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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 203 (August 25, 2008)

Thursday, August 14: Today the journey to the fishing camp 1000 miles north of Montreal begins. We, the six of us – Steve, Leo, Art, Sam, Larry and I – fly to Dorval and drive a hired van direct to the Snowdon Deli for our traditional lunch (smoked meat sandwiches, French fries, dill pickles and cherry cokes). Then to Le Baron to augment fishing tackle. I pick up some swivels. Next stop, the SAQ to buy a bottle of single malt, Glenmorangie The Lasanta Sherry Cask Extra Mature, and a bottle of Müller Cattoir Haardter Bürgergarten Riesling Spätlese Trocken as aperitifs before dinner at a BYOB restaurant Le Pégase on Gilford Street. We have brought the following wines for the meal: Argyle Chardonnay 2006 from Oregon, Château Cotelier 2004 Costières des Nîmes, Château La Borie Côtes du Rhône-Villages 2005 and Barossa Valley Estate E & Black Pepper Shiraz 1999. The set menu is terrific – salad, baby scallops in phyllo pastry (Steve orders escargots with apple and blue cheese sauce), then a choice of venison, duck breast, elk or lamb. I finish with tarte tartin. This was one of the best meals I'd had in a long time. Conversation at dinner turns to the proper method of preparing beer can chicken on the BBQ. Since there is some dispute we decide to have a chicken-off in the not too distant future. Before returning to the Airport Hilton we pass by St. Viateur bagels and pick up a couple of dozen to bring up the fishing camp.

The location of the camp (follow the finger)

Friday, August 15: Up at 5:30 am to get all the equipment over to Air Inuit for the 2½ hour flight to La Grande, where we refuel for the hour and 40 minute trip to Puvirnituq (known as POV). We have a three-hour layover here so Aliva, the camp owner, drives us to the local hotel, where we finish off the bottle of Glenmorangie. Our luggage is overweight so we have to shuttle the guides in two trips to the camp on the Polemond River, a journey of fifteen minutes. There's a caribou on the runway so we have to make a second approach. The water level is down from last year, about a foot and half. The wind is up and Aliva says that on Tuesday the weatherman is predicting winds of 40 to 60 km/h. Denis Brazeau, the Tuksukatuk River Lodge cook, prepares a meal of chicken soup with rice, salad, T-bone steaks with mashed potatoes and canned asparagus. Cheesecake for dessert. The wines: two bottles of Haan Barossa Valley Merlot Prestige 2001, Château La Borie Côtes du Rhône-Villages 2005, Laurent Tardieu St. Joseph Vieilles Vignes Les Roches 1998. Steve has bought six large plastic wine glasses and we carve our initials on the bases. At dinner the conversation turns to skunks and Larry says that they emit their scent by squeezing their testicles together. A heated debate follows and since there is no internet access available the argument is not settled.

My bed

The guides: Adame, Papi and Jackie

Saturday, August 16: I share a cabin with Steve and Sam. Art, Leon and Larry are two doors down. Up at 6 am. A breakfast of eggs, bacon and toasted bagels. I fish with Larry with Papi as our guide. No action at the first stop but as we get to the narrows up by the rapids I get a bite on the first cast and a lake trout on the second. Eleven fish altogether including one brook trout. But we are after Arctic char up here. The wind picks up so we return to the camp for lunch. Steve, the designated chef for shore lunches, prepares a ceviche of char and with it we drink Trimbach Tokay d'Alsace Reserve Personelle 1983, Hugel Gewürztraminer Hommage à Jean Hugel 1997, and Trimbach Gewürztraminer Vendange Tardive Reserve Personelle 1983.

Setting up shore lunch

The guys enjoying shore lunch

In the afternoon we fish for char in the river behind the camp but the wind is too strong. Leo is blown off the porch of his cabin and the wind whistles loudly through cabin door. For dinner Denis prepares minestrone soup, salad, duck legs with wild rice and blueberry pie. The wines: Williams Selyem Pinot Noir 2001 (Mendocino), Weingut Galway Oberrotweiler Kirschberg Spätburgunder Trocken 2002 and a bottle of Warre's Vintage Port 1985. Larry startles the group by turning up to dinner in acid yellow crocs studded with happy faces, Casper the Friendly Ghost and Mickey Mouse buttons. He says it amuses his grandchildren.

My 9.3-pound char

Sunday, August 17: My anniversary. I call Deborah on the satellite phone, which cuts out after ninety seconds. The wind has died down and today we are going to the falls, a journey up river of 23 kilometers which takes almost two hours because of the low water level and the abundance of weeds. Papi, the head guide, says he has never seen the river so chocked with weeds. They grew because of the hot summer's record temperatures here. Today I fish with Leo. We stop before the rapids and I get two char, one 9.3 pounds, then two speckled trout. Shore lunch prepared by Steve is linguine with fish in tomato sauce. The wines: Dauvissat Chablis La Forest 2000, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2004 and then the 2001 vintage. In the afternoon at the rapids I lose five lures but get a char and on the last cast of the day at the rapids on the way home I get another char.

Dinner is chicken soup with matzah balls, spinach salad, corn on the cob and cheeses (Riopelle, Stilton, L'Estat) and Ellie Silver's magnificent cookies. The wines: Torres Gran Cornas Mas La Plana 1981, Bacio Divino 1999 and Banfi Poggio Alle Mure Brunello di Montalcino 1997.

