Owls, Wineries, and a Cocktail Recipe

When struggling to stay awake after a red-eye flight, there is no better way to ensure open eyelids than by looking at cute animals.  

Salmonier Nature Park is an ecological reserve about 40 minutes from St. John’s; it was our first stop after picking up our rental car and getting a bagel breakfast at Fixed.  Salmonier is primarily a research and educational facility for wildlife in Newfoundland, but it’s also open to the public.  The animals are in the park are there because they’ve been injured and rehabilitated, yet still remain unfit for survival in the wild.  They are kept in expansive, portioned off chunks of the forest to keep them protected while they live out the rest of their lives.   

The park consists of a 3 km boardwalk, which is wheelchair and family friendly, and particularly nice for stealing some quick shut-eye if you happen to be a jetlagged hiker. 

Having the raised walkway means you actually walk through the areas where the animals are kept.  We visited this caribou sunning itself in the golden rods,

and this great horned owl pretending not to care we were watching its every move. 

Because the areas where the animals reside are so large, it’s not guaranteed you will see every animal in the enclosures, which really just makes the search more exhilarating.  The moose was hiding the day we were there, making this my third trip to Newfoundland without a moose sighting!  If I hadn’t actually eaten moose, I might not believe they exist.

After we took about 1,458 photos of owls, we continued our exploration of the Avalon Peninsula by visiting Rodrigues Winery, the first fruit and berry winery in Newfoundland. 

Years ago, Dr. Hilary Rodrigues (originally from Tanzania) had job offers in dentistry in several countries, and during his travels he stopped over in Newfoundland to visit a friend.  After experiencing life on The Rock, he decided he’d never seen any place so wild and beautiful, and he set up his practice in Newfoundland.  

Upon arriving in the province, Hilary tried many fruit and berry wines, all made on a small scale with local berries by families or individuals.  He quickly noticed that no one on Newfoundland was making wines on a commercial scale, and decided he should be the one to do it. 

Rather than compete with the grape loving climates of countries like France and Italy, the folks at Rodrigues Winery chose to utilize that which Newfoundland cultivates so well—berries!  In 1993, the first commercial winery in Newfoundland, Rodrigues Winery, was born.   

The winery building itself has a diverse history.  From 1936 – 1986 it was a hospital, and after the Rodrigues family purchased and restored it, the building served as both a courtroom and a winery for several years. 

Scattered throughout the main floor are coloured plaques indicating how each space had been used during the hospital and courtroom eras (black plaques indicate the hospital, and blue plaques indicate the courtoom).  The tasting counter had at one point been the judge’s bench!

After steady growth and much success in the fruit wine market, the group has also expanded into distillery and Nutraceutical products, which are both marketed under the brand name ‘Sedna.’ 

With a still they acquired from the French island of St. Pierre (just off the coast of Newfoundland), they now make various spirits, brandies, and liqueurs. 

Their line of health products feature the exceptional, anti-oxidant powers of Newfoundland wild blueberries.  Most of the nutrient properties of blueberries are found in their skins, and Newfoundland’s wild, lowbush berries are very small; by weight, they have more antioxidants than high bush blueberries, which are cultivated in other areas of the country, especially further west.  

So, just a few hours off the flight, and we were already acquainted with owls and a dentist-run, hospital-turned-courtroom-turned-winery.  Afternoon wine tasting is the way to stay awake! 

We took home a bottle of Rodrigues' Black Currant Liqueur, which is wonderfully tart, and warms you all the way down with every sip.  While it’s a great sipping liqueur, we decided to get a little creative and enjoy the last days of patio weather with a cocktail.  Here is a recipe that features this liqueur and Newfoundland Iceberg vodka, which is made with water from the bergs that float along the coastline every summer.  

The Basil Berried Iceberg

•   Small handful of blueberries (if you’re lucky enough to access the last of the wild Newfoundland harvest, then we’re very, very jealous)
•    3-4 fresh basil leaves
•    1 oz Iceberg Vodka (we used ‘Iceberg’ brand, but Rodrigues Winery also makes vodka with iceberg water)
•    ½ oz Sedna Blackcurrant Liqueur
•    1 oz fresh lime juice
•    ½ oz simple syrup** (or a full ounce if you prefer it a bit sweeter)
•    4 oz soda water
•    dash of grapefruit bitters (optional)

**To make simple syrup dissolve equal parts warm water and sugar

1.    Line the bottom of your cocktail glass with fresh blueberries, and muddle (muddle is fancy language for poking and crushing with the blunt end of a wooden spoon)
2.    Add in basil and muddle a little more
3.    Add vodka, liqueur, lime, and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker, and shake well with ice.
4.    Strain the boozy mixture over the muddled berries and fresh ice.
5.    Top with soda water to taste, lightly stir
6.    Finish with a dash of bitters, garnish (because, always garnish), and enjoy in the sunshine!

Here’s to you, Newfoundland!