Travel: The Booze of Nova Scotia

The Booze of Nova Scotia
A Brief Primer in Wineries

By Aaron Binder
Photos by Erin Burrell

The last time I was in Nova Scotia there happened to be at least 3 fights breaking out within a 20 foot radius, one of them lasting a good 3-4 hours before the combatants fell asleep in each others’ arms.  This time visiting wineries and a distillery seemed like a far more pleasant, if not tame, option.  Being Nova Scotia though, you’re never too far from a raucous evening.

As the craft beer, distilling and winery markets continue to boom across Ontario, it’s useful to remember that many of Canada’s other provinces are ramping up their industries too.  Nova Scotia is a province often associated with crisp lagers from a number of breweries but less often are they associated with fine wines.  Even less so with micro-distilling but quickly have they entered this sphere.

It’s easy to travel around Ontario’s Niagara-on-the-Lake or Prince Edward County regions via bicycle but Nova Scotia’s wineries are spread quite a distance from each other creating wildly different tastes and flavours from the same grape.  It also means you want to visit with a car unless you’re a hardcore cyclist.

Standing around 15 members strong, the Nova Scotian wine industry is small but noticeable as each winery acts as a champion to its closest town.  While many of these wineries lack much history they make up for it with generous experimentation and distinctive bold flavours that usually work in winning converts.

Avondale Sky

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Exactly none of the wineries we visited in Nova Scotia were easy to find but once found, Avondale Sky was easily the most striking.  Tucked away on the type of rolling country road where pulling over for oncoming traffic is recommended, you couldn’t have spent enough money to find a better location for the gorgeous 1830’s church that serves as their retail store.

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Moved 42 kilometres from the town of Walton, the church fared the journey across the Bay of Fundy and hilly landscapes with only one broken window.  While functioning as a home for the variety of wines produced under the Avondale Sky name, one of the other notable features about the interior of the building is the collection of artwork.  Celebrating the heritage of Nova Scotia’s art community, Avondale has become an important stop for many local and regional artists.

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While they’ve been fostering artists and assisting in building a wine industry in Eastern Canada, the winery has a relationship with Niagara’s Winery and Viticultural program.  Recent graduates Lisa Indris and Ben Swetnam have been culturing a number of varieties that thrive in the harsher elements Nova Scotia endures.  Avondale Sky, like almost every other winery in the area, has been promoting the Tidal Bay brand in an effort to promote the area’s diverse wineries.

A number of wines from Avondale show the relatively young age of the winemakers as they exhibit unbalanced flavours that, while drinkable, are easily usurped by other wineries in the area.  It’s not all flash and history though, there are a couple bottles that the winemakers have crafted to levels comparable to some major wineries, notably their 2012 Tidal Bay White and 2010 Walton Reserve Red.  While they may not have the refinement side down yet, their inventiveness will prove their worth in years to come.

Blomidon

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The only winery located on the north shore of the Annapolis Valley, Blomidon may seem like an easy destination to skip but if you know anything about magnetic attraction, you’ll understand why Blomidon is the star-crossed lovers of the Nova Scotia wineries.  Their understated attitude only relates to their physical location, once the fermented grapes hit your mouth your day picks up, cardinals fly by and the crushing thoughts of student debt and your grandparents continually asking you for great-grandchildren fade faster than you can say ‘drink their Tidal Bay’.

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Because you should.  Drink the Tidal Bay that is, the great grandchildren can and should wait until at least you’ve downed a few glasses of the stuff.

Located off one of the many Bay of Fundy inlets, this winery is not only one of the oldest in the region but certainly one of the most flavourful when it actually comes to bribing your mouth into forgetting that student debt.  Their exceptional 2012 Baco Noir and the intoxicatingly aromatic L’Acadie are definitely worth checking out and, in fact, their whole line-up is worth a look.

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Aside from their small but wonderful tasting wine selection, they have a gorgeous view of, among other things, the Bay of Fundy and easily one of the most idyllic vineyards you’ll see in the region.  They’ve had a few more years to practice their craft than many of the other wine producers in the region and it certainly does show when the different varieties hit your mouth in a cacophony of flavours and happiness.  While you too can enjoy a long-lasting relationship with this winery by ordering bottles, the best way to enjoy them is by visiting their retail store and vineyard.  Sure, you’ve probably visited hundreds of wineries before and yes, some of them might have ‘mass appeal’ or ‘hundreds of years of history’ but damn if Blomidon doesn’t have a massive heart.

Luckett

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Many of the Nova Scotian wineries have focused on pushing their product outward through the NSLC while maintaining small retail stores for wine tourists.  Luckett has decided to become the destination, the sweeping grandeur of their view across the Gaspereau Valley and into the Bay of Fundy leaves you reaching for your asthma inhaler every time.

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While you will find yourself glancing out into the seemingly endless valley as one of their excitable employees runs you through a tasting, there’s some part of this that feels home – like this should be normal.  The whole experience at Luckett is designed to keep you entertained and, like a generous rich-uncle, they provide where even you thought you were satisfied.

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Even though Luckett was incorporated in 2010, they obviously brought in some vintner heavies as their whole wine list aside from a couple ranges from good to jaw-droppingly delicious.  Some standouts are the 2011 Leon Millot, rich across the taste spectrum with hints of raspberry leading into chocolaty tones complemented by outstanding colour.  The 2012 Ortega their most flavourful white, aromatic and sweet, this is one of the best summer wines in Canada. They even have a full line of dessert wines from liqueurs to port to ice-wine – try the Nellie peach wine, it’s worth the price of a plane ticket AND calling home about.

Speaking of calling home, here’s possibly the neatest part of the winery – you can call home from their red phone booth that sits in the middle of their vineyard and it’s free across North America.  While you’re calling home about the peach wine, it’s also worth mentioning to the voice on the other end about their summer grill nights.  We were lucky enough to show up on their first night and while we were the only ones there that particular evening, this will catch on as the days go by, the food, atmosphere and paired wines are just too good for it not to.

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The working phone booth with a working photographer inside.

While each of the wineries visited provided a great experience and had their own positives, Luckett is by far the most experience driven.  If you’re interested in spending an afternoon having lunch, drinking great wine and gazing out across captivating landscapes, this is the place – you won’t find a patio anywhere with a view this gorgeous.

Nova Scotia is known as a beer province, Alexander Keith made sure of that almost 200 years ago, but slowly they’re beginning to break that perception and prove to the rest of Canada and the globe that they have what it takes to compete in an increasingly competitive wine market.  The flavours are distinct from any other North American wine region, their varieties must survive the harsh weather and terrain.  Within those flavours though are notes of the future and certainly this one does not look dystopian for any of the member wineries.

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