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Rising with the Tide (September 24, 2015)

Avondale Sky's winery

The tasting room and retail stop at Avondale Sky in Nova Scotia measures 40 feet at the peak of its steeply raked roof to a footprint of 36 by 50 feet. Not the sort of dimensions one would normally associate with a winery. But the 1837 Carpenter Gothic-style building began life as a church – and not in its current location.

It was, in fact, the church's second move. The winery's website tells this story: "The village of Walton had developed closer to the waterfront than was originally anticipated. So, one winter about a century and a half ago, the parishioners used oxen to move the building to its new site three kilometers from the old."

In 2011 Lorraine Vassalo and Stewart Creaser purchased St. Matthew's Church for $1.67 – the same price its congregation paid for the building in 1844. The couple had the deconsecrated church lifted off its foundations and ferried 42 kilometers down the Minas Basin shore to Newport. Had they not rescued it, the church would have been torched so that the local fire brigade could practice their fire-fighting skills. The move took just over 24 hours, the stately church riding Minas Bay's perilous tides that rise and fall 43 feet.

This was not the first of the owners' efforts to preserve heritage buildings; Avondale Sky's fermentation tanks are housed in a 1920s hay barn they had salvaged from a dike along the St. Croix River ten kilometres from their vineyard.

Today Avondale Sky's winemaker Ben Swetnam produces a range of wines from Nova Scotia's signature white grape, L'Acadie, as well as a product conforming to the province's unique appellation, Tidal Bay.

The concept, launched with the 2012 vintage, was for wineries to produce a dry or off-dry white blend of locally grown grapes that speak to Nova Scotia's terroir. The primary grapes which make a majority of the blend have to be chosen from L'Acadie, Vidal, Seyval and Geisenheim 318 or a combination thereof. Secondary grapes, if used, can include Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris and 11 other lesser varieties. Then there is a third option of grapes for inclusion in the blend – aromatic varieties such as Gewurztraminer, Perle of Csaba, Traminette or New York Muscat, but only up to 15% of the total. Yields are regulated and no more than 20% new oak can be used, although stainless steel is recommended to maintain the freshness of the wines and their lightness (alcohol levels should not exceed 11%. Some are as low as 9.5%). Residual sugar must not climb above 20 grams per litre. Twenty grams per litre may sound high but given the exuberant acidity in Nova Scotia's grapes it makes for a more balanced wine.

To ensure vintners respect the guidelines, the wineries have to submit their blends to a panel of experts to ensure typicity. Currently 12 of the province's producers make a Tidal Bay wine.

I tasted all twelve at the launch of this year's Tidal Bay wines in Halifax in June. While stylistically they ranged from bone dry (Benjamin Bridge, Gaspereau Vineyards, Blomidon Estate, and Lightfoot & Wolfville, the province's newest winery opened this summer) to off-dry (Grand Pré, Luckett Vineyards, Mercator, Jost, Ste. Famille, Planters Ridge and, Annapolis Highland Vineyards) they all had a floral or aromatic component and were immensely drinkable.

Avondale Sky's Tidal Bay 2014 was a blend of L'Acadie, Vidal, Geisenheim 318, Minnesota Muscat and a variety I had never come across before, Petite Milo. The wine was pale straw in colour with a Sauvignon Blanc-like nose, offering dry, gooseberry, green plum and cut grass flavours. Winemaker Ben Swetnam calls his wine, irreverently, "‘Tiddly B."

Avondale Sky's winemaker Ben Swetnam




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