So, some more thoughts about Nova Scotia wine. Sparkling is the direction for the future here. There will always be a local market for the Tidal Bay whites, and similar hybrid-based clean, fruity, appealing lighter-style wines. There will even be a strictly local future for the well made, chunky hybrid reds. But this is a market that’s limited in size. At the moment it isn’t saturated, and it’s possible that it could grow – the wines are very well made and attractive – but once it is saturated, there isn’t really the option to export these wines. Foreign markets are price sensitive and suspicious of hybrids, so it would be very hard to see Tidal Bay selling in the UK or USA, for example, except to Nova Scotia expats.
But to succeed at sparkling, in terms of making exciting wines that are internationally relevant, will require courage, a long-term vision, and some cash. This is not an easy place to grow vinifera and get it ripe enough. It is a marginal climate. But playing on the margins is where greatness can be achieved. Some people will try and fail, but the rewards for success are potentially high, if producers can keep their nerve. Making high quality traditional method fizz is a long game.
The English situation is worth bringing in here, because England has a similarly marginal climate, and producers of sparkling wine here have their work cut out. Some are succeeding, and there are now perhaps a dozen really serious producers in the UK who have some track record and whose brand is well established.
At the Atlantic Wine forum, Stephen Skelton was bold enough to say that English sparkling wine is better than Champagne. I disagreed with him publicly about this: English sparkling wine can be excellent, and is getting better, but it’s a dangerous delusion to say that it’s better than Champagne. There are just so many great Champagne producers, and the top wines are stunning. For all the progress that English wine has made, this ‘better than Champagne’ talk is potentially damaging if producers think they’ve already arrived, when there’s still some distance to go.
I think that for many producers in Nova Scotia, modest success is the enemy of true success. It’s perfectly fine to make wines for the local market, but when there’s the potential to do something internationally relevant, then why not try? If your business is turning a small profit, then it’s very hard to suggest changing direction and refocusing on a risky strategy like making vinifera-based sparkling wine. But, equally, just because things are going fine now, doesn’t mean that they will stay that way. Businesses can’t stand still: they must evolve and adapt. Maintenance thinking leads to disaster in the long-term. And how a business is performing now is a result of decisions made some time ago; how the business will perform in a few years is a result of decisions made today. So it’s important always to have the courage to plot a course and strategy rather than simply react to current market conditions.
Nova Scotia is a really interesting place, and now is the time for it to consider how it tells its story to the world, and just what that story is.