Ask Chuck

Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lunenburg Arms, Peggy's Cove, Goodbye To Nova Scotia

Filming At Lunenburg Arms
The morning was the best of the last seven days that we were in Nova Scotia. The Lunenburg sky was deep blue, the air was crystal clear and the ocean was silent calm. In other words it was a perfect day to begin the final adventure in Nova Scotia. I resisted the temptation to remain in the nice, soft, cozy bed and got dressed. I did spend about twenty minutes savouring a coffee from the coffeemaker provided while looking out at the still superb view of Lunenburg harbour.
I was the first down to the outdoor breakfast area. Who could resist that lovely sunshine and the warm temperatures. It was about 9ish and I knew that we had a filming to do with the hotel restaurant called the Tin Fish (where we ate with Christine and her parents the night previous.
The filming was to be a dinner meal type with Atlantic Salmon, shrimp, scallops mussels and vegetable decor. I knew that I this food would be there to eat (and thus be my brunch) but I could not resist the warm sun, a cup of coffee and the fish cakes and eggs for breakfast. After all, it was my last breakfast in Nova Scotia. So-----I had them and enjoyed every scrap!
Not far from me at another table was Jamie Wentzell, V/P of Homburg Group of Companies which owned this establishment and a string of other resorts (including a very interesting one in Tanzania) as well as a host of other businesses. He was also the Chief Financial Officer of the company. What a heck of a responsibility for one so young I thought. I introduced my self and we had a very interesting chat. I look forward to talking to him again at some point.
The breakfast went well. The dinner type (filming) went equally well and I still managed to get a great amount of the food down---glutton that I am----before we departed from the hotel.
Misty who was the chef (and a rather attractive chef at that) had already proven her culinary skills the night before treating the group to one of the finest meals around. She did it again with this meal and of course, neither Greg nor I left much behind---matter of fact, Greg took some with him on the trip to Peggy's Cove. My congrats went out to manager Patti and the hotel staff!
Peggy's Cove
Peggy's Cove is actually a small fishing village that has an enormously gorgeous amount of scenery. The view of several buildings against a backdrop of smoothed boulders and rock against the Atlantic Ocean is truly amazing. The sunny day and calm sea made it even more spectacular.
Christine parked the van and we all walked towards the rocks and the Lighthouse in the distance. Christine's father had mentioned, the other night, that it needed painting and that crossed my mind when we came up to it although it still looked okay. I thought to myself that the winters and waves must be enormously rough on this comparatively small building and by next year it would really need a shot of colour.
One thing that really struck me was the way the rocks were configured. This reminded me very much of an A J Casson (Group of 7) painting. The other thing that I thought of was the Swiss Air disaster for which there was a memorial display as we drove up to the Cove.
On the rocks there were safe areas and unsafe areas. Signs warning against rogue waves were quite explicit. "Don't become a statistic!"
The ordinary coloured rocks i.e. shades of grey were considered safe. The dark rocks and even darker rocks were very dangerous----even in calm seas such as it was that day. Greg decided to set up his camera stand----on the dark rocks and moved towards the edge of the darker rocks. Christine was becoming very anxious as she watched him as he calmly started taking shots with his camera. I knew what she was worried about. The sea though unusually calm would erupt with one huge wave which could enshroud Greg and his camera in a mass of water and carry him out to sea! It could happen right then in a split second. Greg took his pictures. Walked a bit more. He then took some more pictures as if he were filming a quiet scene in a meadow before coming back to the safe zone. Fortunately, he came out okay and Neptune was kind to him.
We took some photo shots near the Lighthouse and then decided to depart for Halifax and the airport.
We arrived in Halifax in plenty of time to visit Christine Whites place of work and meet her supervisor. Pam Wambaugh happened to be there to our great delight. Pam, even for the short period of time she worked with Greg and me was a joy to be with. I quite like her and look forward to keeping in touch. We said our good byes and gave our final hugs before departing to Halifax International Airport.
Good-Bye Christine and Halifax
When you work with someone so closely for a period of time (and a week can be quite intense) you leave something with that person and that person leaves something with you in return. Christine was a truly inspiring and amazing person to work with. What made it even more unbelievable was that Christine did not normally go out with groups like this.
All that Greg and I can say is that she is a born natural! Her interpretative genius showed in many of the alternates that she picked once she "read" where Greg and I were coming from.
Christine used her amazing sense of humour to keep the group on track yet she never deviated from her professionalism. In general, Christine made the journey a success and made sure that her mandate with "Taste of Nova Scotia" clients was kept to the forefront.
Christine did leave a great part of herself with both Greg and me as I hope we with her but I think that we got the better part of the deal!
Her employer is truly fortunate to have her!
Our plane took off on time at 6:30pm and we arrived in good old but rainy Toronto at around 7:30 PM ish.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Day Six: Digby, O'NEILS, Petite Riviere, Lunenburg County Winery, Lunenburg Arms Hotel

