The best wines in Quebec
Quebec’s indie wine scene is maturing
Words— Jeremy Freed
Quebec may be a niche region for wine growing, but it is far from a new one. When Jaques Cartier sailed along the St. Lawrence River in 1535, he noted the wild grapes growing on the Ile d’Orleans, naming it L’Ile de Bacchus in honour of the Roman god of wine. While Quebec’s early settlers relied heavily on imports of wine from France, they have been cultivating grapes and making wine pretty much ever since.
Quebec, of course, is not France, and those hardy settlers needed to account for deep frosts, long winters and vines unaccustomed to the harsh northern climate. It was an uphill climb to find grapes that would thrive here, but wine inspires a unique kind of obsession in those who make it. Quebec’s winemakers were and are determined to succeed, and the results—for those lucky enough to taste them today—speak for themselves.
Now, nearly five centuries since Cartier first glimpsed the potential of New World wines in Canada, Quebecois wineries are producing vintages that can hold their own alongside some of the world’s best. Thanks to recent changes in Quebec’s alcohol laws, small vineyards can now easily sell their bottles in grocery stores, making their wine more widely available to thirsty oenophiles. This results in devoted wine fans following their favourite wineries on social media, and occasionally cueing outside their neighbourhood epicerie, hoping to snag a coveted new release before it’s gone. Whether you’re perusing a wine list at one of Montreal’s top restaurants or setting out on road trip to the vineyards themselves, here are a few labels to watch out for.
Vignoble Les Pervenches
Véronique Hupin and Michael Marler bought a vineyard in the farming community of Farnham in 2000 and have devoted the last two decades to squeezing all of the flavour they can out of their small plot. With just three hectares of Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under cultivation, they are able to be hands-on with every aspect of their operation. Like many winemakers in this area, they rely on natural and organic methods to create a true reflection of the soil and the grapes it produces. This means, in addition to farming organically, they eschew sulphites, nonnative yeasts, filtering, and other standard industry practices, making them one of the few Quebec vintages to be certified biodynamic. Like many of Quebec’s new generation of wineries, Les Pervenches’ products are so popular that they’ve shuttered their onsite tasting room, selling nearly everything they make directly to customers and retailers each season, with much of it pre-ordered before it’s even bottled.
Pinard et Filles
Thanks to an ongoing collaboration with celebrated Montreal artist Marc Seguin, who designs a unique label for each new release, this winery is lauded for the look of its bottles as much as what’s in them. With shout-outs in GQ, Bon Appetit and Bloomberg, as well as a fashion campaign from Missoni and Larose Paris shot on site using the vineyard’s workers as models, they’ve become rising stars of the Canadian natural wine movement. All of this hype, combined with the fact that (like most Quebec producers) Pinard et Filles makes wine in very small quantities, their bottles are notoriously hard to come by. So do they live up to the hype? The sommeliers at top Montreal restaurants like Elena, Joe Beef and Pastaga think so, and stock their wines whenever they can get their hands on them. This summer, keep an eye out for Pinard et Filles’ latest drop: Queer 2018. A vibrant, cherry-red concoction of gamay and pinot noir, it’s due out in July and is sure to go fast.
On a hill overlooking the picturesque shores of Lake Massawippi is one of Quebec’s most innovative wineries. Dedicated to making sparkling wines in traditional methods using organic and biodynamic production, every bottle produced by Domaine Bergeville is a labour of love by founders Eve Rainville and Mark Théberge. Sparkling wine—particularly traditionally-made sparkling wine—requires both more time and more specialized equipment to produce (even the bottles themselves are specialized, and thus more expensive) making the fact that a small scale winery like Bergeville exists at all something of a miracle. The winery’s success, however, is a testament to the quality of the grapes it grows and the skill of its vintners in turning them into delicious wines. To create their range of whites, reds and rosés, Bergeville relies on Saint Pepin (a Chardonnay-like grape bred for Quebec’s cool climate), Acadie Blanc (a Nova Scotian grape chosen for its minerality) and Frontenac Blanc (another Quebec native that adds fruitiness and acidity) as well as naturally-occurring yeasts. The results are satisfyingly crisp and dry, tasting of the slate-rich soil of the vineyard.
Clos Saragnat is different from the others on this list, but their dedication to their craft merits inclusion all the same. After purchasing a derelict farm in the early 2000s in Frelighsburg, a stone’s throw from the Vermont border, winemakers Louise Dupuis and Christian Barthomeuf turned their attention to producing cider in the most authentic way possible. Unlike many modern cideries who rely on conventional varieties like Granny Smith and Honeycrisp, Clos Saragnat’s orchards are planted with centuries-old heritage apple breeds from around the world. This, along with Barthomeuf’s stubborn insistence on intervening with his trees as little as possible, results in spectacularly unique flavours. While Clos Saragnat is most famous for its ice cider, a sweet digestif that tastes of crisp autumn air and fallen leaves, they also produce an ever-changing range of sparkling apple and pear ciders that are well worth the journey to their Frelighsburg tasting room.