Atlantic Canada's wine industry has legs

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper might be surprised, but there's more to the East than whine.

There's wine.

Atlantic Canada's wine industry has legs

Prime Minister Stephen Harper might be surprised, but there's more to the East than whine.

There's wine.

Eight wineries in Nova Scotia, and a scattering of others throughout the region, are starting to make a name for themselves with vintages like Baco Noir and Shiraz in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and Pinot Noir in Prince Edward Island.

Even Newfoundland, with its more marginal climate, is getting in on the action.

But if there's a hotbed for Down East wine, it's Nova Scotia where the winery association's logo has a distinctly eastern flavour - a stylized lobster claw holding a glass of wine.

In 2005, the last year for which figures were available, the industry had retail sales of $7.2 million and just over one million bottles produced - both records, said Martha Reynolds, executive director of the Winery Association of Nova Scotia,

That's still a tiny fraction of the $4-billion annual Canadian industry, but Nova Scotia may be about to take off, with the number of wineries projected to more than double in the next few years.

Reynolds said the industry has made great strides in closing the gap with Ontario and British Columbia.

"We're probably where (they) were 10 to 15 years ago in terms of size. When it comes to quality, it has taken a quantum leap," she said.

Wild grapes have been grown in Nova Scotia since the 1600s.

Nowadays, Nova Scotia's grapes are found in three distinct regions - the Annapolis Valley, Malagash Peninsula and LaHave River Valley.

The province has 300 acres of cultivated grapes in production spread over 22 commercial and two dozen or so smaller vineyards. Reynolds said the long-term plan is to more than triple the growing area to 1,000 cultivated acres by 2020.

"It's very exciting and very interesting," said Jurg Stutz of the province's oldest winery, Domaine De Grand Pre, in the Annapolis Valley. "Like just within a 10-minute drive from here we will see at least four more wineries open up in the next three or four years. So, it's a big boom, definitely."

A boom, despite Nova Scotia's reputation for bad weather.

"Even though the climate is at the critical condition like we have - very cold winters, very short growing season - but still some of the varieties we grow in our climate (such as Seyval Blanc, L'Acadie Blanc and Marechal Foch) … they really do well," Stutz said.

Reynolds said the climate is cool, but it's also perfect for growing grapes.

"By that I mean we've got pockets around the province that get the same kind of heat as parts of France (and Germany)," she said.

"Some of the winemakers here are gearing up to make Champagne-style wines because our climate is very appropriate for that."

Winemaker Gina Haverstock, of Gaspereau Vineyards, said having a south-facing vineyard helps - and so does global warming.

"It gives you more heat, more sunshine, longer falls," she said. "That helps with the ripening of the grapes, so that we can grow varieties of grapes that maybe 25 years ago they would have said 'you're crazy' or said 'you couldn't grow them'," Haverstock said.

The Nova Scotia boom is also being reflected with more visits to the wineries - one vineyard alone had 40,000 visitors last year.

"The key is definitely through tourism. We're working hard together to promote this area. The wineries offer tourists a beautiful spot to come and enjoy lunch and to shop and buy local," said Kim Strickland of Gaspereau Vineyards.

And these days, the province's wines are also finding fans across the country.

Nova Scotia wineries took home a dozen medals at the recent All Canadian Wine Championships in Windsor, Ont., the best showing at an event that is still dominated by wineries in Ontario and B.C.

"2006 was just a great year for our grapes, so we're seeing the results of that," said Hanspeter Stutz, owner of Domaine De Grand Pre, which won gold for a 2006 Vidal Icewine, a 2006 Vintners Reserve Castel and a 2006 Seyval Blanc at the championships.

Gaspereau Vineyards, not far from Grand Pre, also did well, with a gold for a red blend, Vitis, and a silver for a Riesling.

With files from Global News

Organizations: Winery Association of Nova Scotia, Vintners Reserve Castel

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada, Ontario New Brunswick Prince Edward Island Newfoundland Annapolis Valley British Columbia LaHave River Valley France Germany Windsor B.C. Gaspereau

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