We bed a sad farewell to beautiful Annapolis Royal and made our way to Digby. There we went to the wharf ending up with another of the many "Taste of Nova Scotia" sites. O'Neil Fisheries also known under the title of Our Royal Fundy brand . O'Neil has a proud reputation in the industry and with clients. One of the reasons why they are so highly thought of is the fact that they own their own fishing fleet, transport their products in their own refrigerated trucks and they maintain their fishing vessels to the best of standards by having their own company to tend to such measures (Tidal Boat Works Ltd.). In addition, their "catch" is always to customer specifications and never altered in any way.
We had the pleasant experience of trying some of these products by visiting the restaurant on the premises. I had a Scallop Burger with Fies, Greg had the Shrimp and Christine the Fish and Chips. That's living. We ate on the wharf amid the fishing boats while watching the men who do the work for a living.
Petite Riviere Winery
Petite Riviere is actually a river located in Lunemberg County across the province from Bear River and Digby. Fed by many lakes , it is the source of the drinking water for the Town of Bridgewater. It is said that Samuel de Champlain ( the guy seems to have been everywhere!) named the river which also gives its name to the little town of Petite Riviere Bridge.
Carol Slack-Wamboldt's winery is in a very picturesque area in Crousetown not too far away. Her late husband, Phillip, spent many years finding just the right place to have a winery----and so he should since he knew he was going to be a winemaker ever since he was 12 years old. He found his "heaven" in the Lahave River Valley.
Carol is the winemaker at the winery now and gave us a tour of her St. Mary's Vineyard located atop of a gravel drumlin. The eight acre site is literally cut out of the forest and is kept in impeccable shape. In many ways the soil reminded me of the Chateauneuf du Pape area in Southern France. Very rocky and "poor" (in this case poor is good since the harder the vines work to produce fruit, the better the fruit will be!). The rocky soil and rocks serves a dual purpose! First is the obvious, the land has excellent drainage. The second is that the rocks retain the heat thus in cool evenings they continue to warm the vines----which can be important on frosty nights.
Carol's wines were all exceptional especially the Terres Rocheux, an unfiltered red that was superb by any standards. All Petite Riviere wines are made from grapes grown in area and this South Shore winery is indeed a site to behold!
The group of us then travelled to Lunenburg and registered at the Lunenburg Arms Hotel after which we had a bite to eat and off we went to visit the last winery of our tour.
Lunenburg County Winery
Three generations of family history going back to William the Conqueror, combine to make this winery located in Newburne (approx. 24 kilometres from Lunenburg) on a property known as Hackmatack Farm, which is a 100 acre commercial "Highbush" blueberry grower. The adjoining makes superb Blueberry Wine (from low growing blueberry bushes) as well as Pear, Cherry, Rhubarb, Kiwi, Peach, Strawberry, Cranberry, Raspberry, Gooseberry, Apricot, Elderberry, Apple and much more.
Their dessert wines are sumptuous and their fruit and grape wines have won medals at pretigous wine competitions such as Intervin, Fruit Wines Of Canada, The All Canadian Wine Competitions and Port of Wines!
It was a pleasure meeting the family. One member, Les Southwell proved to be the highlight of the day with his humour. While we were filming "on air" he remarked, "My Blueberry Wine is not only good but it is as good for one as that blue pill called "Viagra". The man in his eighties was as refreshing as any of his phenomenal wines. I hope that I'm is as good a humour when I reach eighty (if I reach eighty!). Actually, the whole family was welcoming and a pleasure to see and visit with. Greg, Christine and I enjoyed our visit and look forward to another one soon!
Lunenburg and The Lunenburg Arms Hotel
Lunenburg was founded in 1753. It is the home of the famous Bluenose and was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1955. As historical as it is beautiful, this this town is one of the best examples of a planned Brtish colonial settlement in North America.
We arrived at the Lunenburg Arms Hotel where we all went to our rooms to "freshen up". Outside my room was a site to behold as the view was breathtaking. It overlooked Lunenburg Harbour and its wharf where various vessels (the Bluenose 2 docks there) were docked.
Christine made arrangements for us to have dinner at the well known and respected "Tin Fish Restaurant".
That evening the Chef , a lovely young lady called Misty, prepared a fine meal for us. We had the pleasure of also having Christine's parents (Mr. and Mrs. Dave White) join us from Bridgewater. Mr. White was a delight to have with us since his humour and knowledge of history certainly made my evening. Mrs White was equally wonderful. Her and Christine were double "picture postcard" replicas of each other---which is very good!
The Chef went all out to prepare a fine meal for all of us including one of the largest bowls of soup I've ever had. Not that I'm complaining since I ate every bit of the seafood chowder but what I thought was the bowl of soup was actually the cup. If you can imagine what the bowl was like! The Atlantic Salmon that I had was equally delicious. A fine meal was had by all. It's always nice to eat with friends and even nicer to make new friends while eating.
Next! A Lunenburg Arms Filming, Peggy's Cove and Good-Bye to Nova Scotia!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day Five Cont'd: Bear River Winery