Chef Steve with Aliva, the camp owner

Monday, August 18: Good weather, but bad fishing. Nothing happening at the spot where the char are meant to be coming up river. And nothing in the fast water. It looked liked we'd all be skunked. Art caught a speckled trout and a 7 pound char, so at least we had fish for shore lunch. The rest of us got nothing. Steve prepared Art's fish in a beer batter with fried potatoes and beans, followed by cheesecake. The wines: Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Chardonnay 2004, two bottles of Dauvissat Chablis La Forest 2000. After lunch I caught one speckled trout and that was it for the day. We only got four fish among the six of us. Steve got a seven-pound char. For dinner Denis made beer can chicken his way on the BBQ preceded by chicken soup and pasta salad. For dessert three kinds of pie (blueberry, sugar and something else which I couldn't identify). The wines: William Selyem Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Coastlands Vineyard 2001, Pahlmeyer Merlot 1999 from Napa. Sam expressed a desire for Denis to make gravad lax from char so Aliva is going to net the river.

Fillets of char ready for the pan

Tuesday, August 19: This is meant to be the day of the big wind but it starts with fog that gradually dissipates. Last night there were Northern Lights around 1 am. Maybe there's a connection between the predicted winds and the Northern Lights. We start at the river behind the camp where we fished last evening. Leo catches a speckled, otherwise nothing for the rest of us, nothing but weeds fouling the lures. The lake is like glass this morning, reflecting blue sky and powder puff clouds. I catch one white fish before lunch. The best fishing we've had so far is at a place we christened Gooseshit Rock (for obvious reasons), a flat rock that sticks out into the river near the falls. On the way up I see caribou, geese and ducks. For shore lunch: fish in beer batter with Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2004 and 2001 and two bottles of Egon Müller Scharzhofberg Riesling Kabinett 2003. In the afternoon, I don't catch a fish. Now I know what a batter feels like going 0 for 21. The gods of fishing are fickle. For dinner, goose soup, goose tacos, spaghetti with spicy goose meat sauce. The wines: Tardieu Laurent Cornas 1998, Castello Banfi Poggio Alle Mure Brunello di Montalcino 1997 and Bacio Divino 1997 – a Napa blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah and Merlot. The predicted high winds started around midnight and a little later heavy rain drummed on the tin roof of our cabin.

Steve's birthday cake

Wednesday, August 20: Much discussion this morning as to whether we would go out in the boats because of the high winds, shallow water and heavy weeds. It's Steve's birthday today. We decide to go. I see six caribou swimming across the river as Leo and I make our way slowly to the falls. Our guide, Adame, has to stop every two minutes and reverse the outboard to shake off the weeds. Seagulls fly low over us shrieking to distract us from approaching their nests. At Gooseshit Rock on the first cast I hook a char, which I play for two minutes until it spits out the barbless lure. I do get two speckleds, then change spots and on the first cast hook a large fish that breaks my line. Before lunch I catch four more speckleds. Steve cooks wasabi-crusted trout for lunch on the Coleman stoves. The wines: Hugel Pinot Gris Hommage à Jean Hugel 1997, Hugel Gewürztraminer Hommage à Jean Hugel 1997. I catch three speckleds after lunch and Steve gets his birthday char (7 pounds) in the evening. To celebrate Steve's birthday we open two bottles of Pol Roger Reserve, which we drink with Denis' gravad lax. Then goose soup, steak, mashed potatoes and snow peas. Two bottles of Turley Estate Zinfandel 2002 with the steak. Denis produces a birthday cake for Steve. Then we open a bottle of Warre's Vintage Port 1945.

Thursday, August 21: Wake up to heavy rain but mercifully it clears as we take to the canoes. At Gooseshit Rock Art and I catch two speckleds each in quick succession before the river shuts down. Moving up the falls I catch six lake trout, one a 9-pounder. Today, our last day of fishing, the ritual lunch is bouillabaisse. Steve has brought up frozen mussels and scallops, the broth and the rouille. He adds the fish we catch. It's the meal we all look forward too. Especially the guides. The wines: Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Chardonnay 2004, Dauvissat Chablis Les Vaillons 2000 and Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos 1998 and Trimbach Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive 1983. I catch one speckled at the lunch spot. We go back to the river behind the camp for a last effort to catch a char. I hook one that looks like a 7 to 8 pounder and play it for a few minutes because the guide has forgotten the net and we have to bring it in by hand. The guide has his hands on it at the boat but it breaks loose. To add insult to injury Art loses one the same way and then the first bottle for dinner is corked: Tardieu Laurent Cornas 1999; the following two bottles of the same wine, 1998 vintage, are fine, however.

Moon over the mess hall

We end with a Pahlmeyer Merlot 1999 and a post-prandial glass of Highland Park Single Malt 18 Year-Old. Denis' dinner is caribou burgers and we get to taste caribou tongue (a bit chewy).

Friday, August 22: Today we pack for home, break down the rods and wait for the plane to take us to POV. We lunch in the dining room, omlettes, cold steak, gravad lax with our last bottle of wine – Bacio Divino 1997. At POV airport we learn that we are booked on the wrong flight and instead of going direct to La Grande we are on the milk run that touches down at Inukjuak, Umiujaq, Kuujjuarapik (Great Whale). But we overshoot Inukjuak for some reason (probably weather-related). At Kuujjuarapik we have to take all our luggage through security before the flight to Montreal. And security again in Montreal. We get home eventually at 1:15 am. A great week's fishing, not as prolific as last year but there were no black flies or mosquitoes this time. Can't wait for next year.




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