The Avon­dale Sky Win­ery ex­pe­ri­ence

A pi­lot project at Avon­dale Sky Win­ery of­fers visi­tors a taste of a day in the life on the vine­yard.

The Coast - - FRONT PAGE - BY MOIRA PETERS

Dis­cover Our Vine­yard Se­crets Avon­dale Sky Win­ery, 80 Avon­dale Cross Road, New­port Land­ing Sat March 31, 2-7pm Wine­maker for a Day Sat April 14, 2-7:30pm

Late one Mon­day morn­ing in the mid­dle of March, as a few snowflakes made their way hes­i­tantly to the earth, I left home, driv­ing west along High­way 215, fol­low­ing the Noel Shore on the Cobe­quid Bay be­fore turn­ing south along the Avon River.

I was headed to my lo­cal win­ery, to spend the day out­side learn­ing about work in a vine­yard this time of year, and in­dulging in food, drink and the com­pany of col­leagues.

A gag­gle of Canada geese flew west­ward as I drove along the red-brown bay where the high­est tides in the world have been recorded. This place has en­ergy: The push-pull of the silt-laden wa­ters has at­tracted peo­ple through­out his­tory.

It also at­tracts tourists in the sum­mer, who make their way along the Glooscap Trail, named for the creator of Wa­banaki leg­end. Parks and in­ter­pre­tive cen­tres, beaches, restau­rants and B&Bs en­cour­age a leisurely ex­plo­ration of the area, and more ad­ven­ture­some visi­tors ride the tidal bore up the Shube­nacadie River, or slide down its banks into warm, silky pools of mud as the tide re­treats.

I ar­rived at my des­ti­na­tion in New­port Land­ing. The sun shone bright on snow­cov­ered hill­sides cut by the ge­ome­tries of a vine­yard. As I stepped into the tast­ing room at Avon­dale Sky Win­ery I was handed a glass of Mus­cat, a wine that cap­tures and con­cen­trates the bizarre char­ac­ter of Nova Sco­tia’s grapes— in­tense, nearly naughty trop­i­cal aro­mat­ics meet a solid core of acid­ity and a sur­pris­ing dry fin­ish.

We were nine, gath­ered at Avon­dale Sky to par­tic­i­pate in a pi­lot project, an ex­per­i­ment for the win­ery in build­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, guid­ing visi­tors along an in­ti­mate “day in the life” on a vine­yard. Such “ex­pe­ri­ences” are in grow­ing de­mand by tourists as they seek per­son­al­ized, au­then­tic op­por­tu­ni­ties to con­nect with the places they visit: Hid­den gems, lo­cal hang-outs, in­sider scoops, the best selfie-ops.

Tourism Nova Sco­tia rec­og­nizes this trend. The Crown cor­po­ra­tion sup­ports Nova Sco­tia busi­nesses and or­ga­ni­za­tions with tool­kits on craft­ing ex­pe­ri­ences for visi­tors, col­lab­o­rat­ing to de­velop ex­pe­ri­ences that dif­fer­en­ti­ate Nova Sco­tia on the world tourism stage (Din­ing on the Ocean Floor is an ex­am­ple of one such col­lab­o­ra­tion) and free ad­ver­tis­ing on No­vaS­co­tia.com. And the At­lantic Canada Op­por­tu­ni­ties Agency ( ACOA) helps fund ex­pe­ri­en­tial tourism ini­tia­tives through the In­no­va­tive Com­mu­ni­ties Fund and Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Fund.

Our vine­yard ex­pe­ri­ence at Avon­dale Sky be­gan with a les­son on prun­ing in the equip­ment barn, where we learned from vine­yard man­ager Pete Smitts about the dif­fer­ence be­tween spur and cane prun­ing. Armed with pruners, we headed out into the vine­yard to try our hand at a row of Leon Mil­lot.

Later, we re­grouped for a les­son on vine prop­a­ga­tion. Af­ter we planted our cho­sen grape va­ri­ety in a pot to take home (I picked l’Acadie Blanc, Nova Sco­tia’s flag­ship grape), we made our way back to the win­ery for din­ner, which felt just as nat­u­ral as com­ing in for sup­per af­ter a hard day’s work.

I cor­nered Ste­wart Creaser, co-owner of Avon­dale Sky, to ask why he would put this kind of ef­fort into host­ing a group of peo­ple in such style.

“We want to raise the bar on value,” he said. “With our lo­ca­tion”—which is off the beaten track— “we need some­thing else.”

He pointed to one of the par­tic­i­pants at the cash reg­is­ter. “And we sell more wine!”

Driv­ing home along the St. Croix River, a bald eagle swooped in front of the car, fly­ing so low I could see its in­di­vid­ual tail feath­ers. A se­cond eagle cir­cled over­head. The sink­ing sun turned patches of bare corn­fields cop­per. Nowhere else in the world could I ex­pe­ri­ence this: the glo­ries and sur­prises of my own back­yard.

DAVE CULLIGAN

Avon­dale Sky wants to “raise the bar on value” with au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ences.

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