Labour of love
By Dan Woolley
By Dan Woolley
A shared passion for wine, food and travel ultimately inspired expatriate couple John McLarty and Lisa Law to found Nova Scotia’s latest vineyard and winery, Planter’s Ridge.
Ten years before retiring early as a chemical engineer based in Ontario, McLarty and his partner, Law, repeatedly visited the wine regions of Tuscany and Austria, learning the basics of winemaking and vineyard management.
Retiring in 2010, he and Law began searching the Internet for wineries on the market and came up with Nova Scotia.
“We weren’t even aware there was fledgling wine industry here,” McLarty says.
The couple visited Nova Scotia several times looking for a vineyard and winery site, ultimately seeking the advice of provincial wine industry leader, Hans Christian Jost, as to what to look for.
“Everything felt right about this region,” McLarty says.
In 2010, they found 7.5 acres with a 150-year-old barn and farmhouse. They bought the property from Alan and June Woodworth, the seventh generation of Alan’s family to live on the site. The Woodworths were New England planters who settled there in 1763.
McLarty named the future vineyard and winery Planter’s Ridge after the Planters who settled in the Annapolis Valley following the expulsion of the Acadians.
After purchasing the land, he immediately tile drained the sandy-clay soil and, in the spring of 2011 planted winter-hardy hybrids typically grown in Nova Scotia: L’Acadie Blanc, Frontenac Gris, New York Muscat, Marquette, Castel and Lucie Kuhlmann. On the property’s highest, south-facing slope, McLarty grows a Riesling varietal.
The couple’s main focus is on making blended wines. Blended wines will be more complex in bouquet, taste and texture, McLarty says.
“We think you make a much better wine by blending,” he says. “We tend to make our wines dry to off-dry. We don’t make sweet wines.”
The couple also buys grapes from other local growers and is in the process of buying another vineyard in the Annapolis Valley.
In the spring of 2014, McLarty and Law bottled their first wine, a learning experience.
“The wine is really made in the vineyard from great grapes,” says McLarty.
Planter’s Ridge grapes are hand harvested and closely inspected for disease or damage, he says, adding the fruit is handled gently to avoid contamination from bitter compounds in the stems and grapes, such as pyroxene.
Red grapes are de-stemmed and thinned of immature grapes, which can contain the undesirable compounds.
“It makes for a better wine, but it reduces your grape harvest by about seven per cent.”
McLarty covers the vineyard’s 6.5 acres with bird nets, a management practice that costs about $10,000 but the nets can last up to 10 years.
“If you don’t put on nets, you don’t get ripe grapes because the birds pick the vines,” he says. “Nets are expensive but they are usually key in my mind to making great wines.”
Once the grapes reach his winery – located in the extensively re-modeled 150-year-old barn – they are carefully processed to ensure high quality wine in the latest, top-of-the-line, German-made machinery consisting of four, stainless steel fermentation tanks, a de-stemmer and wine press.
The fermentation tanks are temperature-controlled, McLarty explains, adding he ferments his white wine at 12 C. Without temperature controls, the temperature in the fermentation tanks could range as high as 20 to 22 C, “which blows off the aromatics in the wine and prolongs the finish.”
Located beneath the fermentation tanks is a barrel cellar containing European oak barrels where the red wines are aged for more than 10 months. The barrel cellar, one of only three of its kind in Nova Scotia, is comprised of stone foundation on three sides and glass doors on the fourth, providing the perfect condition for red wine aging, McLarty says.
The barrel cellar is also an ideal rental location for business meetings or small, intimate dinners, he adds. Meetings can also be held in the wine tasting room and reception area next to the wine making room.
Planter’s Ridge wines are available for sale at the reception desk in the barn, plus at local restaurants, farmers’ markets, several Nova Scotia Liquor Commission outlets and a number of private wine and spirit stores.
“Anyone can make wine, but not everyone can make great wine,” McLarty believes.
He has retained an experienced wine industry consultant, Natalie Spytkowsky, from Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula who owns Vines to Vintages, a wine industry consulting firm that has advised some 40 wineries in Canada and the U.S., to help Planter’s Ridge achieve the edge of excellence the vineyard seeks in its winemaking.
Currently, she is consulting and making wine for wineries in Beamsville and Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario as well as Planter’s Ridge near Port Williams, NS.