Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Vignoble L’Orpailleur – One of the Shining Jewels of the Quebec Wine Region

I must admit that before my most recent Taste Camp 2013 visit to Quebec, the most I knew about Montreal was what I had seen when I was still in college (much of it more of it to do with anatomy than enology). That was changed with my trip this last spring. 
One of our most impressive visits during that time was to Vignoble l’Orpailleur.
The day started off with an introduction by Marketing Director Marsye Blanchard and Charles-Henri de Coussergues is co-owner and general manager of l’Orpailleur.  The winemaking story of this grand estate takes place on the site of an old inn on Route 202. In 1982 Frenchmen Hervé Durand and Charles-Henri de Coussergues, along with their Québec partners Frank Furtado and Pierre Rodrigue, decided to turn this site into a vineyard. They are among pioneers of vine growing in Québec.
Located in the beautiful valley of Dunham, l’Orpailleur took roots 30 years ago in one of Québec’s most magnificent and welcoming area. L’Orpailleur, which means gold seeker, got its name from poet Gilles Vigneault in reference to the Eastern Townships many gold-bearing rivers.
Like much of the rest of the region, they explained the harsh conditions under which they farm. The Quebec winters are harsh and there’s no “lake affect” such as in Ontario. The vines were judiciously selected according to their early maturity, their resistance to diseases, and their organoleptic qualities. The rigorous Canadian winters did not discourage them as they adapted vine growing methods from Northern Europe and Russia to protect the vine stock from freezing. The method consists of earthing-up the plants in the fall and ploughing them back in the spring. It proved successful since they harvested their first yield in the fall of 1985, which led to a production of 15,000 bottles.
“Good grapes come through lots of hard work and the respect the grower gives to his land, nature and the environment. As I often say: ‘Nurse your vines and they will be grateful to you.’ Good wine is the fruit of a precious know-how acquired over time, an alchemist’s mixture of observation, tradition, innovation, and passion…If we can’t control Mother Nature, we can learn to work with her,” says de Coussergues.

At l’Orpailleur is an old country farm house that had been completely reconstructed. The partners made  numerous additions to the original wood-framed Colonial farmhouse. They also added a restaurant and wine shop, and most recently a banquet hall. From the observation tower on the second floor, the view overlooking the surrounding vineyards is quite beautiful. Inside there is also a lovely small museum of wine in the region, which also includes a wine culture through the ages and a collection of antique corkscrews. 

There are four accomplished owners who play various key roles at l’Oprailleur

Born in the south of France, Charles-Henri de Coussergues is co-owner and general manager of l’Orpailleur. Son of a vine grower, he follows the family passion and completes his studies in vine growing and winemaking. Charles-Henri is president of the Association des vignerons du Québec (Québec’s Winemakers Association) and a founding member and Grand Master of the Confrérie des vignerons du Québec.  
Frank Furtado directed the opening and closing ceremonies for the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games, and  founded the Benson & Hedges International Fireworks Competition of Montreal, as well as talent management. Specialized in vine growing and winemaking, Hervé Durand taught in Argentina before returning to his native France. He then took over the Château des Tourelles estate, a vineyard in the Avignon area of France. Holding numerous degrees in oenology Durand brings an invaluable knowledge to l’Orpailleur. From show business and the recording industry, Pierre Rodrigue became part of l’Orpailleur team for his degree in law. He is the vineyard’s legal advisor and looks after contracts management.
Marc Grau is the winemaker. Marc was born in the south of France and raised in Saint-Laurent d’Aigouze, in the GARD. He came to Québec in 1991 at which time he joined the Orpailleur team. He holds a Higher technician’s license in wine and spirits production and marketing from Montpellier. After an 3 year interlude back in France where he worked at Château de Lascaux in Pic St-Loup, he came back to l’Orpailleur in February 2005.

