When people ask where I live, I laughingly tell them: The New Napa. The Annapolis Valley where I grew up and live seems to be evolving into the new Napa or Napa North. Like California’s famous wine valley, vineyards and wineries are sprouting up all over the Annapolis Valley. We have 10 wineries so far. As I drive through the Valley, apple orchards I grew up surrounded by are being replaced with vineyards. Fair enough, it’s a much better cash crop. And it’s attracting cool people with interesting careers, like vintners, sommeliers and chefs to the Valley.
We are in a state of evolution, and starting on September 1st with the inauguration of the Magic Winery Bus we’re showing it off – mostly to ourselves. I’ve done winery tours and tastings in Tuscany, Bordeaux, the Okanagan, Niagara, and the volcanic vineyards of the Canary Islands, and like too many, ignored what is in my backyard.
The Magic Winery Bus is a fun, casual way to spend part of a weekend. And it removes the sometimes, intimidating pretense around wine tasting. Here, it’s sunshine, open vineyards and astonishing views across the great meadow (Grand Pre) and Minas Basin to Blomidon. And for $10 (children are free), it’s an entertainment bargain – cheaper than a movie and longer lasting.
I did it the first afternoon the Magic Winery Bus was in service and plan to do it again.
Our little backyard adventure began among a group of strangers sitting on the lip of raised flower bed on Wolfville’s Main Street. We chuckled at the Magic Winery Bus sign which said “$10/person, children free”. We liked the intemperance aspect of allowing children to tag along.
Those of us of a certain age, which was most of us, stumbled over the name: Magic Winery Bus. We had been conditioned by the songs of our youth to think of the Magic Bus. And because we were on a double decker bus, which are rare in Wolfville, we all climbed to the top to be able to peek into familiar yards from a different perspective, and instinctively crouched down when tree branches scraped the bus roof.
The bus is scheduled to leave every hour for stops at three wineries in the Gasperau Valley behind Wolfville and two in Grand Pre beside Wolfville. While our bus picked us up on time at 12:30 the schedule got scrapped due to the uncharacteristic traffic jams caused by glorious weather and returning Acadia University students. There are worst things in life than being “trapped” at a winery. Happily, at our first stop the Gaspereau Winery, which had a small marquee set up for bus passengers on the edge of their ruler-straight rows of vines, the staff just kept pouring, pouring and pouring. We got to sample six whites, roses and reds. They even gave us a tasting appetizer: bit of meat, grape and cheese on a toothpick. This really helped the flavours in their wines pop.
Because of the slower pick up (which I’m told was solved by Sunday) some of us, who are local and can come back, skipped the second winery, L’Acadie Vineyards, to go on to Luckett’s Vineyards. Alas, Pete’s profile meant that every other wine lover in Western Nova Scotia also was there. While some of us on the bus didn’t taste anything, we did bask in the views, photographed the red London phone box in the vineyard and shared a raspberry cheesecake on the deck of the Luckett restaurant. Virginia from Windsor, waving an arm towards the sweeping views across the Minas Basin to Blomidon, said, “Who could be disappointed? We have sun and this view.” And her friend had another bite of our cheesecake.
Having been to Grand Pre Winery and with the clock running out, I made my final stop the Muir Winery, which is new to me. I tried not to be too piggish and limited myself to two whites, a rose and two reds. Georgina from Halifax didn’t care for their “Kempt Shore”, which is a Marechal Foch. I could understand – it had a heavy, musty nose to it, but if you could get past that it’s not bad. I don’t think Kempt Shore is a sip-on-its-own vintage. We concluded that having a nibble of cheese or something with this, and many of the wines we tasted, would help immensely in letting wine-lovers like us vs wine experts experience the potential of these wines.
Our consensus for people taking the Magic Winery Bus: toss a zip-lock bag in your pack with some small pieces of cheese, a few grapes, or smoked meat. It’s not in the grand tradition of serious wine tastings, but treat this like a mobile tasting-cum-picnic. I think this edible aid will elevate the wines to a different place on your palate.
Wolfville’s Magic Winery Bus is a great way to explore our backyard. It’s sociable, acts like a designated driver and is a cheap way to determine what wines we want to take home. Whoever thought of this came up with a great idea.
Interested in taking the bus:
The Magic Winery Bus operates on an hourly basis from 10:30 am till 3:30 pm Saturday and Sundays until October 14. Cost $10. Five wineries are visited. Passengers are free to step on and off at all wineries or just a few.
Participating wineries are: Muir Murray Winery and Domain de Grand Pre in Grand Pre and L’Acadie, Luckett and Gaspereau Vineyards in the Gaspereau Valley. Domain, Luckett and Muir have on-site restaurants. Some offer free tastings, some have special deals for bus passengers. L’Acadie, for example, gives two free tastes for those taking the tour and lets visitors sample three sparkling wines for a $5 tasting fee, which is refundable on any purchases.