Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September 7th, Day Eight---Last Day In The Eastern Townships----And A Full One!!!!

Off To Sutton, Quebec!
We had a great breakfast at the Auberge & Spa West Brome, there is one thing I truly enjoyed about this place and that is the genuine & friendly manner of the staff from the desk clerk right to the chef/cook. Most of the places that we stayed at were exceptionally fine but the Auberge seemed to go beyond just being professional and pleasant. They were disarmingly charming and so very helpful in all that they did and what we required.
Le Rumeur Affamee
Kelly and Wayne Shanahan met us at the door of their gourmet store which was located in a former general store which itself was part of a historical building. They handled a wide range of products including 150 types of cheese---over half (including some from Abbaye de St. Benoit). In addition they served a variety of tempting bread (not that my stout belly needed it!) and special maple pie baked on site. In the summer they also served a famous Bilbouquet ice cream.
Kelly seemed to be a friendly but no nonsense individual who managed the store. Wayne seemed lay back but under that friendly exterior was the businessman who spearheaded Boston Pizza's successful venture in Quebec. He did what others failed to do by knowing his potential customers. Such things as his increasing the amount of wine labels from a mere 8 to 25 indicated that he was in sync with the traditional needs of his clientele. He furthered this by making sure that cheeses were incorporated into the menu. His success as Executive Vice President of Marketing for Boston Pizza was understanding his clientele. This obviously followed him to his present ownership of Le Rumeur Affamee with his wife, Kelly. Together they made a greater whole.
Roy filmed Kelly making cookies and I spoke to Wayne somewhat in awe of his accomplishments and that resonant voice of his. It was great meeting them but we soon had to be off to our next meeting.
Domaine de Bresse
Not far from Sutton on top of Draper Hill sits Domaine de Bresse. This winery and beef farm was not on our list to visit and indeed we basically just went and took a quick look see since we were under a time constraint but enough people mentioned them that they were worth inclusion in this blog. However, an informal visit is better than none. The place looks great and very well kept. To the best of my understanding, they have approximately 15,000 vines planted with St. Croix red hybrids and Vandal-Cliche white. Their cattle are totally naturally kept and meet the highest government standards of keeping.
The domaine has just made it to inclusion on the vine route of the area and now has rooms available for persons to stay. It seems like a great place to stay and my thanks to Kim at the Auberge & Spa and Kelly at the Le Rumeur Affamee for suggesting it.
Chapelle Ste-Agnes
Driving down the winding road to Chapelle Ste-Agnes, I did not suspect that I was going to come upon one of the most scenic as well as most interesting sites that I have ever seen. Picture this,
A small chapel designed in traditional field stone construction sitting amidst the splendour of the Green Mountains of Appalachia. From the Chapel, one can view high rolling hills full of trees that carpet them as far as the eye can see and then some more.
"Over there are the Green Mountains of Vermont!" said owner John Anthony as we looked above the eighteen or so terraces one atop of the other----each supported by stone walls and harbouring lovely vines. The almost three dimensional effect of us looking down at the terraces was only eclipsed by the three dimensional effect of us looking up from below. At the bottom of the terraced slopes were two ponds which had an effect on the temperature as did the stone walls which heated up during the day and released the heat at night. All this created a micro climate that extended the season enough for vines to ripen and develop the sugar they need.
It came to no surprise to me to learn that Christian Barthomeuf was involved initially with the vineyard's creation as the whole structure of the vineyard has his mark. The fact that no synthetic materials or artificial fertilizers and a totally organic method was used certainly was Christian Barthomeuf. It is no surprise to me that the sweet wines and ice wines made here are so very very good. The wines had been entered in many world wide highly reputed contests and came out on top.
The vines are cared for in a very special manner. Each vine is carefully pruned in a vertical manner and insulated once the harvest is done. Again there is the Barthomeuf approach.
One thing however, while there is certainly a touch of Christian B. in the vines and wines, the building is all Henrietta Anthony a former antique dealer who had the chapel built in 1993.
The Romanesque structure was built to last. Many antiques were used in its construction such as the Louis Fourteenth Doors main doors, 17th century stained glass windows. paving stones from Quebec City's founding in the 17th century.
Within the Chapel were antique religious artifacts from various countries in Europe. The cellars of Chapelle Ste-Agnes descended some twenty feet where the temperature and humidity was a constant. The cellar--though constructed in modern times---had an air of medieval times around it. It was multifaceted with different levels and tasting rooms as well as a press room gallery where the photographic history of the cellar project was kept.
I was so amazed at the whole "picture" that I forgot that there was wine to taste. One could get lost in semantics.
We tasted some very luscious wines that were prize winners in international competition. These wines made from Riesling, Geisenheim, Vidal and Gewurztraminer are some of the best sweet wines that I ever tasted. These wines were award winners in competitions such as the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) winning Silver and Bronze as well as Decanter World Wine Competition winning Bronze.
