Winery Tour: Cantons-de-l’Est, Quebec
Prepare your taste buds for a treat, and visit the finest wineries in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. With gorgeous scenery and charming village appeal, this region is the premiere destination for day-trippers and wine connoisseurs alike.
Vignoble de La Bauge
155 des Erable, Brigham, QC J2K 4E1; (450) 266-21249
Southeast of Farnham, the wine route on Highway 104 takes you to La Bauge (which translates as “the wild boar’s lair”). Is this a winery or an animal park? There is something of a circus atmosphere, with its range of caged and free-range animals and exotic birds vying for the visitor’s attention alongside the wines. A covered wagon will take you through the vineyard and the exotic animal reserve, where you will see Texas longhorns, Peruvian llamas, Himalayan yaks, Australian emus, European deer, South American nandous, Japanese sikas, red deer and the wild boar that give the property its name. The wild boar pate and smoked venison sausages can be purchased at the wine shop – and consumed at the picnic tables. They are products of the farm’s extensive woodland acreage. (You can buy a license to hunt with a crossbow on the property, if that’s your taste, and they’ll even help prepare and transport your meat.)
The vineyard, a quick walk from the charming village of Brigham, is on the south side of the Appalachian foothills on what was once the Champlain Sea. Among the 10 or so table wines and fortified wines made here, try Les Patriarches (red), Le Solitaire (dry white) and Novembre, a late-harvest dessert wine.
Domaine des Cotes d’Ardoise
879 Bruce St. (Route 202), Dunham, QC JOE 1M0; (450) 295-2020
Traveling east from La Bauge towards Cowmansville, turn south on Highway 139 and then south on 202 to arrive in Dunham. A mile or so beyond the town is Domaine de Cote d’Ardoise. “Ardoise” means slate in French and refers to the soil of Dr. Jacques Papillon’s horseshoe-shaped vineyard, set in a perfect natural amphitheater. It was the first vineyard to be planted in the modern era of Quebec wines (in 1980), and it happens to be on the first hill you see as you drive south from Montreal. Protected by trees, the vineyard rises behind the weathered, ivy-covered old barn built in 1945, where you can taste the wines.
Forty sculptures by Canadian artists are set in the grounds and in the vineyard – with pride of place, at the highest point, going to a huge Montreal butterfly. If you’re interested, you can buy them here from the artists. It’s worth taking a whole afternoon to enjoy the art, taste the wines and sample the restaurant’s food (or your own). There is also a covered terrace in the picnic area. Recommended wines: Seyval Carte d’Or (semi-dry white) and two wines from the Vidal grape – Givree D’Ardoise Blanc (icewine) and Douceur d’Ardoise (late-harvest white wine).
Vignoble de l’Orpailleur
1086 Bruce St. (Route 202) Dunham, QC, J0E 1M0; (450) 295-2763
Virtually within sight of Domaine des Cotes d’Ardoise is Quebec’s largest and most venerable winery, Vignoble de l’Oprailleur. First planted in 1982, the owners decided on the name l’Oprailleur (the gold panner) after a poem in which growing wine in Quebec was likened to panning for gold.
The original wood house has been expanded in colonial style to include a restaurant and a wine shop. From its lookout tower on the second floor, you can see a commanding view of the surrounding vineyards. Inside the original house is an exhibition of wine culture through the ages, complete with a collection of antique corkscrews. If you visit only one winery in Dunham, this one will give you the complete Quebec wine experience and a history lesson as well. In September, l’Oprailleur sets off fireworks to mark the beginning of the grape harvest – courtesy of one of the owners, Frank Furtado, who puts on fireworks displays across Canada. Recommended wines: L’Oprailleur Eleve en Futs de Chene, L’Oprailleur Blanc, L’Aperid’or (mistelle, or fortified grape juice) and Vin de Glace (icewine).
Chapelle Ste. Agnes
2565 Chemin Scenic, Sutton, QC, J0E 2K0; (450) 538-0303
It is advisable to book ahead to visit this winery located near the Quebec/Vermont border; its spectacular architecture, historic artifacts and sweet wines should not be missed. There are country back roads that will take you from Dunham to Route 139, but to enjoy the scenery, return to Cowansville, take the 104 to West Brome to Route 139, then heard South, past Sutton; at Abercorn turn east on Rue des Eglises for the winery.
The proprietor, Henrietta Antony, owns the largest fine antiques store in Montreal. She has invested millions of dollars to create 18 terraces of vines that descend down to an ornamental lake. She has also built a gem of a Romanesque chapel consecrated to Sainte Agnes, a thirteenth-century Bohemian saint. “I wanted to inspire people,” says Antony. Her son John is the assistant winemaker to consultant Christian Barthomeuf, and together they produce Quebec’s most costly wines, mostly icewines, including a Gewurztraminer at $150 that rivals a fine Sauternes. A tour of this spellbinding winery, with its magnificent stone cellar, costs $25, including a tasting; try the Geisenheim and Vidal icewines.