I discovered Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 last spring when I visited Nova Scotia. The friendly folks at Bishop’s Cellar, one of the province’s four private wine stores, described a marketing campaign for the Nova 7 annual release similar to that of Beaujolais Nouveau.
They told me about publicity that leads up to its Victoria Day Weekend release and banners proclaiming “it’s Nova 7 Time!” festooning an entire wall of their wine store stocked high with bottles of Nova 7. It’s routinely sold out as the enthusiastic customers rush to purchase a summer supply.
This year Benjamin Bridge, the not so secret weapon of the Nova Scotia wine industry, is taking on the country. With the largest production ever for the small Gaspereau Valley winery, they have 11,000 cases of Nova 7 on their way to market in eight provinces and the Yukon. Only Saskatchewan and Newfoundland have been left out in the cold.
I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia wines. I went back last year with a shopping list for Blomidon Estates Baco Noir; Gaspereau Vineyards Luci Kuhlman Rosé and ,Luci Kuhlman Red; Grand Pré Ortega, l’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut, Benjamin Bridge Borealis icewine and Sainte Famille’s Barrel Aged Baco.. These were wines that had lingered in my memory for two years since I’d left the province.
I also had a wish list to sample the wines of Avondale Sky, Luckett Vineyard, and Petite Riviere and to unravel the mystery of Benjamin Bridge. Benjamin Bridge wines are sold through the Liquor Commission or online but their winery is not open to the public and they never compete in wine competitions.
It took a little negotiation to visit Benjamin Bridge, exclusivity is part of their marketing style. Whereas the others welcome wine tourists with open arms, eager to have you sample their wines, you visit Benjamin Bridge by appointment only.
Their rationale is simple, their table wines are more expensive than most Nova Scotia wines ranging from $21.95 to $29.95 and $35.95 for a 200 ml bottle for Borealis Icewine. Nova 7 sits in the middle at $24.95. However they are best known for their sparkling wines which start at $44.50 for their rosé and rise to $74.50 for their 2004 and 2005, and 2007 Brut Reserve. $119.50 for their 2004 Blanc de Noirs and $275.50 for their 2004 Blanc de Blanc Reserve.
People who want their lower priced table wines can easily find them at the wine stores but you don’t crack open a $74 bottle of wine for every casual drop in. For the same reason, you will not find Benjamin Bridge wines in the national wine competitions. The leading wine writers and critics across the country have already raved about their wines at special tasting events and they simply don’t need the affirmation of a bunch of medals to attract their target market of high end wine connoisseurs.
It’s easy to miss the turn off to the Benjamin Bridge winery and the modest retail building is hidden by a shabby building that can be seen from the road. But there is nothing shabby about Benjamin Bridge. Its business consultants at start up included Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble whose names are golden in the Canadian wine industry as well as the internationally renowned Raphael Brisbois as consulting winemaker for their sparkling wines. Their onsite winemaker, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, has gained his winemaking experience in a number of the world’s great wine regions.
Talent like this costs money and owner Gerry MacConnell, a Nova Scotian who earned his fortune in mining interests, is not afraid to pay for the best.
Nova 7 was fashioned by Peter Gamble to resemble a moscato di asti style of wine that he and Ann enjoy for summer sipping with friends. One of its major ingredients is New York Muscat an aromatic hybrid with pink grapefruit, lychee and citrus notes. The winemaker’s tasting notes add jasmine, white rose and passion fruit to the nose and hints of mango and candied green apple on the palate. The wine is fragrant, with a mist of bubbles and pale salmon in colour. It pairs well with seafood, salads and spicy foods and at only 7% alcohol works well as a light aperitif wine.
At a time when many Nova Scotian wineries still only sell half of their wines through the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission NSLC and are waiting for the Free My Grapes movement to break down the interprovincial barriers to sell wines in other provinces, MacConnell has paid the price to ensure that Nova 7 and several of their other wines are available at premium wine stores across Canada. This year, they made 11,000 cases of Nova 7 and are holding 80% back for Nova Scotia leaving 3,200 cases for the rest of us.
I’m not sure what blows me away more: the fact that a Nova Scotia wine made predominantly from hybrids not allowed by Ontario’s Vintage Quality Assurance (VQA) standards is likely to sell out across Canada or that 105,000 bottles of it will be bought in Nova Scotia alone at a price $4 -$8 higher than comparable Nova Scotia Muscat wines.
The Nova Scotia, I left four years ago was only just waking up to the fact that it had a wine industry. Thanks to Gerry MacConnell and Nova 7, the rest of Canada will be getting that wake up call this year.
Needless to say a couple of bottles of Nova 7 came back with me from Nova Scotia and I will go looking for a bottle of it at the LCBO to share with my girls this Canada Day. You never really say farewell to Nova Scotia.
Previous blogs that I’ve written on Benjamin Bridge winery