l’Orpailleur Brut
Because the winters here are very long and very cold, the growing season is violent, brilliant, and short. This makes for bright, zippy, acidic whites. And that to me is a good thing. No one needs more flabby styled Chardonnay. The white grape up here of choice is Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc. These are two French hybrid grapes that have made an impact here in the Quebec region.
For one thing, the best thing to do with a zesty, acidic white is to turn it into sparking white wine. And this is exhibited nowhere better than at l’Orpailleur. The tasting started off with a sparkling wine reception on a beautifully bright spring day.
L’Orpailleur’s sparkling wine….well, sparkled! The nose was as all good sparkling whites should be, a combination of apples, pears, with hints of warm bread, vanilla and other spices. This was easily one of the best wines we tasted the entire weekend we were in Quebec.
One of the great and exciting ways to show off sparkling wine is to learn how to lop off the top of the bottle with a sabre, a la Napoleon’s old cavalry or the Czar’s Cosacks. Like something out of a Tolstoy novel, the owner of the winery showed everyone how it as done, and the writers were invited to follow suit.
Here then is the video to show you how to open a bottle of sparkling wine with a sabre:

Without question, l’Orpailleur Brut is one of the best sparkling wines east of the Mississippi and could easily compete with any of its counterparts from the west coast as well. A fantastic sparkling wine.
Orpailleur Classique or the l’Oprailleur Seyval Blanc et Vidal is a blend of 90% Seyval and 10% Vidal. Pretty straw colour of good intensity. This was a lovely, bright acidic wine much like a more sophisticated version of Vihno Verde or a bright Sauvignon Blanc. Lovely. Lots of green apple, bright pear, hints of tropical fruits, and lots of citrus. Bright, vibrant, refreshing. On eof my new favorite Seyval/Vidal wines. Great fruit up front. So crisp and fabulous!
Orpailleur Rosé is 100% Seyval Noir. This pinkish/salmon colored rosé wine is made “de saignée”, with aromas of strawberries, bright raspberries, bright cherry and a floral notes. Nice fruit is balanced by great, zippy acidity. Nice finish. Creamy but clean and refreshing.

Vin de Glace
Made from 100% Vidal Banc. This very particular wine is made from grapes over-ripened from October to January, which leads to the desiccation of the fruits to get a juice that is both richer and more concentrated. While 100kg of grapes usually produces 80 to 85lt of juice, this volume goes down to 12 to 15lt when these grapes are pressed at a temperature between – 8°C and  – 12°C.

Apricots, mango, honey, candied fruits all come through as promised. But there is a fabulous unctuous quality about the wine that is balanced b a great acidity. A wonderful classic Canadian dessert ice wine. So delicious!

La Part des Anges
This was one of the most fascinating parts of the visit. When one approaches the farmhouse, there are large demijohns lining one of the roofs of the winery. It’s obvious this has something to do with winemaking, but it’s not really called out until you do a tasting. This is La Part des Anges.
100 % Seyval Blanc. The winemaker chooses the most golden grapes of his vineyard and blends their juice with brandy. Then starts a long process of maturing through a cycle of rigorous winter cold, spring mildness, and summer heat. Aged in demijohns for 24 seasons, it slowly matures and develops a complex and unique bouquet. With time, the unsealed demijohns let close to a quarter of the wine evaporate, which is what is called the Part des Anges (angels’ share).
A complex dessert wine. Those looking for a sweet ice wine will be disappointed. It’s more a liquor or a cordial. More like Frangelico with the big nutty aroma and taste. Mocha notes also come through s do caramel and honey. Really wonderful!!! Unique!


Marquise of l'Orpailleur
100% Seyval Blanc. White wine, fortified with alcohol, with maceration citrus and spices. Amber, the Marquise has an wonderful floral nose, with a hints of orange and vanilla. Very much like Grand Marinier, this orange cordial/dessert wine was fantastic!!!! 

There was no question that l’Oprailleur was one of the most sophisticated operations in the Quebec region…for that matter the east coast...a brilliant jewel o be shown off.