Bear River Winery
Bear River Winey has a historic significance since it is situated in the same area where the first grapes in Nova Scotia (and possibly Canada) were planted in 1611. Obviously the grapes did not completely survive but I would guess that many crosses occurred between the viniferas and the native grapes before the viniferas succumbed to the elements.
Chris and Peggy Hawes have kept up this experimentation with an environmentally friendly winery that has "a gravity system" constructed in its 19th Century barn.
The spacious red barn complete with an en suite for guests is situated near a gorgeous southern sloping vineyard that has well drained gravelly soil.
Grape types grown are Baco Noir, Pinot Noir, Lucy Kuhlmann, Marechal Foch, Riesling and Chardonnay.
Green Machine
Chris is quite proud of his "Gravity Fed Wine System" which cuts out the need for pumping wine to locations for fermentation and racking. However he also uses Solar power to produce energy and makes bio diesel fuel to run a generator in case of power outage. In his greenhouse he has a mature fig tree producing some very delicious looking figs. Outside in his garden he and Peggy grow vegetables. But, it is his wine that is his true pleasure.
The Hawes produce wines with some very interesting names. Here are a few:
Greater Yellow Legs Chardonnay, Meguma Terrane Riesling, Isosceles (A blend of Marechal Foch, Baco Noir and this year its Pinot Noir though next it may be a Lucy Kuhlmann), Black Fly (Pinot Noir) and Red Eft (a Pinot Noir Rose). Chris does produce a Gamay Noir but this year it's sold out!
Tasting Cellar
The tasting cellar located deep under the winery proper is truly superb. It is constructed from the actual barn wall as a background with a perfect humidity and temperature for aging wines. In fact, part of Chris's decorative wall is the large number of bottles stacked carefully on top of each other to produce a rather fine looking display. The bottles are so arranged that one in the middle can be extracted without collapsing the group.
The tasting room is well arranged with a large dining table suitable for mass tastings and/or wine matching meals.
Greg, Christine and I enjoyed our visit to this picturesque vineyard and I certainly look forward to coming here again in the future.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Annapolis Royal, Hillsdale House

Annapolis Royal
Annapolis Royal is that kind of town that wreaks history. One need not be a historian to know that much has happened over the last four hundred years. The Town was first settled by Samuel de Champlain in 1605 and this started a series of back and forth ownerships by the French and British during their conflicts. Fort Anne is one of the remaining relics which still contains one of the original battlements.

Other interesting historical items are the many historic cemeteries which have many of the prominent citizens of Nova Scotia history as their guests. One thing that this writer noticed was that some of the cemeteries which featured grave sites from the 18th Century were in grave (no pun intended) disrepair. It is very sad to let this type of historical relic disintegrate as our future generations will not be able to get the "hands on" viewing of tangible history.

Better preserved were the many historic homes---many of which are serving as inns and Bed & Breakfasts. One of these was to become our home for the next two nights.

Hillsdale House

The Hillsdale House Inn was erected in 1859 and was originally owned by a Susan Forbes Foster who was among other things a very modern thinking person. One example of this is that when she married circa 1870, she insisted that her husband to be, Edwin Ryerson, sign a pre-nuptial agreement.

Hillsdale is a fine example of a Victorian Manor that has been renovated and restored to its former glory. The rooms are all done to perfection in period furniture and as much of the original material is included. In one instance, one of the rooms still being used as an office and storage room of sorts still has the original original hand painted decorative images on the plaster walls.

My room was a suite that is famous for having King George V as one of its guests. Other guests were: Lord Landsdowne, Governor General of Canada in 1880, Lord Tweedsmuir in 1937 and MacKenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada in the 1930's and 40's.


Innkeepers Paul Stackhouse and Val Petersen could not have been more receptive to Christine, Greg and me! Two very welcome hosts were their dog, Hannah who is the most lovable pet I have encountered and their Siamese cat whose name I have forgotten but who certainly made the gang feel very welcome.

