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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 148 (August 8, 2007)

Thursday, July 26: The fishing trip begins. I pick up Art in a limo at 8:30 am and get to the airport, where Steve, Sam and Leo are waiting for us for our flight to Montreal. Harold will be flying in from Sarasota this afternoon. At Dorval Steve hires an SUV large enough to take all our bags and fishing rods. We head for the Snowdon Deli for our traditional lunch of smoked meat sandwiches, fried, dill pickles and cherry cokes. The onto the Rockland shopping mall to pick up a few bottles of malt whisky (Highland Park 18 year old) and two bottles of vodka for Leo's Bloody Marys. I need lures so we stop by Le Baron, where I pick up pixies and cleos (which Steve tells me are the best for Arctic Char). We are heading to the Tuksukatuk River, a thousand miles north of Montreal, near Puvirnituq. The town's name, I learn, means "Smells of Rotting Meat" – a herd of caribou attempted to cross a river and didn't make it. Their carcasses washed up on the shore. Harold's plane is late. We wait for him at the Airport Hilton and demolish a bottle of the Highland Park. When Harold finally arrives we drive to La Brasserie Brunoise on rue Saint-Andre, where we have the three-course dinner. I order Plantea La Segreta 2005. Sam isn't impressed. Steve orders Saintsbury Chardonnay 2005, which doesn't impress Sam either. For the amuse-bouche the chef sends out a demitasse of cold corn soup with popcorn. I order the Bourride of Mussels and sweetbreads to follow. I order Clos de la Siete Malbec 2005, which Sam gives a thumb's down. For dessert, cashew and blueberry cake with white chocolate and lemon basil gelato. With this we have Domaine Pinnacle Ice Cider 2005. Sam is four for four in his response. But then Sam is an unrepentant Burgundy and Claret man. Anything from the New World is suspect.

Friday, July 27: Up at 5:30 am to get out stuff the airport for an 8 am Air Inuit flight to Puvirnituq (with a refueling stop at La Grande). Our aircraft – a Dash-8 – is taken out of service and we leave an hour or so late. When we get to La Grande we're told that Puvirnituq is fogged in and that we can either return to Montreal or fly further north to Salluit, a town situated at the very top of the Ungava Peninsula. It's called the town of starving people because the original inhabitants were cadaverously thin through lack of food. We elect to go to Salluit and hole out in the town's only hotel until the fog clears. This might mean overnighting here. The three rooms cost $381.73 each! There is no restaurant in the hotel, just a communal kitchen. We are also concerned about the fate of four cases of wine that was sent up ahead of us. We get a call from Aliva Tulugak, the owner of the fishing camp in Puvirnituq, that he has been in touch with the airline and they will fly us to POV (which is short for Puvirnituq) at 8 pm and we will stay the night there. The hotel still wants to charge us $381.73 for three rooms even though they have now rented them to other guests when they learn we are not staying. That will be a fight for another day. In the meantime we have gone through a bottle of Glengoyne 17 year old to pass the time as we watch the Canadian Open. We shop in the Co-op for food for dinner and since it is Leo's 78th birthday we buy him a lemon pie. He has brought along two candles – one that says 7, the other 8. We place them on the pie to read 87. The other guests in the hotel's communal kitchen are amazed how well preserved he is. The meal is PC Chicken Fingers, McCain French Fries and fried mushrooms with salad to follow. We fly in a Twin Otter from Salluit to POV, a journey of one hour, and arrive at 10 pm.

Saturday, July 28: We awake to rain and fog. Denis, the camp's cook, is preparing breakfast for us at the hotel – eggs, bacon and home fries. Denis has to pick up supplies for the Co-op here. He says it's been a bad month for fog. POV has been socked in ten times this month; usually it's only once. He refers to Air Inuit as Air Maybe. We hang around the airport from 11 am waiting to see if the fog will lift so that we can fly the fifteen-minute journey to the camp. The Twin Otter needs a 300-foot ceiling. We wait impatiently for the fog to lift but it seems to get worse. Eventually, around 3 pm, we take off, disgruntled and impatient. We arrive at the camp under blue skies and bright sunshine. But how quickly we forget all the travel hassles when we're in boats on the river with rods in hand by 5:30 pm. Caught a lake trout and one got away at the boat. Then nine brook trout in a row.

