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Lawrencetown greenhouse grower diversified into grapes

LAWRENCETOWN, N.S. - With the explosion of Nova Scotia’s grape and wine industries, a Lawrencetown grower considers himself fortunate to be in such a great position.

Luke den Haan was growing hot house cucumbers and tomatoes for the Atlantic Canadian wholesale market with den Haan Greenhouses before he started den Haan Vineyards with his wife, Jodi, and got established as a wholesale grape grower. They’re now heavily involved in both enterprises.

They are the proud parents of four children. Den Haan said Jodi is a great source of inspiration and help when it comes to their agricultural operations and he “couldn’t have done it without her.”

Den Haan concentrates on the quality of the vines and he has learned as a professional grower to look after the little details.

“If you do everything right from the get-go and look after the details, it will all fall into place,” he said. “If you have the quality, it all just happens.”

Getting established

Den Haan had money tied up in the financial markets when an economic downturn occurred in 2008. Instead of holding on to investments that he couldn’t see or feel, and that were susceptible to loss, he decided to invest in something tangible that he had more control over - vineyards.

In 2009, he took his money and the work ethic instilled in him by his father and grandfather and diversified into grapes, incurring little debt in the process. Den Haan said he had the know-how, the equipment and several acres of south-facing property that is conducive to vineyards.

He currently has 22 acres planted, 11 of which are producing. He’ll have about 16 acres producing grapes by next year and will have all 22 acres producing by 2020.

Den Haan said the wind is predominantly from the south and the air ebbs and flows with the twice-daily tidal action of the Bay of Fundy. He said the conditions are such that he was able to “dodge a bullet” and his vineyard didn’t incur any damage from a severe freeze in early June that negatively impacted many growers.

Den Haan said it isn’t necessarily easier or harder to grow grapes compared to other crops, although he sees them as being more weather-dependent. He can’t control climatic conditions in the vineyard like he can in the greenhouse. This places a greater emphasis on location and the varieties chosen. He points out that it costs significantly less to develop an acre of vineyard compared to an acre of greenhouse.

He said it’s all about managing people, the risk and getting the work done on time. One positive aspect is that you harvest a vineyard once a year, opposed to every day with a greenhouse.

With climate change, some of the world’s greatest wine producing regions are becoming hotter and dryer. Den Haan believes that this could bode well for the future of the grape industry in Nova Scotia, leading to a competitive advantage since the impact of climate change isn’t expected to be as dramatic here.

Quality grapes produce quality wine

Carl and Donna Sparkes founded Devonian Coast Wineries in 2011, starting out by purchasing the well-established Jost and Gaspereau Vineyards and then establishing Mercator Vineyards. Den Haan grows two varieties of white grapes, L’Acadie Blanc and Riesling. Jost buys all of his L’Acadie Blanc and Gaspereau Vineyards buys all of his Riesling.

He said he’s been lucky that grapes have become such a “sexy commodity” to be in and the explosion of the wine industry in Nova Scotia has come as a pleasant surprise. It was starting to take off when he got into grapes but there has been amazing growth since.

Den Haan said he was fortunate to get in with Hans Christian Jost before the sale of Jost Vineyards to Devonian Coast and he feels that his association with Jost - and now Carl Sparkes -has elevated him as a grape grower. Den Haan said the Sparkes’ have worked hard to build the industry and den Haan works hard to ensure that he maintains the quality of the grapes he provides to them.

He said Carl Sparkes is a visionary and “a real go-getter.” He wants to keep up with Sparkes and grow with his burgeoning market, although he admits it isn’t easy. Den Haan is passionate about growing but doesn’t have any aspirations to open his own winery.

He said Nova Scotia grape growers have been fortunate to have the support of Keith Colwell, Minister of Agriculture, who recognizes the opportunities that vineyards create. A supportive environment allows the industry to bloom.

“Vineyards create a vibrant, colourful, diverse rural economy, and that’s what the tourists want to see,” Den Haan said.

He said people are starting to take notice of what is happening in Nova Scotia and experiencing the province means drinking the terroir – the wine.

Read the entire BACK ON THE FARM SERIES: A collection devoted to a vital industry in the Annapolis Valley:

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