Celebrating Two Decades of Winemaking and Culinary Excellence
When Hanspeter Stutz made the bold move of buying a winery in Nova Scotia back in 1994, the province didn’t have a wine industry. Sure, there were a few wineries in the region, and the land Grand Pre sits on today was already planted with vineyards, but the wines produced here were more a novelty than anything of note and often made from mostly imported grapes.
When Domaine de Grand Pré opened its doors twenty years ago as a fully functioning winery with fine wines, a top-notch restaurant, and wine retail, Nova Scotia had never seen anything like it. Grand Pré raised the bar, and other wineries followed, which greatly benefited valley tourism. These days, of course, we have many beautiful wineries. We’ve become a wine destination with wine buses and tour groups, and Nova Scotian wines win international awards. In part, thanks to Hanspeter Stutz and his children who have built Domaine de Grand Pré into what it is today and lifted the region’s profile.
There are many things about Grand Pré that haven’t changed much in 20 years, mostly because it just wasn’t necessary. The operation is still very much a family business. Hanspeter isn’t involved in the day to day running of the winery, but he is still involved in planning and behind the scenes. Everyday operations fall to his daughter, Beatrice Stutz, who manages Le Caveau with husband, chef Jason Lynch, Hanspeter’s son Jürg Stutz, the winemaker, and his wife Cäcilia Stutz, who manages retail. Various grandchildren work or have worked the winery, despite being encouraged to spread their wings and find their path. “Hanspeter remains the mastermind and visionary,” Beatrice says, “He had the vision and wanted to create this for his family.”
GROWING INTO THE COMMUNITY
When Grand Pré opened, the renovations turned the winery into something extraordinary and unlike anything else. “When we first opened, it was intimidating to a lot of people, it took them years to actually stop and come up and check it out,” Beatrice explains, “Then they’d say, oh, this isn’t so bad after all, you know? It looked expensive.” The family had to work hard to show that they were ordinary and approachable rather than snobby Euro imports who turned up with “buckets of money” and thought themselves better than the locals.
The Stutz family has become firmly integrated into Valley life. Hanspeter’s children have raised their children here while employing many locals (some have been working there since the start). They also provided a venue for people to kick back and have fun—whether enjoying live music and wine on their gorgeous patio, or a sumptuous meal at their multi-award winning restaurant, Le Caveau.
When Beatrice talks about some of the long-term regulars who come to Grand Pré, you can see the happiness it brings. Some have rung in the New Year at the winery annually for the past 20 years; others return for special anniversaries.
“Recently a couple came who got married here 18 years ago. They’d come to show their children where they got married and where their wedding pictures were taken,” Beatrice says, “There are children who I used to make Shirley Temples for and bring fresh grapes at harvest time, and now they are coming here on first dates, or to celebrate something. We’re even doing weddings for them.”
EVOLUTION OF THE REGION
When you ask Jürg Stutz about the most significant change in 20 years of winemaking in Nova Scotia, his immediate answer is the climate. “The varieties of grapes that we can grow here have changed quite a bit in the past 20 years. When we first came here, it was mainly hybrids that were winter hardy and early ripening. Nova Scotia used to be much cooler, the growing season wasn’t that long, and the winters were much colder, says Jürg. “Thanks to climate change, the winters got milder, and the summer weather extended longer into the fall, and we’re seeing more of those better-known varieties like Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot, things like that.”
The other major change he has seen locally is the growth of sparkling wines. “We made our first sparkling wine for our 10-year anniversary,” says Jürg. “A lot of vineyards here, such as L’Acadie and Benjamin Bridge, are really focusing on sparkling wines, and there are some really beautiful products coming out of the province that are getting international attention.”
Nova Scotia crafting its unique appellation—Tidal Bay—has also been huge for winemakers here. “That’s a very good example of what we can produce. And over the years we’ve certainly come to realize what our strong suit is here for Nova Scotia. It’s those crisp acid, flavourful whites and sparkling white wines, and also ice wines,” says Jürg, “I think that we produce some of the best ice wines in Canada, right here in Nova Scotia. No doubt.”
The introduction of reds to Nova Scotia’s wineries is another change Jürg has observed over his years as a winemaker in Nova Scotia. “Reds, in general, are much more challenging and need more heat than whites; however, there are a lot of new varieties out there that grow well here. For instance, a Marquette, which has a little bit of Pinot Noir in its parentage,” he says, though says the crisp whites are where it is at for the province, as exciting as it is to try new varieties.
Growing multiple varieties is very different from Jürg’s introduction to winegrowing in Switzerland. “Back home, they were growing the same varieties for decades, for generations, so I wasn’t expecting that at all when I went into the wine industry, and it certainly keeps you on your toes,” he says. Beatrice adds that because the industry is so new, it feels like they are still trying to find out what works and what doesn’t.
Some of the biggest changes the team at Grand Pré have seen over the years are related to a growing consumer sophistication. “Young people are a lot more adventurous than before, and they like to try different stuff. Whereas you know, the generation before us stuck to their Italian wines or their French wines,” Jürg says. “Also, the public has more confidence in Nova Scotia wine, and they can trust that it is good.” An eagerness to try new things at a younger age is something that Lynch has noticed, too, especially when it comes to more children and young people coming to dine at Le Caveau.
Lynch came on board in 2003, taking over as executive chef in 2007, and his emphasis on local has always been a big focus, putting Le Caveau ahead of the farm to table trend in Nova Scotia. The food style may not have changed, but their catering and special events business continues to grow (they are one of the most beautiful places to hold a wedding in the province). “The food industry here has changed a huge amount in the past 15 to 20 years,” Lynch says. The focus on local “has driven many small agricultural businesses to open and be financially stable, which they weren’t able to 20 years ago, because there wasn’t enough of a market base.” Lynch grew up on a farm in Nova Scotia and has always bought direct from farmers—now the rest of the province has caught up, which has helped make more products available as producers thrive.
The demographic of Le Caveau guests has changed since Lynch started too. “With more dual-income families, people are eating out more often and bringing their kids with them, which has raised a generation of adventurous eaters,” says Lynch. “Which, in turn, has driven an increase in young people eating out.”
As for developments at Grand Pré, preparations are currently underway to open a six-suite guest house in a heritage building that sits on the property. “No other winery in the province offers accommodation, but it makes sense on an estate winery like this,” explains Beatrice, “We have the restaurant in place, and we have everything else. So accommodation was the one missing piece.”
Suites at the guest house will be spacious and have full kitchens with high-end coffee makers and everything you need to enjoy your stay, allowing visitors to explore the Valley at their leisure. “In the off-season, we will be able to host private dinners in the suites, so if ten friends want to book a private multi-course tasting thing. They don’t have to be in the middle of the dining hall and can have an intimate experience,” Lynch explains, “It gives us a lot of flexibility and is a good fit with the restaurant.”
The wine industry’s growth has been good for Grand Pré, as reaching a critical mass has helped turn the province into a wine destination, benefiting all growers and wineries. Jürg anticipates further growth and is excited to see how far things will go. “If we were only like two or three wineries, we could not be where we are today,” he says, “And the number of young winemakers operating here is dynamic and really refreshing. There is so much potential.”