It is hard to imagine that a country like Canada The Rivière du Chêne winery harvests medals through the Worldcould produce outstanding wines, with winter temperatures at around - 20°C. Therefore, it is even more difficult to deem it possible that these wines win international awards.
For the Rivière du Chêne Winery, located in Saint-Eustache, at 30 km northwest of Montreal, winning medals in international competitions has become a habit. Just at the 2012 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in the United States, this vineyard has won five medals, including a double gold for its ice wine "Monde", who had already won medals four times in the same competition, and was also crowned as the "Best Ice Wine" in 2011. In addition, they won the silver medal for the “Phoenix rouge", the “Phoenix blanc” won the bronze medal, and also the bronze was for Cuvée de glace des Laurentides, a late harvest wine.
Curious about this remarkable success, I went to Oak River Vineyard to visit the vineyards, the cellars and of course to taste their wines. One of the commercial representatives of vineyards, Nadia Dufour, showed me around the area of 20 hectares and their cellar. It is late autumn and the vines were harvested already. However, there are grapes, already harvested, suspended in nets along vines. These grapes ripe patiently their sugar and flavor contents to eventually yield all the richness that is so characteristic of ice wines. The cellar, a model for the industry, consisting of the most modern winemaking equipment. The fermentation tanks are stainless steel, and oak casks are used for aging the wine.
What a surprise at the tasting! The experience exceeded by far my expectations. I tasted exceptional white and red wines that your palate will not forget. Among them, "William Blanc" in pale yellow with green tints, reveals a very aromatic nose with notes of citrus and fresh mint. The attack is fresh and lively. The palate is round with a nice finish of citrus and minerality. It is ideal as an aperitif; it also goes well with fish, lobster, sushi, lemon chicken and goat cheese. The "Red William" is deep purple and reveals an aromatic and spicy bouquet. Fruity and peppery, with a tannic structure, and notes of cocoa, warrants a long finish. It goes very well as Italian dishes, meats, red meat and cheese. "Les Bulles de Gabrielle " is rosé sparkling wine, traditional method; it offers a beautiful pink color with blue reflections. Its aromatic bouquet reveals red fruits (raspberries and strawberries) in addition to being fresh and good intensity. On the palate, the fruit is present. The bubbles are very thin, which gives it a nice freshness and good aromatic persistence. "Monde les Bullees" is a white sparkling wine, semi-dry, produced by the traditional “Méthode Champagnoise”), with a base of ice wine for added flavor. “Monde les Bulles” is well appreciated with cocktails, dinner and dessert. "Cuvée de Glace de Laurentides" is a late harvest white wine. Recommended to be served alone as an aperitif, or with mousse of “foie gras”, with soft cheese and a pear – or a chocolate tart; absolutely delicious!
Finally, we come to the ice wine, the flagship product of the vineyard. "Monde" of fine, silky nose with exotic notes, all perfectly balanced. Enjoy it with "foie gras" or with cheeses, desserts fruit or chocolate. In fine, another pleasant surprise: The "Éraportéross", a red fortified wine flavored with maple syrup. Dark in color, with hints of amber, combined with maple syrup and ripe fruit flavors, this wine reminds of the character of ports. Enjoy it with blue cheese or dark chocolate.
Seduced by the quality of these wines, I wanted to know the history of the vineyard. I said to myself that to achieve such quality and well-deserved success of Vignoble Rivière du Chêne, a true passion for wine must the basis for their remarkable achievements. It is what I call the human factor. So I made an appointment for a second visit during which I met one of the co-owners Daniel Lalande, Alexandre Jalbert, director sales, marketing and communications, as well as the cellar master, Laëtitia Huet. In front of me, I see a young, highly enthusiastic, and seriously professional team.
The history of the vineyard fascinates me. The winery was founded in 1998 by Daniel Lalande and his wife Isabelle Gonthier, after a period of studies in France. Coming from a family with a long farming tradition, Daniel Lalande discovered his passion for wine during his stay in France. He returns to Quebec with the conviction of changing his life and his line of work. Daniel is committed; he changes the vocation of his farming land to that for the culture of grapevines. Indeed, that was quite a challenge, and a daring bet!
The cold climate in Québec does not play against you, I ask. "In fact apart from the cold and snow during the winter months, temperatures and sunshine for the rest of the year are similar to those of other wine regions of the world. The vineyard is located in the climatic zone 5a, near the 45th parallel. This region is conducive to the cultivation of the vine due to its high thermal units (UTM); is comparable to that of Marlborough in New Zealand. The growth season begins in early May and ends around October 25. The frost-free period is usually between 160 and 180 days. The soil is composed of 70% clay and limestone, 30% sediment and sand. "
"The vines are cold-adapted and we protect them from the cold with snow in the winter season. We work with Nature and not against it. Thus, for example, we capitalize on icewine, as the cold climate is in our favor for this product. Ice wine is made from grapes harvested frozen. In this manner, this wine has a naturally high content of residual sugar along with balanced acidity. The water crystals in grapes are retained with the pulp in the pressing, thereby increasing the sugar content and fragrances. Ice wine is traditional in countries such as Austria, Luxembourg and Canada; in Quebec the production of wine is recent. Nevertheless, our Icewine is world renowned and very popular in the Asian market, especially in China. "
"The wizard of this miracle is our cellar master (Maître de Chai)," says Daniel Lalande. In 2005 Laëtitia Huet arrived in Quebec from France, more precisely from the Loire Valley, where she had outstanding education and training in winemaking. However, she could not find a job in France. The professional world of wine is traditionally an occupation of men because of the physical hardships of the job. Looking for work in Quebec, Laëtitia presented herself to Daniel Lalande with her curriculum. "Show me rather what you can do," he said. Happy to have found a job in the profession she loves, Laëtitia did not mind to begin at the bottom of the ladder, removing suckers from the vine. Later she worked at the cellar as an assistant to Richard Bastien; the cellar master at the time. Richard Bastien left in 2007, and Laëtitia Huet having already proven what she is capable of doing, becomes the Maître de Chai. Since then, the vineyard never ceased in ripping success after success.
"Over the years, we pay attention to the vines in order to optimize the balance in their environment and of course we pay also attention to the detail applied in winemaking. In this manner, we have constantly increased the quality of our products. Our wines have consequently gained finesse, while maintaining consistent “millessime” from one year to another. It is always through experimentation and innovation in winemaking that we create wines that set us apart", said Laëtitia Huet.
In addition to guided tours and wine tastings, the winery also offers services for lunch, and dinners, as well as receptions for weddings, anniversaries and corporate events.