European Entrepreneurs Transform Annapolis Valley
by Elizabeth Willoughby
Hanspeter Stutz and Pete Luckett, two first generation emmigrants from Europe, have spent the past years in Canada's Maritimes. Their entrepreneurial efforts have led the way to putting Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley on the wine, cuisine and tourism map. And they have more ideas...
When Swiss consultant Hanspeter Stutz arrived in Nova Scotia 20 years ago, he came at the request of a German pharmacist to find, in one week, some land on which to start a 100-acre pharmaceutical garden. Basil, tarragon and rosemary were already staples in European grocery stores, along with a dozen other herbs, but Canadian food stores were still selling only chives and parsley.
There were other things lacking in the Maritime province as well. Over a century ago ships were leaving these shores loaded with fish for the Caribbean and returning with rum; the province was still a rum-drinking culture with but one fine dining restaurant. "They had no idea what a sommelier was in the early 90s in Atlantic Canada," says Stutz, "and the food was about volume. They just wanted to see a full plate."
Ten years later, Stutz's former client contacted him again: "Hanspeter, there is a winery for sale." It was on the shores of the Minas Basin of the Bay of Fundy. To Europeans in those days, Canada meant hockey, Niagara meant a big waterfall and Nova Scotia was a small province, under populated and remote. None of these things were connected with wine. Stutz talked to his son, in his late teens and dealing with the recent death of his mother. "It was just the moment to say, 'Wow, let's do something.'"
While his son, Juergenpeter, attended university in Switzerland to learn all things about wine-making, 30 acres of the oldest vineyard in Atlantic Canada was getting cleaned up, replanted and renamed. Today Juergenpeter is Domaine de Grand Pré's vintner and his wife, Cecilia, runs the tasting room and store. In another twist of fate, Hanspeter's daughter Beatrice married a chef, leading to the idea of creating a restaurant for the winery to help fill what Stutz saw as the cuisine void. Beatrice's husband, Cordon Blue-trained Jason Lynch, who happens to have grown up near the old winery long before the Stutz family appeared, has been head chef at Le Caveau since 2007. That's when he turned it from a northern European cuisine restaurant into fine dining using local products served with local wines. Within three years, Lynch's kitchen was receiving the recognition he was aiming for.
A Celebrity Comes to Town
In 2000, an Englishman named Pete Luckett purchased a farm a few kilometres away from Stutz's, but the paths that led them to the Annapolis Valley had nothing in common. Luckett had left England at the age of 25 on what he calls a world adventure. Since the age of 15 he had been a barrowboy in Nottingham, "with a big cart and big wheels," he says, "and you push it through and you've got the little canopy on the top, you've got the hanging scales, 'Half per pair, two pair banana, come on move your legs, your body'll follow". He feels this was a great learning curve for him. His boss and mentor taught him how to talk to customers, how to merchandise, how to spot quality and all about the fruit and vegetable business. "I used to wear a top hat and tails and big bright green bowtie and I used to chat all the customers up and dance with them, hug them, kiss them and do crazy stuff just because it was show time. That's what my old mentor taught me: 'Pete, we are in the feeling good business. We're not in the food business.' I'll never forget those words."
In 1979, Luckett sold his cart to travel the world. Eventually he ended up in the southern USA selling cockroach powder. Although he was the top salesman and making what he calls a small fortune, he couldn't get his green card, so he applied for both Canadian and Australian immigration and the Canadian interview came first. A month later, he received his papers, drove to Alberta and then made his way across the country. Arriving in New Brunswick in 1982, Luckett used his last $300 to start a one-man-band fruit stand at the back of the Saint John city market.
"It's just nibbled and grown from there," he says. "My brother and sister came across from England and a few years later we opened up a couple of stores. They stayed on in New Brunswick. In 1992, I moved down here."
A well-known name throughout Nova Scotia today, there were a couple of other reasons for Luckett's popularity and success. Never the type to wait for business to come to him, at the Saint John market his shouting and yelling was evidently upsetting to some. "It was a quiet market for 100 years until I arrived," says Luckett. "One day, the meat man jumped over his counter and said 'Would you shut up!' Well, I am not a fighter but the next minute we're having a punch up in the middle of the market on the floor, whacking each other, which is crazy." The next day the newspaper headlines read "New English Greengrocer Upsets City Market Tenants", resulting in CBC radio interviews and his first free advertising.
