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Oui, Virginie, time to take a road trip on Quebec’s wine route

on 06/05/13 at 10:16 am


routesdesvinsWeb2010Thirty years ago, no one in la belle province would have imagined that its wines would one day be coveted by Hollywood stars the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow.

Back then, wine in Quebec was considered unpalatable or, at best, mediocre.

Indeed, Bill Zacharkiw, sommelier, restaurant owner, and wine columnist for the Montreal Gazette, once consigned the entire Quebec wine industry to the dumpster. But now he’s making amends.

“I recently toured several wineries in the Eastern Townships,” he wrote, “and was shocked by not only the quality and diversity of the wines being made but by the passion and dedication of a number of our winemakers.”

Having recently returned to Quebec after a 20-year absence, I decided it was time I investigated. I would take a mini road trip to the Route des vins in the Eastern Townships, an hour’s drive southeast of Montreal, to see what all the foodie hullabaloo was about.

My mother decided to join me, and on a Saturday morning in late August we set off across the traffic-clogged Champlain bridge toward Dunham, the heart of the Route des vins.

The region’s first township, Dunham is typical of Quebec’s British colonial and Loyalist era, when colonists loyal to the king fled the United States to settle the verdant valleys to the north, granting them names like Sutton, Bedford, Stanbridge, Brigham, and Knowlton — Norman Rockwell villages strung like charms along Quebec’s border with Vermont.

Rolling along at 20 miles an hour down rue Principale, we passed Chamberland’s Antiques, crammed with colonial furniture. Farther down the main strip we spotted Les Chocolats Colombe, makers of artisanal chocolates, nougats, and pastries. At the junction of Routes 202 and 213 was Homei Bistro, with its wraparound porch, and next to it, Brasserie Dunham, a trendy restaurant, bistro, and brewery combo with a large courtyard patio, serving foods of the terroir, locally-sourced products.

After getting a map of La Route des vins at theLa Rumeur Affamée bakery we continued south along Route 213. Two miles up the hill we pulled up to a red barn, home of the Val Caudalies, a vineyard and cider mill set against green hills and apple trees.

It was during a stint in a winery in the Montérégie region southwest of Montreal, that co-owner Guillaume Leroux, now in his early 30s, acquired his vinicultural passion. Having conveyed his zeal to his childhood friends Julien Vaillancourt and Alexis Perron, the trio purchased the 110-acre orchard property from the Tremblay family in 2004 and set out to plant vines where none had grown before.