The idea that now there’s a new ‘good cheer’ trail in Nova Scotia is a bit like saying there is a new ‘good cheer’ trail in Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. This past fall, I traveled to Nova Scotia, Canada for the first time and discovered Nova Scotians are full of cheer naturally. However, this new foodie attraction features the good cheer provided by a glass of wine, beer or spirit. Launched this month, the Nova Scotia Good Cheer Trail winds through stunning landscapes, along rugged coasts and through historic sites, charming cities and bucolic farmland to 38 sites.
And it is a beautiful province with plenty to photograph. My road trip began in Halifax and ended in Cape Breton, home to the Cabot Trail (see below), one of the world’s most scenic roads.
Although the craft drink boom is relatively new in Nova Scotia, the ‘art’ of good cheer is not. More than 400 years ago, French cartographer Samuel de Champlain— an early explorer of the Province—established the Order of Good Cheer. It was one of North America’s first gastronomic societies to raise the spirits (with a hefty dose of spirits, I assume) of the first settlers. Today, Nova Scotians keep the tradition alive by producing wines, spirits and beer at wineries, craft breweries, distilleries and brewpubs all over the Province.
And with this handy guide, they’re easy to find. Travelers can stop at 14 wineries, 12 craft breweries, five distilleries, five brewpubs and two national historic sites (Port Royal and the Fortress of Louisbourg). In addition, three companies offer tours to wineries and breweries for an inside look.
Wine-making Tradition Since the 1600s
Surprisingly, Nova Scotia was one of the first areas in North America to cultivate grapes for wine—dating back four centuries. Today, the province has 20 wineries, 70 grape growers and more than 800 acres under vine in seven different regions. In 2012, the province’s first wine appellation, Tidal Bay was introduced, named for the influence of the sea – especially the Bay of Fundy – on the wineries. A crisp, aromatic white wine, it reveals lively fresh green fruit, dynamic acidity, characteristic minerality and is relatively low in alcohol. Tidal Bay must be made from 100% Nova Scotia grown varietals including: L’Acadie Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Vidal and New York Muscat.
I sampled my fair share of Tidal Bay paired with the island’s plentiful lobster—a pairing made in heaven, indeed.
Here are some of must-see wineries on the Good Cheer trail:
- Domaine de Grand Pre, Nova Scotia’s first operating winery, has one of the province’s best restaurants, Le Caveau and holds tastings of its award-winning wines.
- Lucketts Vineyards, a regular stop on tasting tours offers samples of its delicious wines, serves fresh local dishes at its Crush Pad Bistro and features a red English telephone booth where visitors can make free calls anywhere in North America.
- L’Acadie Vineyards, the premier producer of traditional sparkling Nova Scotia wines, is also the province’s only certified organic winery and offers accommodations.
- Eileanan Breagha Vineyards (Gaelic for “beautiful islands”), located on Cape Breton’s picturesque Bras D’Or Lakes, produces some robust reds using Marechal Foch and Lucy Kuhlmann varietals.
A Century of Beer in “New Scotland”
As it is in America, the craft beer industry in Canada has gone gangbusters too. And Nova Scotia is no exception. Here, 15 microbreweries are producing some 50 beers – with more to come in the next few years. Since Halifax has more pubs per capita than any other city in Canada (Crazy, right!?), there’s ample opportunity to sample. Specialty brews to try include: Kitchen Party Pale Ale by Big Spruce; Hunky Dory Pale Ale by Boxing Rock, Rare Bird Pumpkin Ale, Uncle Leo’s Smoker Porter and Nut Brown Ale by Garrison.
For beer and history buffs, stop in at Alexander Keith brewery founded in 1820—one of the oldest breweries in the North America. Tour the massive ironstone and granite brewhouse (circa 1820), sample beers in the taproom and enjoy entertainment by characters in period costume which bring 1863 Halifax to life in song and story.
Spirited Nova Scotia
As a whiskey-lover, I had to stop in at Glenora Distillery on Cape Breton Island for a tour and tasting with the master distiller. Glenora’s bragging rights include: North America’s first Single Malt whisky for 25 years and one of the only spots in where you can sip, dine and stay at a distillery. If you plan to stay, request one of their gorgeous hillside chalets.
In honor of Nova Scotia’s rum-running Prohibition days, Ironworks Distillery makes small batches by hand of rum, vodka, eau de vie and brandy from the famed Annapolis Valley apples.
Another tasty stop on the tipple trail is the Steinhart Distillery. They produce small batch vodka and gin from local Maritime wheat, some infused with the local cranberries, strawberries, haskap berries or maple syrup based on the Steinhart family’s 300-year tradition of craft distilling.
No Designated Driver Needed with These Tours
On Thursdays, Great Escapes Nova Scotia Wine Tours offers tours on the Good Cheer Trail on Thursdays from May to December. The tour leaves from either Halifax or Wolfville and includes visits to two breweries, three wineries and Tangled Garden to taste their hand-crafted liqueurs. Uncork Nova Scotia offers a similar Good Cheer Wine and Beer Tour and the Wolfville Magic Winery Bus takes oenophiles on wine tasting tours. Don’t miss a wine-paired lobster feast while you’re at it…
Ideal to experience the Good Cheer Trail during the season of cheer and good will (although, like I mentioned, this attitude is prevalent with the locals year round), visit novascotia.com for more information.