Dinner: Smoked char; T-bone steak, cheeses

The wines: Williams Selyem Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2004, Finca Villacreces Crianza 1996 (Tempranillo with some Merlot) and Cabernet Sauvignon from Ribera del Duero, Antinori Badia a Passignano 1995, Haan Merlot Prestige 2001 from Barossa and Turkey Flat Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 from Barossa. With the cheeses, Warre's Vintage Port 1970.

This time we have proper birthday cake for Leo. Leo responded to our good wishes thus: "I am moved even if I had to bring my own candles. And did they spell my name in mustard?"

Sunday, July 29: After breakfast (pancakes, maple syrup and bacon) Aliva picks up our gear in the Popemobile ( a rugged 4×4 truck) that transports our stuff to the canoes with their outboard motors. We fish two to a boat with the guide. We take the 90-minute boat ride up river to the falls, the place last year where we all caught enough fish to open a fish shop. On the way, Denis's son shot two geese, not a pretty sight. But it brought to mind a quote in Aliva Tulugak's newly published book, A New Way of Sharing, a personal history of the Cooperative Movement in Nunavik. He writes about the artist Tumasi Kudluk, who died in 1989. "At a one-man show of this artwork in Toronto he was confronted by an animal rights activist who told him, 'You Inuit are cruel to animals for killing all sorts of them, and claiming to use them as food.' Tumasi's reply was, 'Well you Qallunaat (white men) aren't so blameless in the business of killing! Many of you kill each other, but you certainly don't eat any of what you kill!'"

On my first nine casts just before the rapids I got nine brook trout. But the gods of fishing are fickle. One the ninth fish I lost my favourite lure, then two more and then my rod tip broke. But I finished the morning with 15 fish.

Lunch prepared by Steve on two Coleman stoves, as there is no wood above the tree line to make a fire. Steve prepares all our shore lunches as if he was in the kitchen of North 64. The menu: Wasabi-crusted fish with fried rice and wasabi mayonnaise. The wines: Dauvissat Chablis Vaillons 1996 (two bottles), Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1997 (remarkably still fresh and flavourful) and Cloudy Bay 1998. In the afternoon fishing at the base of the falls I caught 14 fish and lost three more lures.

Dinner began with Leo's Bloody Marys, very spicy with horseradish. Denis prepared Linguine Alfredo and Orange Cake with Raisins. The wines: Abadia Retuerta Cuvee El Campaniero 1996 (Sardou de Duero), Thirty Bench Benchmark Meritage Reserve 1999 and Pio Cesare Barbaresco 1997.

Monday, July 30: For breakfast, Western omelette with bacon and home fries. We went to a part of the river system where the guides had not been for ten years because of the low water level. Even so we had to work across some fast water rapids. Before lunch I got 7 fish. Shore lunch: Steve prepared ceviche, which we ate with Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1999. Then he made blackened fish for the two bottles of Hanzell Chardonnay 2000 and Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004. Perfect combos. I fish all afternoon with no luck. Papi, the guide, lost two of my lures trying to extricate me from the rocks. Drowned my sorrows with a Bloody Mary while the others drank Glenfarclas 15 year old. The menu: Caribou soup with lentils and barley, Chicken with rice. The wines: Thirty Bench Benchmark Cabernet Franc Reserve 1999, Haan Merlot prestige 2001, Haan Wilhelmus 2000 (A Bordeaux style blend with all five varieties) and Masi Recioto della Valpiolicella 1979 with the cheeses.

