- Published: Saturday, 19 September 2015 10:00
- Written by Dan
La Route des vins du Quebec
Dispatch by Lena Desmond
Photos by Daniel Puiatti
“In this land of rock and weeds, hostile in appearance, we have laid our convictions, determination and love of the profession to draw out a beautiful story which we encapsulate in a bottle, year in/year out, and that improves over time.”
Charles-Henri de Coussergues, wine grower and president of l’Orpailleur
Grapes and frost don’t mix (typically!), but ingenuity and Quebec’s winegrowers certainly do. And within the last decade, Quebec’s wine country has become a force to be reckoned with. La Route des vins—the Wine Route—which we cycled today, is responsible for 60 percent of the province's production, and Quebec itself is the third largest wine region in all of Canada today. Surprising, given the climate. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after visiting l’Orpailleur’s vineyards, these winemakers are resilient.
The morning light just broke as we arrived at l’Orpailleur, our first vineyard of the trip and fairly close to the beginning of La Route des vins. The sweet morning sun bathed the vines in a warm, honeyed hue—I imagine it adds to their sweetness—and the first skiff of grapes was already being disassembled. Six men worked in tandem, throwing the full buckets in a giant machine that removed them from the vines, dunking the buckets in water. It wasn’t even 7:30 a.m. -—these men work hard.
Aftermath of processing 35 barrels of grapes
We walked to the vines and I couldn’t help but wonder how they survived Quebec’s notoriously frosty winter. Were the grapes that strong? Nope. It’s all the winemakers. They bury the grapes under the soil, which protects them from the cold. In fact, the oldest vines at l’Orpailleur had survived some 30-odd years.
As we walked through the rows of teen grapes, dormant turbines loomed over the fields, not for power but heat. In Quebec in April, the air will warm, but the frost will rear its biting head again. More snow will fall. Nature’s giant “psych!” It gets cold enough to kill the crop. These turbines save the day and the season. As they spin, they push the hot air down and can change the temperature four degrees—just enough to spare the vines. While l’Orpailleur has grown to a point where they can afford to fund their field’s saviour, the smaller vineyards have to get creative; for lack of turbines, the petite operations hire helicopters for the win.
The heating towers keep watch above the vineyards
Amazed as I was on all levels by the resilience of the winemakers, when we visited the second field up a large hill there were no turbines to be found. The climate in this field is kinder to the crop, but then I noted the warmth, and the hill, and I thought about my bike and my legs, and I hoped that if we encountered hills like this on our ride, I’d find some of that resilience in myself!