Celebrating Canada day in nova scotia’s wine country
Anyone who has taken a tour with local company, Grape Escapes, knows what to expect: warm, knowledgeable staff doing double duty as your designated driver. With five successful tours under my belt already, I decided I’d take a tried and true approach to Canada Day by celebrating the best way I knew how: drinking my way through the Annapolis Valley.
Arriving at the pickup spot for my Afternoon Escape, I joined cruise ship expats with a desire for more than fireworks. Americans outnumbered Canadians, though their enthusiasm was reassuring—we were in for a wine-soaked celebration.
Our guide, Daniel, passed out lanyards as we hit the road. They served as an introduction to Nova Scotian wines, complete with pairings and a tasting guide. Although none of our group were new to enjoying a glass, the reminder to “look, swirl, smell, taste, enjoy!” was appreciated.
As usual, our Grape Escapes guide had extensive industry experience. Our drive to the valley was chock full of historical explanations and conspiratorial tidbits, with Daniel detailing bits of geographic history intertwined with tales of the (recent) staggering growth of our regional beverage industry. He attributed the province’s 23 wineries and nearly 100 grape growers to agricultural innovation and government support. My American counterparts were rapt with attention, and even I was drawn into the stories.
At Domaine de Grand Pre, our first stop and Nova Scotia’s oldest winery, enthusiastic staff in Canada flag t-shirts led us through the estate garden and vineyard. After the agricultural synopsis, we were led inside for the main event.
We kicked off with the complex and crisp 2017 L’Acadie Blanc, followed by the first Tidal Bay of the day. I wondered if Daniel’s introduction to the acclaimed appellation would inflate expectations, but I wasn’t alone in enjoying the polished white our region is famous for. A murmur of appreciation crossed the room—we had serious tasters and serious drinkers in our midst.
After sampling red Baco Noir and 2017 Castel, each notable in their own right, we could choose between Pomme d’Or Ice Cider or its cream liquor counterpart. As a big fan of Bailey’s, I went the cream route. I wasn’t disappointed. The silky caramel flavour sipped perfectly over ice. Others in the crowd were pleased, surprised by the tour’s generous pours.
“The cruise ship company offers a similar tour,” one man remarked. “For twice the price and half the wine.”
During the short trek to our next winery, Daniel detailed environmental contributors to the Annapolis Valley’s agricultural success—the mild microclimate and Acadian-forged dyke systems that nurture 3,000 acres of crop. He pointed out the falling tide, slowly returning from its midday peak.
Rolling up to Benjamin Bridge, we noticed what looked like bright yellow pop machine among the vines. Better than pop—it serves cans of Benjamin’s Bridge’s latest addition, the 2018 Pet Nat. While the drink wasn’t on the tour’s menu, I put it on my own. I wasn’t alone—our tasting guide had us lining up to buy the zesty drink with barely a nudge.
“Everyone loves coming to Benjamin Bridge,” Daniel told us. Presented with my first drink the C02 heavy Non-Vintage Brut, I understood why. The pour was substantial. This sparkling white earned a burst of enthusiasm from our crowd, but I couldn’t tell whether it was the size of the glass, the wine itself, or both.
Next, we had the privilege of sampling two Tidal Bay vintages—2017 and 2018. I’d never before dabbled in a vertical tasting, and I was curious to see how the wines would compare. The 2017 vintage was a delicious dry white, its citrusy taste due to the cool growing season weather and longer hang time for the grapes.
I was amazed at the differences and similarities in their 2018 offering. Decidedly off-dry and more fruit-forward than its predecessor, it maintains the signature acidity and minerality a Tidal Bay calls for. Offering notes of peach, not apple, it is reminiscent of their famed Nova 7, the final drink on tap.
I’m not sure what more can be written about the Nova 7. The wine is delicious—a light, bubbly, summery white that has been dubbed “an East Coast trailblazer” and accounts for 40% of Benjamin Bridge’s annual sales. If you’ve resisted sampling it, I humbly suggest you should reconsider.
Our final stop was Planters Ridge. American guests disappointed to learn that most Nova Scotian wineries don’t ship to the States (due to prohibition-era laws) were happy to discover Planters Ridge throws caution to the wind and ships internationally—though there’s a chance your wine may not arrive.
Our last Tidal Bay of the day, a 2018 vintage, did not disappoint. Our sampling guide explained, “Tidal Bays are like different siblings from the same family. You can tell by trying them they’re related, but they’re definitely not the same.” While this rendition presented orange blossom notes, the mineral finish was classic Tidal Bay.
We toured our way through the Planters Ridge cellar, marvelling at the thick stone walls—an original fixture in the winery’s historic building that holds the temperature within two-degrees throughout the year. Cheese from a local shop, That Dutchman’s Cheese Farm, benefited from the temperature moderation. Delectable mild gouda, truffle gouda, and blue cheese accompanied our final sips—a 2018 Riesling, the Quintessence Red, and their Rummed Cider.
Whether anyone needed the boozy finisher was debatable, but no one complained. The Rummed Cider, a particular favourite of mine, was a perfect bubbly end to a full day of sampling.
As the tour drew to a close the words of one of our guides came to mind: “Winemaking is primarily about agriculture, but with it comes so much more. You’ve got chemistry, geology, art, history, people—it’s such a dynamic industry.”
Luckily we have an experienced, homegrown company like Grape Escapes to showcase it.
ANNAPOLIS VALLEY WINE TOURS
Book your experience today!
GRAPE ESCAPES WINE TOURS
Starting in May and lasting through October, you can choose from an array of wine tour experiences that head to the beautiful Annapolis Valley from Halifax daily with Grape Escapes. Perfect for special events like bachelorette parties, birthdays and more. There’s also the option to build your own itinerary.
MAGIC WINERY BUS
With who else can you ride a classic British style double-decker bus and get toured around the stunning Annapolis Valley in a hop-on, hop-off fashion? This crowd-pleasing wine experience gives guests a bit more flexibility to move at their own pace and savour the fantastic wines.
UNCORK NOVA SCOTIA
Uncork offers specialized wine tours from Halifax to areas in the Annapolis Valley. Try the Fun with Fizz to learn and taste all about the world-class traditional method sparkling wines being produced in this region, or the Tidal Bay themed tour that focuses on Nova Scotia’s first appellation wine.
Wildgrape offers wine tours in the Annapolis Valley that focus on showcasing the wide arrange of wine styles being produced in this picturesque part of the province. The Quintessential Tour has a lovely culinary aspect by way of an intimate five-course dinner served at a historic Inn in Wolfville.