Benjamin Bridge released their much-anticipated ’04 Blanc de Blancs last week. As has become custom, they invited by appointment small, like-minded groups to join owner and founder Gerry McConnell, wine-maker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and chief consultant Peter J. Gamble to taste the results. The meeting spot was at Noble, a small, speak-easy style bar hidden in the basement of The Middle Spoon.

Gerry McConnell

Benjamin Bridge Founder Gerry McConnell

The vibe at Noble is suitably secretive and the ‘board-meeting’ set-up established an appropriate air of stateliness. (Though, a gripe if I may: the dim lighting, moody as it was, prevented a real look at the wine’s colour… and from getting a decent pic with my low-tech point-and-shoot!)

The cuvées of Benjamin Bridge have often been compared to the great houses of Champagne. But perhaps where BB is surpassing traditional Champagne methodologies – certainly those of the big houses – is in its nimble, Grower’s approach. All of BB’s bottlings have been site-specific and vintage to date. The grapes aren’t purchased from “all-over” and blended into a consistent house-style. Rather, they take an estate-focused approach: growing their own vines (or at least working very closely with their growers), crafting their own blends and bottling their own wines. They allocate time and resources to properly cultivate a terroir-driven product, carefully matching grape to place and meticulously monitoring activity in the vineyard. They are free to experiment in the winery (e.g. spontaneous and wild ferments) with the flexibility to meet the special needs of each project – all while interfering in the process as little as possible (which, as Jean-Benoit pointed out, is very much a conscious effort).

And as it turns out, Nova Scotia is not a bad spot to do it all in. We not only have a cooler climate than Champagne, but we often enjoy a longer ripening season, naturally lower cropping levels and higher grape acid levels. It was hinted at the tasting that perhaps the only other region besides ourselves and Champagne with similar conditions and potential is in and around the English South Downs – or, West Sussex and Hampshire (read: Nyetimber).

Peter Gamble Jean-Benoit

Peter Gamble and Jean-Benoit Deslauriers

The Benjamin Bridge story is an inspiring one. A ten-year project involving some of the best minds and hands in the business (including the late, legendary Raphaël Brisbois of Piper-Heidsieck who was surprised to even find grapes in Nova Scotia, let alone ones to rival those of his homeland). They had one agenda: to make the very best sparkling wines possible. Throughout the project they’ve shown an almost obsessive attention to detail and a relentless pursuit of quality that is quite admirable.

Also in the tasting lineup was the ’09 Brut and ’07 Brut Reserve (already sold out at the winery). 2009 was their last year for hybrids and as of 2010 only vinifera appear in their Méthode Classique program.

The ’04 Blanc de Blancs is of course 100% Chardonnay – harvested from one of the coolest growing seasons in the last 2 decades. It spent 9 years on the lees. What struck me immediately was how alive, yet balanced it was – buzzing with acidity and at the same time exceptionally soft. Beyond this, I will simply re-quote Jean-Benoit and won’t bore you with my tasting notes! This wine is as much about appreciating the effort involved in creating it, as it is in enjoying the results.

04 Benjamin Bridge Blanc de Blancs

’04 Benjamin Bridge Blanc de Blancs

“…brilliant pale gold colour with a fine persistent mousse. Complex aromas of white mint, key lime, and wet stones… The palate displays and array of bright citrus fruit and endless mineral undertones. This exquisite wine owes its brilliance to an extremely rare combination of richness and brightness and a superb balance of concentration and elegance.”
– Jean-Benoit Deslauriers

At $280 per bottle and with only 4 cases available for sale in NS (the rest going to the BB club, export and the family cellar) many will not get to try this remarkable sparkler. But, with an expected 15-20 years aging potential, this should give you ample time to find someone, somewhere with a bit in their cellar willing to share.