“Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever.”
— Aristophanes, Greek comedic playwright (circa 456-380 BC)
All along the scenic South Shore of Nova Scotia this summer, restaurateurs and B&B owners were lamenting the loss of the Cat Ferry between Yarmouth, N.S. and Maine. A victim of government cuts, the end of the ferry service has resulted in lost jobs and fewer visitors to Nova Scotia (and presumably to Maine), and tourism operators are perplexed by the provincial government’s shortsightedness in not having anticipated the fallout.
They’re fighting mad — as you can tell by the pointed messages on billboards erected along the coast-hugging Lighthouse route and the Evangeline Trail — and rightly so. One B&B owner in Yarmouth alone told us she and her husband have had 40 to 60 per cent fewer visitors this year to their beautifully restored heritage house.
Ironically, it was the absence of the Cat that made my husband and I ditch our plans to drive through New England in favour of spending our time and money on a Nova Scotia vacation.
A bit of Internet research beforehand revealed that not only is my husband’s native province a greener pasture than this one when it comes to the number of golf courses (at least for now), but it’s ahead by a nose when it comes to viniculture.
Traditionally, when we think of Canadian wines we think British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula or Pelee Island. Closer to home, the fruit wines of Rodrigues Winery come to mind — I was born in the former Markland Cottage Hospital on that site, so I tell people I come by my love of wine honestly.
But since the early days of wine making in Nova Scotia — and I don’t mean the pre-Expulsion Acadians’ 17th-century efforts — the industry has grown from the fruits of the Domaine de Grand Pré vineyards in 1969 to encompass 15 wineries today.
And so it was that we spent 10 glorious, sun-splashed days along the Shore, interspersing rounds of golf with wine tastings, lingering lunches and long walks in the sea air.
At Bear River Vineyards, Chris and Peggy Hawes have taken an old farm property and turned its south-facing slope into a cradle for grapes like baco noir, riesling and pinot noir, producing complex wines that are meant to be sipped and savoured.
On a tour of the property, Chris explains the benefits of living in a benevolent microclimate that nurtures iridescent humming birds and Carpathian walnut trees.
Reaching up, he hands us juicy green figs from a tree bursting with fruit and encourages us to wander through the terraced rows of vines.
At Domaine de Grand Pré in the Annapolis Valley, we shared a lazy lunch at Le Caveau Restaurant under a pergola with a canopy of grapevines on a stone-floored terrace. The food was as delicious as anything I’d had the pleasure to eat in Tuscany a few years back: spiced pork paté studded with bison; mild, creamy blue cheese; caper berries and fresh raspberries; wedges of crisp dill pickle; a mellow goat cheese with an elegant black rind; rustic ham and flatbread and chewy baguette, with nearly everything made on the premises. And all for $20 — washed down with a chilled glass of l’acadie blanc.
At Digby Pines golf course, the clubhouse server — who has Newfoundland roots — encourages us to take our glasses of wine, hop into a golf cart and tour the undulating 18-hole course in the waning sun, since we don’t have time to play there on this visit. As we cruise past a foursome on the green, we raise our glasses and G. tells them, “We’re on a wine tour.”
At Luckett Vineyards — owned by Pete of Pete’s Frootique fame — you can sit on the patio and enjoy a panoramic view of the Gaspereau Valley with rows of vines tapering off in the distance. We enjoyed a wedge of Applewood smoked cheddar while sampling Luckett wines, including Ortega, Leon Millot, Triumphe, Blackberry Port and Phone Box Red. A short ways away, the red British phone booth from which the latter gets its name stands like a surreal beacon in a green field of burgeoning vines.
At Sainte Famille Wines in Falmouth, we sample Quartet, a blend of four white grapes that is so delicious we stash a bottle in my golf bag — my only checked luggage — to bring home. (In fact, when both our golf bags are eventually X-rayed at the Halifax airport, there are a few suspect-looking wine-shaped containers among the clubs and gloves and balls.)
Now, none of this is meant to diminish what we have to offer in this province in terms of tourism, and the government deserves praise for its sophisticated, attractive and effective marketing efforts. We’ve enjoyed “staycations” at home immensely — the walking trails, the fine food, breathtaking scenery and downhome hospitality.
Nor is this a free ad for Nova Scotia tourism.
But what I am pointing out is that, for wine lovers, a tasting vacation no longer requires an expensive or extensive journey.
We were able to visit nine wineries in 10 days, thanks to the Taste of Nova Scotia Culinary Adventure Guide issued by the tourism department and a helpful brochure and map from the Winery Association of Nova Scotia.
En route, we found well-tended, reasonably priced golf courses and restaurant menus boasting fresh seafood that left no doubt as to where it was from — Nova Scotia lobster, Digby scallops, Bay of Fundy clams.
The loss of the Cat was undoubtedly a blow to Nova Scotia tourism, but there may be one silver lining.
In a society that increasingly touts the value of unique cultural experiences and fresh, local food, Nova Scotia is cleverly marketing itself as an Epicurean playground. And it lives up to that reputation.
It just goes to show you don’t need to go far afield for a wine-tasting vacation. Try next door.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor.
She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.