Photo: Nova Scotia sparkling wine producer Bruce Ewert
Bruce Ewert and Bruce Nicholson, former leading Okanagan
winemakers who moved away, returned last week to the Vancouver International
Wine Festival to show off the wines they now make in Nova Scotia.
Ewert now operates L’Acadie Vineyards with his wife, Pauline
Scott. They established the vineyard in the Gaspereau Valley in 2004. The
winery opened in 2008, releasing the first traditionally-produced sparkling
wine in Nova Scotia. L’Acadie now produces 2,000 cases a year, with a target of
5,000 cases. At the festival, Ewert poured three of his sparkling wines. All of
them were premium quality.
Nicholson is the chief winemaker at Inniskillin Wines in
Niagara, the winery that established Canada’s international reputation with its
Icewines. Two of these were on display at the festival, along with three table
wines, a Pinot Noir, a Chardonnay and a Riesling. Excellent Riesling wines are
made in Ontario and this is one of the best.
In recent years, the Okanagan’s rising reputation as a wine
region has attracted numerous winemakers from elsewhere in Canada – winemakers who
usually stay. Nicholson and Ewert left for family reasons, not for lack of
opportunity to make great wines here. In fact, when Nicholson was chief
winemaker at Jackson-Triggs Okanagan, the winery won many awards internationally.
Ewert was born in 1963 in Prince George, the son of a
pipeline technical executive. He grew up in California and Vancouver where he
took an engineering degree with a food technology bent at the University of
British Columbia. Soon after he graduated in 1986, he joined Andrés Wines
a quality control supervisor at the Port Moody winery (which closed in 2005). In
1988, he was transferred to Andrés' Winona winery in Ontario as an assistant
winemaker. Within eighteen months Ewert had become the winemaker at the
company's Truro winery in Nova Scotia. After two years there, he moved back to
This trip around Andrés gave him experience with large
vintages -- the Winona plant was processing 5,000 tonnes of grapes a year --
and with making wine in Truro with raw materials mostly from California, Spain
and Argentina. He left Andrés in 1994 for a winemaking sabbatical to Australia,
returning to British Columbia in mid-1995. He became a consulting winemaker for
sister wineries Sumac Ridge and Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards (now See Ya Later
In 2002, he moved to Summerhill Pyramid Winery where he got
to hone his skills with sparking wine. In 2004, he returned to Nova Scotia –
his wife is from Nova Scotia – to launch L’Acadie Vineyards.
“Eighty percent of our production is sparkling wine,” Ewert
says. “That is what we set out to do.”
He has also consulted with several other Nova Scotia
wineries, helping them produce traditional method sparkling wine. “I don’t want
Nova Scotia to be known for carbonated wine,” he says.
His portfolio leads off with Prestige Brut Estate 2010
($51.99). This is made a grape called L’Acadie,
a white developed on Ontario that grows well in Nova Scotia. This wine has
bready aromas from its time on the lees, with citrus notes on the palate and with
a crisp finish. The vineyard is within sight of the Bay of Fundy and the ocean
seems to have lent a slightly salty note to the finish. 92.
Vintage Cuvée 2014
($34.99) is a sparkling wine made with L’Acadie and Chardonnay. The wine spent
two years on the lees. The fine bubbles give it a creamy texture; there is a
flavour of green apple on the crisp and fresh palate. 91.
Vintage Cuvée Rosé
($34.99) is a salmon pink sparkling wine made with L’Acadie, Chardonnay
and Maréchal Foch (the variety that gives the wine its colour). There are
flavours of apple and cranberry on the palate and the finish is dry. “We make
it the way I would like sparkling wine,” Ewert says.
Photo: Niagara's Bruce Nicholson
Bruce Nicholson, who was born in 1958 in Niagara Falls, is chemical
engineer who began making wine at home. He was so attracted to winemaking that he
offered to work without salary at Inniskillin just to get his foot in the door
of a winery. There were not many jobs in Canadian winemaking in the mid-1980s.
Before Inniskillin replied, Nicholson was hired in 1986 for
the laboratory of the Chateau-Gai winery in Niagara Falls. The next year he was
transferred to Casabello, Chateau-Gai's sister winery in Penticton, BC, as an
assistant to winemaker Tom Seaver. Nicholson succeeded him when Seaver was
transferred to Ontario in 1989.
Casabello had opened in 1966 and for many years was a
fixture on Penticton’s Main Street. It closed in 1994 and was dismantled, with
the tanks and other equipment moved to what was then the Brights winery near
Oliver. It was part of the consolidation that led to the establishment of
Nicholson also moved to the Oliver winery and became the
senior winemaker there in 1996. It was a great opportunity to a young
winemaker. Jackson-Triggs was the cornerstone to Vincor which became Canada’s
largest wine group before it was taken over in 2006 by Constellation Brands.
With strong financial backing, Vincor developed about 800 acres of vineyard in
the south Okanagan and added modern equipment to a dramatically expanded
Because of the new vineyards, Nicholson had more grape
varieties to work with than most winemakers get to see. He made the Okanagan’s
first Viognier. In 2013, as if closing the loop, he made Canada’s first
botrytis-affected Viognier at Inniskillin in Ontario. This exceedingly rare
dessert wine won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence in Ontario.
He won numerous awards at Jackson-Triggs, including at least
one Lieutenant-Governor’s Award in BC. He had a sure hand with Icewine, taking
top awards both in Canada and at international events in London and in
Bordeaux. “More [awards] have come out of this building than anywhere else in
Canada,” Nicholson once told me.
Nicholson is a winemaker who pushes
himself in the pursuit of perfection. “Somebody asked me what my goal is,” he told
me. “When I go into competitions, I want that wine to stand out and I want it
better the next year. I keep setting the bar higher for myself. And if the Wine
Spectator gives me 100 on every wine, I’m going to look for 105. It may not be
realistic but I am going to do that.”
He left the Okanagan in 2006 when
the top winemaking job opened up at Inniskillin. It was a great opportunity in
highly regarded winery making 200,000 cases a year, including Icewine. The
other attraction: it allowed him to move back to the Niagara Peninsula to be
near his parents and siblings. His mother, who died two years ago, had frequently
expressed a desire to see him return to Ontario.
“I never appreciated Pinot Noir
until I returned to Ontario,” he says. “I have never regretted going back. It
made me a better winemaker.”
At the wine festival, Nicholson
was pouring two Icewines, a Vidal and a Riesling, neither of which I tasted in the crush of
available wines. He started me on an Inniskillin
Riesling Reserve 2014
($N/A). The wine has intense aromas and flavours of lemon
and lime with good weight on the palate and a spine of minerality. It finish
dry. It is a good example of Ontario Riesling at its best. 92.
Next came Inniskillin Niagara Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2014
wine has herbal notes and flavours, with flavours of ripe apple and citrus.
There is good weight on the palate. 90.
The partner in the portfolio is Inniskillin Niagara Montague Vineyard Pinot
($29.99). This is a robust wine earthy cherry flavours wrapped
around a spine of minerality. 88.
Those who live in Ontario should
keep an eye on coming releases from Inniskillin. Nicholson is particularly excited
about a blend of Merlot and Petit Verdot that is stil in barrel at Inniskillin.