The establishment is fully licenced and provided some splendid hot breakfasts during our stay. The breakfasts included freshly baked muffins, toast, eggs and a choice of bacon or ham. Or, one could have pancakes with all the trimmings and there was always lots of coffee.

Forms Of Relaxation

Evenings were spent on the back porch drinking wine, listening to guitar playing and singer Matt, and discussing (sometimes solving) the problems of the world.

Paul and Val were the perfect hosts who treated Greg, Christine and I more like family than just guests. Val went out of her way to make sure that we were treated correctly not only at the inn but also while in Annapolis Royal. For example: I missed being charged twice for the same bill so Val contacted the place in question and had the charge credited. They gave us advice regarding things to do and when my shirt's zipper was damaged, she did the best she could to amend the problem. At other times, the group of us went down to the local sandwich shop and had sandwiches made and then took them with us to share a bottle of Nova Scotia Wine back at the Hillsdale House. On another occasion, we went to a restaurant called the Garrison House where we ate some fine food such as my Scallop dinner with the trimmings. This was the only time that I deviated from my wine and food matching. Greg and Christine ordered a glass of Garrison Ale with their meals---Greg needed this more than any of us since his "Shrimp Jambalaya" was indeed quite hot! I took the cue and had some of this refreshing ale.
However wine was not out of the equation entirely, a family from Tennessee were interested in Nova Scotia wine and asked us which wines would be best to be taken back to the Queen Anne (across the street from the Hillsdale House) for a tasting. Christine was quick to make several excellent suggestions and Nova Scotia Wine was taken and our mission to indoctrinate the world about the Wines Of Nova Scotia was redeemed!!!
As most who know me now realize, I am a coffee addict and always need my coffee. This evening was no different. After my beer came----several coffees!!!
We were sad to leave Hillsdale House, its owners and of course dear Hannah but we had to move on. So the next morning we were on our way once again.
Next: Oneil's at Digby's Wharf, Bear River, Petite Riviere.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Day Five: Grand Pre, Blomidon Ridge, Foxhill Cheese

Blomidon Breakfast

Breakfast at the Blomidon Inn was its usual great self, I was full previous night's dining at Tempest PLUS also from a brunch that Greg, Christine and I had filmed at 10 AM at the Inn earlier that day. I still needed to make sure I had some food in me prior to departing for Grand Pre and then Annapolis Royal.

Grand Pre Winery

What can I say about Grand Pre that hasn't been said before? Grande Pre was originally owned and operated by Roger Dial who is well known for his work with Nova Scotia wines. However, the man who brought the winery to the forefront and whose foresight, integrity and wisdom made Grande Pre the example it is today is Hanspeter Stutz.

Swiss born Stutz purchased the winery when he was still in his homeland of Switzerland. In1993 he moved his family to Nova Scotia to build a winery and make wine. He methodically built not only a phenomenal winery with excellent wines but also a winery that was as attractive as it was functional.

When one goes through the vineyards, one sees vines that are in immaculate condition along side some of the most attractive wine buildings and wine restaurant anywhere---not only in Nova Scotia but anywhere else. Hanspeter's philosophy is to work with nature not against it. "You can't trick Nature. If you try, you will undoubtedly fail;" is his motto. He recalls, "I knew one person who felt that one could grow vinifera vines in a region that was a challenge. He planted many acres of vinifera. The first year he had a good crop. The second year he had a great crop. The third year it was excellent. The fourth year he lost all his vines to winterkill!"

