Just outside of Montreal is a unique area in the Quebec Province called Eastern Townships. Located around 45 minutes southeast of Montreal, several hours from the city of Quebec, and bordering Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, the Eastern Townships area offers many activities for the traveler to experience during any season.
The area is also known as Estrie, a toponym adopted in 1981. It is also identified as “Cantons-de-l’Est”, which was a name used by the first settlers to the area in the 16th century. The area was formed after the American Revolution when the British gave loyalists fleeing the United States a safe haven to live in. Today the Eastern Townships area consists of the following sub-regions: Sherbrooke, Granby-Bromont, Brome-Missisquoi, Val Saint-François, Memphrémagog, Coaticook, Asbestos, Haut Saint-François and Mégantic.
The charm of the pastoral countryside spattered with old villages, apple orchards, maple shacks and vineyards is a popular destination for New Englanders. For the wine and spirits enthusiast, there are many wineries and cider houses to visit. If you are visiting Montreal, it is well worth adding a day to visit the Eastern Townships. The ideal
way to capture the beauty and sights of the area is by taking a tour. Kava Tours is highly recommended. Kava offers both self-guided picnic lunch tours and private guided tours. Tour guide/owner Benoit Hébert will lead you through the best of the three wine regions of the Eastern Townships. They are Dunham, considered the birthplace of Quebec’s wineries, Bromont, and Rougemont (Monteregie), which is known for its cider producers.
A day visiting the wineries of the Eastern Townships should include a variety of wineries and cider producers. Our visit to the region began in the Brome-Missisquoi region at a boutique family-run winery called Vignoble Les Pervenches. Owners Michael Marler and Veronique Hupin take pride in their 3 hectare vineyard, which they farm using both organic and biodynamic principles. They are certified organic by Écocert. Veronique is very modest in showing off the excellent selection of wines offered. Michael went to Mike McGill University, majoring in farming. While at the University he went abroad to study agriculture at Superior Purpan School of Agriculture in the South of France. It was here that Michael’s passion for wine developed. You might say Veronique is the marketing and finance part of this team as she got her MBA at HEC Montreal and then worked at Nortel before the couple started their winery. Although Les Pervenches makes both reds and whites, the primary focus is Chardonnay. They are one of the only producers utilizing this varietal in the Eastern Townships.
Our second stop was at the oldest winery in the Eastern Townships, Vignoble Domaine des Côtes d’Arboise in the Dunham region. Established in 1980, this is the perfect spot for a picnic because not only are you in the vineyards, you are also in a sculpture garden. This picturesque spot is an ideal environment in which to enjoy the wines while basking in the sun and picnicking. The winery’s portfolio is a combination of hybrid and vinifera wines as well as cider.
Moving on, our adventure took us to Union Libre in Dunham. The cider and wine
producing facility was established in 2010 and encompasses a 30-hectare estate. Cider is very popular in Canada and is created either by heat or ice hence the names fire cider or ice cider. The fire cider uses Empire and Spartan apples. Sparkling cider uses MacIntosh, Cortland, Empire and Spartan apples. The ice wine is made from red delicious apples. A tour at Union Libre includes making a cider cocktail known as Mount Royale Cocktail.
Our next stop was Domaine Pinnacle, a family-owned cidery and orchard. This property, purchased in 2000, abuts the United States and affords a magnificent view. Domaine Pinnacle is considered the highest elevation orchard. The property encompasses 400 acres of which about 35% is planted. The orchards are situated on the south-facing slopes of Mount Pinnacle. The cidery uses all those apples that drop from the trees.
Domaine Pinnacle is known for its Ice Apple Wine, which is considered one of their signature products. It also creates sparkling cider, still cider, and sparkling ice cider. Unique to the cidery is Domaine Pinnacle Reserve 1859, an ice cider blended with apple brandy and slowly aged in Appalachian oak barrels. One has to wonder if reference to 1859 refers to the year the original farmhouse was built with its unique octagonal rooftop turret that rumor has it was a lookout for the Vermont border, used in the underground railroad to harbor slaves seeking their freedom and during prohibition a meeting place for bootleggers.
Domaine Pinnacle also has a maple grove and produces its version of Quebec’s Coureur des
Bois, a maple liqueur that combines maple syrup with ice cider and apple brandy. Although unusual, it makes the perfect dessert wine.
Our final stop was the Auberge & Spa West Brome. This is a charming countryside Inn with the marvelous restaurant (The Bistro) and spa just north of the village of West Brome and close to Brome Lake where there are many golf courses. The rooms are equipped with fireplaces and terraces that afford a panoramic view of the surrounding rolling hills.
Chef Ugo-Vincent Mariotti prepares a bistro-style farm-to-table cuisine utilizing the freshest ingredients he finds in his garden. The food is delicious and accompanied by local wine, it is a perfect and relaxing way to end a day of wine tasting in the region.
The beauty of the Eastern Townships will enthrall you and give you a different perspective on Canadian wine and cider.