Lightfoot & Wolfville: Biodynamic Wine from Nova Scotia

Photo: Contributed

Tasting Lightfoot and Wolfville for the first time was one of those profound moments that are impossible to curate - they just happen - and when they do, they're unforgettable.

I'd taken a wine tour in Slovenia with Real Wine Retreats in June of 2019. Fellow guest Stefan Nielsen, a sommelier at Little Oak Bar in Halifax, had packed a bottle of Lightfoot and Wolfville's 2016 Ancienne Wild Fermented Chardonnay in his suitcase.

That particular day of the retreat had brought us to seaside town Strunjan, to enjoy a picnic and boat ride at Fonda Fish Farm with owner Irena Fonda.

The setting? In a word – magical. A seemingly endless supply of bottles flowed, the sunshine dancing playfully on Piran Bay as laughter reverberated and fond memories etched into our psyches.

A number of Canadians had been welcomed on the trip – myself, Stefan and Erika Neudorf (whose family owns The Farm Winery in Niagara). The thought had not been lost of the opportunity to showcase Canadian wine – the three of us having smuggled bottles in our luggage to share with the other guests who’d never tasted wine from our region.

Stefan mentioned he’d been holding on to the bottle of Ancienne for some time, waiting for the perfect opportunity - and company - to share it with.

We enjoyed a beautiful lunch of fresh seafood prepared by the inimitable Fonda team – mussels, BBQ’d sea bass, tuna canapes – paired with an incredible lineup of wines from Radikon, Gordia, and Lightfoot and Wolfville.

The looks of surprised delight from the group while tasting a Canadian Chardonnay left us with a resounding sense of pride, and grateful for the opportunity to share just a small snapshot of the incredible caliber of wines being produced in our country.

Rachel Lightfoot, granddaughter of founder Evelyn Rose Lightfoot, is now carrying on the family legacy and making waves on the global wine stage.

Thank you to Rachel for taking the time to speak with me.

LM: What is your role in the winery?

RL: I am lucky to have a role that is quite diverse and touches many different aspects of our small, yet multi-faceted, family business. My academic background is in oenology and viticulture, which led me to focus entirely on the production side of things for my first few years in the wine industry. I transitioned into a role that is more on the business management side in 2017, inspired to help direct our growth and evolution in a way that stays true to our vision and core values.

Photo: Contributed

LM: What's your response to people who are surprised to hear wine is made in Nova Scotia?

RL: Excitement! One of my roles with the winery finds me frequently travelling to pour our wines and help fly the flag for Nova Scotia wine outside of the province where I hear this reaction often, not surprising given it's such a young wine region. When travelling internationally I even find many people are surprised to hear we make wine in all of Canada, let alone Nova Scotia. I find it incredibly energizing and exciting to share NS wines with someone who is tasting them for the first time; to tell the story of how the Bay of Fundy and the world’s highest tides influence our terroir, providing tremendous potential for the production of distinctive, quality-driven cool-climate wines.

LM: How long have you been farming biodynamically? What benefits do you see or can you share, that are a direct result of this approach?

RL: For around ten years now. We started to diversify the home farm by planting our first vines back in 2009 and we began farming biodynamically around that time, receiving our full Demeter certification in 2016. Before planting the vineyard, the producers and wines we gravitated towards and connected to the most throughout our travels often turned out to be biodynamic. Like many others who identify as winegrowers, our ultimate aim is to produce wines with the purest expression of place possible. And as a multi-generational farm it is important to us to operate in a way that betters the land for future generations, rather than depletes it.

Biodynamics has helped us restore greater vitality to our farm in general. We see more and more wildlife and biodiversity here with every passing year which reaffirms our commitment. But the greatest benefit I see is the quality and purity of product. I believe the core principle at the heart of biodynamics, as outlined by Steiner during the agriculture lectures - that a farm is healthiest and true to its essential nature when viewed and managed as a self-contained, individual entity - allows for maximum quality potential, whether it be of grapes, wine or food - by allowing for the purest expression of a particular place.

Photo: Contributed

LM: Are there specific traits, flavours, or textures in wine made biodynamically, as opposed to not?

RL: I find biodynamic wines are typically more vibrant in flavour with less “in the way”, conveying a greater sense of place and enhanced textures when compared to conventional wines.

LM: What's your response or feeling to how social media has been utilized for wine? On the one hand, it's given natural/minimal intervention a stage, helping the trend to spread. However, it's fallen prey to the old adage of "the cool kids club" or wine that isn't actually natural being popularized. What's your take?

RL: I can see both positives and negatives to social media’s influence on wine culture. Overall I think it’s done more good than not by making natural wine, and wine in general, more accessible. The downsides include the whole influencer-type subculture which can be quite cringey and inauthentic, and the “cool kids club” part you speak of, which can feel elitist at times. I think it goes without saying that it’s more important than ever to be critical about the content we consume, just like with any other media.

Photo: Contributed

LM: How do you feel when you see alleged local/organic supporters...but then they drink mass produced plonk? Do you think that's a disconnect we'll ever be able to overcome?

RL: That disconnect can be frustrating. I think this underscores the importance of folks such as yourself who share their knowledge by producing quality education-based content pointing out the differences and why they are so important. This is also one of the reasons it was so important for us to incorporate a robust hospitality operation as part of our winery business model, offering tasting experiences and events focused on education and transparency. It’s disheartening to see certain wineries engage in greenwashing marketing efforts that only further confuse consumers. Although third-party certifications (such as organic / biodynamic) can have their flaws, I do feel they allow for greater accountability in this respect.

LM: Who are some of your mentors and idols?

RL: One of my greatest all-time inspirations is my Great Grandmother, Evelyn Rose Lightfoot. Around four and a half feet tall and tougher than nails, she was the first generation of the Lightfoot family to farm the land where the winery is today. She didn’t call her methods organic or biodynamic but she had that old-school wisdom to shun chemicals and synthetic fertilizers, and it was her who taught my father to compost and plant a garden according to the moon cycle. She lived to be two days shy of 108 years old so it’s hard to dispute her teachings.

Photo: Contributed

LM: What's a style of wine you really love?

RL: Sparkling. I really love bubbles and luckily our growing environment in Nova Scotia is incredibly well suited.

LM: What's a style you'd love to make, that you haven't already?

RL: I’ve tasted a few super delicious natural wines from Northern Italy recently that weren’t 100% skin-fermented but were white wines containing a skin-contact component. We’ve made a few 100% skin-fermented whites but I’d love to explore the possibility of blending different components.

LM: What improvements, if any, would you say the Canadian wine industry is in need of?

RL: A lessening of the inter-provincial barriers including direct-to-consumer sales would be a huge improvement. I find it ridiculous that as a Nova Scotia consumer it’s easier to access wines from France than from BC, for example.

Photo: Contributed

LM: What's been in your glass lately?

RL: A dear friend in Niagara recently sent me a trio of three different single-vineyard Gamays by Bachelder which were really beautiful expressions of the region.

LM: How have you been affected by Corona?

RL: I live on the farm with the vineyard in my backyard which is a pretty idyllic place to isolate. I feel incredibly grateful to be here, especially right now. In some ways it's been a really busy time between pivoting to all online sales and delivery, bottling season with a smaller team than usual, and lambing season which keeps me busy day and night every April. In other ways, Corona has forced us to slow down a bit and connect more as a family, re-connect with the farm and think bigger picture.

You can learn more about the winery here, and follow Rachel on Instagram @rachhlightfoot.