What Hanspeter has done is to concentrate on vines that grow well in the area and capitalize on growing the finest grape vines and making the best wine possible. He is very innovative and is consistently trying to improve the grapes and also the quality of fruit wine and apple cider in the area.
As we went further down the vineyard I was shown the new experiment! Stutz has planted a new Marechal Foch/Cabernet Sauvignon hybrid and feels that while the jury is still out, there is a good chance that this variety will eventually be able to make wines of great body and fruit flavours of the Cabernet style. Hanspeter also has come up with a new White Port that is exceptional and his Pomme D'Or and Icewine are among the most sought after wines by fans. Not to be outdone, his daughter Beatrice manages the Le Caveau restaurant that is adjoined to the winery and Chef Jason runs the kitchen. The food is exquisite, it is little wonder that Hanspeter is part of the "slow food" movement and does collaborative work with Chef Michael Howell of the Tempest Restaurant in Wolfville.
Lunch At Le Caveau
"This is my round table", Hanspeter said as he pointed to a very large circular table obvious a complete cross cut of a very large tree. Hanspeter went on to say that he follows the tradition of the round table by inviting people to share it with him to foster discussion and relaxation. Greg and I felt honoured that he invited us and Christine White to join him for lunch. His partner, Anna, also joined us and was a delightful and classy addition to the group.
My lunch consisted of a Smoked Salmon sandwich that was preceded by a Bisque soup. It was matched with a New York Muscat from Grand Pre. It was a great way to end the visit. I enjoy visiting Grand Pre for many reasons. Hanspeter first and above all inspires me and re-energizes my enthusiasm for wine. He also always comes up with a new project or two that he is working on and peaks my curiosity. His showpiece of a winery is among the best anywhere and along with the winemakers of Nova Scotia, his passion is infectious. The great food at Le Caveau doesn't hurt either.
Blomidon Ridge
Blomidon Ridge is called the "Tidal Winery" because it is so close to the tidal estuary. Closeness to the tides influences the temperature and air movement thus influencing the growth and development of the vines. Many great wines from white to rose to red are produced especialy one magnificent 2007 Baco Noir (if you can get some that is) which has a great deal of integrity and is full of ripe red and black fruit. The vines are looking good and should look even better next year!
A Visit To Foxhill Cheese House
On the way to Annapolis Royal is the Foxhill Cheese House whose motto is" From Seed! To Grass! To Milk! To Cheese To You!" Jeanita Rand has a unique history. Her direct ancestors were expelled from the Port William area in the the 17th Century. Her husband emigrated from England and landed in the United States years ago. He moved north and eventually settled in the Foxhill area with his parents. He met Jeanita and eventually married her settling down on the Foxhill property which was the very same property that was taken from her ancestors so many years ago. What goes around doe indeed come around!
A member of the quality milk program, the Rands have a herd of 50 cattle which produce all the needs of the many cheeses, milk and gelato (an Italian ice cream). The process is very strict and the animals are very well taken care of. Greg and I did a shoot there and were not permitted into the cheese area until we wore gowns, booths and hairnets. I'm bald but still needed a hairnet!
Being a member of the Taste of Nova Scotia movement does indeed have its benefits which I think also benefit the Taste of Nova Scotia.
Next: Annapolis Royal and Hillsdale House

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day Four: Benjamin Bridge, Tempest and Fine Dining

