West Hants liquor plebiscite could open taps for local alcohol producers

A plebiscite on whether to make parts of West Hants, N.S., wet could pave the way for a winery and microbrewery to open up in the area.

Plebiscite was fuelled by plans businessman Glenn Dodge has to open winery and microbrewery in area

Bent Ridge Winery in Windsor Forks, N.S., is hoping to open in July 2018. (Ron Wilson)

For six years, wannabe winemaker Glenn Dodge has grown Marquette grapes at his rural vineyard on the outskirts of Nova Scotia's wine region.

But instead of turning his harvest into wine, the Windsor Forks man has sold his grapes to wineries because of Prohibition-era laws that have kept his vineyard squarely in a designated dry area — until now. 

Earlier this week, 269 people voted in favour of making parts of West Hants wet, paving the way for Dodge's winery, a microbrewery and other ventures in the area. Only 28 people opposed overturning the old law.

The plebiscite, which was triggered by a request from Dodge in September, applies to portions of Districts 1, 3, 5, 6 and 7.

Prohibition-era laws

Though the province lifted prohibition on the sale of alcohol back in 1929, there were still 60 dry areas as of 2015 where a liquor store couldn't be located without community approval through a plebiscite or direct electorate vote. The plebiscites are required by the Nova Scotia Liquor Corp.

There are also 105 dry areas where it's illegal to operate a drinking establishment, which is overseen by Service Nova Scotia's alcohol, gaming, fuel and tobacco division. 

Nova Scotia is the only province that restricts where liquor can be sold or produced through provincial legislation. Other provinces have long relied on municipal zoning or bylaws to impose restrictions.

Bent Ridge Winery's plans

Dodge, who hopes to open the Bent Ridge Winery on his two-hectare plot of land, was pleased with the plebiscite results. The plan is to open the business in July 2018, which would include the winery, a microbrewery and a cafe serving gourmet pizzas from a wood-fired oven. 

"We're right in the middle of a big orchard, so we'll probably do cider as well," said Dodge.

He believes he'll be the first company in the province operating both a winery and a microbrewery at the same site.

The fertile land of the area is also home to a hop farm in Scotch Village.

John Peters is the owner of Hill Top Hops, which opened last year in another traditionally dry area.

"We were hoping for a yes vote so that we can open a brewery of our own one day," said Peters.

He said he believes the plebiscite results will be good for tourism in the area and the local economy.

Booming businesses

Both the craft brewing and wine industries are booming right now in Nova Scotia. There are about 40 microbreweries and 20 wineries in the province.

Whether a community is wet or dry could eventually become a moot point. The province has been looking into making the entire province wet and giving municipalities the power to make areas dry through zoning since 2015. It isn't clear when that could change.

"The Liquor Control Act is a complex act and requires thoughtful review prior to making recommendations on changes," said Carley Sampson, a spokeswoman for Service Nova Scotia. "We are reviewing the results of the consultations. No decisions have been made."

With files from The Canadian Press