We had the opportunity to chat with Melanie Eelman, Owner of Beausoleil Farmstead Cidery & Winery, about her and her family’s entrepreneurial journey back to Nova Scotia and how sampling a flight of wines with her husband, Jake, in the Annapolis Valley has changed their lives, while offering vinous ciders as an emerging category in both the cider and wine worlds for Nova Scotians to share with the rest of Canada and beyond.
Nova Scotia is home for Melanie and Jake Eelman as they grew up around the Tatamagouche area of the province before heading off to Ontario in pursuit of their careers. Jake Eelman has twenty years experience with the Federal Government with several departments including Agriculture Canada and Infrastructure Canada. Melanie Eelman received her PhD in Chemistry from Dalhousie University and completed her Postdoc in Ottawa where the two of them spent 10 years before coming back to Nova Scotia.
Moving back to Nova Scotia was always one of their goals. “We are proud to call ourselves Nova Scotians and we had always discussed that if we had the opportunity to move back, we would, and that opportunity presented itself in 2012.” Originally the couple moved back to the Annapolis Valley town of Kentville before discovering their current property in Port Williams in 2017 that is now known as Beausoleil Farmstead Cidery & Winery more or less by fate. The Eelmans’ purchased the property in June of that same year with a vision and plan to create the destination for those looking to explore the wonders of the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia.
The Eelman’s were excited about what was happening in the Nova Scotian wine industry and the tremendous growth the industry, across the province. Melanie goes on to say, “The growth that we had also seen in the Cider Industry, along with the sense of community that you find in the Annapolis Valley is what got us interested in building something here.”
“Jake’s work with Agriculture Canada brought us back to Nova Scotia in 2012. At the time we had two boys and I was taking some time off until they were school age because a family and work life balance is very important to us. As the boys got older and heading off to school, I was inspired by what was happening around us in the Valley. I had the opportunity to start making some connections in the industry and even started to experiment with my own wines, beers and ciders in my home,” said Melanie
Due to building these relationships and her strong scientific background she was offered the position as Head Cider Maker in late 2015 for a local cider company. She quickly found it to be an interesting, exciting, and innovative new field that was opening up across Nova Scotia and she absolutely loved the opportunity to combine her two passions of chemistry and the culinary arts. Melanie says, “The whole industry is about cellar experimentation, with different textures and flavor profiles and finding innovative ways to combine cider and wine making skills and the products themselves.”
While working as the Head Cider Maker, Melanie was able to develop her knowledge of the products, the industry as well as build relationships with those in the industry including growers in the area to determine which apples were making the best ciders. “For us, relationships with our suppliers is central to our passion for this industry. We feel blessed to have such strong connections with our local growers.” This connection allowed Melanie to share creative ideas for products using not only the apple, but the other fruits that were available in the area that explained her experimentation with wines and ciders blends maximizing flavors that would eventually lead to the vinous ciders that Beausoleil Farmstead Cidery & Winery and Nova Scotia are becoming known for today.
“Nova Scotia is at the forefront of a really exciting movement as a wine region, and the cideries have really taken off,” Melanie said. “We really feel that something else that Nova Scotia can excel at are these cider and wine blends.”
Melanie talks about the Annapolis Valley being well known for its beautiful, aromatic apple varieties that work well in cider blends, but they lack a bit of acidity and tannin and a certain depth of complexity. So, adding these ciders to cool-climate wines that have lively acidity and hints of tannin, you create something with a flavour that is unique from other ciders or wines.
She also said that she expects to see more vinous ciders being produced in the Valley as the concept becomes better known.
Finding the property was by coincidence as the couple were enjoying a flight of wine on the patio of Planters Ridge Winery which is adjacent to what is now the Beausoleil Farmstead and noticed that the 21-acre property was for sale. They enquired about the property and started the purchase process of what was then a hobby horse farm with a ton of potential. So, in addition to the purchase process the Eelman’s started to develop a business model and plan for the property, getting engaged with community and government officials about the potential renewal of the property and what have developed it into what is now Beausoleil Farmstead and what it will be in the future as they continue to grow not only their wine and cider business, but also the accommodation side of the business.
