Nova Scotia has many secrets… One of them is the wine. Unbeknownst to most of the world, the province produces wine, and some of it is actually very good!

Even though the history of winemaking in Nova Scotia can be traced as far back as 1611, the industry has really come into its own over the last 20 years. The oldest winery currently operating in Nova Scotia is Domaine de Grand Pré (1994), and the youngest, Planter’s Ridge, opened in 2014. Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards is even newer, planning to release its first vintage in 2016.

Domaine de Grand Pre vineyards (Nova Scotia)

Domaine de Grand Pré vineyards

Although it is hard to keep track, with new wineries opening all the time, different sources currently list 18 to 22 wineries in Nova Scotia. About half of those are located in the Annapolis Valley, not far from Wolfville. From tentative beginnings almost 40 years ago, Nova Scotia wines are now winning awards.

What’s special about Nova Scotia wines

Being one of the most northerly regions to produce wine, and given its unique combination of soil and climate, the grapes grown here may not immediately ring a bell. You won’t see many labels displaying “Chardonnay” or “Merlot”. You’re more likely to encounter grapes such as Marechal Foch, Léon Millot, and Seyval Blanc, French hybrids that were some of the first to show promise in this land, and are still used today. L’Acadie Blanc, a varietal unique to Nova Scotia, with a nose of crisp apple, pear, and citrus, is Nova Scotia’s signature grape, and found in most vineyards here.

Wine tasting at l'Acadie Vineyards (Nova Scotia)

Wine tasting at l’Acadie Vineyards

Tidal Bay is the first “appellation” wine in the province, meaning that it can only be produced in Nova Scotia from grapes grown here (like champagne in the French region of Champagne). Different wineries use different blends of (white) grapes for their Tidal Bay, but all must adhere to strict standards. These include grape varieties, alcohol levels (no more than 11%), and taste profile: lively fresh green fruit, dynamic acidity, and characteristic minerality. In this way, the dry crisp aromatic Tiday Bay reflects the terroir, coastal breezes and cooler climate of its birthplace.

Tidal Bay wine at Gaspereau Vineyards (Nova Scotia)

Tidal Bay wine at Gaspereau Vineyards

The mostly acidic and rocky soils of Nova Scotia lend minerality and acidity to the white wines, which predominate over the reds, as is typical in cool climate regions. Besides white and red wines, you’ll also find rosés (very popular here in summer), ice wines, fruit wines, and even sparkling wines. L’Acadie Vineyards, a small family winery, and first to be certified organic in the province, specializes in the latter.

Another quirky innovation is Luckett Vineyardsburried wine. After burying the wine 8 feet (2.7 metres) underground, they age it for 13 months, then bottle it unfiltered, creating an unusual earthy product.

Personally, I prefer fruity, slightly sweet aromatic wines, so I was really in my element at Gaspereau Vineyards. Their Muscat, Seyval Blanc, and Selkie wines (a slightly fizzy blend of nine different grapes) all competed for my attention.

How to enjoy Nova Scotia wines

The most straightforward way to try Nova Scotia wines is to walk into a liquor store (called NSLC here) and purchase a bottle or two. You may suffer sticker shock though, when you realize that local wines don’t sell for much cheaper than CAD$17-$20 a bottle!

(Note: All prices below are in Canadian dollars.)

Wine tours

A more fun and educational way is to join a wine tour. Go North Tours offers a few wine tours, as well as wine and food tours, departing from Wolfville or Halifax. Grape Escapes Nova Scotia Wine Tours, as its name indicates, specializes in wine tours and offers several day trips often including a meal, as well as a weekend package. These tours are seasonal and run from May to October only.

A cheaper (and just as fun) option is The Wolfville Magic Winery Bus which departs from the Wolfville Tourist Office from Thursday to Sunday, at 10:30, 12:30 and 1:30 (from July to mid-October). The cost is $25 for the first two departures, and $20 for the 1:30 departure. The 1967 British double-decker hop on/hop-off bus comes with its own guide, and takes you to four different wineries around the Wolfille area.

The Wolfville Magic Winery Bus (Nova Scotia)

The Wolfville Magic Winery Bus

At each location, you listen to a short presentation, before tasting one or two wine samples. You can sometimes get extra free samples, or a flight of them for $5. Three of the wineries also have restaurants attached if you fancy lunch. Your guide will give you all the details. If you want to visit all the wineries and have lunch, you should choose the 10:30 AM departure.

I did The Wolfville Magic Winery Bus tour, and really enjoyed it, so that’s my recommendation if you’re staying in Wolfville, or can make it here early enough in the day.

Wine bars and restaurants

In Halifax itself, you have a few options as well. You can drop by one of its wine bars to sample wines from Nova Scotia and elsewhere for a very reasonable price. At Obladee Wine Bar, they’ll pour you a 5 oz glass of wine for as little as $7, or a flight (3 x 2 oz) for $15. They also offer tastings and classes. Some restaurants, such as Five Fishermen, have extensive local wine lists.

Obladee Wine Bar, Halifax

Obladee Wine Bar, Halifax

Wine cruise

If you’re looking for something more unique, a new concept has just launched at Halifax Harbour: the wine cruise! For $85 per person, you get a two-hour harbour cruise combined with a five-course meal paired with local wines from Luckett Vineyards. The tall ship Silva welcomes 130 passengers every Wednesday evening in July and August and gives them the Annapolis Valley wine experience on a boat, without leaving Halifax!

The tall ship Silva, Halifax harbour

The tall ship Silva, Halifax harbour

Next time you’re in Nova Scotia, don’t forget to order a local wine with your fresh seafood meal. And if you’ve tried them ten years ago, now is the time to give Nova Scotia wines another chance. You may be surprised!

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