If you follow the Nova Scotia wine scene, you'll have noticed that the past few years have been a time of world recognition and hometown success for local producers.
You may have heard in the news about our wines winning prestigious national and international awards. You might take part in the social media buzz around local wine. Or perhaps you've seen banners in your neighbourhood NSLC announcing the season's release of Tidal Bay, Nova Scotia's appellation wine.
Whatever your awareness of Nova Scotia wine, it is likely connected to the work of one behind-the-scenes woman who has been championing the Wines of Nova Scotia brand at home, across the country and around the world.
Gillian Mainguy, executive director of the Winery Association of Nova Scotia (WANS), rattles off statistics and brings together players in the wine world at a rate alarming to a writer trying to scribble down the facts. I thought Mainguy would be just the right person to outline for me where Nova Scotia wine fits in the scheme of things. I thought this was important at this point in time for those who have a stake in local product — that would be all of us — because this is going to be a big year.
It already has been.
In February, Nova Scotia's showing at the Vancouver International Wine Festival was impressive given our relative size. At International Tasting events, Nova Scotia's booths were crowded with British Columbian wine lovers who had heard they needed to try our bubbly. Seminar discussions among Ontario and B.C. wine professionals highlighted Tidal Bay — a style-based (as opposed to region-based) appellation wine — as a concept that could be adopted elsewhere in Canada.
"We are Canada's emerging region," explains Mainguy, which means that wine professionals, and those who follow wine, are curious about what we're up to.
"We're getting a lot of attention, and the right attention."
In March, Nova Scotia joined Ontario and British Columbia for the Wines of Canada contingent at ProWein in Düsseldorf, Germany, arguably the largest trade fair for wine in the world.
"We were pouring [wine] in these huge halls. … It's hard to explain how big they are," says Mainguy. "And it was very exciting because of the buzz. … People were saying, 'We were told to come try Nova Scotia wine.' It's one thing to hear that in Vancouver, it's another thing on the world stage. Nova Scotia's small, but we're making waves."
For anyone new to Nova Scotia wine, a good entry point would be to explore Tidal Bay. This is a style of wine made by 12 of the 20 wineries in Nova Scotia. (You have to be a member of WANS to participate in the program, and not all wineries are members.) Every batch of Tidal Bay meets a strict set of criteria to ensure a particular quality and style — a light, slightly aromatic, low-alcohol white wine blend.
The year's vintage is available for sampling at a Tidal Bay release party called 12 Tides, this year in Halifax on May 5.
"I gotta say," says Mainguy, "tickets are flying this year. People were waiting for them."
The event is popular (last year more than 330 people attended), reflecting the success of the Tidal Bay program. It's also a good opportunity to meet winemakers and winery owners and try everyone's Tidal Bay side-by-side. The 2016 vintage could be interesting, given the drought we experienced last summer, which will likely have concentrated the grapes that survived.
For those interested in getting involved in wine, the Atlantic Canada Wine Symposium (ACWS), which happens roughly every four years, would be an ideal place to start. Over three days in early June of this year — a day of wine touring followed by two full days of sessions — participants can learn from experts from all over the world about work in the vineyard, the winery, tourism and marketing, all through an Atlantic Canadian lens.
Working on the four-province steering committee for the symposium, Mainguy has been helping to bring in speakers and to attract participants "from all over Canada, but also cool climate states in the US."
The timing of the symposium has allowed the committee to piggyback on another high-profile event, the 2017 WineAlign National Wine Awards, taking place this year in Wolfville, just days after the Atlantic Symposium. National and international judges coming to Nova Scotia to work the awards will arrive a few days early to speak at the symposium, "raising the bar" on the event, says Mainguy.
"We want to show that we are serious players on the national wine scene."
No doubt having dozens of Canada's top wine judges and critics hanging out in Nova Scotia for a week in June will be an opportunity to showcase the region's cultural and culinary riches.
In the meantime, Mainguy, WANS's only staff, is focused on the organization's four-year strategic plan, which prioritizes the market it has yet to crack.
"We have to win at home first," says Mainguy. "There's a lot of work to be done here."
An example of that work is an education program for restaurants and NSLC retail specialists to ramp up knowledge about Wines of Nova Scotia. The program will be offered all over the province.
Mainguy's one message to Nova Scotians shows she is in touch with those outside of her world.
"If you haven't tried Nova Scotia in a while," she says slowly, almost carefully, "it's time to try it again. Because we've got something so special."