Thursday, September 8, 2011

Summer of Irene

Hurricane Irene did no damage here, there was some wind and a little bit of rain but nothing special. The day Irene passed closest to my part of the world was a gorgeous sunny bright clear day with a fair bit of wind, it was quite nice. I picked up my house guest at the airport with no problem, although she said there had been a bit of turbulence in her flight. I guess when you fly over a big storm that might be expected.

My guest stayed for a week and we fit in three winery tours, Hall's Harbour, Peggy's Cove, Chester, Halifax, open mic at The Port Bistro (we crashed a birthday party there), Night Kitchen at the Al Whittle, the Wolfville Farmers' Market and numerous seafood dinners. My guest bought bottles of wine from two of the vineyards we visited and they were really quite good, one was a cranberry apple wine and the other was a rose.

(Hall's Harbour at low tide)

(open mic at The Port)

(some musicians at Saturday Night Kitchen)

I learned a lot about grape growing and winemaking which I will put to good use with my own grapevines. Not the winemaking part, I think I will stick to buying wine rather than attempting to make it, but I did hack off a lot of the grape vine foliage after the advice of two of the tour guides.

Gaspereau Vineyard was the best, our guide was lively, funny and informative. She plied us with wine. At the end I had to refuse a tasting because I was starting to get concerned about how much I had had to drink. The one I refused was the maple wine which I am told is really good and excellent over ice cream. And, it was all for free!

We also visited Luckett Vineyard and Muir Murray. Luckett's is on a high north facing slope with a fabulous view of the Gaspereau and Annapolis valleys, the Minas Basin and Cape Blomidon. They have this one vineyard there with an old London phonebox in the middle. Apparently you can make free phone calls from it to anywhere in North America. You can also (according to a friend who tried it) get quite an electric shock from that phone. Whups.

Muir Murray is new and big, they also have a great view of Blomidon. We got the most detailed view of the winemaking operation there. They have an old apple tree with a grape vine growing over it. Apparently they grow well together and in fact in some places that's how they used to grow grapes, in an apple orchard.

We toured all three vineyards for free and got unlimited tastings at Gaspereau, three wines for free at Muir Murray and one free at Luckett's. The rest of the vineyards around have a charge. Nevertheless I am interested to visit them, there are four more nearby that sound very interesting.

Of all the vineyards we visited I liked the wine at Gaspereau best, and other people I have told about our tours concur. But I am also told that for the best of the best I have to visit Benjamin Bridge.

All of the wineries here got together to develop a new label, a wine called Tidal Bay. But each vineyard uses different grapes in their blend of this wine, so each Tidal Bay is different. What a great idea! You could go around and try all the Tidal Bays available. This is very new, only a couple of wineries have Tidal Bays for sale yet, the rest are still working on it.

Here is what I learned about winemaking here. The first vineyard in Nova Scotia was started about 30 years ago on the North Shore, so winemaking is quite new here. The vineyards around my home are even newer. Two that we visited opened their doors in the last year or so.

White wine is easier than red wine, so most vineyards start with that, expanding to red wines as they get better. White wine does not keep as well so many bottlers just put screw tops on them rather than the increasingly rare cork, because once opened a white wine should be drunk fairly quickly anyway.

The traditional wines that we are most familiar with require a warmer climate than what is available here, so the wines here are made from grapes adapted to colder climates and have less familiar names: Jean Milot, Lucie Kuhlmann, Marechal Foch, Baco Noir. We have one grape that is unique to Nova Scotia, it grows nowhere else, the l'Acadie Blanc. It was first tried in Ontario but no one had success with it there. Someone tried it here and it took off, so they gave it an appropriate name for Nova Scotia and all the vineyards here grow it now. It makes a very nice dry white table wine.

You can make both red and white wines from the same grape variety, red wines simply include the skins and seeds whereas white wines do not.

If you have a sensitivity to wheat or have celiac disease, stay away from wines fermented in oak casks. There is some wheat involved in the fermentation process in an oak cask. Around here both oak and stainless steel casks are used, one vineyard that we visited uses no oak all.

The flavour of a wine is affected by the soil and even the underlying bedrock of the particular spot that a vine grows in. Vines from one part of a vineyard can produce wine of a different flavour from vines in another part. South facing slopes are great because the grapevines love the sun, but a gentle north facing slope is fine too. Hurricanes are not good for grapes, everyone was relieved that Irene was as mild as it was here.

Vines are cut back severely after the grapes are harvested, and their foliage is trimmed regularly through the season. Grape vines are trained to grow on wires and the grapes appear at about thigh-height, with foliage above.

Too much foliage blocks the sun so they trim it back, but that also exposes the grapes to birds so various methods must be used to discourage the birds. One vineyard used disco balls, another used recordings of birds in distress, still another used the sounds of multiple bird species, which communicates that this vineyard is already overcrowded with birds.

When we weren't wine touring we were touristing.

We visited the restaurant in Peggy's Cove that Kim and Josh and Eva and I had visited last April. The food was not particularly good and it was expensive. Oh well. Peggy's Cove was much more lively than it was on that stormy day in April. It is essentially a tourist site, there are maybe 35 permanent residents there. Everyone else is either a tourist or someone making a living from the tourist trade. It has a tiny well-protected harbour and a coastline of big rocks on which the ocean waves crash.

Chester is similar, it is a beautiful small seaside town of lovely old homes, but the residents are virtually all summer people. I'd have liked to have taken my guest to Lunenburg which is a little more authentic, but it is also further away. In one week you can only scrape the surface of what this province has to offer.

In Halifax we got to Point Pleasant Park but not to the Public Gardens. We ate at one of the best pizza places ever, in an area called Hydrostone. After the Halifax Explosion this was a housing development to house the people who lost their homes in the explosion. Buildings were faced with an interesting form of cinder block with a kind of granite coating to make them look a bit like natural stone.

We also walked part of Spring Garden Road and the harbourfront boardwalk. We did not visit the Citadel.

My guest had a great week, Irene brought us some of the best summer weather we've had all season. Finally in September we get the summer we missed out on in July and August. You might call it Indian Summer, but I call it Irene Summer.

Sam moved next door. My neighbour rents rooms to students and she had a room available when my guest was here, so Sam moved out of my guest room and over to the neighbour's. He paid for the whole month of September but I don't know what will happen after that. The dogs are at my place. Today it is raining so they are indoors, but normally they live outdoors. They don't mind the rain but they get soaked and muddy so I would just as soon keep them in the dry.

Yesterday I took them to the town reservoir and they met several other dogs and were relatively well behaved, I was impressed. Hapi approached another female dog rather aggressively but she picked the wrong dog to threaten. This other dog was a meek former street dog from Taiwan with plenty of experience in dealing with more aggressive dogs, she nipped Hapi's nose and that was the end of that.

Hiro does the usual alpha male dance, he is entirely predictable and all bluff. I think it all went rather well.

All my friends complain about their smell, they think I am crazy. I can't smell the dogs unless I bury my nose in their fur and breathe deep, and I appreciate their affection. Hapi is more demonstrative but Hiro enjoys sharing the attention. They are strong but they respond well to voice commands. They have a strong desire to please.

(old pic of the dogs in D'Arcy)

I would rather have just one, but watching them play together it is hard to contemplate separating them. They do love each other