The name Beausoleil, which translates into “beautiful sun” in French, is inspired by the beautiful wide-open sky above and amazing views of the agricultural land surrounding the property. “The land has been farmed for over 250 years, so we wanted to pay homage to rich history of the area and the Acadians,” said Melanie.
For those that may not know, the Acadians were descendants of the French, who settled in the Annapolis Valley and surrounding area during the 17th and 18th centuries and created the Acadian aboiteau (dyke) system that drained salt marshes and allowed the farming of these lands possible and for the area to become the agriculture center it was then as well as what it is today.
The Eelman’s initially converted the north side of what was a five-stall horse barn into a farm stay accommodation that are literally surrounded by a Chardonnay grapes vine and also offers amazing panoramic views of the Annapolis Valley floor and North Mountain. The Farm Stay officially opened to guests on June 15th of 2020 and despite covid and the limitations that were placed on businesses and travel Melanie says, “To be honest even with Covid we had an absolutely amazing first year as Nova Scotia truly embraced exploring their province taking staycations and with our location in Port Williams, it is roughly an hours drive from metro Halifax making it the perfect getaway.”
After the success of the farm stay side of the business the Eelman’s continued to develop the property, converting the south side of the barn into a winery, cidery and boutique. This was always a goal for the property and their business philosophy of combining sustainable farming with cellar experimentation which Melanie says, “We are extremely proud of.”
Do not think for a minute that this is some large-scale commercial project. It is an all-in small family farm and business that everyone in the family is active in. The Eelmans each concentrate on different areas of the business, but as all families do, they help each other out along the way. Jake along with his full-time job with the government guides the work of the eight-acre vineyard along with their two sons, 15-year-old Samuel and 12-year-old Oliver, who have become very involved in the management and maintenance of the vineyard and are gaining an appreciation for farming and the business and make a huge contribution during the season. Melanie looks after the accommodations and the boutique and of course the creation wines, ciders and their vinous ciders. As with many locally focused businesses, they were pleased to bring on a full-time summer student who is able to help out in all aspects of the business from the growing of the grapes, helping out with the Farm Stay to assisting Melanie in the cellar with wine and cider experimentation as well as helping out in the tasting room and at local farmer’s market.
“We are focused on sustainable production practices and sourcing local inputs where possible,” said Melanie. The property has a long farming history and Jake and Melanie continue to be focused on bringing the terroir back to a healthy and sustainable balance. Melanie tells us that it took two years to prep everything to get the grapes in and they continuously test soil and plant tissue samples to make sure that there is a focus on growing healthy plants and are increasingly focused on creating the right biodiversity on their property to attract and sustain biologicals. “We are mindful of our practices and use minimal intervention to keep a natural approach to farming and the products that we offer,” said Melanie.
Melanie said that at one time, the property was a terraced orchard, and they are excited about some legacy apple trees from that period that they have been working to reclaim and harvest fruit from.
“The really cool thing about those trees is that the varieties that we have, have kind of been lost to time,” Melanie said.
They hope to propagate more of the trees to build on that legacy of the history of the farm and continue to focus on sourcing everything that we can locally, starting with their own area in the Annapolis Valley and then within the province and then within the Maritimes and so on.
The whole approach at Beausoleil Farmstead Cidery & Winery is to provide a farm-to-glass experience and to reintroduce and reconnect people with where the things that they eat and drink come from, and to share that experience with others both in and outside of the community that we live and work in. Melanie added, “We hope that we offer everyone that comes through the door a unique experience to be part of this concept. Whether it is drinking our ciders and wines to coming back and helping during the harvest season giving a truly hands on experience that is so much more than the products and services that they offer.” The Eelman family and the Beausoleil Farmstead Cidery & Winery brand truly wants to make that connection with their customers and the people of their community and beyond.
For more information on tours and tastings or to book a farm stay at the Beausoleil Farmstead accommodation, visit www.beausoleilvineyards.ca.
by Ryan Myson