Dining At the Blomidon
The weather had finally cleared so that we could do some filing outside of the Inn and go into the garden to film the lovely flowers and ponds in its back garden. The film went successfully and the film trio of Christine White, Greg Rist and me then went indoors to prepare the shoot simulation of the dinner at the Inn. Sean and Michael Laceby prepared a fine meal consisting of a surf and turf sort of meal for me while Greg got the Caribou meat with all the trimmings along with a great red Lucy Kuhlmann. The wine was well suited for the meat and even went well with the lobster and steak.
After the meal, we were off to Halls Harbour to take shots and also to get more filming shots. It didn't take us long to get to the site and it had not changed for several years since I had not seen anyone. Halls Harbour lies at the shores of the Bay of Fundy. Lobster boats continually (come in and out of the of the wharf deck) depending on the tides with their catches of lobsters. Greg and I went to the lobster tanks to select the meal of the day. They were placed in boiling water and cooked for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Greg went out to the fishing boats to gain more film footage while he was waiting for the food. Christine was as usual discussing the meal with the owners of the restaurant where we were about to eat.
I felt sorry for the poor crustaceans that were looking so helpless but they proved to be quite delicious eating when Greg and I took our meals to the rocks and enjoyed.
We returned Wolfville where we dropped in to see Chef Michael at the Tempest Restaurant. Chef Michael decided to accompany us to Benjamin Bridge, a winery that was so new that while it could make its own wines, it was not yet fully functional!
Benjamin Bridge and Jean Benoit Deslauriers Share Their Wine
Owners Gerry McConnell and Dara Gordon have their piece of heaven in the Gaspereau valley which is about five to ten minutes away from Wolfville, Nova Scotia----just off the Gaspereau Road. We met with Benjamin winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers at the winery to taste some of the Benjamin Bridge wines. Sauvignon Blanc that somewhat blindsided me with its New Zealand style yet with a lean and fresh style all its own.
Jean-Benoit then introduced us to a vertical tasting of Nova 7---a wine that has taken Nova Scotia by storm. One of its many attributes is the the fact that it is mildly effervescent. Add to that a touch of fruit sweetness and refreshing acidity and little wonder that the wine has been selling itself off the shelves. There seemed to be a progression of effervescence with each year accompanied by an increased leanness and elegance by the time we reached the 2008.
Nova 7 is a blend of Csaba and New York Muscat that is done in the Asti style but without the somewhat cloying sweetness that many Astis have. The wine is welcoming, slightly sparkling with a clean refreshing acidity that comes with the Muscat. I see continuing success with this wine.
The next wine we tasted was an example of the wine that will be the signature wine of this estate and that is a Methode Champenoise or Traditional Style Sparkling Wine. The wine is made from estate grown Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier. The wine had not yet been disgorged (sediment removed from the bottle Champagne style) and there was no dosage or sweetness selective added to it as yet. In other words the wine was bone dry and fresh from barrel but it had all the attributes of what was going to be a fine sparkler---typical yeast/bread nose, clean and fresh. Little wonder that none of us decided to "spit" it out but savoured every last drop.
Another wine was also from barrel and this was a rose full of delicious effervescence. It was delicious to drink now but I am sure Jean-Benoit had plans for it!
Jean-Benoit learned that we were having a dinner at Tempest---Chef Michael Howell's fine dining establishment in Wolfville! We were going to taste the Benjamin Bridge Taurus Reserve but decided to try the wine at the Tempest Restaurant later on that evening. The final wine tasted was a delicious Icewine made from estate grown Vidal grapes. The wine was full of apricot, peach and honey flavours with a marvelous acid bite.
I wondered out loud about the plight of vinifera grapes and if they could grow in the Gaspereau. Jean-Benoit stated that while there are challenges to growing vinifera, the temperature in the Gaspereau may get to as much as minus 17 or 20 but it should not hurt the vines though some winter kill does occur. I do hope he is correct since the wines I tasted were quite good!
Dinner At The Tempest
Chef Michael Howell's Tempest Restaurant is certainly initially welcoming to those who enter its foyer but no one is prepared for the magnitude and imagination that comes in the form of his cooking or the service that his staff bring to the clientele.
Christine White, Greg and I entered the abode carrying our bottle of Taurus Reserve. We were seated and the lovely sommelier called Sarah poured a glass of L'Acadie Reserve for us. This went very well with the initial appetizer of Parsnips and Apple as well as the Vegetable, Sausage and Fish Soup with an ever so good "arribbiata" taste to it! This was followed by a Riesling that matched a lovely Garden Salad as well as the sublime Lobster Risotto. The lovely acidity of both wines cut through the challenges of all the dishes following up each with lovely fruit brought to the forefront as the acid equalized the playing field.
Though all the dishes were exemplary examples of what Chef Michael could do, the prize came in the form of Lamb with Purple/Blue Mashed Potatoes. The wine matched was the Benjamin Bridge Taurus Reserve Marechal Foch. Lamb is always a match for the a wine that exhibits black fruit and wood flavours as well as having the benefit of pepper spice with a touch of anise. This seemed to be the case with the Taurus---a reserve wine that puts the Marechal grape on a different playing field. A super match and a super day.
One thing I would like to say is thanks to Dean Tudor of the Wine Writers Circle Of Canada whose daughter happens to be Chef Michael's wife. On hearing that I was coming to Wolfville, he suggested that I come and visit the restaurant. Of course, the Tempest and Michael Howell both having such a great reputation as well as being part of "Taste of Nova Scotia" were included in the itinerary of my visit!
Next: Grand Pre and on to Annapolis Royal

