Lorraine Vassalo

Owner and Operator, Avondale Sky Winery

Bachelor of Arts, 1980

We’re looking for quality of life and quality product.

The vineyard is one of the oldest in Nova Scotia, planted on the pastoral beauty of the Avon Peninsula. The retail space is the carpenter gothic of a church more than a century and half old, moved by truck and ferry forty-two kilometers. The winery itself is in an old barn, dismantled, moved and rebuilt.

This is the Avondale Sky Winery and it is the simple dream of Lorraine Vassalo and her husband Stewart Creaser.

“It was something that I really wanted to do – grow really good grapes,” says Lorraine. And then make really good wine.

Lorraine’s passion for wine began at the family dinner table, enjoying the way wine could taste one way on the first sip, and then another a few minutes later. It has taken her on hiking and cycling trips through European wine country.

“It’s surprising what you can learn hiking through a vineyard communicating with someone whose language you don’t share, but you share that passion.”

It took years for Lorraine to turn that knowledge and her passion into the dream of Avondale Sky Winery. After King’s she got her master’s degrees in criminology and business administration. And she spent 28 years with Correctional Service Nova Scotia in a variety of roles, including helping to create the Justice Enterprise Information Network – at one time Canada’s most comprehensive integrated justice computer network.

But finally, in 2011, one career behind her and another looming, Avondale Sky opened. It is a lot of work as it is actually three separate year-round, full-time businesses, she explains: the vineyard, winemaking, and sales. Throw in a restaurant, D’Vine Morsels, as they did in 2015, and a twenty-four hour day hardly seems long enough. But that doesn’t mean they cut corners.

“We’re looking for quality of life and quality product. We do most things by hand – plant, harvest, label, fill – that way we can do quality control,” she further explains, “Five to six thousand cases are about 72,000 bottles. We’d have to automate if we went over that. Then there’s no one there to see if perhaps the top of the bottle is chipped. We’re a small boutique winery and we want to treat it that way.”

The quality-focused business model has been a success. Avondale Sky Winery has won a number of awards for its product, including being named Winery of the Year by the 2015 Atlantic Canadian Wine Awards. It has also won awards for environmental stewardship and heritage. Being a part of the small but growing community of vintners in this region and part of the community in which they live and work is important to Lorraine.

“We’re really happy we can contribute something back to the rural community,” she says. “The wine industry is like King’s in that it’s small and the way to thrive is to cooperate. You couldn’t have a fight with someone and then have to go to Prince Hall for breakfast.”

Posted: Apr. 2016

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