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N.S. looking to expand wine tourism in Annapolis Valley

March 3, 2009  By The Canadian Press


March 3, 2009, Halifax, NS – It’s not Napa. It’s not even the Okanagan
or Niagara. With roughly 162 hectares of grapes under cultivation, Nova
Scotia’s Annapolis Valley is in its infancy when it comes to wine
production.

March 3, 2009, Halifax, NS – It’s not Napa. It’s not even the Okanagan or Niagara. With roughly 162 hectares of grapes under cultivation, Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley is in its infancy when it comes to wine production.

But size is proving no impediment to a growing number of visitors who are discovering the charms of the area's boutique wineries. Growers and promoters, meanwhile, are awakening to its potential as a tourism destination.

“If visitors have the least interest in wine they will seek you out,” says Susan Corkum of Sainte Famille Wines in Falmouth, N.S., one of the first vineyards to become a stop on local wine tours.

“They want to try the wines. They want to know how we make them and understand the whole process.”

Sainte Famille, which boasts the oldest commercially producing Marechal Foch vines in the province, was among the first to develop a family-focused harvest wine festival that is drawing increasing numbers of local and international visitors 17 years later.

“We tour the vineyards, sample the grapes, walk through the cellars. There’s live music, harvest fest food and grape-stomping contests,” says Corkum.

The Winery Association of Nova Scotia, which represents a growing list of local producers, has since launched a month-long harvest festival and has even begun extending the wine lovers experience into winter with an annual celebration of Nova Scotia’s award-winning icewines.

Sommeliers Sean Buckland and Mark DeWolfe were among the first to jump into the fray in 2004 by starting their own wine tour business, which they’ve since sold to Ambassatours Gray Line. Buckland remains on as a consultant.

The tour can be a small, intimate affair in a nine-passenger van or a corporate day out on a bus that seats 55.

“We begin with what we call our smell game, giving guests a variety of different scents like citrus or vanilla to help prepare them for the wine experience,” says Buckland.

“The idea is these are an isolated sort of a warm up as they will find these elements in the more complex nose of the wines.”

The tour might also involve a stop at a local artisan cheese maker or lunch with paired local wines at Domaine de Grand Pre’s Le Caveau or chef Michael Howell’s Tempest restaurant in Wolfville, about an hour's drive northwest from Halifax.

Buckland is upbeat about the local industry’s future.

“I really think that the Annapolis Valley will become the next Niagara of Canada,” he says.

Tourism officials in Nova Scotia are also developing their own understanding of the valley’s wine lure potential.

Bob Book, director of development for Nova Scotia Tourism, says the government and industry have just joined forces to form a wine strategy committee.

“I’m excited because I think there’s potential for this to become a value-added experience for people who come to Nova Scotia,” he says.

“People don’t really think of Nova Scotia as a winemaking or a wine region. A lot of what we have to do is to really educate consumers to experience wineries here.”

Book says part of the strategy is to put local wines forward in Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. outlets and to have local chefs present them on their restaurant wine lists.

For vintners like Corkum, the focus on wine tourism has meant visitors from Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Russia at Sainte Famille over the years.

“I think to myself, ‘How do they find me?’ because I certainly don’t send out brochures. It’s all by word of mouth,'” she says with a laugh.

“People who have been here before are coming back to pick up wine.”


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