Like many things in Nova Scotia, there’s a tale to share about the Good Cheer Trail. That path, which winds its way through the province with pit stops at wineries, distilleries, breweries, cideries and meaderies, is named for a centuries-old gastronomic club. The Order of Good Cheer was founded back in 1606. Its mission: to lift morale and feed the hungry during the long, grey days of winter. Today, the trail celebrates that hospitality – and love of eating and drinking. Travel it and you’ll also get a solid sense of the province’s dynamic wine and spirits industries that are bursting with talent and enthusiasm.
It all starts with terroir. In 2012, Nova Scotia’s unique Tidal Bay appellation was designated. It allowed winemakers to produce their own version of this branded, low-alcohol white wine using specific grapes. At least 51 percent of any Tidal Bay must include a blend of L’Acadie Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Vidal and Geisenheim 318, while the remaining 49 percent can be made up of any combination of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and others. Crisp and tangy with a taste of the sea, Tidal Bay is helping put the province on the radar of wine lovers across the globe. “There has been no shortage of times where I have heard people say, ‘This tastes like the ocean in a glass.’ That never gets old,” says Geena Luckett, co-owner of Luckett Vineyards, which bottles and sells its own Tidal Bay.
Though some consider Nova Scotia an emerging wine region, it’s actually Canada’s OG, with vines dating back to just after the turn of the 17th century. That new-kid-on-the-block buzz, however, is good for business. The province has nabbed much attention in recent years for sparkling wines from makers such as family-run Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards and Benjamin Bridge, which is run by twin sisters Ashley and Devon McConnell-Gordon. Maritime and cool-climate growing conditions also mean you’ll see not just Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but New York Muscat, Vidal and hybrids such as Marquette. Armchair travellers should also look out for vintages from the Devonian Coast Wineries of Jost, Mercator and Gaspereau, as well as other smaller makers along the trail.
Like its Tidal Bay appellation, so, too, do Nova Scotia spirits reflect their one-of-a-kind terroir. Sip Raging Crow Distillery’s Spruce Tip Gin and taste the evergreen essence of local forests or experience Annapolis Valley orchard apples in a snifter of Apple Brandy from Ironworks Distillery, says co-owner Lynne MacKay.
Before you finish your journey on that Good Cheer Trail, head to the historic North End of Halifax and Compass Distillers, says MacKay, who is also the president of the Craft Distillers’ Association of Nova Scotia. “Don’t miss the chance to visit the exceptional cocktail bar, with its full-on view of their lovely still, Bess.” (Did you know that distillers always name their stills?) While you’re there, try a Butterfly Gin & Tonic. It charms with the company’s award-winning Gin Royal, which pours a royal-blue hue with a hint of sweetness, thanks to an infusion of butterfly pea blossoms and local honey. That’s our kind of good cheer!