Let’s be honest, winemaking in Québec is not a rational idea. Although it gets its share of consumers on a local market, on an international level, the very existence of wine from Quebec surprises many. Yet, it’s been more than 35 years that a handful of producers overcome every challenge and proves many wrong, all in their own way.
But exactly what are truly the challenges of Growing Grapes in Quebec?
Of course, there’s the famous climate. It gets cold here, very cold, as low as -40°c and for a long time. But this is just part of the problem. Winemakers have options to protect the vines against the cold winter. Where it gets complicated is the variations of temperatures all over the year. Summers can get very hot but always with very high humidity making the grapes prone to diseases. Intense heat or what we call here, heat waves can easily burn the grapes without proper foliage management. These are getting more and more common during the summer peaks. Basically, it’s snow, rain or burning sun. The growing season remains short, and in some years, it’s hard to get decent maturity. Also, for the last few vintages, winters have not been so constant. A good snow cover might help in regulating the temperature. However, if you get numerous freezes and thaw, a high humidity gets to the rootstock and this is when it breaks or get sick.
Then there’s the problem of pest. In some case, the harvest go on until late October, start of November for some. Birds and all kind of animals get in a pre-winter survival mode. They will gulp down anything they can find, especially delicious, juicy grapes. The wineries are always in some rural places, mostly isolated and surrounded by woods or fields. Even with the help of some predators, they would be easily outnumbered.
A Brand New IGP For Quebec wines
It’s been announced this week that a brand new IGP Vin du Québec was confirmed. The recognition of the IGP Vin du Québec is a continuation of a quality approach undertaken in the last decade. In a context of growth in the Quebec wine market, the IGP is a tool of recognition and communication of the specificity of Quebec wines. It may be the next step towards uniformity. Producers tend to be self-focused, driven mostly by their own taste, acting out of pertinacity, impulse and strong but random drive. While some of them swears that the future relies on Vinifera varieties and nothing else, others believes the very essence of the region is within hardy hybrids. The winemakers are disparate and contradicting.
The project of 2 pioneers in Quebec, Charles-Henri de Coussergues, Hervé Durand, and their partners Pierre Rodrigue and Frank Furtado has grown since its start in 1982. Now, the Orpailleur is one of the biggest and most well-known estate in Quebec. Their product range includes both hybrids and Viniferas but always and surprisingly in an affordable range. For Charles-Henri, the most important aspect for the industry was obtaining the IGP status. Since the inauguration of the association « Vin du Québec certifié » in 2008, he noticed a change in consumer standards as they began to look for some kind of credit in their choices of wines. The new IGP will now replace completely the « Vin du Québec certifié » in 2019 with some cross-over for this current harvest. Concerning climate, it’s a constant struggle. At l’Orpailleur, most of the grapes are still being buried in winter, It seems only the Vinifera needs the protection of geo-textile for now.
While their notable labels such as Cuvée Natasquan and their amazing Brut sparkling wines are getting great attention, they’re still dedicated to further development with some new products supposedly coming up. Maybe a 100% Chardonnay, a Gewürztraminer…
Vignoble du Ruisseau
Quite the newcomer in Quebec, Vignoble du Ruisseau is a humongous project with as massive of an investment. You just need a glimpse at the recently open to public (2016) estate to understand how ambitious the project really is. About 8 hectares under vine, Vinifera only, fully controlled by geothermal conducts along the vines, is the basis of their philosophy. Nothing is left to nature for them. This is a first, not just in Quebec but anywhere in the world, to be as controlled yet in a sustainable approach. All the reds are made under greenhouses called ‘grand tunnels’ to get added warmth and maturity.
While most of their wines shows the youth of the vines, their Pinot Noir and chardonnay are already showing great potential. It’s hard to believe this will someday become profitable, especially with the prices being so reasonable, but this is at the consumers’ profit, for now.
While other vineyards claim they all have a meso-climate of their own, M. Courville goes further in claiming he has the one true Meso-climate in Quebec. With its soil of pebbles and clay, its slight slope, and the Lac Brome moderating aspect, Léon Courville stands out for his uses of St-Pépin, a difficult yet delicate hybrid. It was before completely netted vineyards that he explained to us those characteristics. He was the perfect example of how Quebec winemakers work, with a precise understanding of their very own vineyard, a disconnected feeling and an imprecise vision for the future.