Domaine de Grand Pré
You'd think after winning three gold medals and one bronze at the prestigious All Canadian Wine Championships that Hanspeter Stutz would be eager to talk about the success his wines have achieved for his winery. But according to the owner of Domaine de Grand Pré, the beverages in those bottles are just one of the reasons the winery is doing so well.
He points first to the winery's unique location in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley, an area renowned for its cultural diversity, charm, and natural beauty. Some of the province's richest farmlands surround the winery, and the world's highest tides in the Minas Basin fall and rise just behind. It's more than breathtakingly beautiful, it's convenient: one hour from a major city (Halifax), one hour from the international airport, 30 seconds from the highway, the same again from a major historic site (Grand Pré), and three minutes from a very active university town (Wolfville). When Stutz bought Domaine de Grand Pré 14 years ago, he immediately saw the potential. "(Location) is the most important part for an operation like this," he says. "If you build a tourism destination, it's all about location."
Notice that he called it a tourism destination. Not a winery. While many businesses have found Nova Scotia's central location between the West Coast and Europe has led to success in exporting products, certain rules and regulations preclude Stutz from doing the same. To his way of thinking, however, the same central location that makes it easy for Nova Scotia to access the world, makes it just as easy for the world to come to him. So from the very beginning, Stutz based the success of Domaine de Grand Pré on attracting visitors to the winery, as well as wine lovers to his product.
His strategy was to offer only the highest quality experience in everything associated with the winery. That strict attention to quality is evident throughout, starting with the fantastic impression the estate makes on visitors. "They come up and say 'Wow!' just from the outside," says Stutz. The picturesque courtyard, the magnificent pergola and Italian-style patio are all designed to deliver the quality message. And it goes on from there: "It doesn't matter if it's the person who answers the phone, or the woman behind the desk," continues Stutz. The wine store, the restaurant - everything adheres to the standard.
Stutz understands the power of these first impressions and offers his own perspective as a consumer. "Somebody asked me how do I evaluate a restaurant. I said, it's two things: the bathroom and the salad. If the bathroom is clean, with perhaps a flower or a picture, the whole operation is like that. If the salad is fresh and nice looking, 95 per cent of the food will be excellent. That's the mirror of the restaurant."
While Stutz was in control of every aspect of his business, there's one thing he couldn't control that has a direct impact on the quality of his product: the climate. As he describes it, Nova Scotia's unique weather forced him and his son, who is the winemaker, to think creatively - "outside the bottle" you might say. That innovative thinking is what made the winery a winner in a very competitive field.
"We are in a cool climate zone," explains Stutz. "It's not possible to produce Merlot, Pinot, or Chardonnay. The winter is too cold. The window for ripe fruit is too small. We decided to use this to create some unique varietals that grow only here in Nova Scotia."
"I said let us produce wines that capture the bounty of the soil and sea," says Stutz. "Wines that are perfect matches for scallops, lobster, and haddock." Today, these varietals include L'Acadie Blanc, Verrazano, and even peach, blueberry, and maple sparkling wines.
Another bounty from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley is apples, which Stutz uses to create both a Pomme d'Or wine and a hard apple cider that carries the family name: Stutz. Their 2006 Vidal Ice Wine, a product of Nova Scotia's singular winters, recently brought home a gold medal. "Vidal ice wine is an icon for the big boys in Ontario," says Stutz. "And here is a winery called Domaine de Grand Pré in Nova Scotia who hit these guys and passed them. That's amazing."
Innovative ideas abound at Domaine de Grand Pré. In fact, Stutz's email signature is: "Creativity is the production of a novel and useful idea in any domain." Where does he find them? Stutz credits Nova Scotia's fields, farms, and friendly people as the source.
For example, one idea grew from the Valley's two popular fall pumpkin festivals: Kentville's Pumpkin People and Windsor's Pumpkin Regatta. "I thought: 'what can we do to close the gap between these two towns and create something special?'" says Stutz. "I had the idea to create a culinary pumpkin event and involve all the restaurants, farm markets, and wineries in the region." In true Nova Scotian fashion, he quickly had full and enthusiastic co-operation from the communities. "We had amazing success in the last two years, and it's growing."
A morning walk along the dykes inspired a new type of wine club called Crush. "Most wine clubs are simply marketing tools to sell people cases of wine," says Stutz. "Ours brings the members closer to our operation." Members own a grape vine in the vineyard that will carry their name, and they're invited to special tastings. They're the first group outside the family who get to taste the new wines.
Simply listening to the people who drop by the winery gave Stutz the idea for a different type of tasting bar - a sniffing station. Wine culture is growing in Nova Scotia, but not many people have the chance to really learn how to taste, and that taste starts with the aroma. At the sniffing station "you can open a small bottle and exactly smell the flavours we're talking about; like cherry, green pepper, black currant, and green apple. Nobody else has a sniffing station in North America."
And a recent visit from a bus tour of bikers sparked the idea to create a harvest festival bike race that would pass through all the wineries in the area. "Health and wellness are very important issues," says Stutz, who stresses the importance of keeping up with trends. "These are moments to be inventive. We will make this an amazing event on the health side."
He sees nothing but opportunity in his industry for those who understand the importance of quality and innovation. And his visitor log proves him right: more than 50 cruise ship tours will stop at the winery this year alone, along with top wine and travel writers from some of Europe's most prestigious publications.
In raising a glass to innovative opportunities, Stutz delivers one more lesson in quality: to properly say cheers, "we must have eye contact. It's a small thing that is very big in wine culture." So here's to just one of the many reasons the world is coming to a small part of Nova Scotia where a business is big on quality.
Feature story written Margaret MacQuarrie