Avondale Sky Winery gets intimate and interactive

A pilot project offers visitors a taste of a day in the life on the vineyard.

Dave Culligan

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 snow-covered 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.

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