Two weeks ago, I traveled to New Brunswick, illegally transporting two bottles of Nova Scotian wine — a gift for my hosts — across the provincial border.
I wasn't trying to show off for the bad kids in New Brunswick, nor was I thumbing my nose at New Brunswick authorities who could press charges for my smuggling Nova Scotia wine into their jurisdiction. I was rather doing what many Canadians already do, which is to ignore one of Canada's many interprovincial trade barriers because it is counterintuitive and silly. (In a landmark case earlier this year, a New Brunswick judge went even further, ruling that a New Brunswicker charged for bringing Quebec beer and spirits home had a constitutional right to trade freely within our country.)
Nova Scotia began to lift the depressing restrictions on access to wine from other provinces last year. Nova Scotians may now legally order wine made from Canadian fruit from wineries in any other province.
Sarcasm aside, Nova Scotian wine lovers are actually lucky. We live in one of only three provinces to allow the ancient beverage across their provincial borders. (British Columbia and Manitoba are the others.) Beer and spirits are still not freely traded (with the exception of a special deal between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia breweries), nor are other goods and services, such as cheese and construction work. (In fact, the obstructions on trade between Canadian provinces cost Canada more than $14 billion dollars each year in regulation and inefficiencies, according to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.)
Premiers have already met a few times this year to discuss harmonizing things between provinces, such as labour standards, agricultural accreditation, food supply licensing, provincial monopolies and shipping rules. Free trade among provinces would mean provinces giving up some power and profit over these things, so I understand the hesitation. However, it is difficult to accept that Canada is striking free trade deals with other countries — giving up autonomy over more worrisome things, like environmental regulations and access to health care — before our own provinces feel comfortable trading with each other.
I digress. The point of this column is not to belabour interprovincial trade, an embarrassing issue that will be eventually resolved.
Rather, I want to introduce to you, in case you are not already familiar with, the wine made by our neighbours to the north. Remember, you can now order New Brunswick wine or transport it home without fear of reprimand by Nova Scotia's liquour authorities.
New Brunswick is generally colder than Nova Scotia, so winemakers use different fruit to make most of their wine. Many wineries concentrate on non-grape fruit wine, and wine drinkers shouldn't assume that only aunties with a sweet tooth will like New Brunswick's rhubarb, apple and blueberry wine. Rather, its quality will impress you: fresh, crisp, flavourful and balanced. The added bonus is that, being plentiful, these fruits are cheaper to grow than grapes, meaning the wine produced also tends to be more affordable.
On my New Brunswick trip I tasted Happy Knight's Black Mead ($13.30), a honey wine infused with organic black currants. Crisp and clean, this wine shows very subtle honey and currant aromas.
New Brunswick wineries do use winter-hardy grapes, to great success. I tasted Mott's Landing's Summer Solstice ($17), made from 100 per cent Louise Swenson, an extremely hardy and disease resistant white grape with delicate aromatics.
Mott's Landing's owners, winemaker Sonia Carpenter and vineyard manager David Craw, are pioneer grape wine producers in New Brunswick, with three hectares in Cambridge Narrows in the Saint John River Valley. Carpenter recently released Brut Classic ($26.50), a traditional method sparkling wine made with Frontenac Gris and l'Acadie Blanc, throwing a New Brunswick addition into the pool of acclaimed Champagne-style wines made in our region.
Richibucto River Wine Estate, another pioneer on the New Brunswick grape scene, trekked to Cornhill Nursery's annual Grape Fest the first days of October, which I also attended. I was reminded of Richibucto's success with red wine. Owner, winemaker and vineyard manager Alan Hudson is growing eight hectares of grapes on the Richibucto River, and crafting a mind-boggling array of wines. My favourite is his Marquette ($16.50), a hardy grape that has found fast foothold in the region for its Pinot Noir-like character. I think Richibucto's is the best I've tasted so far; Hudson uses the grape's tannin, rare for hybrids, and just a hint of sweet to soften the ever-present acidity in our grapes.
I brought home a bottle of Magnetic Hill's Mystique ($14), a 100 per cent cranberry wine, to serve with turkey last weekend. It was bright, tart and just the right amount of sweet — absolutely delicious with dinner. Magnetic Hill Winery and B&B is an easy stop for people driving to or through Moncton, located right off the Trans Canada highway and with a gorgeous view overlooking the city and surrounding countryside.
Exploring our neighbours' craftsmanship is important not just for the sheer enjoyment of new taste experiences, but also to develop an understanding of our region through its agricultural products, including insight into how Nova Scotia's wine fits into the broader picture.
It's nice to be able to (finally) order wine from across Canada from the comfort of your home, but to get a real taste of what our neighbours are doing, pay them a visit. Drink in the beauty of New Brunswick's landscapes and the character of its people by visiting a New Brunswick winery on your next autumn road trip.