Friday, June 12, 2009

Nova Scotia Day Three: Gaspereau Valley

L'Acadie Vineyards
The newest and first organic winery in Nova Scotia is L'Acadie Vineyards owned by former British Colombian Bruce Ewert. Bruce is making quite the impact with a number of firsts in Nova Scotian winemaking such as: the first organic winery (certified), the first Method Champenoise or Traditional Method Sparkling wine and the first Amarone style red and white wines.
The vineyards wines have won many awards already and it seems that Bruce has just started to perform. Bruce worked with the very famous wine innovator Harry McWatters who many call the Father of British Colombia Wines. He has also worked with Andres.
A Visit To Gaspereau Vineyards
Not far from Wolfville, just down the valley road and immediately to the right is Hans Christian Jost's second vineyards called Gaspereau. I have been told that he acquired it very oddly. However, knowing that Hans Christian knows what he wants and recognizes a good thing very quickly.
It seems that Hans was driving around the Gaspereau area when he spotted the present winery.
He was amazed to find that it was for sale. Looking at the magnificent south facing sloping vineyards, he very quickly went into the building and made an offer. He told his wife Karen later.
The vineyards are a fine site and produced some major wines such as the Lucy Kuhlmann, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Castel and L'Acadie Blanc.
Greg and I met winemaker Gina Haverstock. This rather bubbly personality came across as very enthusiastic and very competent. Gina certainly made sure that their personal work did not get in the way of some great wine!
Sainte Famille
Mr. and Mrs. Corkum of Sainte Famille vineyards have been making wine for over thirty years and are known for their white wines as well as their reds. Recently we tasted several blends of wines such as the white "Quartet" and a phenomenal Foch. The couple is thinking of expansion which is surprising since it comes at a time in their lives (he's 80 and she is 66) when they normally would be thinking of settling down. However, circumstances make it more of an expansion proposition. They would like to expand to about 8000 cases. This is a truly lovely couple that loves challenges and are inspired to continue on. As Mr. Corkum says, "Retire-----I find pruning the vines more relaxing than playing golf. Why should I retire!?"
Chasing Ghouls
Normal individuals do not go and look at tombstones in the evening. However, who said that Greg Rist and I are normal? The problem is that we drag our host, Christine White with us wherever we go and this occasion was not a different one! Off we went to the Burial Grounds to look at old tombstones---some of which were from the mid to late 18th Century and where those of some of the founding fathers of Wolfville!
Greg and I did silly skits which would be used for our series and poor Christine was our apprentice camera and lighting person. What this poor child endured should get her a raise of at least 100 percent. We did see Pam with her group of seven or eight British writers. She got off lucky. Poor Christine!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Nova Scotia Wines Are Humming And Magnificent Blomidon Inn

