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A northern star

A northern star

When one thinks of Quebec wine routes, the Eastern Townships immediately come to mind... However, you’d be well advised to also consider the Lower Laurentians where, on the Chemin du Terroir, Saint-Eustache’s Rivière du Chêne Winery is a Quebec winemaking leader

With some 75,000 vines spread out over 16.5 hectares (the equivalent of 23 soccer fields), the Rivière du Chêne Winery is one of the province’s largest. “We are a large winery, it’s true, but we specialize in exclusive wines,” explains Daniel Lalande.

The winemaker greets us in the immense main building, an elegant mixture of stone and wood that is somewhat reminiscent of the Okanagan Valley’s Quails’ Gate Winery. It’s no mere coincidence; after a devastating fire at the Québec winery in 2007, reconstruction plans held up the B.C. winery as inspiration. “I wanted our new site to better reflect our production and better position us as leaders.”

Their position? As a major player: producing 220,00 bottles in 2017, and on track to produce 350,000 bottles in 2019. While they’re still miles away from Kim Crawford-status, they’re not shy about priding themselves on their wines. “Let’s try some wine now — it’s the perfect time! I can’t emphasize it enough: We have perfect weather, and exceptional terroir. The challenge is to highlight our region and cépages — there’s a lot of educating we have yet to do.”

 

Vine and wine in his veins

A lionhearted promoter of Quebec wines (he protested for the Quebec government to maintain its local wine marketing assistance program), Lalande has had vine and wine in his veins for the past 20 years, on his family’s property. “It’s my home. My father was born in the house on the property, my uncles lived on the same street. I grew up here,” he proudly explains.

Son of a farmer (cauliflower, cab-bage, corn) and grandson of entrepreneurs (the country’s oldest sugar shack, the Cabane à sucre Lalande belonged to his great-grandparents), Daniel discovered wine during an administration internship in Toulouse in 1992. “I always thought I’d just take over the sugar shack, so I joined the company, but I was misinformed about company transfer procedures, so I had to move from the restaurant industry to winemaking.”

Over two years, Daniel Lalande developed his passion project. In 1998, he began planting, and three years after that, the Rivière du Chêne Winery opened its doors. Since then, operations have continually expanded and evolved. “We learn, we change, we correct as needed. For example, we began using winter covers to protect primary buds, which has greatly improved grape quality. The healthier the grape, the fewer interventions we need to make when the wine is in the cave.”

Consistency and strict attention are de rigueur in the production of their reds, whites, rosés, sparkling wines, flavoured wines, and dessert and ice wines. From one vintage to the next, whether a William white wine or a Gabrielle rosé (wines named after his children), each bottle will be slightly different, but nonetheless improved: “With trial and error, our products evolve and grow,” states the winemaker.

 

Oka: a unique terroir

In Rivière du Chêne Winery news, one cannot overlook the recent purchase of an old dairy farm in Oka. “I chose that land myself! It’s exceptional in terms of sun and soil — as much for the land as for the potential for tourism. It’s Québec’s most beautiful wine-growing spot, I’m sure of it,” enthuses Lalande.

La Cantina is the name of the 20-acre vineyard of hybrid and vitis vinifera vines located in Oka, and the wines that they produce are currently sold at the Rivière du Chêne winery. To increase production, these vines and their territory will be expanded.

This year, the little-winery-grown-big on the chemin de la Rivière Nord celebrates 20 years of existence. When Daniel Lalande looks back, his eyes mist a little. “Being a Québecois winemaker is a lifestyle choice: It’s demanding, often very hard, but is absolutely passionate work! It’s also about sharing, and one has to be something of a philosopher to succeed.” Philosophy aside, what about that wine? He’s right about that too — there’s no better time to taste it!

+CHECK OUT DANIEL LALANDE’S LIST OF TOP PLACES TO VISITE

Monde

An ice wine with aromas of candied fruit and honey, with notes of pineapple and spice. Pairs well with foie gras, crème brûlée or a dessert with dried fruit and nuts, as well as aged cheddar.

Vignoble Rivière du Chêne Monde 2013

$32.35

Vignoble Rivière du Chêne Monde 2013

Ice wine200 mlCanada
Vignoble Rivière du Chêne Monde 2013

Vignoble Rivière du Chêne Monde 2013

$32.35

Ice wine200 mlCanada, QuebecSAQ code : 11057475

Phénix

A woody red wine that is supple and fruity, with notes of black cherry, blackberry, blackcurrant, and spices (pepper and vanilla). Pairs beautifully with grilled meats, stews and game meat dishes, as well as firm washed-rind cheeses.

Phénix 2016

$21.60

Phénix 2016

Red wine750 mlCanada
Phénix 2016

Phénix 2016

$21.60

Red wine750 mlCanada, QuebecSAQ code : 12445074
  • Grape variety(ies):
  • Maréchal Foch, 
  • Frontenac, 
  • Marquette

La Cantina Vallée d’Oka

A fresh and fruity Chardonnay with notes of pineapple and passion fruit, sustained by a brief aging in oak barrels. Delicious in the mouth, with hints of minerality that refresh the palate. A gorgeous match with fish and seafood and cream sauces, as well as veal blanquette.

La Cantina Vallée d'Oka Chardonnay 2017

$23.95

La Cantina Vallée d'Oka Chardonnay 2017

White wine750 mlCanada
La Cantina Vallée d'Oka Chardonnay 2017

La Cantina Vallée d'Oka Chardonnay 2017

$23.95

White wine750 mlCanada, QuebecSAQ code : 13835841
Not available onlineSee quantity in stores

 

Photos: Martine Larose

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