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Scallops, Wine and the Digby Pines
As I drove across Nova Scotia this morning, bound for the Digby Pines Resort and Spa, I realized just how diverse the landscape of Nova Scotia is. From the striking beauty of the Cape Breton area to the secluded wilderness of Liscombe, no two areas of this province are alike.
I also discovered that driving here presents its own unique challenges.
Most of the roads – with the exception of a few major highways – are two-lane affairs, with a single lane of traffic operating in each direction. They’re mainly rural and have plenty of sharp corners, blind hills, and twists and turns. Surprisingly, the speed limit on most of these rural highways is set at a white-knuckle 90 km/h.
Because of that, passing slow-moving vehicles can be a challenge. And today, I got trapped behind a lot of them, from school busses to tanker trucks. In short: a drive that should have taken four hours took nearly six, minus the five-minute pit-stop at Tim Horton’s for a coffee.
Fortunately, my unexpected delay revealed an unexpected opportunity: the chance to tour a local vineyard called Bear River.
Located – appropriately enough – in the small village of Bear River, owners Chris and Peggy Hawes aren’t your typical vintners. They got started purely for their own enjoyment, and managed to make a business out of it by doing exactly what their competition wasn’t. They’re not in it for the fame or the glory. They’re in it to make truly great wine.
Now, I can tell you about each of their wines and how great they are – because they truly are. Their Riesling is everything a great Riesling should be, and their Baco Noir – a type of wine I just became familiar with on this trip – is tremendous.
But I’d rather tell you about how they make that wine.
The Hawes’ have an ingenious business model that allows them to use every square inch of their building for the production of wine, starting right with the display floor. During harvest, the entire showroom floor and retail outlet are piled high with grapes, which are then funnelled down a chute hidden in the stone floor. There, they pass slowly down to the next level – all without the use of machinery or artificial methods of transportation.
From there, gravity alone completes the rest of the process, with the final stages of production located on a third, lower floor. Because of this, they don’t have to invest in expensive machinery – nor do they have to risk disturbing the delicate balance of the wine.
As Chris describes it, the grapes on the vines are like men, and the actual wine is like a woman. The grapes – or the man – can get the crap beat out of it. They’re poked and prodded and beaten up in every which way. But the grape in its liquid form is an object of affection; something to ensure is never bothered, never disturbed.
So by not mechanically forcing this process, the wine is staying consistent from A to B.
They also make extensive use of solar power, motion-sensitive lighting, and other energy-saving tricks that make this small operations far more impressive to me than all of the huge wineries I’ve seen.
They’re also passionate about what they grow and the wine they produce, and rightly so. Wine has been grown in this region since 1611, and Chris Hawes and his wife Peggy are continuing that tradition.
Digby is the sort of quintessential seaside fishing town many of us picture in our minds when we think of the Maritimes, but this community of 2,000-plus also has some decidedly interesting claims to fame, one of which is the Wharf Rat Rally – the largest motorcycle rally in Atlantic Canada that frequently draws crowds of 50,000-plus over the Labor Day long weekend.
But there’s no motorcycle rally here at the Digby Pines. Majestically located on a bluff overlooking the harbour, the hotel actually first opened in 1905 but the stone building that exists on the site today was constructed in 1928 and opened the following year. And unlike modern hotels, there’s nothing “cookie-cutter” about any of the accommodations on-site; something staff here became acutely aware of last year as the property underwent the same extensive renovations afforded to the Liscombe and Keltic.
My room is one of the oversize suites on the second floor, overlooking they bay. It’s a tremendous space, with two bathrooms, a king-sized bed, flat-panel television and, of course, Wi-Fi internet access. It’s also worth mentioning that, as a hotel owned by the Government of Nova Scotia and managed by New Castle Hotels and Resorts, the beds here are the same enveloping beauties present at the other hotels I’ve visited on this journey.
Operations Manager Annah Bucher was kind enough to show me some of the other accommodations on-site, including an assortment of the other Lodge accommodations and the inviting two-bedroom Cottages.
Standard Lodge rooms are on the small side, but there’s a very practical reason for that: when the hotel was originally constructed, not every room had its own private facilities, as was common at the time. Conversely, bathrooms had to be retrofitted onto many of the rooms in later years, cutting into available room space.
So, they’re not huge. And if you’re expecting huge, sprawling rooms, you could be let down. But – they’re cozy, comfortable, and – in the case of one very cool room I saw – some have curved walls, vaulted ceilings, and every room features some of the most gorgeous wood panelling that harkens back to a different time.
For me personally, it’s those touches that impart the history of the Digby Pines that I enjoy most. Heck, all three hotels – with the exception of the Westin Nova Scotian – even use real honest-to-God keys for their rooms – at least this season. Although admittedly, I have to really remind myself to return the key at checkout; unlike the plastic Ving keycards, the staff at the Digby will really miss the key, particularly if I board the ferry for New Brunswick tomorrow with it tucked in my pocket!
There are also two-bedroom Cottages on-site that are popular with families and couples coming up here for a relaxing retreat. With two separate bedrooms and a common sitting area, they’re a little like having your own private residence on-site. There’s even an Eco-Friendly Green Suite that features bamboo wooden blinds, a recycled door as a bed headboard, custom pine furniture manufactured locally by a company with no carbon footprint; local paint, local artwork, and Mitsubishi heat pumps for the room’s climate-control system.
Then, there’s the beautiful stories that come with a property of age. The couples that were married here and returned for their 50th anniversaries. The people who met as co-workers here who went from being strangers to lovers to families. Inasmuch as the amenities and the landscape are important here, the personal histories here are almost immeasurable – and that’s something I have sincerely never heard spoken about at any “modern” hotel.
Tonight, I am struck by what a great journey his has been. I mean that genuinely – I had no idea how diverse and unique Nova Scotia was. My previous conception of the Province was that the rest of it was much like Halifax or Dartmouth, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. My friends south of the border are quick to praise the natural beauty of Maine, but with all due respect to the residents of one of my favorite States (I’m sorry!), Maine can’t hold a candle to the Annapolis Valley here in Nova Scotia.
The most interesting link between these properties, however, is their ownership by the Government of Nova Scotia. There’s a provincial election being held here in October, and I truly hope the ruling party recognizes what a tremendous asset they have in the Digby Pines, the Liscombe Lodge, and the Keltic Resort. No one is working harder to promote tourism in Nova Scotia than the energetic, friendly, and passionate people who work at each of these hotels.
You might not remember that place you stayed out by the airport when your flight was delayed, or the hotel you had that conference at, but I promise: you’ll remember these.
Our Live Trip Report continues tomorrow as we cruise on over to New Brunswick and the Algonquin Resort! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
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