A Wine Lover's Diary, Part 560: Charlevoix Flavour Trail (September 2, 2015)
Thursday, August 27th: Up early to catch a 9:30 am flight from the island airport to Quebec City. Rented a Mazda 5 and drove to the hotel that Jean-François Bergeron reserved for us in Saint Foy – Le Quartier. Had lunch next door in the St. Hubert BBQ and then drove into the old city.
Rene Levesque's house in Quebec City
Walked around, mainly in the rain, and saw the house where René Lévesque lived. Then stopped in at a shopping mall in St. Foy. Met Jean-François for a drink and he recommended we have dinner at Bistro Boulay (1110 Rue Saint-Jean, in the old city). We eventually found the restaurant in a cobbled street full of restaurants and funky shops. The executive chef, Arnaud Marchand, is 24 years old with an impressive CV. He grows all the herbs he uses in the kitchen on the roof of the restaurant. Deborah ordered Arctic char carpaccio, boreal marinade with elderberry vinegar and organic canola oil, cattail hearts, milkweed pods, herb emulsion. I ordered scallop marinated in organic blackcurrant balsamic vinegar served with corn. With these dishes we had a glass of Domaine Coulon Viognier 2013. Deborah had Angus beef hanger steak, boreal compound butter, pont neuf fries, mixed vegetables and cooking jus and I, the "bistro's blood pudding duo: my father and Marcel's cabbage and leek blood sausage, the traditional black pudding with boreal spices, potato purée and roasted apples." We had a glass of Château de Puy 2010 with the main course. The restaurant comped us dessert – a slice of sea buckthorn berries (grown on the roof) and meringue pie, pine forest spikenard crème anglaise with a glass of Domaine la Branche Vin d'Érable Liquoreux from Montérégie, Québec. A memorable meal.
Friday, August 28th: Up at 7 am to drive from St. Foy to Baie-Saint-Paul. Just before Ste. Anne de Beaupré we passed a bee museum. Our first visit along the Charlevoix Flavour Trail – though we got horribly lost thanks to the GPS – was to Domaine de la Vallé de Bras – the world's only producer of tomato wine. Pascal Miche and his wife Lucie have been producing wine by fermenting tomatoes for five years using a secret recipe from Pascal's Belgian great-grandfather. His name was Omer and the brand is Omerto in homage to him. They make four different products from three varieties of organically-grown tomatoes – Dry, Sweet, Semi-Dry aged in acacia wood, and a sweet version aged in cherry and chestnut casks.
The world's first tomato wines
They have 4,000 tomato plants in their "vineyard" and they produce in toto 15,000 litres. The tomatoes are harvested in mid-August to the mid-September at 25–26 Brix and have to be chaptalized to get the "wine" up to 16% alcohol. The fermentation takes five months. It's very much a hands-on operation with five people involved in the harvesting, crushing, fermenting, filtering, bottling and labelling of the bottles. They now export to Hong Kong, Japan and the US.
Deborah and I tasted through the range and we were very surprised by the quality. The dry "wine" tasted like sake with no suggestion of tomato flavour. The sweet version has a nose of orange blossom, honey, melon and lychee. The acacia-aged version has a malt whisky character and the chestnut/cherry-aged wine smells of rose petals and cherries. Pascal says that his wines – which are vintage-dated – can last for 20 years!
Auberge Chez Truchon
We bought a half bottle of each product and then drove on to La Malbaie, about 45 minutes north, to have lunch at Auberge Chez Truchon. Chef/owner Dominique Truchon prepared a special lunch for us, beginning with duck from La Ferme Basque in torchon style, crème brûlée of grande glace cider, duck heart confit, dried breast, bun and vinegar from Balconville. With this dish, a glass of Bodegas Lacus Inédito 3/3 from Rioja. The main dish: Grilled gigot d'agneau de Charlevoix with a sauce of dried tomatoes and basil, French fries cooked in duck fat and summer vegetables. For dessert, molten chocolate cake, black cherries, Amaretto ice cream, almond crumble. Another great meal.
Gigot d'agneau and fries in duck fat
Drove back to Baie-Saint-Paul to check into our hotel, Le Germain Charlevoix. The hotel is extraordinary – set on the site of an old farm formerly owned by Les Petites Franciscaines de Marie (the farm complex burned down in 2007 with only one small building remaining. There's a model in the hotel's courtyard showing what the farm looked like in its heyday (if you'll forgive the pun). It was the largest wooden barn in Quebec.
Germain Hotel Charlevoix (formerly La Ferme)
Model of La Ferme before the fire
The only way I can describe the architecture of the hotel is as "industrial-pastoral." The out-buildings are named La Bergerie, Le Moulin and Basse-Cour (the building in which we are staying). The hotel has won numerous international awards, including the best designed hotel in the world in 2013. All the rooms are farm-themed and the furniture, linens, towels, lighting and appurtenances were either made locally in the province or by Canadian manufacturers.