Tuesday, July 31: Fried eggs and sausages for breakfast. A beautiful sunny day, the first day of sunshine in July, says Papi. Today we are going downriver to the ocean to see if the char at the river mouth on their way to the spawning grounds. A ptarmigan and her seven chicks are scuttling about outside the cabins. The mosquitoes are out in force and so are the black flies, forcing us to don bug jackets. The lake is like a mill pond. The weather gets colder as we approach the mouth of the Tuksukatuk River that feeds into Hudson's Bay. We are having no luck catching anything, except for a cod or two. The only thing I catch trolling is a mussel – something the guides had never seen before. The char aren't running. Papi, to cheer us up, sings a song, "In heaven there is no beer. That's why we drink beer here." Shore lunch is spaghetti with tomato sauce and fish. A Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc day for wine – vintages 2001, 2000 and 1999. A disastrous afternoon: no fish, lost more lures (my only bite lost a lure) and to add insult to injury I discovered a hole in the seam of my waders as I walked out into the river trying to retrieve a lure. My digital camera got wet and would not turn on.

Dinner: Chicken soup, Caribou Burgers, mashed potatoes and carrots and onions, followed by chocolate cake. The wines: Haan Wilhelmus 2000, Turkey Flat Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 and Turkey Flat Shiraz 2001.

Wednesday, August 1: Another beautiful sunny day. Breakfast of poached eggs on toast with bacon. Caught eight fish, including a good-sized brook trout up near the rapids. Steve prepared Beer-battered fish for shore lunch with a stir fry and home fries. The wines: Hanzell Chardonnay 2000 (two bottles), Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Vineyard 2004 (two bottles). Seventeen fish in the afternoon. Dinner: Caribou pâté made by Denis, sushi, BBQ caribou steak and fries. The wines: Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos 1997, Haan Wilhelmus 2000, Bacio Divino 1999 (the back label reads: Contains sulphites. Also contains some of the winemaker's heart and soul. Cabernet Sauvignon 62%, Sangiovese 28%, Petite Sirah 10%). Tonight is a full moon that sits like a huge orange gong on the horizon.

Thursday, August 2: Breakfast: French toast and bacon with maple syrup. Papi has heard on the radio that there was a hurricane in a place he pronounced like Orillia. Leo and Art are concerned; they both have cottages in Orillia. It turns out the hurricane was in northern Quebec at a place called Umiujug. But the wind outside is very heavy and there is some question as to whether we should go out on the lake because it might be too rough. We opt to go but Sam, sensibly, stays behind to read in the cabin. We get bounced around in the waves and when we land to cast we get nothing. One or two fish amongst us. I am skunked. I had a couple of bites and brought in a very small fish that wriggled off the hook as I was reeling in (we fish with barbless hooks and release anything we don't cook for shore lunch.) We find a sheltered spot for shore lunch. Adamie, one of the guides, wears a sweatshirt with the legend "Toronto is so expensive we had to move up North." Today is the lunch that we all look forward to – Steve's traditional bouillabaisse. He brings up the soup and the rouille along with the frozen mussels, shrimp and scallops. Denis made the toast, which Steve rubs with garlic and reheats on the coleman shove. The wines: Dauvissat Chablis Vaillons 1996 (two bottles), Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos 1996 and 1997. A fantastic lunch. The guides have never eaten so well. The lunch was compensation for a fishless day. The rain began and we returned to camp at 4 pm.

Dinner: Caribou roast. The wines: Dauvissat Les Clos 1996, Pio Cesare Barbaresco 1997, Haan Wilhemus 2000, Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino 1997 and Taylor's Port 1963 with the cheese.

Friday, August 3: Aliva says the char will run four days after the new moon, on his birthday, but we will be gone because today is our packing-up day. A long travel day since we have to ferry the luggage and ourselves up to the airstrip, ten minutes by Popemobile from the camp, and wait for the Twin Otter to take us to POV. The bugs are out in regiments and we are forced to wear bug jackets as we wait for the plane. Our flight from POV is 3:30 pm and gets us into Montreal at 8 pm. Our connection to Toronto is booked for 10:30 pm. But the plane is delayed and we don't arrive home till 1 am. My hands are pricked with hooks. My shoulders ache from casting. My back is sore from sitting so long in boats. But I wouldn't have missed a moment of it. Even losing lures.




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