HALIFAX – Grape vines are quickly spreading across a greater swath of Nova Scotia’s agricultural heartland, taking over 40 per cent more land than they did four years ago and giving guarded hope to the province’s fledgling wine industry.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Frank Dunn said Wednesday that about 360 hectares of land were being used to grow grapes last year, compared to about 255 hectares in 2014.
But he cautioned that the payoff may not be seen quickly — it will take years to turn those crops into wine.
“It is an industry we need to be patient with,” he told a legislature committee. “I am very optimistic that it is an industry that we will be able to be successful in because our product is so unique.
“We produce a high quality wine in Nova Scotia — a wine that is recognized around the world.”
Dunn was addressing questions about the evolution of an industry that took hold in the province in the 1970s and has been expanding slowly but steadily over the last decade. The province introduced the $12-million Vineyard and Wineries Investment Program in 2014 to help grow the industry by helping companies expand acreage, do research and market their product.
About half of the land used to grow grapes is used exclusively by farms that sell their crops to wineries, with the remainder used by wineries to grow their own grapes.
The program budgeted roughly $3.5 million a year for four years. The industry employs roughly 640 people directly and brought in $17.5 million in sales last year.
He said the program has helped the province’s 16 wineries stretch their acreage and take their wines to the international market. Dunn said the industry has already won distinctions globally, noting that British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay famously added Nova Scotia’s Benjamin Bridge Brute Reserve to his wine list last summer.
The province also had its first appellation in 2012 with Tidal Bay, made from grapes grown in Nova Scotia. And, Dunn said Nova Scotia wines have received about 200 awards “in a very short time.”
Dunn told the public accounts committee that shifts linked to climate change are also having an unexpected benefit for the industry, which can now grow varieties once off limits because of the region’s cool temperatures.
Producers in the Annapolis Valley say their vineyards have flourished as temperatures have moderated. Vineyards in areas once thought too cold for anything but hardy hybrid grapes designed for North America have started planting European chardonnay and riesling varieties.