The workhorse of Nova Scotia wine

Spain has the grape Airén, Austria has Grüner Veltliner, Italy has Trebbiano and here in Nova Scotia, we have L’Acadie Blanc. What these four grapes have in common is that they are all white wine varietals that are widely planted in their place of origin, made or blended into a broad style of wines, and all considered workhorses in their home countries — or for us, province.

We are fortunate that Roger Dial, the original owner of Grand Pre Winery and pioneer of Nova Scotia’s wine industry, saw the fit between our challenging climate and this early ripening, winter hardy hybrid. First created in the early 1950s at the then-named Vineland Research Centre in Ontario, the grape was only known only as V-53261 when it arrived in Nova Scotia. In a collaboration between Grand Pre Winery and what’s now the Atlantic Food and Horticulture Research Centre in Kentville, field trials began and lasted a decade before Roger finally called the unnamed variety L’Acadie Blanc in the early 1980s. Since then, L’Acadie Blanc has grown (pun intended) to be our most significant and most largely planted grape variety.

Ideal for our growing conditions in the province, L’Acadie Blanc ripens early and produces great yields. It is a grape that has loose bunches, which helps to minimize the risk of moulds and mildew that can develop in our maritime vineyards. Plus, it has an amazing ability to reflect the minerality of our terroir in which it is grown. After all, most great wines are a product of finding the grape that is perfectly suited for the climate in which it is grown. Subsequently, it is the most widely planted grape variety in the province. But it’s not only the acreage that makes this grape significant for our young and emerging wine region. Chances are, if you ask a Nova Scotia winemaker what makes it a Nova Scotia superstar, they will say that it is the versatility of the grape and its ability to adapt to a wide range of wine-making styles.

In its purest form as a single variety wine, L’Acadie Blanc projects a bright, crisp acidity with good weight and distinctive apple, pear and citrus notes. These characteristics combine to make a wine that is spectacular with food. The grape creates wines that are absolutely sip-worthy when young, but it can also be crafted into complex wines with longevity. When I think about the versatility of this grape, the theme song for the 1980s version of The Transformers animated TV show immediately pops into my head . . . L’Acadie Blanc: more than meets the eye. This grape gets transformed through wine-making techniques such as oak ageing, sur lie contact and partial skin contact. The grape can be transformed into many wine styles. Awesome for blending, it is the primary grape found in many of the province’s Tidal Bays. It is also a major contributor to many Nova Scotia rosé wines made through blending. The versatility of this grape doesn’t end there. The naturally high levels of acidity also make it ideal for producing traditional-method sparkling wines.

Challenge yourself to get to know this grape better, and ultimately you will get a better understanding of Nova Scotia wine. I have organized my wine reviews here in a way that allows you to do a comparative tasting of L’Acadie Blanc and the many styles of wine in which it gets produced. Set yourself up to do an educational tasting by trying the first four wines together, which are all single variety L’Acadie Blanc from the same vintage. This will let you compare wine-making expressions while noticing the similar characteristics of the grape. If you want to understand the impact that oak ageing and wine-making techniques can have on the grape, pick up a bottle of Stubborn Head from Avondale Sky and a bottle of Buried White from Luckett Vineyards and taste them side by side. You might also try together the two traditional sparkling wines reviewed here to grasp a deeper understanding of the grape when it’s expressed as a bubbly wine. In this case, one is blended, the other is a single variety. The similarities, all expressions of the grape, will be noticeable, while the uniqueness of each will be eye-opening as you recognize the impact that the vintage year and the winemaker can have on a wine.

As a Nova Scotian first and wine lover second, I have a very big place in my heart for L’Acadie Blanc. It is a workhorse grape to truly call our own, and that is something not all wine regions in the world can say!

Six L’Acadie Blancs you should try!

2016 L’Acadie Blanc, Domaine de Grand Pré

A stunning L’Acadie Blanc from winemaker Jurg Stutz. Stainless steel keeps this wine clean and bright. Delicate minerality presents underneath fruit cocktail notes of apple and pear. Dried apricot and hayloft complete the complex nose while lush creaminess awaits on the palate. It’s all balanced with bright acidity and a lengthy citrus finish. If you haven’t visited a single variety L’Acadie Blanc in a while, do yourself a favour and pick up a bottle of this vintage.

2016 Estate L’Acadie Blanc, L’Acadie Vineyards

This is consistently one of my favourite single variety L’Acadie wines. Certified organic with all grapes grown at the estate of L’Acadie Vineyards, this wine provides us with a pure reflection of the rocky terroir of the Gaspereau Valley. It has the classic citrus and aromas of an apple orchard on a sunny, late fall day that you would expect from L’Acadie Blanc, but with a distinctive flinty minerality caused by the vineyard. Dry, crisp and purely expressive of the grape, this is classic L’Acadie (grape and producer) all the way through.

2016 L’Acadie, Gaspereau Vineyards

Like all of Gina’s wines at Gaspereau Vineyards, this is a L’Acadie Blanc that is seriously drinkable and food-friendly. Never shying away from the distinctiveness that the grape provides, this wine has classic pear and apple fruit on both the nose and the finish. It also has good acidity — the other hallmark of the grape — which balances out the ripe fruit and refreshes between sips. Classic L’Acadie, classic Gina and classic Nova Scotia climate combine perfectly in the glass here.

2013 Stubborn Head, Avondale Sky

Winemaker Ben Swetnam used an array of wine-making techniques to create this elegant and stylish example of L’Acadie Blanc. To maintain fruit character, 20 per cent was fermented in stainless steel while the remaining 80 per cent was fermented and aged for three months in new Hungarian oak. To add weight and mouthfeel, the wine was left “sur lie” until it was time for bottling, and the lees were stirred every two weeks for additional contact. The resulting wine is elegant and complex. Toast and marmalade intermingle with a creamy mouthfeel, leading to a crisp and mineral-driven finish. It’s sold out at the winery, but this gem can still be found, in very limited quantity, at some NSLCs throughout the province. It is worth searching for!

2014 Buried White, Luckett Vineyards

This 100 per cent L’Acadie Blanc spent 28 months aging in Hungarian oak (and buried eight feet underground, I might add). Butterscotch and toasted notes are immediately present on the nose, and they are layered with lemon curd and preserved peaches. The integration of Hungarian oak works incredibly well with the citrus character of L’Acadie Blanc. Only 200 cases were produced of this wine, so your chances of tasting this rich and opulent L’Acadie likely won’t last much longer.

2016 Rose, Domaine de Grand Pré

This rosé is produced through blending. It is primarily L’Acadie Blanc, close to 95 per cent to be exact, and the remainder is Marechal Foch, which adds colour and depth. Once again it is hard not to notice the significance of the L’Acadie Blanc characteristics as citrus rind and candied apple dominate the nose and palate. The Marechal Foch gives depth to the aromatics with cranberry and currant. Ultimately capturing the best of both gapes, the wine is rounded out by mouth-watering acidity and hints of spice on the finish.