Author Nicholas DeRenzo Photography Chris Sorensen
DAY THREE | I start my day at Elliot’s, watching surfers brave the chilly Atlantic, as I dig into pancakes and chorizo hash slathered in maple syrup (remember, it’s all about nostalgic Canadiana here). Then I’m on the road, heading across the province to the up-and-coming Annapolis Valley wine region, on the Bay of Fundy. Separating Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the bay boasts the world’s highest tides. There can be a 50-foot difference between high and low tide here, as more than 100 billion tons of water drain out twice daily, stranding boats (and unlucky fish) on the dry seabed.
Within two hours, pine forests open up to rolling meadows, weathered barns and dairy cows, then the tell-tale geometry of wine country—rows, rows, rows. I end up in the college town of Wolfville, where I’ll be staying at the Blomidon Inn, which occupies a stately 19th-century sea captain’s mansion.
First, a reenergizing cup in nearby Grand-Pré, at Just Us! Coffee, Canada’s first fair-trade coffee roaster. It’s the kind of café where your barista may discuss the subtle distinctions between Peruvian and Ethiopian beans, but it’s also just a casual hangout (as evidenced by the farmer parking his John Deere out front). Next door, I duck into the Tangled Garden, which feels like the cottage of a friendly sorceress. Dried flowers, grown outside, hang from the rafters; jewel-tone bottles and jars line every shelf, filled with things like cherry anise hyssop jam and rose petal and lavender vinegar.
For lunch, I’m meeting Gillian Mainguy, director of the Atlantic Wine Institute. A native Ontarian—which makes her a CFA, or “come from away”—she has a back-slapping, shoulder-punching manner. We’re not in Bordeaux anymore, Toto. This newly hip wine region is racking up the accolades (a local sparkling wine recently beat Champagne at a global competition), but it hasn’t let success go to its head.
“We’re getting a lot of hype among wine geeks,” Mainguy says. “But we want to be approachable. We never want to be snobby.” We meet at Luckett Vineyards, where her husband is winemaker. “Which,” she promises, “isn’t the only reason I took you here!” Owner Pete Luckett is a British entrepreneur behind the local Whole Foods–style market Pete’s Frootique, and his heritage crops up in clever ways, including the red phone box in the middle of the vines (offering free calls within North America) and wine names like Black Cab, a red made from sun-dried grapes.
Over steak and mushroom pie on the patio, we talk about the terroir here. The cold climate makes it ideal for crisp whites, including the region’s first appellation variety, Tidal Bay, a blend of Nova Scotia–grown grapes. Ten area wineries offer takes on the signature blend. I’m a wine novice, but I taste grapefruit and lychee. “There’s definitely a pucker there,” she says, “It pairs beautifully with Nova Scotia lobster.” Like a bracing spritz of lemon.
Next, it’s a 10-minute drive to Grand-Pré National Historic Site, a peaceful refuge of manicured gardens and songbird-filled woods dedicated to the 1755 expulsion of the French-speaking Acadians by the British. They’d go on to resettle as far south as Louisiana, where they became known as the Cajuns. While they were once dominant throughout Nova Scotia, the Acadian presence has been all but wiped out, save for a few Francophone towns founded when the Acadians were allowed to return home decades later.
Inside the site’s 1922 memorial church, I meet ranger François Gaudet, a descendant of the expelled who sees his own return to the area as an act of historic defiance. “I’m an artifact of the deportation,” he says. “I should not be here. I should not speak French. I consider myself a miracle.” He points out a statue of Evangeline, the heroine of an 1847 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem about the expulsion.
“If it weren’t for Longfellow, we might not even know about the Acadians,” he says. “The poem used to be required reading in schools, but the newer generation doesn’t know about that story.” With that, the park’s resident cat strolls by, brushing against my leg. Her name? “Evangeline, of course.”
The surrounding farmlands were reclaimed from the bay by an ingenious system of Acadian dikes that tamed the Fundy’s fearsome tides back in the 1680s—a plan so inventive the area was named Nova Scotia’s third UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012, one of only 16 in all of Canada. I drive through the valleys, stopping at Fox Hill Cheese House, a dairy farm where swallows tumble in the breeze, and at Gaspereau Valley Fibres, a yarn store watched over by a small herd of alpacas.
I finish my evening with a dinner of rabbit torchon and salad with brown butter vinaigrette at Le Caveau restaurant at the Domaine de Grand-Pré winery. Kenan Thompson from “Saturday Night Live” is also here at the winery, sipping Tidal Bay. This, I think, is the new Nova Scotia, a place where New York celebrities rub shoulders with dairy farmers, where winemakers out-French the French.
After dinner, I drive up to the Blomidon Lookoff. In the half light, the land below looks like a faded patchwork quilt. It’s not the most dramatic scenery I’ve encountered here, but it’s among the most significant, reclaimed from the sea by age-old ingenuity. Up here, I appreciate the connection Nova Scotians have with the land. You hear them tell of it when they recount stories both historical and personal. As Ironworks Distillery co-owner Pierre Guevremont told me earlier, while we sipped his flavored spirits, “The rhubarb liqueur is our most emotional product, because everyone has a link with their grandmother’s backyard. We all have a rhubarb story.”
Hemispheres senior editor Nicholas DeRenzo is looking into opening a donair food truck in Brooklyn.