!…ditto with pigment, body, tannin, etc. Grown and vinified by Chris Naugler (as was the Chardonnay above), this is a wine that will give Nova Scotia’s vinifera advocates plenty to talk about in the coming months and years. Book me for a bottle or two!

Indeed, book me for a case of all-the-above. The happy conclusion of the Appellation America editorial staff who joined in the tasting was unanimous….”Five wines, five clear winners!” (Just how often does that happen?!)


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