The weather in Nova Scotia is like an avocado. You can only enjoy it when it is ready —not when you are. And, it is usually only perfect for one day.
So after numerous days of changing plans or cancelling reservations, we finally learned to live in the moment and to decide the day’s activities after awakening and looking outside.
When the five weather apps we have in our arsenal all agreed about a huge storm affecting Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast two days from now and we heard the campground hosts at Porters Lake using words like hurricane and evacuation, we decided to head into the protected Annapolis Valley, the breadbasket of Nova Scotia.
We hoped we could get at least one good day to visit a few of the regions’ wineries before the torrential downpour began. Fortunately, we did.
Our first stop was Avondale Sky Winery, one of the newest in the Valley. Owners Lorraine Vassalo and Stewart Creaser were like a lot of us, overworked and stressed out. They wanted to live their dream to buy a farm and grow grapes. Fortunately, the farm they bought was already a well-established grape grower, providing fruit for Jost, one of the largest wine producers in Nova Scotia. Another stroke of good luck: the farm also came with young enthusiastic winemaker, Ben Swetnam, who encouraged the couple to start producing their own wine. So, in 2009, Avondale Sky Winery was born.
Lorraine and Stewart, who are avid proponents of recycling, put out the word that they were looking for an old building to refurbish. Proposals poured in and the pair soon purchased a rundown barn which, with a lot of TLC, was turned into their wine production area.
But then an offer came that was too good to pass up.
A deconsecrated church. A church that had lost its congregation. A church that needed to be saved. The only glitch: the church was located in Walton, 42 kilometers away.
The two decided they were going to move that church to their location in Newport Landing “come hell or high water”. Considering the tide fluctuations in the Bay of Fundy, which vary as much as 45 feet, that is just what they did. Impossible to move over land without taking out miles of power lines, the decision was made to load the church on a barge and ferry it the 26 miles. So after the church was trucked to the wharf and loaded aboard, the captain had to wait while the tide came in, went out, and came in again over the seemingly endless 24 hours.
When you enter the church, which now acts as the winery’s tasting room, gift boutique and art gallery showcasing local talent, it is hard to believe that it is 95% original.
The afternoon sun shone through the stained glass windows casting a warm colorful glow throughout and the rich wooden interior gleamed as if it had been polished that day.
The high vaulted ceiling looked like the hull of a ship, which might explain it’s sturdy seaworthiness.
According to Gwen, the “High Priestess” & wine expert, parishioners still appear from time to time to check on “their church”. After two years of operation, they have given Avondale Sky Winery their blessing.
As the day was unusually balmy, we opted to dine on their romantic outdoor patio. We settled on benches under weathered pergolas with grape vines interlaced throughout and bunches of grapes hanging through the slats.
I felt like I was in Italy, particularly because we met two fantastically funny Italian men who were reliving their motorcycle trip of 50 years ago, this time in a car. According to Riccardo, instead of saddlebags, they now carried a satchel full of medications.
Too full from a superb lunch (accompanied by a couple glasses of wine) to do a proper wine tasting, we drove on to the charming Gaspereau Vineyards.
After years of living in California, we had our doubts about red wines grown in the northern latitudes. Our visit to Gaspereau changed that.
Colleen, our personable and knowledgeable hostess, served us several excellent white and red varietals while explaining the wines’ nuances and the winery’s techniques. We ended the tasting with their unique Ice Wine, served in miniature chocolate cups —your choice of dark or milk.
We left with a 2012 Dry Muscat white wine, a bottle of their specially blended Port, a lovely dessert wine that was less sweet than its Portuguese counterpart, and a different attitude.
Throughout the day, we kept running into a handsome gentleman, Avery Gavel, who turned out to be a foremost sommelier at the fine Halifax restaurant, the Five Fishermen Restaurant and Grill. At his suggestion, we continued our tastings at Luckett Vineyards.
As their brochure accurately recommends, “come for the wine and stay for the view”. We were graced with a panorama of the winery’s expansive landscape, its rolling hills and vineyards gently sloping into the Bay of Fundy, just visible through the mist. It was like looking at an Impressionist painting.
An unusual and incongruous component in this bucolic scene is a London-style phone booth right in the middle of the field. Pete Luckett, the owner of the winery, generously invites you to call anyone in North America “on him”.
We thought it apt to ring up the McCormicks, our Northern California friends who are wine aficionados par excellence, to inform them of this new East coast upstart.
We returned to the large terrace to enjoy a glass of crisp rosé and a delightful cheese plate. Just as we were commenting on our good fortune to have been steered to such a lovely place, who entered stage right? Avery! We spent the next couple of hours engrossed as he spoke knowledgeably about the various terroirs, varietals, growing seasons and climates throughout the world.
We were amazed to learn that some seasoned —and well paid— winemakers travel between hemispheres and between continents to take advantage of both harvests. He called them flying winemakers. It stands to reason, since harvest time in the northern hemisphere is around September/October, while in the southern hemisphere it takes place around March/April.
We asked Avery if the netting we saw around some of the vines was to keep out birds. “Birds and raccoons,” he commented. “Raccoons are very wily, and vineyard owners are forced to use electrified mesh barrier to stop the interlopers.” One vintner Avery knew lost his entire crop when he went away and forgot to turn on the switch.
It was obvious that Avery had found his life’s passion. His desire to start his own vineyard some day came as no surprise. Here’s a toast to Avery Gavel’s dream.
As it was getting late and we had imbibed a good deal of wine, Manny asked the hostess for permission to dry camp on the winery’s property. She said she would check with the owner and soon came back with a hearty “Okay!”
Pete Luckett is one gracious host indeed!