By Shayna Wiwierski
When you live to the age of 108 years old, it’s kind of hard to dispute certain teachings.
Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards, located in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, is certified organic, as well as biodynamic, being only one of a handful of Canadian wineries to earn that title. The family-run winery, which gets its name from the people and the place that run it (Lightfoot being the family name and Wolfville being the location), celebrates the relationship with the soil and the earth.
“My family has been farming in the Annapolis Valley for eight generations, and four generations on the current farm where we are today,” says Rachel Lightfoot of Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards. “First and foremost, we are farmers, but we started planting the vineyard on the farm in 2009 and made our first vintage of wine in 2012.”
Rachel’s father, Mike Lightfoot, farms using techniques he learned from his grandmother, Evelyn Lightfoot. Evelyn farmed what would currently be considered as natural farming, meaning no chemicals or synthetic fertilizers, timing the harvesting/planting according to the Lunar cycle, and more.
“To her, it was just a common-sense way to care for your land and feed your family,” says Lightfoot, who mentions that her great grandmother lived to the age of 108 years old. “Later in life, when my father discovered biodynamic farming, it reminded him a lot of the ways his grandmother taught him when he was growing up and gave him the framework to help transition the farm back to a form of more sustainable agriculture when the grapevines were planted in 2009.”
Biodynamic farming is a form of organic farming and uses all the same core principles, meaning no pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, antibiotics, or growth hormones. It’s a holistic vision of the farm as a self-sustaining, living ecosystem, which takes into consideration all of the elements, like the plants, animals, people, soil, and the cosmic forces, and pays respect to how they all interact and influence each other. Whereas an organic vineyard would use all-natural inputs, the goal of a biodynamic farm is to produce all its own inputs on the premise, such as livestock feed (instead of bringing in an organic source, they strive to produce their own). They do keep livestock as well, such as a flock of Olde English Southdown (Babydoll) Sheep, Berkshire pigs, and Scottish Highland cattle, and use their manure to build a compost, which is what they use for fertilization.
“One of the main goals of biodynamic farming is to be as self-sufficient as possible,” says Lightfoot, who adds that they also farm based on the timing of the moon cycle. “We know the moon affects the tides. Here in Nova Scotia we are fortunate to be able to see the ocean up close every day. For us it’s not that hard to imagine if [the moon] is moving that giant body of water it’s probably having an effect on the water in the soil and plants as well.”
The winery follows the biodynamic calendar which takes natural rhythms into account and then suggests days which are good for certain practices. For example, Lightfoot mentions that this can even be extended to wine tasting as practitioners feel wine tastes better on certain days, so they schedule their important tasting days on “fruit days”, as they find that’s the best day to taste the wine.
Lightfoot & Wolfville focuses on more artisanal, minimal-intervention methods of winemaking, incorporating a lot of indigenous or wild fermentation. Instead of adding a package of yeast, they let the yeast that already exists on the fruit to ferment the wine.
“If your goal is to produce wines that speak of the place it came from, why not let the microflora of that particular vineyard do the work?” says Lightfoot, who adds that they grow classic vinifera, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Rieslings, and other German-styled white wines that were selected for the Nova Scotia climate.
The vineyard got its start after the Lightfoots learned their existing farm land would be well suited to viticulture due to its sandy loam-glacial till soil and great proximity to the Minas Basin, which helps regulate the temperature and is famous for having the world’s largest tides. Lightfoot mentions that vineyards in Nova Scotia are rarely more than 20 kilometres from a body of water, which is great for temperature regulation, air draining and air flow, which is important for keeping the leaves dry and free from disease in the vineyard.
The winery made their first vintage in 2012, released their first wines in 2015, and opened their brick and mortar in August 2017, which includes a new hospitality facility, as well as a special events venue. The Lightfoot family hired Peter Gamble, winemaking consultant from the Niagara region, to help develop their wine portfolio. Josh Horton, head winemaker, worked on the farm before they had grapevines and helped them plant their first vines. Horton attended Niagara College’s Winery & Viticulture Technician program and actually grew up steps away from the field which is home to Lightfoot & Wolfville’s Oak Island Vineyard today. Rachel Lightfoot studied at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, and co-owner, Jocelyn Lightfoot, is a trained sommelier.
Nova Scotia has a long history of growing grapes, as the area was one of the first to cultivate them in North America. Only recently though have modern wineries began to make their mark on the Canadian wine map. The terroir in the province is known for producing bright, crisp, and aromatic white wines, as well as icewine and traditional-method sparkling, thanks to its ideal temperatures. It also has a signature wine style, Tidal Bay, which reflects the terroir, coastal breezes and cooler climate of Nova Scotia.
Officially launched in 2012, Tidal Bay is a crisp aromatic white wine that must follow a set of standards, including that they must be made from specific grape varieties, including 100 per cent Nova Scotia-grown grapes.
“Each winery that is a part of the Winery Association of Nova Scotia has the opportunity to produce a Tidal Bay wine each year. [In 2017], there were 12 Tidal Bay blends, all of which follow the Tidal Bay standard, but with different blend variations to make each one unique,” says Lightfoot, who adds that their version of Tidal Bay, of which 750 cases were produced in 2016, is an aromatic blend including L’Acadie, Geisenheim-318, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Vidal. “We submit the blend to a tasting panel every spring for approval, which is made up of wine judges and sommeliers. They taste it blind and must approve that it meets the style criterion before you can release it and call it a Tidal Bay.”
Although they produced 6,000 cases last year, Lightfoot & Wolfville has been increasing their production annually since they started. Currently, their wines are sold through certain private wine stores such as Bishop’s Cellar in Halifax and select Nova Scotia Liquor Commission (NSLC) locations, but Lightfoot mentions that they are looking ahead and starting to export their products into other provinces and countries as well. Although the wine industry in Nova Scotia is currently only home to around 16 wineries, Lightfoot says that the region is certainly booming.
“There have been a few new winery projects in the last couple of years,” she says. “And a tremendous number of new vines going in the ground each year. We are certainly in a growth phase as an industry.”