Arrival In Halifax
The flight to Nova Scotia was a very fine two hours. Greg Rist and I were met in Halifax by Pam Wamback of Tourism, Culture and Heritage for the Province. As refreshing as she was friendly Pam depicted the very best of what the Government had to offer and quickly wisked us away from the hustle of the airport towards the Malagash Peninsula where Jost Vineyards is located just outside of Tatamagouche.
Train Station Inn
We left our bags at the famous Train Station Inn where we were to spend the night and went off to begin our filming of the new series "Adventures In Wine Frontiers". While I was there in 2006, I couldn't get over the same exhilaration of seeing the magnificent scene of the blue waters of the Jost Vineyards lining their way towards Northumberland Strait; green meeting blue in the distance. There were some changes of course-----such as the recent plantings of L'Acadie Blanc situated in front as van made the left turn onto the property.In general, the vineyard and boutique was welcomingly familiar with the same ambiance that greeted me three years prior.
We took some shots in the vineyards as well as inside the boutique-----making fun with the staff and also doing some comical routines for the show. We then were taken by Pam to our resting place for the night at the Train Station Inn where we were met by James Le Fresne, the owner who single handily saved the Station from demolition some thirty odd years ago-----when he was only 17 years of age! He fought what others deemed to be a loosing battle with bureaucracy and took on not only the rail road company but the municipality as well. He won both battles---the last by becoming an elected official. An Act, known as the "Train Station Inn Building Act" was the culmination of the fight and secured Jimmy's as he likes to be called firmly placed in both Tatamagouche and history.
The Inn is an unusual assortment of Rail Road Cars which are restored to perfection into bedrooms. These historic vehicles ranging in age from 50 to 110 years are the epitome of historic Canadiana. One of them, the Alexandra Coach, was the coach that belonged to Earl Grey, Governor General of Canada and also of the tea fame!The night in the lovely restored 1911 Caboose was both comfortable and exciting. It came with all the comforts of home plus the thrill of being part of Canada's history.
Hans Christian Jost
The morning came quickly and we were introduced to Christine White of the Nova Scotia Wine Association. Christine proved to be a worthy person to take over the job that Pam so finely started. Her competence in taking over for Pam proved to become a true asset to the film team! There were several things to do on our agenda but the first was a return to Jost Vineyards and a meeting with the big man of Nova Scotia Wine----Hans Christian Jost.
Hans Christian's story begins when his father, Hans W. Jost decided to make wine out of his garage in the early 1970's. Demand increased such that he then bought land which resulted in prime vineyards being developed in not only Malagash but also in the Gaspereau Valley!
Hans is a tireless worker who eats and breathes wine. His commitment and dedication to the vines and wines of Nova Scotia is shown by his constant work to not only improve his wines but also those of other wineries in the province. He believes in the production and improvisation of vines and grape varieties that grow well in the climate and has done wonders with what many call Hybrid Grapes but what he just calls Grape Vines. "After all", he says, "Do we call apple varieties that people like "Hybrid Apples"? No! So Why should we call those grapes that work well here and produce excellent and above average wines Hybrids"---a term which I think is used in a derogatory way?!
Hans went on to inform me that in order to make the soil receptive to the vines and to bring more nutrients into it, he imported oyster shells and crab shells----some seven hundred tons of them. He spread them around his vineyard. The result can be seen in the healthy appearance of his grapes.
Hans informed me in another matter. He considers the Annapolis Valley a prime area for growing grapes. He attributes this to two major things. The Bay Of Fundy empties itself twice per day. This means that twice per day, the equivalent of all the water in all the rivers in the Globe is emptied from this basin twice per day. That is a great production of kinetic and heat producing energy. In addition there is the protective and insulative effect of the North Mountain on the vineyards. Then there is the Atlantic Ocean. This combination is just right for the vines of this area.
After much filming and discussing of wines. Hans allowed us to taste a "barrel sample" of his new Stainless Steel Fermented Marachal Foch---winner of double gold in the All Canadian Wine Awards. We also tasted some of his new Whisky Barrel Aged Ice Wine---truly a marvel.
Christine Introduces The Pork Shop and Sweet Shop
Christine and Pam are true gifts to the people of Nova Scotia. Their enthusiasm and congenialty make them invaluable to the associations they work for. Christine took us to two very different yet very entertaining (and delicious) spots while on the way to Wolfville which would be our destination for the next three days. The first was The Pork Shop in Denmark (Nova Scotia) which, of course made pork products. Manager, Dave Wall reflected the attitude that most of to you he people we met exhibited. He was friendly and very welcoming. We were hungry and wanted to buy some thing to eat. now Dave only sold the products and really did not sell any deli items but, like a rescuer in the midst of a storm, he made us some of the most delicious roast pork sandwiches this side of Heaven along with great coffee. After an interview and some filming for the Adventures program, we were on our way towards Wolfville but Christine was not yet finished. Our guide and associate had one more surprise left up her lovely sleeve and that was probably the sweetest of all.
"Do you like chocolate?" she said with a fiendish grin! Greg was the first to reply!
"CHOCOLATE! OF COURSE! I chocolate Mousse!" I said trying to keep up to the conversation.
Christine took us to the locally favourite and award winning chocolatier Sweet Spot Chocolate Shop where owner Nancey was waiting for us.
Nancy is probably one of the most pleasant persons that one could possibly hope to meet. With a set of sparkling eyes and a perpetual smile imprinted on her face, Nancy has one more thing to draw the endearment of others. It is a very distinct and mischievous pixyish laugh that promotes one to laugh also!
Nancy's parents had a Horticultural Centre which she inherited and ran for 12 years. After taking a course in making candy, she and her husband decided to make chocolate themselves. The result business has exceeded all expectations and she has won many awards for her business. Nancy has even won testimonials from many celebrities and politicians including: Regis Philbin and President Clinton. Her infectious giggle, though, is what one remembers. She still owes me a dance for when I return to taste more chocolate!
The Blomidon Inn
The Blomidon Inn is located in the very beautiful and historical Wolfville which is the gateway to the Annapolis Valley! This town dates back to the 17th Century and has many historical homes and artifacts (great cemetary) that reflect a colourful past. Along with a glorious past, comes a learning institution that is second to none. Acadia Century homes line the main street aptly named Main Street. Among these is the Blomidon Inn!
Built by 19th Centruy sea captain, Rufus Burgess, this 29 room house is open all year with the exception of Christmas. It has many highlights such as many gardens and ponds with lilies, jacuzzis, specialy decorated rooms and gourmet dining. Staying here three nights is going to be fun!
The house that Rufus built was named Perth House to honour his wife's Scottish homeland. He became very famous for his ship building and was responsible for some 23 ships including one of the largest, the Canada! After his death in 1905, the house became the property of another businessman William Henry Chase who himself had built a property in Wolfville for his family (now called the Historic Victoria Inn). The property was later sold to Horton W. Phinney, another businessman. Perth House went through several owners until it was aquired by Jim and Donna Laceby and their partner John Bragg in 1988. The house, now called the Blomidon House had fallen into major disrepair.
The Lacebys methodically restored the property to its former glory and now call it Blomidon Inn. Their sons Michael and Sean have taken over the operation. Sean works in the kitchen and is responsible for several publications as well as a very interesting cookbook while Michael oversees the day to day operations. Jim continues to help with marketing and promotion of the property while Donna takes care of the Gift Shop.
The Inn has now come full circle. It is the unique and class place that it was over one hundred years ago with the added feature of being one of Nova Scotia's top Inns. Its food is magnificent and the staff cannot possibly perform any better. Great service, imaginative food and subline rooms------what more could a traveller want?
Point of interest! The name Blomidon comes from the large rock projection in the Minas Basin. The name has resulted from the term "Blow Me Down" referring to the winds that occur when the tides come in and out!