Being named Winery of the Year while your actual winery is still under construction is a pretty clear sign you’re on the right track.
Located “on the Spring Garden Road of wine sales,” the Lightfoot & Wolfville winery is just at the Wolfville town limits and, at 30,000 square feet, will be by far the largest winery in the region when Michael and Jocelyn Lightfoot open their doors to the public next month.
“It took nine years of vision to bring this together,” said Michael Lightfoot, who planted his first grapes in 2009. “We visited all kinds of other wineries that have been doing it right, in our opinion. And a lot of our style is in this as well.”
All the materials in the new building are local, except for the giant Douglas firs that serve as the frame and which were imported from B.C. by train.
Builder Matt Canning said the biggest challenge over more than a year of construction has been the scale of the place, designed to look like a converted barn, albeit a huge one. “The scope of this project, I’ve never worked on anything like it,” he said. “The design is to make it look simple, but the work behind it is not so simple.”
The owners travelled to France, Italy and Argentina to learn what other places were doing right and, maybe even more importantly, what they were doing wrong. The most common error they saw was wineries not foreseeing the crowds that would visit, causing them to under-build.
“We wanted to correct the problems that we saw in certain properties, then bring it home and make it our own, put our own stamp on it,” said Jocelyn Lightfoot, who’s a sommelier and has a background in travel tourism. “And we wanted to fix and fill some gaps that are here in our own market.”
“We designed the whole building around the fact that we wanted to do elevated tastings,” added her husband. “The main tasting bar will be for bus traffic and for large groups. What we want to do is give people the chance to get to know our wines a little more intimately, so we have different-sized rooms with different levels of furnishings, to appeal to different-sized groups.”
There are no concerns that a bus tour would overwhelm this building, situated to take full advantage of the captivating view of Blomidon. Among the spaces are a barrel cellar that can seat 150 for events, a pad for a tent that can seat 240, and a kitchen (which includes a food elevator) that can handle 700 to 800 people. Already completed is a huge outdoor pizza oven, and the search is on for an executive chef.
“We recognized right out of the gate that there’s a good part of the wine that is in the enjoyment of the place you’re having it, with the company that you’re in and the mood you’re in, the food you’re pairing. We drew a direct line between wine and culinary. So, in the same way we’re trying to be true to Nova Scotia with our architecture and our wine expression, we also felt that it was very important to pair our wines with local culinary,” Michael said.
“We started this saying to ourselves that if we couldn’t make a difference, we didn’t want to bother. So from the outset, we thought we could make a bit of a difference to the industry and add value. We felt the industry was ready to go to the next level, that the momentum was already there.”
Lightfoot & Wolfville has 40 estate acres and 40 more under contract. Michael describes the site as “viticulturally impeccable,” and wine drinkers seem to agree. The winery won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award last year, and chef Martin Ruiz Salvador took Lightfoot’s Ancienne Chardonnay to the Canadian Culinary Championship, where it earned raves.
With the help of wine consultant Peter Gamble, who also works with Benjamin Bridge, Michael Lightfoot aims to express the purity of the terroir and “not get in the way.” The portfolio will expand this year to 20 wines with eight new ones, including a blanc de blanc, new red and white blends and a new varietal, Scheurebe.
The winery expects to employ 40 people by its second year of operation, and brides are already calling, said Jocelyn Lightfoot.
“We have a few weddings booked for 2018 brides already, and plenty of inquiries.”