In the afternoon we walked around Baie-Saint-Paul, visiting a great art gallery. In the evening we dined at the hotel's restaurant, Les Labours. We sat at the bar overlooking the rectangular kitchen, watching Chef Sylvain Derivieux and his staff preparing dinner. Sylvain chose our menu: blood pudding with a horseradish foam and a glass of Domaine L'Ange Gardien Rosé 2014; veal sweetbreads with a cream of corn sauce; Arctic char with almonds and edamame beans, with a glass of Thomas Batadière L'Esprit Libre Chenin Blanc 2013; roast lamb, smashed potatoes with wild garlic, beets and broccoli, with a glass of Château Mirebeau 2010; dessert – chocolate with a mousse of passionfruit, raspberry with almond-flavoured ice cream.
Les Labour's sweetbreads in a cream of corn sauce
Saturday, August 29th: Went for a coffee and croissant at a local coffee house and then were given a tour of the hotel by Ann Pepin, who told us the history and showed us a couple of rooms. Then we drove to the ferry at Isle-aux-Coudres to take the 20-minute trip to the island (free!). We drove around, stopping at Boulangerie Bouchard (established 1945) to buy lunch – tourtière turnover and a smoked salmon wrap (as well as a blueberry pie for our hosts tomorrow). Then on to Cidrerie Vergers Pedneault, where we sampled various ciders and fruit wines. Purchased at bottle of Le Pedneault Ecume de Mer. Final stop before taking the ferry back to the mainland: Les Moulins de l'Isle-aux-Coudres. This museum houses a fully functional watermill (1825) and windmill (1836), as well as a miller's residence. The mill stones still grind wheat and buckwheat here.
Cidreie on Isle-aux-Coudres
Back in Baie-Saint-Paul we visited the Art Symposium in the local hockey rink. Twelve artists were invited to work on an art project for a month and interact with the public as they did so. We were very taken by an artist from Halifax whose hobby is creating wooden models of every merchant ship that he records passing through the St. Lawrence. His focus for the Symposium was ships that passed Baie-Saint-Paul. Then we revisited Gallerie d'Art Yvon Desgagné, where we bought a small oil painting we fell in love with – by Jean-Claude Roy, a French artist who painted Newfoundland landscapes.
The J.C. Roy painting we bought
Dined at Mouton Noir, a bistro at 43 rue Saint-Ann in Baie-Saint-Paul that backs on to the Gouffre River. Chef Thierry Ferré comes from Brittany. Deborah ordered rouleaux of duck and escargot salad followed by scallop, shrimp and salmon with lobster sauce, and I chose the squid and peach salad, followed by a pork dish that was like pot au feu with a pastry shell. The sommelier recommended a bottle of Domaine Labet Pinot Noir 2013 from Corsica. Too full to order dessert.
My pork pot-au-feu pie at Mouton Noir
Sunday, August 30th: On Sunday mornings there's a market in the Germain Hotel Charlevoix courtyard with stalls selling fruit and vegetables, honey, soaps, handicrafts and jewellery with musicians playing on the lawn. Took to the Flavour Trail this morning after breakfasting in the hotel.
First stop: La Ferme Basque, a producer of foie gras using the traditional Basque method of gavage. Isabelle Mihura and her partner Jacques Etcheberrigaray keep 4500 ducks – Mulards for foie gras and Muscovy ducks for meat. Apparently, only males are force-fed for foie gras. The females are kept for their eggs.
Isabelle Mihura and her duck products
Ducks at La Ferme Basque
Next stop Centre de l'Émeu, where Raymonde Tremblay keeps a flock of over 400 emus from which she produces emu oil, soaps and assorted butchered and prepared meats. Emu chicks grow to six feet in a year and are ready to breed when their necks turn blue (male and female, no kidding!). They can run at 70 kilometres an hour but can't walk backwards. Raymonde sells jars of her own recipe spaghetti sauce made with emu meat as well as emu cassoulet.
Emu at Centre de l'Émeu
Raymonde Tremblay and friend
Next stop, Maison d'Affinage Maurice Dufour, an award-winning cheese producer. We sampled six different cheeses, Le Migneron, Le Ciel de Charlevoix, Le Secret de Maurice, La Tomme d'Elles, Tomme de Brebis de Charlevoix and Le Bleu de Brebis de Charlevoix. They also make a white, red and rosé wine. We got to sample the white called Le Charlevoyou 2014. A bit foxy.
Next stop, Boulangerie La Rémy, an early 19th-century watermill where local organic wheat is milled into flour for its onsite bakery. Lunched outdoors at Laiterie Charlevoix Economuseum, finishing up with their delicious cheesecake ice cream.
Checked out of the hotel to drive to Stoneham, where we spent the night with our friends Jean-François and Hélène Bergeron. A wine-filled dinner with their family members, starting with Jacob's Creek Moscato 2014 as we sat outside looking at the lake. Then Paul Buisse Crémant de Loire with smoked salmon. Barbecued steak, potatoes and Greek Salad with Paolo Conterno Barolo "Riva del Bric" 2009 and Clos de las Siete 2009. With the assorted Quebec cheeses I brought out a bottle of the tomato wine I'd purchased at Omerto – Omerto Moelleux Aperitif Tomato Wine.