In addition they offer a wide range of other products such as gift sets, glasses, icewine chocolates, coaster as well gift certificates.
Time went by so fast at this location that we did not notice that we were over one hour late.
Cafes de Village
The cafes de village is a select group of cafes that offer local coffees, seasonal and local products and a relaxing charm. This is what is offered but if there ever was a stressful period in our whole trip, it was this one AND it was my fault!!!!
Here is what happened. After we left the Gourmet Shop in Sutton, I noticed a Cafe next door. It was a Cafe de Village. The street was rue Principale. I made an assumption (you know what "assume" means----something as ass of u and me!!!) that that was the place to go. I wondered why we had to go all the way back to Sutton. Did I check the itinerary---of course not!!!
Thinking that the cafe in Sutton was the actual place we had to be in, we drove back and looked for number 16 because the cafe I went to was 14. We drove up and down. Up and down the street to no avail until I decided to look at the itinerary which gave the real name and town.
Right street name and similar cafe de village but----no cigar. Our cafe was on the other side at a town called Frelighsburg.
We got to Les Sucreries de l'erable for lunch but neither the assistant nor the owner (who was not there). We had a delicious lunch and pie and then we were on our way. Considering that we did not spend much time at the cafe, we were now on time for our next visit.
Domaine Pinnacle
We arrived at Domaine Pinnacle about a half hour to forty five minutes late but it could have been worse. I apologized and after I ate a bit of crow, I met with Charles Crawford who owns it with his wife, Susan.
Charles had a vast amount of food in the form of cheeses, nuts, fruit and bread ready for our tasting. He also had a large amount of wine. We stepped to the bar for a food matching tasting. We tasted his Ice Cider which was made from a blend of different apples and made with no additions. I preferred it with goat or blue cheese. We moved on to his Sparkling Ice Cider which was he world's first sparkling ice cider. It struck me as a fine dessert wine or with figs etc.
The Signature Reserve Special Ice Cider, which had a warm caramel flavour as well as that of a baked apple went very well with a nutty fruit cake that was over one year old. The Reserve 1859 Domaine Pinnacle was a blend of ice cider and apple brandy. It also was excellent with pecan pie or fruit or nut cake dessert. The two following Maple products were also great. The Coureur des Bois Maple Cream. To make it Maple Syrup, fresh cream and grain alcohol/rum are used. The Coureur des Bois Maple Cider, also had a following and the wine came out with great integrity. It could accompany nuts. various cheeses and other sweet deserts. These are truly great dessert and aperitif wines and as a testament to how great they were thought to be, when I told my mentor and good friend---travel, food and wine writer Alex Eberspaecher about my Quebec adventures, the one winery in the Eastern Townships he asked about was----Domaine Pinnacle!
Charles also told us a bit of history behind the house next to the winery. It was built in 1859 and it was used in those days to keep an eye on Vermont and as time went on it was used to keep an eye on smugglers. The house has been kept in good shape.
One of the last things that Roy and I did was to take some closeup shots of the house.
Clos Saragnat
Christian Barthomeuf was mentioned previously as one who makes great wine and cider. He used to work totally organic and did not skimp on the organic utensils. When he bought the land which is on the southern edge of Mouth Pinnacle in the Appalachian Mountains and about one mile from the Vermont border. He and his partner Louise purchased the land that had lay fallow for some years----which was okay with him since he wanted the land in in its natural state so as to employ his own organic/bio dynamic techniques. Christian was well known to the area as a great winemaker. He started the first vineyard at Cote d'Ardoise in the early '80's and created the first ice cider. We have already mentioned his work at Chapelle Ste-Agnes. Barthomeuf was also once employed by Domaine Pinnacle. Christian is highly thought of in the community and seeing what he did and how he did it, I could understand. In order to be successful his way, one must be committed to a great deal of hard work.
Christian does not do anything half way. He uses his horses to spread their manure in the fields as well as in tilling the soil as in times of old. He insulates his vines in the winter and depends on nature to take care of his vines in the summer. I recall that he mentioned at least a dozen birds that he calls his helpers. They eat the insects that hurt his vines.
Christian's wines reflect this and we tasted some of his icewines which were quite special. He considers Clos Saragnat as a research facility for his vines and fruit based products. He hopes that he can leave his mark on Quebec wine making. I think that has already done that and more.
This visit marked an end to a very, very long day. On getting back to the Auberge, we were too tired to eat at the restaurant (although true to form in being considerate, the restaurant called to see if we were coming.) so we opted on purchasing some bread and cold cuts at the grocery store and had it later with some wine. I think it was a bottle of "Cep d'Argent'!
Then---it was bed and an early rise the next day.
End Of Day Eight!