Gastronomic Tourism in Quebec's Eastern Townships
BY ALEX ROSLIN
[Read the original story here]
The man credited with inventing ice cider is taking a leisurely stroll through his grape vines and apple orchard in
That's because Christian Barthomeuf is finally creating his dream vineyard here, just outside the charming historic
It's a quirky project - more like a mission - in which Barthomeuf is going completely green: no pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals; no tractors or heavy equipment to trample the narrow rows of his grapevines.
Horses pull his Amish-made plow at the Clos Saragnat vineyard, and he carefully dresses each grapevine in a felt coat for the winter. He is even contemplating getting a scythe.
It's all in the pursuit of the noblest, finest, most subtle expression of le terroir - which can be loosely translated as "the taste of the place," or perhaps just "bottled earth." Le terroir, you see, is Barthomeuf's calling. "The vine is a philosophy," he says. "It's not corn."
Barthomeuf's winemaking skills, which in January 2008 earned him the international cider industry's highest award - the annual prize of Spain's Fundación de la Sidra - as well as a commendation from Canada's own House of Commons in April 2008, helped spark a viticultural renaissance in Quebec and have drawn attention to the gastronomic jewels of one of the province's prettiest regions: the Eastern Townships.
This 10,000-square-kilometre area of quaint Loyalist-era villages, horse farms and strawberry patches - just an hour's drive southeast of
Visitors to the Townships are going to the source of a lot of that tasty food and drink. Until recently, many of the most interesting gastronomic attractions here have gotten little outside attention. But that is changing.
In 2003, the Townships inaugurated a 132-kilometre
Intersecting with the wine tour is a series of other organized routes, including five "agro-tourism" tours that highlight the Townships' artisanal farmers and
A very cool launching pad to explore the Townships and get into the right relaxed zone is the spectacular
Townshippers whisper about this magical, quirky valley, which has drawn landscape painters since the 1800s, in reverent tones. "You want to whistle The Sound of Music, its so beautiful here," says local real-estate agent Peter Reindler, who visited from
Typical of the offbeat establishments here is the celebrated organic Chapelle Ste. Agnès Vineyard, which Barthomeuf helped set up in 1997. (He still serves as the chapelle's winemaker.) In its first entry in a wine competition in 2006 - London's prestigious International Wine and Spirit Competition - the Ste. Agnès vineyard took silver for its 2002 Gewürztraminer Icewine and bronze for its 2002 Vidal Icewine.
The site also features a striking Roman-esque stone chapel that owner Henrietta Antony had built by European stonemasons in recollection of her native
Lodging in this neck of the woods is available at the Au Diable Vert Mountain Station, located on the south slope of
This is where Barthomeuf helped pioneer the region's viticulture industry, opening his first vineyard in 1970 and, in 1989, inventing the current process for making apple ice cider, a product that has exploded into an international phenomenon. Today, the product accounts for 70 per cent of sales in the
Barthomeuf has had a hand in the success of some of the most renowned local vineyards - including Frelighsburg's Domaine Pinnacle, Dunham's Domaine des Côtes d'Ardoise and La Face Cachée de la Pomme in Hemmingford.
For Barthomeuf, the secret of the cider invention was listening to the terroir. After growing frustrated with
Ice cider uses late-harvest apples picked only after they have frozen on their trees in winter, in a process similar to that for icewine. The result is "a taste of
Now working for himself with his partner, Louise Dupuis, at his 3,500-vine Clos Saragnat winery, Barthomeuf is trying to get as much of that
Hence, his decision to stop using tractors to plow the soil between his grapevines - a growing trend in
"I prefer brushing a horse to changing the oil of a tractor," he says.
In Barthomeuf's Clos Saragnat boutique, he lovingly pours out samples for a tasting - an ice cider, a cider aperitif, an icewine and a straw wine (made from grapes left to dry on straw to concentrate their juice). His hard work with the horses has paid off: the elixirs are divine and complex, each one a pageant of the varied possibilities of the gorgeous land all around.
Where to drink, eat and stay
CLOS SARAGNAT: Christian Barthomeuf and his partner, Louise Dupuis's ice cider and icewine outfit near Frelighsburg. www.saragnat.com
L'ORPAILLEUR: Award-winning Dunham vineyard offers a full range of wines and fine dining on a lovely terrace, featuring renowned local duck.www.orpailleur.ca
DOMAINE DES CÔTES D'ARDOISE: Dunham's oldest vineyard also offers fine dining. www.cotesdardoise.com
TOWNSHIPS WINE ROUTE: Sip your way through the Townships with this 132-kilometre tour of 11 vineyards. www.laroutedesvins.ca
LA GIRONDINE: Where does viticultural legend Christian Barthomeuf like to dine out? At Frelighsburg's La Girondine restaurant, where exacting owners Sylvie Campbell and François Desautels serve duck, lamb and rabbit from their own farm. www.lagirondine.ca
CHIAPPUTO ELK FARM: Pick up insanely delicious elk sausages, steaks and pies to prepare yourself for ultimate gastronomic pleasure, or stop in for a bite at the weekend summer barbecues. www.chiapputoelkfarm.com
CAFÉ MASSAWIPPI: This charming little fine-dining establishment in the cute
AU DIABLE VERT: Lodgings here in the breathtaking
MANOIR HOVEY: This five-star country inn and restaurant is the only property in