The Brome-Missisquoi Wine Route, with its 22 vineyards established throughout the Appalachian foothills, has become the pride of the region. Its story, you’ll discover, is as interesting as the wines born here.
The wine route was built on foundations set by the Loyalists some centuries ago. Faithful to England, these settlers arrived after the American Revolution and received land concessions from the British Crown, thus establishing the Eastern Townships. The Dunham area was the first to be settled. Agriculture was difficult on these arid and hilly lands referred to as “gravel and rock farmlands.” Viticulture, before the 1980s, was done on an extremely small scale. However, the purchase of a produce farm with a microclimate resembling that of the Niagara Valley kindled all kinds of ambitions.
THE PIONEERS OF THE WINE ROUTE
Christian Barthomeuf, an artist in winemaking and much more
The farm bought by Christian Barthomeuf in 1977 possessed exceptional terroir qualities. Although it was a true learning experience for him, a whole new local industry was set in motion. Today, this land that became the Domaine des Côtes d’Ardoise is recognized as being the first commercial vineyard of the region.
After this first endeavour, he applied his expertise to create new products. He has been the first person in the world to produce ice ciders. He also advised other winemakers on producing original, sustainable, quality wines and ciders. He was among the first to use a archaic-modern approach, balancing environmental systemic exchanges between the earth, plants and air. Today, along with his partner Louise Dupuis, he is the owner of Clos Saragnat. He can also be proud of being the guardian of some of Quebec’s rare heritage apple trees since his orchard contains several ancestral varieties, left by other apple growers for newer species.
In 1984, Le Domaine des Côtes d’Ardoise was sold to Dr. Jacques Papillon, a highly-respected plastic surgeon. Until 2010, he contributed as much to innovating vineyard work methods as with the commercialization of local artisan wines. Besides having brought in the first over-the-row tractor in 1986, he created an exceptional environment for his vineyard by integrating an amazing outdoor art gallery. The Nature and Creation event presents about a hundred outdoor art installations appealing to both wine and art lovers. He was known by his peers as being “the wise man” among wine makers. His respect for nature, Art and well living constitutes his heritage to the winemaking community of Québec.
L’Orpailleur : the expertise of Hervé Durand and Charles-Henri de Coussergues
Hervé Durand, descendant of a long line of French winemakers from the Avignon region bought the Domaine des Côtes d’Ardoise’s neighbouring farm in 1982 and established the Château Blanc vineyard, renamed L’Orpailleur (The Gold Panner) in 1985, by Gilles Vigneault, a celebrated singer and songwriter of Quebec. His partner, Charles-Henri de Coussergues, also the son a winemaking family from Nîmes, in France, was hired by both the Domaine des Côtes d’Ardoise and L’Orpailleur as an intern. His knowledge, being a graduate in winemaking and oenology, was quickly recognized. Hervé Durand hired him to manage his farm and soon they became partners with businessmen Frank Furtado and Pierre Rodrigue. These winemakers provided an interesting and efficient solution to protect some varieties of vines against the rugged Quebec winters. Hilling, has growers cover their fragile plants with the surrounding soil to unearth them in the Spring. Moreover, they implemented a sustainable, reasoned approach (Lutte raisonnée) to determine the amount and types of interventions are needed to protect and enrich their vines.
Le vignoble de la Bauge (The boar’s nest), created in 1986, is the result of a family’s generational passion. Alcide and Ghislaine Naud and later, their son Simon, after having established the first boar farm of Quebec, opted to try their hand at winemaking. Ever since, we can explore a most charming environment where rows of vines make their way through a quite exotic animal collection that made the Domaine their home.
Other vineyards were bought and sold throughout the decade, among them the Domaine des Blanc Coteaux. First owned by the Breault family, it was sold to a young couple, Marie-Claude Lizotte and Pierre Genesse in 1989, who, in turn sold it to the Dubé family. Since 2009, the Gagliano family has given its name and its heart to this vineyard.
From Illegal Beginnings!
