Nova Scotia winemakers ready to toast 2016 growing season

Nova Scotia's hot, dry summer is producing some of the biggest yields and best grapes some winemakers have ever seen.

Grapes, especially red ones, thrive in hot, dry weather

The hot, dry summer has produced a bumper crop at Petite Rivière Vineyards on the South Shore. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Winery owner Sean Sears is both excited and anxious about the coming weeks.

His Petite Rivière vineyard has been blessed with ideal growing conditions this summer, and the hot, dry weather has produced a bumper crop. He estimates his vines have produced 30 percent more fruit.

"This year should be incredible," he said. "It could very well be the best."

He's worried a sudden turn in weather could mar what is shaping up to his winery's best ever growing season.

Previous good years spoiled

"The 2010 vintage and the 2012 vintage were stellar," he said. "We had a fairly decent 2011 vintage going and then we had two hurricanes and lost seven days of sun, [had a] lot of rain, so that really kind of dampened that year."

Post-tropical storm Irene hit Nova Scotia on Aug. 28, 2011. Another named storm, Maria, passed through three weeks later.

A Luckett Vineyard winemaker inspects the grape bumper crop. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Across the province on the Fundy coast, Mike Mainguy, executive winemaker at Luckett Vineyards, is also keeping his fingers crossed.

"It's been a pretty fantastic year. It's been a long, hot, dry summer and the winter that we just went through was relatively mild, so those two things coupled together has led to a fantastic quality of crop and quantity of crop as well."

He's worried even talking about how great a season this has been will jinx it.

Grape yield is 30 per cent higher this year at Petite Rivière Vineyard. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

"Reminds me of 2012. We all talked about what a great year it was and then it rained for three weeks in September so we're all keeping our fingers crossed and quietly hoping for the best but right now things are on track for being a fantastic vintage."

According to Environment Canada, in September 2012, parts of Nova Scotia received triple the amount of rain that fell in July and August of that year.

Sears says that extra rain didn't hurt his crop because warmer ocean temperatures in 2012, along the South Shore, kept the weather mild that fall. He held off harvesting until the grapes had shed some of the extra water they had absorbed.

War against animals

The other major worry for grape growers right now is birds and animals, which is why there are nets on the vines to protect the grapes and some parts have barriers.

"Harvest is still three, four weeks away," said Sears. "You've got a lot of animal protection. You can see netting behind us. We have raccoon fencing around here. You want to get the fruit off into your cellars before the animals get it so from here on in, it's a war."

Luckett Vineyards has a view of the Minas Basin. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Mainguy is using air cannons, a mirror ball and a kite in the shape of a bird of prey to protect a section of red grapes overlooking the Minas Basin.

"I'm always a little bit nervous this time of year," he said. "It's always a challenge and there's always new things that affect you from year to year and ultimately that's translated into the wines that we produce." 

Toasting 2016

"The vines all look really, incredibly healthy," said Mainguy. "Great looking canopy, the fruit is strong, and it's been able to handle that little bit of an extra crop load. It's been a good year right across the board."

White wine drinkers could enjoy the 2016 vintage as early as next spring. Red wine lovers will have to wait two to three years to savour the wine produced this year.