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Will Québec Replace the Maple Leaf with a Vine Leaf?

Will Québec Replace the Maple Leaf with a Vine Leaf?

For the 21st annual meeting of the Jacques Cartier Symposium, named after the 16th-century French explorer of Canada, Michel Labrecque, President of the Montréal festival En Lumière, and University of Québec at Montréal professor Jean-Pierre Lemasson gathered intellectuals, professors and writers from both side of the Atlantic, including André Gayot (who indeed hails from both sides), to express their views on all matters related to gastronomy and, in particular, in relation to the modern media.

These luminaries assembled to answer questions such as: “In a world saturated with information in many different forms, how do articles, reviews, and TV shows impact the evolution of our eating habits? And to what extent do these publications create or influence the trends that will develop in the private and professional kitchens?” Needless to say, the resulting debates incited many different, if not contradictory, responses.

However, this passionate confrontation was also the occasion to enjoy the presentations of some of the best restaurants of Quebec, such as Toqué! of Montréal, L’Eau à la bouche of Saint Adèle and L’Initiale of Quebec City. At another dinner i
n the beautiful setting of the Manoir Rouville-Campbell (, chefs demonstrated the high quality of the local products. Attendees also met with the honchos of the powerful Société des Alcools du Québec (Québec Society of Spirits) in the renovated Maison du Gouverneur (Governor’s House), which was actually a jail where the first insurgents against the British rule were incarcerated.

Netting to protect the vineyards from birds
Netting to protect the vineyards from birds

The Société des Alcools du Québec, known as SAQ (, is one of the oddities of Québec. This state-run entity holds a monopoly on the importation, distribution and sales of all alcoholic beverages in Québec, including the bounty of the fast-growing Canadian vineyards. SAQ, whose contribution to Québec’s budget is imaginably substantial, does a fine and respectable job in choosing and selecting what the consumer will pour in his glass, though citizens of Québec also have the option of purchasing wine directly from Canadian producers.

One of the wine shops operated by the Société des Alcools du Québec
One of the wine shops operated by
the Société des Alcools du Québec

SAQ makes an effort to respect and educate the public with its stores—some the size of a football field—where enormous selections of wines are spread out in modern and attractive displays. The vines, the origins and the best matching foods are also documented and explained. An automatic distributor, which is activated by a credit card, pours in your glass a sample of the wine of your choosing. Not surprisingly, they won the first place in the annual retail store competition in Dallas.

To experience Canada’s burgeoning wine culture first-hand, travel along the border of Vermont, where the Eastern Townships of Québec boast gorgeous scenery scattered with historical villages such as Sutton and Frelighsburg, which was founded in 1790 by American loyalists. As of today they have kept their cultural diversity, but their rich past is not the sole reason this area deserves a visit. The striking novelty here is the vineyard. In an area seemingly more fit for sleigh or skidoos rides, there is, believe-it-or-not, a “wine road” that meanders at the foot of the hills where vines have been planted in the last twenty years. The oldest winery of Québec was created less than three decades ago, but wineries are now so present in the contemporary panorama that one wonders if the vine leaf will not supersede the maple leaf as the Canadian emblem!

Statues in the vineyard at Domaine des Côtes d’Ardoise
Statues in the vineyard at
Domaine des Côtes d’Ardoise

We were surprised by the wines we sampled at vineyard Les Bromes (, which revives the rare Vidal vine; vineyard Domaine des Côtes d’Ardoise (; and in local restaurants. Although they have no history, they are much more than a northern curiosity. In our opinion they can favorably stand up against the international competition. And with all the cold weather, there’s little surprise that the Québec ice wines are a success. However, the gold medal should be justly attributed to an elixir that’s possibly unique to Québec–the ice cider that is produced by Domaine Pinnacle ( This delicate, distinguished dessert drink has all the seduction of ice wine plus a subtle hint of apple.

The intellectuals, professors and writers who assembled at the meeting of the Jacques Cartier Symposium may have come to Montréal with the expectation of finding mental stimulation, but surely they also discovered many things to please the palate

The University of Québec is one of the rare, if not the only, institutions to dispense a very exciting course (in French) devoted to the exploration of the socio-cultural aspects of Gastronomy and to its management. For more information, visit

(Updated: 09/22/10 NW)

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