Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves in St. John's, Newfoundland

by Dr. Jessie Voigts / Feb 13, 2016 /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

It's 1679. Place yourself in the mindset of a Portuguese ship's captain with a full cargo of port. Now, place yourself on one of the most beautiful islands of the world. No, not in the Caribbean - you're in Newfoundland, Canada, and in avoiding pirates (those rascally knaves), you've veered to St. John's and had to winter over. 

Spring arrives, and you return to England, cargo intact (a few bottles may or may not have been sampled in Newfoundland. Or, maybe you just drank the screech). When you hit the shores in the UK, you've found that your port has never tasted better...so much so that you change your business a bit, and age your port in St. John's wine vaults before sending it to London.

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

Fast forward to 1998 (you're a time traveler!) - the last of Newman's port aged in Newfoundland is served at the Newman Wine Vaults, hosted by the Newfoundland Historic Trust

The building is in the capable hands of the Historic Trust, and today you can visit this magical place - and taste a sip of port! 

Newman Wine Vaults is located on the city trolley tour, but you can also easily access it via a short walk (a few blocks) from the city tourism office downtown (where we always start). There are guided tours of this small space, which I highly recommend, as the history of the liquor trade here is amazing. You'll peer around corners, stand on your tiptoes, and feel the coolness of the wine vault sink into your bones. 

Take a look around with me - and take yourself back in time. It's easy to do, on this island, where history lives in tandem with the now. 

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves in St. John's, Newfoundland

This unassuming building will surprise you inside

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves in St. John's, Newfoundland

These blue signs always signal treasure to me

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves in St. John's, Newfoundland - a ceiling at Newman's Wine Vaults

Look up! Ancient Roman building practices always last

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

Why yes, please

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

Doors to secret treasure port aging rooms

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

A ventilation door up high in the wall (above and below)

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

Recovered artifacts

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

You can take a test to see how right your nose is for port

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

History and some delicious port

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

More vaulty rooms

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

And a peek inside

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

More artifacts, courtesy of The Rooms

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

Ok. THAT SIGN IS SO COOL

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

See that long wooden ladder with 3 rungs? I thought and thought but never would have guessed - it was put between the ship and the shore, and barrels rolled down it.

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

That barrel was TALL

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

There were some historical signs, but listen to the guide - they are amazing!

Pirates, Port Wine, and Cool Caves at Newman's Wine Vaults in St. John's, Newfoundland

If you're lucky (we had a private gathering), you'll also have some Newfoundland Chocolate Company chocolate to go with your port

 

Learn more:

http://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/society/newman-wine-vaults.php

http://www.seethesites.ca/the-sites/newman-wine-vaults.aspx

 

Tips:

  • If you get the Provincial Historic Sites Pass, you will save money on visiting 3 or more sites - well worth it. 
  • The building is handicap accessible - with sloping floors and ramps.
  • Plan on around 30 minutes to explore this spot, with a guide, and sample some port.  

 

Read more about Newfoundland: Travel Writers' Secrets: Top Newfoundland Travel Tips

 

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Wandering Educators

 

 

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