This attention led to a twice per week "food tidbits of the day" television show across Canada and, over a decade later, to a show on the Food Network, which followed Luckett and a film crew around the world discovering unusual foods. "We didn't have a script, we just hit the ground running. We'd see some wild yams growing, dig one up, cook it with the natives, I'd chat somebody up, the cameras are rolling and that was it."
Purchasing the farm in 2000 was a lifestyle move from the city to the country. By then Luckett wanted to do something agriculturally. "I'd been in the food business all my life. I'd been wheelin' it, dealin' it, wholesalin' it, sellin' it, cookin' it, retailin' it, merchandisin' it, and the thought of going full circle with the agricultural component of it intrigued me. So, I decided I wanted to live in the country, and I found this farm. It was an old, beat up farm, nothing like you see it now. It was all pasture, just old hay fields. There wasn't a tree, shrub, bush, plant, anything growing here, but it was a beautiful site. So I bought the farm and just started growing apples, pears, plums, peaches, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, artichokes, black currents, and eventually grapes. It's a 100-acre farm and we sell the fruit crops to our food stores. Then I started planting grapes and the next minute I have a winery. One thing just led to another."
The Neighbours are Watching
Sceptical at first about the prostpect of good wine being proudced in Nova Scotia, local farmers kept a watchful eye on the Europeans and their big ideas, but Hanspeter's buisness plans were about more than just wine. He wanted high-quality everything, accessible to the local community, and he was positive that eventually it would catch on. To Domaine de Grand Pré's winery and restaurant he added on-site wedding receptions, a wine club, wine and cuisine pairing events, wine and cheese pairing events and a weekly martini night, all taking place under a blooming pergola, on the deck overlooking manicured gardens or inside the homey Swiss-decor restaurant.
He also drew upon the touristic potential of the area. Grand Pré is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its Acadian and Miqmak history and 3,000-acre dike that was built below sea level. There's also the Bay of Fundy's attraction because of its dramatic tides and fauna.
"In August, 20,000 sand pipers come in one swarm from Labrador and Newfoundland, and they use this beach for a stop before they go down to Mexico," says Stutz. "Amazing! And we have thousands of hummingbirds here during the summer before they fly 76 hours to South America."
Luckett saw the tourism potential as well. As a visitor-friendly initiative, he installed an English phone booth amongst his grapevines from which anyone can call anywhere in North America for free. A complete hit, it has become an iconic part of Luckett's brand.
"You can hear them on the phone," he says. "'You're never going to guess where I am. I'm in a vineyard in Nova Scotia,' and they're talking to California and they're loving it. It's a feel good thing. As a result, the phone box is on all of our bottles and all our branding."
Put the Swiss guy and the Englishman together and the ideas just keep on coming. Their successes have not been lost on the neighbours, who have drawn upon the encouragement, motivation and daring. Every autumn now, a double-decker English bus runs a route to participating wineries all day long over seven weekends. Tourists "hop on and hop off", visiting any of the vineyards to get a formal introduction, a behind the scenes tour and taste the wines. Each visit ends just in time for the bus's return to drop the "hop offs" and pick up the "hop ons". Luckett plans to import his own red English double-decker at some point, a fine match for his vineyard phone booth.
After autumn comes the February icewine festival, which celebrates with outdoor winter activities at vineyards across the province. Think hot curry and soup, icewine bars, toboggan runs and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
But these two still aren't finished. In addition to making Annapolis Valley a tourist destination, so could their respective properties be. Stutz is planning to turn his 1826 home into an inn, and Luckett is planning to build a fine dining restaurant, amphitheatre and hotel at his winery overlooking the famous tides.
"Saturday morning you see one line from Halifax, just two hours away, to come down to this valley for harvest, to visit the farmers' market and wineries," says Stutz. "That is the beauty here."
© Elizabeth Willoughby 2013
Published in German language at travelbar.de.
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