Wines of change | Food + Drink Festivals | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Wines of change

With new owners, a keen winemaker and a fresh vision, Jost Vineyards–Nova Scotia’s wine pioneer–is ready to take flight.

Jost Vineyards are piercing green this time of year. Hundreds of rows of vines run down the slopes of the grassy hills toward the Northumberland Straight. The fruit hangs low–light green, dusty pink, deep purple–waiting for the last inklings of warmth to bring them to ideal ripeness.

The birds and bears are just as eager as the winemakers to fetch the maturing grapes. The screeches of birds of prey, and gunshots, echo through the vineyard, but are only imitations booming through solar powered loud speakers to detract those animals with a sweet tooth.

In a few weeks Jost winery in Malagash will begin its 30th harvest. That's 30 years of cold winters, bud break, pruning and hard work. Yet, in winery years 30 is just the beginning, the years of growing pains, if compared to other wineries that are centuries old. For the majority of those years the Josts, the founding family of Nova Scotia wine, broke the trail for other wineries, winemakers and entrepreneurs in the province, and that is not about to change even if new blood has taken over.

Although the seminal vineyard has changed hands, businessman and wine lover Carl Sparkes, and his wife Donna, have every intention of continuing to spearhead the fast growing wine industry. "I think Nova Scotia wine has a lot more potential than we can even imagine today," he says.

Sparkes' company, Devonian Coast Wineries, will include three sites: Jost Vineyards, Gaspereau Vineyards and the previous site of Muir Murray Estate Winery, which has yet to be renamed. The three wineries will represent three facets of their company. Jost will offer quality everyday wines, Gaspereau slightly higher-end boutique wine with a smaller catalogue and the newest site will be home to its premium wines, which Sparkes says will "bring more international styles into Nova Scotia."

Sparkes is no stranger to elevating a brand, having helped popularize Olivieri and Bento Sushi. His plan is to make Jost's wines, and Nova Scotian wines, more widely accepted, bought and respected throughout the province and country.

To change opinions on Jost products, or turn new people onto the brand, Sparkes has been pushing for bars and restaurants to carry their wine by the glass so that people can enjoy it without having to commit to a full bottle. He's trying to improve upon a product and brand, and wants people to be able to judge for themselves saying their new wines will spread through "word of mouthful."

Sparkes hopes reducing their wine catalogue and bringing new methods of winemaking and viticulture to Jost will make it work in the brand's favour. "My mantra at the end of the day is more of fewer wines made better."

The decision to downsize the Jost catalogue also meant blending grapes from private grape growers who had previously had their own lot wines. Though Sparkes wants to maintain relationships with growers around the province, and is open to working with anyone serious about growing grapes, he says the winemaking decisions will be based on quality and practicality.

To take the company in a new direction it was important to start off with a clean slate, which meant a new winemaker, winery renovations, new branding and labels, and selling out the old vintages.

Chris Frey, a young, tattoo-covered winemaker with an array of experience working abroad was hired as a new addition to the team.

"His first task was to make me understand how far we can go," with winemaking in Nova Scotia, says Sparkes. "And liken it to other experiences and climates he'd been in."

For the Sparkes', owning a vineyard was a longtime dream. The couple has travelled the world, visiting more than 200 wineries in the process, says Donna. Their travel to vineyards and tasting rooms worldwide has been helpful in creating their own vision. "What we're doing here is totally a collection of our learnings," says Sparkes.

As for the winery at Jost, the facilities are undergoing massive changes; Donna calls the new style of the facilities and tasting room "industrial chic."

Since Jost is farther out of the city than other vineyards, Sparkes says that a rule-of-thumb is to provide twice as many hours of entertainment value as the hours it took for visitors to travel to the site. The improvement of the winery, special events and music nights will create more draw to come visit, says Sparkes.

Jost's new facilities should be fully functional by the end of October. Once the renovations are complete the building will be very open, with floor to ceiling windows, a huge circular tasting bar, and shelving, made of repurposed barrel slats, a private tasting room for groups,and lounge style seating and a two sided fireplace to be enjoyed inside and out.

"My job as a marketer and a winery owner is to make Nova Scotians proud of their wine industry, and I think we all have that responsibility," says Sparkes. "But I think it's exciting to see people connect to their local wines, and to be able to create wines that are good and that people are surprised about...nothing excites me more than that. Nothing."

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