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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 3 (October 4, 2004)

Saturday, September 25: Flew to Montreal with Steve Elphick, the photographer who is working with me on The Wine Atlas of Canada. We've toured British Columbia and Nova Scotia (Steve is there as I write). I haven't visited Quebec wineries for 20 years, relying on colleagues to help me update the Quebec chapter of Vintage Canada. My guide on this trip is Alain Breault, who used to make wine at L'Orpailleur and Les Arpents de Neiges. Now he has a grape propagation business, developing hardy varieties that can withstand Quebec winters. We visit La Bauge first. They keep a menagerie of wild animals on the farm and six different kinds of pheasant.

There are 42 licensed Quebec wineries making wine from their own grapes! Many of them also make apple wines and iced Apple. The pizza place next to my hotel at Exit 68 off Highway 10 offers eight different kinds of poutine. I pass and order a pizza. I get it back to my room and find that it hasn't been sliced. I have no knife since they confiscate corkscrews and such when you go though airport security. Have you ever tried to cut a pizza with a hotel room key?

Sunday, September 26: The weather is gorgeous and the maples are turning. Quebec had a vicious winter with temperatures dipping to minus 45. This late summer sunshine has rescued the harvest. St. Agnes in Glen Sutton will become a destination winery for Quebec. The owner, Hernrietta Anthony, has created a magnificent terraced vineyard and a three- level cellar dug deep into the hillside. She has spared no expense in creating an underground cathedral with vaulted arches and antiques everywhere. She has plans to build a castle above the cellar but must wait until the stock market picks up. Her winemaker son John Anthony makes Quebec's most expensive wines – a vin de paille and a Vidal Icewine.

Quebec wines are made from grapes unfamiliar to most wine lovers – Vandal Clich, Sabrevois, Frontenac, Lucy Kuhlmann, Cayuga – as well as the more familiar Seyval Blanc (the workhorse white) and Baco Noir and Marechal Foch. The wines are generally fruity and high in acidity, a refreshing change from over-oaked New World products. In 10 years, Alain Breault says, you will have to multiply the number of wineries by five. "We have only 0.5% of the market today. I think we can get 5% in future."

At Artisans de Terroir in St. Paul Abbotsford, the owner, Rejean Guertin, has invented a contraption that allows pickers to harvest the low-hung grapes without breaking their backs – it's a three wheeled go-cart with a seat and a ring to hold the grape bucket. Pickers shuffle along with rows propelled by their feet.

Monday, September 27: Visited 10 wineries today. I ask them what their best wines are because I can't taste them all. They say they are all good. Some taste like labrusca – especially Cayuga. Gilles Benoit at Vignobles des Pins has made the first Frontenac in Quebec, a 2002 that is really very good. The grape was propagated at the University of Minnesota where they use it to make a port-style wine. Alain Breault has a lot of faith in Frontenac and it's being widely planted since it can withstand temperatures down to minus 24 degrees.

Cote d'Ardoise is the oldest winery in Quebec. It's beautifully sited in a sheltered bowl with a shell-shaped vineyard. Dr. Jacques Papillon has placed some 40 sculptures around the grounds and even in the vineyard. The highest point is dominated by a giant metal "Papillon" (butterfly) – an old snow plough painted to look like a Monarch butterfly. L'Orpailleur is Quebec's largest winery whose products are available at the SAQ. They're part of a cluster of wineries around Dunham, where the heaviest concentration of wineries is to be found.

Tuesday, September 28: On the road again. Steve is taking photographs of the winemakers. It's amazing how they will just stand in front of the camera when asked, oblivious to how they look, both men and women. In Ontario they'd be running to the mirror or running a comb through their hair. Met with Christian Bartomeuf, a pioneer winemaker in Quebec. He made the first Iced Cider (apple Icewine I suppose you could call it) which is now a product that could become an iconic Quebec wine. He is in the process of starting a new venture called Domaine Saraquat – an organic farm which will be worked by horses rather than tractors.

Wednesday, September 29: I fly back to Toronto this evening but we manage to squeeze in seven wineries, ending up at Les Roches de Brises, a very sophisticated operation run by a lawyer and former provincial deputy, Jean-Pierre Belisle. He tells me his restaurant is the second-best table in the Laurentians. He keeps an international wine list and is not afraid to serve his own wines along with those of Australia and California. As president of the Quebec vintners association, he's lobbying the Quebec government for the same kind of financial support Ontario wineries get. Good luck.

Thursday, September 30: Back to dozens of emails and phone messages. Conducted a private tasting at Grano for a professional group. Italian wines. The one that the most liked was a Primitivo di Manduria. Maybe because it's Zinfandel.

Friday, October 1: Spent the day writing an article for The Wine Spectator on Recline Ridge, a BC property that styles itself the world's most northerly winery. It's 370 kilometers northeast of Seattle. I visited them in September, researching the Atlas. Mike Smith, the proprietor, sent me seven of his wines which had all won either Silver or Bronze medals at the Pacific Norwest Wine Summit competition. Looking forward to trying them. Tomorrow I leave with Deborah for Niagara to tour Inniskillin and Reif with sponsors of the Ontario Wine Awards. Lunch at The Prince of Wales and later an Icewine tasting.




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