It’s Nouveau all over again

Bear River wineries producing traditional Nouveaus

Published on November 24, 2012

By Jonathan Riley



A second Bear River winery has joined the worldwide party known as Nouveau Day.

For the last five years Chris and Peg Hawes of Bear River Vinyards were the only vintners in Nova Scotia producing a Nouveau with gamay grapes.

This year, Karen and Brendan Enright of Annapolis Highland Vinyards also released a Nouveau with the traditional grape.

Like wineries in France, they released their Nova Nouveau on Thursday, Nov. 15.

The third Thursday in November is celebrated around the world as the day you can first taste the wines of that year.

The tradition started in the Beaujolais region of France, where the primary grape is gamay. Beaujolais Nouveau, a light, fruity, fun wine, is by far the most popular Nouveau in the world—some 49 million liters of the wine are produced every year.

All of Nova Scotia has the acidic soil gamay loves, but Bear River’s sheltered maritime microclimate and steep south facing valley walls are the key to ripening the old-world vinifera grape.

“Why do we grow gamay? Because we can,” says Chris Hawes of Bear River Vinyards. “And nobody else can. It’s something unique.”

Nova Scotian winters are generally hard on vinifera or European grapes. Most Nova Scotian wineries work with North American grapes or hybrids, which mix some of the wine qualities of vinifera with the hardiness of North American grapes.

Hawes, however, enjoys the challenge of working with vinifera.

He and Peg began growing grapes in 1987 and set up their cottage winery above Bear River in 2006.

“This is the place in Nova Scotia,” says Hawes. “The Bear River valley, right here. No one else had ever made a gamay – ever. Every innovation with vinifera in Nova Scotia, I’ve made.”

He first produced a Gamay Nouveau in 2007 and made one every year until 2010. That year, they had an early frost and produced a gamay pinot instead. Last year, they made another Gamay Nouveau and have completely sold out of it, except a private store of 40 or so bottles.

“That will keep us going this winter,” he says.

This year they aren’t making a Nouveau, but a Gamay Noir should be ready for April.

Gamay grapes are traditionally not stomped or crushed like other grapes. They are

vinified (or made into wine) using a gentler method known as carbonic maceration.

The grapes are put in a vat over a screen. As they ferment they produce carbon dioxide, which is not allowed to escape the vat.

This builds up pressure, which slowly crushes the grapes against the screen and squeezes out the juice.

The wine makers then drain off the juice daily and use it to make the wine.

Because the juice doesn’t sit on the skins, it has less tannin and more fruit forward flavour.

“People love it,” says Peg. “A lot of people say they don’t like red wine because they think it is too dry, but Nouveau is fruity, it is delightful, light.

“You can really taste the fruit, you can perceive the fruitiness off the nose with no residual sugar.”

The Hawes’ also don’t use sulphites or other additives in their wine – instead they use a sterile filter of only half of a micron – small enough to keep bacteria out of the wine.

Annapolis Highlands is just outside the village in Bear River East. The Enrights use a slightly different process. They start with carbonic maceration, but then press out the remaining skins and pulp for a little more juice.

They are excited to join the Nouveau movement.

“It’s something exciting and fun at the end of the grape growing season,” says Karen Enright. “It’s a big celebration around the world. It’s something special and it shows off the gamay.

“We can grow the gamay right here in this province and be a part of the whole Nouveau movement. It makes us feel as if we are competing on a global stage with a Nova Scotia wine.”

Karen says a Nouveau gives consumers an early taste of the 2012 wines.

"This has been one of the best growing seasons we’ve experienced in Nova Scotia and our Nova Nouveau should indicate that impending quality," says Karen.

Haley Fisher works with the Enrights as a winemaking consultant.

He says the long, hot, dry summer this year means the gamay grapes got everything they needed to mature.

“Half your work is done for you when you get high quality grapes coming into the cellar,” he says. “You can’t make good wine from bad grapes.”

Gamay, he says, needs that extra heat to ripen and balance.

“When it’s dry, you get smaller fruit with more intense, more mature flavours and sweeter fruit,” he says. “You have a full flavour profile to work with and you get richer, more complex wines.”

His tasting notes for the Nova Nouveau on Nouveau Day read “bright, fresh fruit, very cherry forward, fresh raspberries, not dark, a beautiful garnet colour, nice structure, the acidity gives it a good spine and adds to the bouquet and the fresh fruit carries on through the finish.”

Nova Nouveau is available at some NSLC stores and at the winery, which is open by appointment and on weekends.