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Family-run vineyards heart of Quebec’s wine route


August 7, 2008
By The Canadian Press

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winegrapesAugust 7, 2008, Montreal, Que –
Eastern Townshippers called Christian Barthomeuf a nutcase when he
planted a vineyard in Quebec 30 years ago.
Now there are about 50 vineyards
in the province and their wines have won more than 300 medals in North
American and international competitions.

August 7, 2008, Montreal, Que – Eastern Townshippers called Christian Barthomeuf a nutcase when he planted a vineyard in Quebec 30 years ago.

winegrapesNow there are about 50 vineyards in the province and their wines have won more than 300 medals in North American and international competitions.

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The Eastern Townships are less than an hour from Montreal and border the state of Vermont. The Route des vins, or Wine Route, allows enthusiasts the chance to visit the birthplace of Quebec wine production.

The region boasts the highest concentration of vineyards in the province, and the Route des vins spans 132 kilometres through micro-climates varied enough to be reminiscent of those in Tuscany.

The vineyards tend toward small, family-run productions that are either certified organic or have chosen more ecological viticultural practices. They use few herbicides and pesticides and have a natural approach to winemaking.

“At Clos Saragnat vineyard we produce real ‘vins de terroir’ (wine of the land),'” Barthomeuf said in an interview. “There are no additives, the fermentation is completely natural and we use nothing but a little sulphite when bottling.”

Quebec’s most famous wine is icewine, a sweet nectar produced from grapes that have been frozen on the vine.

Barthomeuf’s Frelighsburg vineyard produces both icewine and ice cider.

Another vineyard that has distinguished itself is the tiny three-hectare Les Pervenches winery in Farnham. It’s one of the few certified organic vineyards in the region and – a rarity in the province – produces Chardonnay.

Wines from Les Pervenches are available in some of Montreal’s more upscale restaurants like Pied du Cochon and Toque.

“Our vineyard is our garden,” says Veronique Hupin, the vineyard’s co-owner. “For us it’s important to keep our wine healthy. We believe it makes a difference in the wine. There’s more life in the soil. We wanted life in all the soil layers.”

Because traditional grape production wouldn’t work in Quebec’s harsh northern climate, producers usually had to choose hybrid or rarer grape varieties for their vineyards.

Simon Naud, co-owner of La Bauge winery in Brigham, said Quebec hybrids are known to be fresh, delicate and aromatic.

La Bauge translates as “Wild Boar’s Den.” It was founded in 1976 as a farm where animals were raised to sell to restaurants in Old Montreal. Visitors to the vineyard can also see an exotic animal park featuring llamas, yaks, emus, red deer and, of course, boars.

“It’s become the signature of our vineyard,” Naud said.

Anthony John owns the family-run Chapelle Ste-Agnes winery in Sutton. The vineyard, built on a steep hillside with massive stone walls supporting 18 terraces, won two awards for its icewine at the 2006 International Wine and Spirit Competition in London.

The micro-climate in the Missisquoi Valley is ideal for the Riesling grapes that are hand-picked in winter to create icewine.

“There’s a lot of careful work done by hand,” John said. “It’s very traditional. Quebec winemakers are just as hardy as the (grape varieties) they grow.”

“We’re pretty passionate about the wine and we work hard at it,” he added. “Maybe it’s the French culture, but there are a lot of wine maniacs here.”