The Eastern Townships area of Quebec is known for many things – its food reminds some of Normandy, not only in its freshness but the wonderful dairy products, especially the cheese . The lakes and rolling countryside remind me of the New England yesteryear – when towns were not overcrowded and the waterways were not jammed with high testosterone boats (everyone had to outdo everyone with the biggest boats and biggest horsepower – size and loudness seemed to matter most).
The Eastern Townships have a little of everything for everyone. There is an abbey to visit, St. Benoit du Lac, where one can meditate during vespers at 5 p.m. each day – so peaceful listening to the Gregorian chants. And the monks make a very good blue cheese as well as delicious apple cider (hard cider). There are bicycle trails throughout the region. Parks for hiking. The people are friendly. The antique shops are many. Nice little dining finds as well as bakeries.
And the wine.
When we think of the wine industry, we think of California or France or Italy or anyplace other than Quebec. But along this stretch of roads through the Dunham and Farnham towns of the Eastern Townships (about 45 minutes southeast of Montreal) is the Routes des Vins. The route actually hits other towns, also, and there are quite a few wineries but three in particular are worth noting not only for their wines but for their different marketing approaches.
One of the best wines in the region is produced by Vignoble Les Pervenches in Farnham. There are two very different white wines made from the same grapes – we’ll come back to that shortly. What’s very unique about this very small vineyard is how it sells its wines. It has agreed to sell its wines through a couple handfuls of restaurants, cafes and hotels – and that’s it, other than through the tiny one room, not-very-glamorous looking store (read shed) perched on the back of the property. So, you only get to know these wines by dining at one of the tiny number of restaurants who carry it, by word of mouth or if you go to the vineyard and pick up a bottle or two.
Right now, the vineyard is producing a nice summer white wine made of Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay grapes. The Seyval Blanc grape gives a mineral, tart taste and is 80% of the wine. The Chardonnay is buttery and crisp with a little citrus – and thus blends well with Seyval Blanc. It is a light wine – perfect for summer.
In September, the winery shifts gears and blends 80% Chardonnay with 20% Seyval Blanc. This one you can only get right now in a restaurant as the winery is all out of last year’s vintage. This is a wine with a lot of flavor that drinks well with a first course. They make a couple of red wines we’ve had in past years but weren’t able to try this time around. It’s also worth noting that this is a very small vineyard. One of the fellows working the store told us the current white (80% Seyval Blanc, 20% Chardonnay) will likely produce about 250 cases or in the area of 3,000 bottles.
The next place to stop is Domaine Des Cotes D’Ardoise. This winery takes a different approach. It may very well be word of mouth that steers you into the driveway and it could be because of the fun wines they produce. but it’s just as likely you’ve come to see the sculptures that pepper the grounds. All of the grounds, from the pathways around the vineyard and inside the vineyard itself. Many are made of stone or metal. And they can be described as playful, like the one below.
This vineyard is larger than Vignoble Les Pervenches – it produces in the area of 20,000 to 25,000 bottles of wine each year in 11 different varieties. We tried the Haute Combe, which is a light red – also good for summer drinking – with grape fruit and spices and slightly tanic. This wine reminds you of a Beaujolais or other light red wine. Best served a little chilled. The grapes are Marechal Foch (developed in the Alsace) , Lucy Kuhlmann and De Chaunac. The vineyard has a kitchen, but we haven’t tried it. Instead, we grab a bite to eat down the road at another vineyard.
Just down the road is one of the largest and perhaps best known vineyards in Quebec – Vignoble L’Orpailleur. The marketing here is more traditional. The wine production is very large and you can find many of their 10 or so wines in restaurants and the SAQ stores (state run liquor stores) throughout the region. O’rpailleur also has a nice kitchen and dining area – you can sit outside under a canopy or an arbor with grapes growing above and have a nice meal of sausages, pates, local cheese and salad. And of course, some of the wines from O’rpailleur. But before we get to those, a little anecdote about how big and important this winery is in Quebec. While at lunch the other day, we overheard a Chinese businessman from Montreal speaking with executives of the vineyard to learn more about the art of making Ice Wine and discussing possible ways to work together. L’Orpailleur is one of the few Quebec wineries that could possibly think that big. Also worth noting – it has a pretty good sized store and a little museum and offers tours of the winery.
Our favorite wine from L’Orpailluer is the rose. It is crisp, not too sweet and a tiny bit tart. There is a hint of strawberry and raspberry (thus the tiny tartness). The grapes repeat some of those from D’Ardoise – De Chaunac, black Seyval , Marechal Foch and Frontenac. We also tried the Ice Wine on this trip. It’s one that has won quite a few awards for the winery. It is 100% Vidal and has a honey and apricot taste. The vineyard also makes a mustard and an onion jam that were served with out lunch. Very tasty with the sausages and pates. And you can buy them there as well.
A fun trip to make if you are interested in tasting some good wines from three very different wine makers.