Devour! Festival Gives Sustainable "Terroir" Wines Their Own Tasting Menu

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Celebrity chef Blair Lebsack and filmmaker Kevin Kossowan cook wild moose and salmon in a place where hunting and fishing is a 13,000-year-old tradition.

The Devour! The Food Film Fest in rural Nova Scotia is as good a place as any for a tasting party of wild moose grilled on an outdoor fire.

"You guys are rebels for eating illegal meat," Garrett Gloade of the Millbrook First Nation tells filmmaker Kevin Kossowan as the From the Wild director sears rosy pieces of moose tenderloin over an open white oak fire.

Kossowan next speckles the kingly meat with hemlock and sumac foraged from forests adjoining downwards-sloping vineyards, and serves it up on plates of white birch with a 2016 Benjamin Bridge Taurus sparkling wine.

It sure beats watching a foraging, fishing or hunting documentary on an empty stomach.

"We barely cooked moose when I was a child. We ate it raw and bloody and dripping. I prefer it raw," Gloade continues as he recounts how his Mi'kmaq traditions are inextricably bound up with the land on which he stands, deep in the heart of the Gaspereau Valley, before European settlers arrived.

As glasses are raised and oohs and ahhs are heard as the moose loin is eaten, Gloade's focus on the valley's biodiversity at the crossroads of nature and disruption helps tackle the question: Where does wine come from? The answer for Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, head winemaker at Benjamin Bridge, calls for more than swirling some wine around in a glass, praising its "terroir," or the land on which its grapes are grown, before aiming for the spittoon.

Deslauriers argues that, aside from attention to soil, slope and sun, continuing the Mi'kmaq's communion with nature is the perfect antidote to mass wine production, and it allows his sparkling wines to nudge palettes around the world.

"The principles of preservation and sustainability that were displayed and embodied in the way of life of the Mi'kmaq, there's something that resonates with how we want to approach our own stewardship of this land," Deslauriers told The Hollywood Reporter.

As his eyes scan surrounding hills that shelter his vineyards with a micro-climate resembling the Champagne region in France, Deslauriers adds that the taste profile of his Benjamin Bridge wines goes beyond minerality and a fragrant bouquet. "To understand the history of this piece of the planet is absolutely key to ensuring that we come up with an expression and a product that is true to place," he says of his winery's own restraint and respect for organic winemaking.

Nearby, Devour!'s forest picnic, staged in partnership with the Glooscap First Nation, has festgoers wrapping their hands around local maitake mushrooms served with wild rice and caribou moss on shale plates, or using their fingers to strip blue salmon from its skin after chef Blair Lebsack smoked the locally farmed fish over an open fire, using traditional sapling staves.

"The salmon has been preserved and smoked, but we still get that slick gravalax finish," Lebsack says of the seafood delicacy as he serves up slices on grape leaves.

At yet another food station, Trevor Gould of the Paqtnkek First Nation stands over a bubbling cauldron of local wild rabbit stewing with root vegetables, which is paired with a 2013 Benjamin Bridge Methode Classique Brut.

"Our ties to the land allowed us to survive, so that we didn't take everything it offered, but left something for the next generation," Gould explains. The Mi'kmaqs and their tradition of Netukulimk, which roughly translates as "land conservation," governs how they live, hunt and fish, and relate to the natural world.

"How we treat the land, how we treat our neighbors, it's about taking what we need and at the close of the harvest ensuring there's something left over for future generations," adds Cheyenne Isaac-Gloade of the Listuguj Mi'kmaq First Nation at another of the food stations.

For Deslauriers, inspired by the Mi'kmaq food traditions and their resilience as their natural environment changes, the entire ecology of his vineyards helps explain the mysteries of his wine's flavors. "That is definitely part of the measure of our success," he says.