The Legalization of Local Artisanal Wine production and sales
Throughout the 1980s, winemakers pooled their energies in order to implement this new industry in Quebec. Their first great challenge was to market their wines. The SAQ (Société des Alcools du Québec) is the only governing organism to control the distribution of alcoholic beverages in the province. Therefore, before obtaining a permit, our producers sold their wine illegally and could, in theory, have their products ceased and receive steep penalties. In 1985, they finally obtained a first permit. Although very restrictive, it was a start. In 1987, the Quebec Winegrowers Association was created and worked for more than ten years to have this permit become less restrictive in order for their enterprises to prosper.
THE 1990s: THE EXPANSION YEARS
The following decade saw several new vineyards being established. In 1991, in the middle of the town of Dunham, The Clos Sainte-Croix is set in the back yard of an ancestral home. That same year, near Farnham, a Savoyard establishes Les Pervenches. The vineyard of l’Ardennais is set on Ridge Road, between Stanbridge-East and St-Armand. Later, in 1997, the neighbouring Domaine du Ridge, would begin its production as well. Near Dunham, Les Trois Clochers, abandoned since 1987, begins making wine again in 1997.
The Vignoble de la Chapelle Ste-Agnes is probably one of the most spectacular vineyards of the area. In 1997, Mrs. Henrietta Antony, a Montreal antique dealer, originally from Czechoslovakia, envisions and establishes a medieval-style domain where a chapel honouring Ste-Agnes of Bohemia, overlooks rows of vines, planted in terraces along the Sutton mountain range. Cellars recalling the Order of the Knights Templar, sculptures and artefacts adorning passageways, everything is planned to meet the ideals of its creator. It’s also worth noting that the expertise of Christian Barthomeuf was requested in the design of this amazing environment.
In 1998, La Mission begins producing its fine wine near Cowansville. Finally, Léon Courville, a renowned economist, begins his wine endeavour, in 1999. Planting his vines on a hillside overlooking Lake Brome, this perfectionist has a reasoned approach for his vineyard and is among the first to invest in thermoregulation for his cellars.
THE NEW CENTURY: A maturing industry
We are now seeing more diversified and innovative operations such as wine and cider-making enterprises as well as other types of terroir offers in the area. Many are using sustainable approaches to enrich their production and become more energy efficient.
Between West-Brome and Sutton, the Bresee family, already farming Charolais cattle, establishes its vineyard in 2001. In 2005, The Val Caudalies adds wine production to its apple growing and cider-making enterprise. In 2007, The Lizotte-Genesse couple purchases Domaine Vitis, which will later become Vignoble Bromont. Established in 2008, The Pigeon Hill Vineyard opts for organic wines.
Finally, our youngest producers: In 2009, La Grenouille was established just outside of Cowansville. Since 2010, UNION LIBRE Cidre & Vin, previously Fleurs de Pommiers, introduces its Fire Cider through an original process of their own making. In 2013, Le Château de Cartes adds winemaking to its cider production. Also since 2013, nestled against Mount Sutton, The Vignoble du Ruisseau has innovated by using geothermal energy to protect its Vitis vinifera grapes from the hard Québec winters.
LA ROUTE DES VINS: A MODEL OF CO-OPERATION
In 2004, the official Route des Vins of Brome-Missisquoi was mapped out to promote the local vineyards and to properly guide visitors throughout their stay. Since 2006, over a hundred different agri-food enterprises, outdoors outfitters, boutiques, restaurants and lodging offers have been added as their friends, Les Amis de la Route des Vins. This association of local businesses completes all our visitors’ needs all the while promoting the wine industry.
The story of La Route des Vins of Brome-Missisquoi reveals the spirit of its builders, their vision and the respect they have for their environment. As you meet them yourself, you’ll find they will be delighted to share their personal stories as well.
- Guide des Vignobles du Québec sur la route des vins, Jean-Guy Dubois et Laurent Deshaies, Presses de l’Université de Laval, 1997
- La Route des vins, parcourue par Jeanine Saine, Région Brome-Missisquoi, Le séditions La Presse, 2010
- https://www.vignevin-sudouest.com/publications/fiches-pratiques/viticulture-raisonnee-biologique-biodynamique.php # ancre3
- Canadian Wineries, John Aspler, Jean-François Bergeron, Firefly Books, 2013
- LA ROUTE DES VINS DE BROME-MISSISQUOI Vers la construction d’une identité régionale, Christine Bricault, Mémoire présenté à la Faculté des études supérieures de l’Université Laval, janvier 2007, pdf