Wine Lovers Have a New Destination to Add to Their Bucket Lists
You don’t have to fight the crowds in California’s Napa Valley or hop a plane to Bordeaux to visit world-class wineries. Several excellent vineyards lie just north of the Vermont border in Quebec’s Brome-Missisquoi region, an area that is also home to some of New England’s most beautiful landscapes.
For a place where the majority of the population is of French descent, the wine industry in Quebec is relatively new. Although legend has it that French explorer Samuel de Champlain tried planting wine grapes there in the mid-17th century, it’s said that the vines quickly perished in the province’s cold climate.
It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the first vineyard was founded in the Brome-Missisquoi region, which is located in the western part of the Eastern Townships, an area adjacent to the U.S. border just north of Vermont.
Brome-Missisquoi is now home to 22 vineyards that produce a variety of wines and hard ciders.
About a five-hour drive from the Merrimack Valley, Brome-Missisquoi’s “Route des Vins” is easy to navigate. Its winding country roads offer sweeping views and are dotted with stands selling fresh produce, corn and cut flowers.
One of the region’s oldest vineyards, Vignoble de La Bauge is located in Brigham, 20 miles north of the Vermont border. Owned by the Naud family since the 1950s, the land where the vineyard now stands was once home to a dairy. Beginning in 1976, Alcide and Ghislaine Naud’s oldest son, Robert, began raising wild boar on his parents’ dairy farm. Then, in 1986, Alcide and Ghislaine decided to close the dairy and go into the wine business. They enjoyed their first vintage in 1990.
Vignoble de La Bauge, which takes its name from the French word for a boar’s den, produces 11 wines, including Rassemble-Heure, a light, fruity red; a crisp white called Equinox; and Novembre, a slightly sweet dessert wine.
Visitors can take a free tour and then stop at the vineyard’s shop and cafe. There, you can sample wines, enjoy locally made cheeses and smoked sausages made on-site from the vineyard’s own livestock, and pick up a few bottles of wine for later.
Set on a hill overlooking Lake Brome is Léon Courville Vignernon. Founded in 1999 by Léon Courville, a former economics professor at l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales de Montreal, the University of Montreal’s business school, and the former president and chief operating officer of The National Bank of Canada, this 350-acre property offers visitors gorgeous panoramic views.
Beginning in 1981, Courville, who started out as a wine collector, gradually acquired the land where the vineyard now stands. Curious to see if he could produce world-class wines in Quebec, he planted 4,000 vines in 1999. When the resulting wines proved to be good, he was encouraged to continue, with the planting of more vines and the opening of the winery’s on-site shop in 2005.
Today, the operation is owned by Courville and his wife, Anne-Marie Lemire, who is the winery’s general manager. They produce 17 different wines, including four varieties of red, seven whites and two types of rosé, as well as ice and dessert wines, and a sparkling wine made using the same method as Champagne.
The on-site shop offers tastings during business hours. A 45-minute tour of the winery is available for $10 (Canadian) per person. Reservations are required for groups of 10 or more.
Specializing in sparking wines and hard ciders, Château de Cartes is located in the town of Dunham, a few miles north of the Vermont border. This boutique operation is owned and operated by husband and wife team Anik Desjardins and Stéphane Lamarre, who purchased the land, then an orchard, in 2006. Today they produce about 20,000 bottles of wine and cider annually.
Although Château de Cartes — which means “house of cards” in French — is small, it produces 15 varieties of wine and hard cider. One, a sparkling white called PetNat, is slightly fruity with hints of citrus. Made using the same method as Champagne, their sparkling rosé is dry and crisp with notes of fresh berries.
The ciders produced at Château de Cartes are among their best sellers. Pommenbulles, their sparking cider, is crisp, refreshing and only slightly sweet. The winery makes two varieties of ice cider, one sparking and one still, and an aged fortified cider called Pomineau.
Tastings are available during business hours. Winery tours are available on weekends by reservation. All products produced at Château de Cartes can be purchased in their on-site store.
Vignoble de La Bauge / Brigham, Quebec / (450) 266-2149 / LaBauge.com
Léon Courville Vigneron / Lac-Brome, Quebec / (450) 242-2665 / LeonCourville.com
Château de Cartes / Dunham, Quebec / (450) 295-2359 / ChateauDeCartes.com
Brome-Missisquoi Wine Route Tourism Information / (888) 811-4928 / LaRouteDesVins.ca