Gerry McConnell

Co-owner, Benjamin Bridge Vineyards, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia

“I was looking for a job that would allow me to start tasting wine at 8 a.m.,” jokes mining executive and vineyard co-owner Gerry McConnell. His much-hyped start-up created buzz last year with Nova 7, a lightly sparkling off-dry white wine that sold out in just 10 days. Now the winery is getting ready to show that Nova Scotia can give Champagne a run for its money.

How did you get started in wine?
My wife and I had just moved to a new house near the Gaspereau Valley, and I saw Hans Christian Jost [a pioneer of Nova Scotian wine] planting a vineyard there. In 1999, I bought a 70-acre farm with a south-facing slope, and we started trying all sorts of varieties and plantings. We even planted some sauvignon blanc that has experts raving, and we’re adding more pinot and chardonnay.

What’s the best thing – and the biggest challenge – about your region?
Nova Scotia’s climate is near the edge of what’s required to make wine. But it turns out that most of the great wines of the world come from regions that are on the edge. Pedestrian wines come from regions where grapes grow like crazy.

What’s next for Benjamin Bridge?
This was our first summer as a certified organic vineyard. The first release of our traditional-method sparklers is scheduled for later this year, and our new winery will open in 2011.

What’s the next big thing for Canadian wine?
Nova Scotia sparkling. We’ve discovered we can make something unique and distinctive.


 

Deborah Paskus

Winemaker, Closson Chase, Prince Edward County, Ontario

When one of Deborah Paskus’s friends told her he was planting vines in Prince Edward County, she thought he was crazy. Soon enough, though, she was doing the same thing. Since planting vineyards at Closson Chase in 1999, she’s been showing the full potential of cool-climate wine-growing with pinot noirs and chardonnays that are delicate and intense.

What’s the best thing – and the biggest challenge – about your region?
We have shallow soil, with fractured limestone underneath, on a nice slope toward Lake Ontario. That’s very good for pinot and chardonnay, which benefit from this mineral character. However, we have very cold winters, which can cause complete loss of our vines. So we have to bury the canes every winter, which is very time-sensitive and increases our labour costs.

What makes a great wine – grapes or winemakers?
In the wine world, it’s the vineyards that are famous. If you don’t get good grapes, you can’t fake it.

What’s the biggest challenge about making wine in Canada?
We could use more help from the liquor boards. There’s not a lot of provincial co-operation to help get our wines to the consumers.

Which of your wines are you most proud of, and why?
At 12 years of age, the 1997 Temkin-Paskus chardonnay is still drinking well. And there’s the 2005 Iconoclast. We had these two barrels that were perfect in every way; they had everything I’d been looking to make for over 10 years. They were so good, I wanted to pretend they got lost and secretly take them home.


 

Randy Picton

Winemaker, Nk’Mip Cellars, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

 

Partially owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band, Nk’Mip (pronounced “in-ka-meep”) shares in a vast development project on Osoyoos Lake. Using grapes grown partly on aboriginal land, Randy Picton, a former forestry worker who got into wine “for a change of pace,” is striving to encourage young band members to develop a career in winemaking.

What makes your wines distinctive?
The vineyards and the variety of soils. Our pinot noirs, pinot blancs, chardonnays and rieslings all come from very mineral-laden gravelly soils while our merlots, cabernet sauvignons and syrahs all come from a sandy clay/soil mixture. You can have vines of merlot growing only 200 metres apart but with dramatically different flavour profiles. We also get a lot of mineral character in the white wines. Few regions can do riesling and syrah well in the same place.

What’s next for Nk’Mip?
At 18,500 cases per year, the winery is at capacity, so we’re concentrating on building up our upper-tier wines. That mainly means improving work in the vineyards, like controlling crop levels. Our top wines are called Qwam Qwmt, a term from the Osoyoos Indian Band’s language that means “achieving excellence.”

What do you look for in a wine?
Complexity. I want to keep sniffing it.

What’s the next step for Canadian wines?
Making sure we have the proper grapes planted in the proper climates. If we get that right, it’ll take us to the next level.