Nova Scotia

Winemakers raise a toast to Nova Scotia's hot, dry summer

This summer's hot, dry weather has led to great beach days - but the sunshine is extra sweet for Nova Scotia's many vineyards. After two tough years, 2020 has brought plenty of hot, dry weather that winemakers hope could bring some of the best vintages yet.

'It's been one of the best years I've seen in recent memory'

The hot, dry summer may make it a banner year for the province's wine industry. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

This summer's hot, dry weather has led to great beach days — and the sunshine is extra sweet for the province's many vineyards.

Rebecca Griffin, winemaker for Mercator Vineyards and manager for Mercator and Gaspereau Vineyards, and Planters Ridge Vineyard owner John McLarty recently spoke to CBC's Mainstreet.

The warm weather had led to very dry soil in the Annapolis Valley, Griffin said, allowing for a great growing season. Too much rain can lead to the plants getting "wet feet," which can cause issues, she said.

"The vines are looking really happy for the most part. There's lots of great growth, nutritionally they look great," Griffin said.

"There is a bit of pressure with humidity. But for the most part it's been one of the best years I've seen in recent memory."

McLarty agreed that the season was going quite well, but cautioned that "it's never over 'til it's over."

His vineyard is in a great situation from a heat perspective, McLarty said.

Looking at growing degree days — a calculation that helps predict plant development — it is now sitting seven days ahead of 2017. That was the highest growth year he's ever had.

Planters Ridge is also 17 days ahead of last year, "which was a disaster," he said.

After tough growing seasons over the past two years thanks to Hurricane Dorian in 2019 and an unexpected June frost in 2018, and continuing to navigate the loss of tourism in a pandemic, the high temperatures are worthy of a toast.

McLarty said now would be an ideal time to start getting a little bit of moisture, since conditions can also become too dry. 

He's already had to rig up an irrigation system, which is not usually needed in Nova Scotia, to bring water to the younger plants and keep them "alive and happy."

Workers pick grapes at the Luckett Vineyards in Wallbrook, N.S., in 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The growing season is just entering the time when grapes start to turn red and ripen, said Griffin.

With consistent rains going forward, and not simply an onslaught of precipitation in the fall during hurricane season, Griffin said "nice small berries" with concentrated flavours are possible.

"I imagine it's going to be one of our best vintages that we've seen in a while," she said.

McLarty said getting a break with the weather after two bad seasons has been "thrilling."

As a growing business, the Planters Ridge inventory has been depleted and a good crop is needed this year, McLarty said. That's not just to make flavourful wines but to ensure there are enough bottles on the shelves.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has meant far fewer wine tours coming through the Annapolis Valley, he said. 

While the business is definitely "scrambling," McLarty said online orders from Nova Scotians and people across Canada have helped. He's also hopeful that August and September will continue to bring more visitors from around the Atlantic bubble.

Busy hurricane season expected

Now all the winery owners are keeping an eye on the forecast, which is already calling for an "extremely active" hurricane season.

McLarty said heavy rain is manageable, but the real trouble comes with high winds.

"I'm going to be anxious as always until that last grape is off the vine," Griffin said.

With files from CBC's Mainstreet