I recently learned that there are about 10,000 different varieties of grapes in this world. I think that there is likely just as much variety in the people that grow them. I’ve met a few wine growers in my day but perhaps none quite as affable as Andrew Fraser who has about 1000 vines growing in his backyard in Pictou Landing.
In an area of the province that these days is more known for some contentions environmental faux pas, Andrew has created a little vineyard haven tucked away down a little winding driveway not far from the Pictou Landing First Nations and a fishing wharf. In fact, the netting that drapes over his vines on this brilliant fall day to protect his grapes from pilfering crows have come from neighbouring fishers.
There is not much about Andrew that screams vineyard owner archetype. On first impression, you might peg him as more of a brew master, yes he has had his time doing this as well, but when you go for a stroll through the little vineyard with Andrew not only are you captured by his smile but also buy his knowledge of the local wine industry and the obvious pleasure he derives from cultivating grapes.
Andrews’s vines occupy a good portion of his hobby farm that was once his dad’s cow pasture. He was growing haskap, plums, pears and raspberries that he was harvesting and making jams and jellies. He says one day he just thought, ‘why not grow grapes’ and that’s just what he did.
Hans Christen, former owner of Jost and Jürg Stutz, a winemaker from the valley were valuable sources of information for Andrew who says that everyone in the grape growing and wine business are happy to help. He also turned to the Agricultural College and the University of Guelph to learn what he needed to grow healthy producing vines.
“I grow grapes for my own pleasure and make wine that is not sophisticated, I guess it’s quaffing wine,” he laughs as he picks a couple of grapes from a bunch that is soaking up their last couple of days of sunshine before they fulfil their destiny.
Andrew pulls a gadget out of the back pocket of his jeans. It’s a refracometer, a tool that all winemakers use to measure the sugar level in the grapes that they refer to as Brix. When the Brix level is optimal it’s time to harvest.
Growing organically is very important to Andrew, as is the old fashioned way of stomping his grapes. “It’s just really amazing to make a bottle of wine the old fashioned way. Lots of people can make it from a kit but tending to the vines, seeing them grow and then going through the process of making the wine and bottling it on your own is pretty special.”
Andrews enjoys gifting his wine. His ROI is his pure enjoyment. He says he can’t count the number of hours he invests in every grape growing season.
Back at his little house that he built a few years ago we sit down at his kitchen table. He asks if I want to taste some. He opens a red from a previous year’s harvest and pours a little more than I will be able to consume, considering that I need to drive back to work. I pretend to know how to taste wine; I look, sniff, swirl and sip. Andrew was right, it’s quite quaffable!
Things to consider if you want to grow your own grapes for wine. A few tips from Andrew Fraser:
• Choose a sunny location away from any structures
• Do your research, there are grapes that grow better in Nova Scotia than others
• Ask lots of questions most grape growers are happy to help
• Makes sure your soil has good drainage. Vines don’t like having wet feet. The roots can grow quite deep to find the moisture they need
• Do your spring pruning
• Once they start to grow the vines need to be tucked along the trellis and trained
• I fertilize when they start to grow
• Leave lots of time to harvest depending on the number of vines that you have grown