In 1989, Carl Sparkes travelled to the Rhône, just one of many trips that have taken him to approximately 400 wineries around the world. But on that particular visit, something clicked. “After that trip, I realized I would someday own a winery,” he says. It wasn’t until 2011 that he moved back to Nova Scotia and put in an offer on Jost Vineyards in the Annapolis Valley, which had been planted by the Jost family in 1978. Today, Sparkes and his wife Donna are at the forefront of Atlantic Canada’s wine industry as proprietors of Devonian Coast Wineries, which includes Jost, Gaspereau Vineyards and Mercator Vineyards.
In Nova Scotia, which received its first wine appellation (Tidal Bay) in 2012, L’Acadie blanc is the predominant varietal. Although Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and a number of French hybrids are becoming more common, L’Acadie “really is Nova Scotia’s own grape,” says Sparkes.
“We’ve had a lot of experimentation over the years; we’ve honed in on what we do best: cool-climate aromatic whites and sparkling wines [that make] perfect accompaniments to the incredible seafood and shellfish that we’re known for,” he says. “Lobster and Tidal Bay are inextricably linked.”
Growing grapes in Nova Scotia has its challenges, but the region benefits considerably from the warm waters of the Northumberland Strait. “All the vineyards are in previously agricultural ground. Every particular vineyard has distinct characteristics,” Sparkes says.
When he took over Jost in 2016, Sparkes imported Jonathan Rodwell from Europe as his director of Winemaking and Viticulture. “We collapsed a number of wines and improved the quality considerably. We’re into our sixth vintage now and we’re pretty proud of it. None of these wines sell below $20, so they’re premium wines, and they’re outpacing the growth of other premium wines here.”
He notes that his products now account for seven per cent of the total wines sold in Nova Scotia, but 15 per cent of wines priced over $20.
“When I first came into this business, my job as a winemaker and a marketer was giving Canadians — and Nova Scotians in particular — permission to be proud of their wines,” he says. “I’ve seen the confidence growing every year as [winemakers] get to see what they’re dealing with, and they’re responding to the favourable support from consumers, so I’m seeing wine blossoming.”
Written by Sarah B. Hood