While many businesses have been hit hard financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, Quebec wineries say they had a very successful summer.
The limitations on travel abroad spurred many Quebecers to explore different regions of the province, and more than a few flocked to local wineries looking to taste and bring home products.
Charles-Henri De Coussergues, co-owner of the Vignoble de l’Orpailleur in the Eastern Townships, said that new buyers may have initially come because of the pandemic, but they stayed for the quality of the product.
“With COVID-19, the premier encouraged buying local,” he said. “But at the same time, there is also the quality of Quebec wines that stands out and that ensures that people are not disappointed when they taste a product.”
He added that the dry, hot summer, which proved unwelcome for many farmers, was ideal for growing vines.
“It’s kind of a dream-come-true year for wine makers. We had a very healthy harvest, no disease. It’s beautiful, it’s ripe, it’s tasty,” said De Coussergues.
He explained that as Quebec’s warm weather lasts longer, wine makers are having more success with growing red grapes than before.
“From a frost-free period that was 135 days in the 1980s, today we are roughly at 185 frost-free days. The season has lengthened a lot, which allows the red grape to mature long enough,” he explained.
“After 15 years of producing red in Quebec, we now see some that stand out and that do the province proud. So that is quite motivating.”
The taste for local
According to master sommelier Élyse Lambert, Quebec wine sales have been excellent this summer thanks to consumers more inclined to buy local since the start of the pandemic.
“I think that the combination between the search for local products, the promotion and their quality means that today we have a wine market in Quebec which is doing very well,” said Lambert.
While the hospitality, dining and tourism industries have seen a massive drop in clientele thanks in part to public health rules, wineries and orchards were able to host visitors outside and at a distance.
Sara Gaston, co-owner of the Vignoble du Ruisseau near Dunham, said that their boutique was bustling with people this summer, especially when the rules about inter-regional travel were relaxed.
Gaston is part of a new generation of creative winegrowers who innovate to continue improving Quebec wines.
At Vignoble du Ruisseau, they have a patented geothermal system that protects sensitive red grapes from the cold.
“This allows us to harvest Pinot Noir at full maturity year after year, even if the weather for the vintage had not been adequate,” said Gaston.
Considering the timing of the first and second waves, wine makers were luckier than maple syrup producers, whose sugar season was devastated by the pandemic regulations.
Like many in the Quebec wine industry, Yvan Quirion, owner of Domaine Saint-Jacques in the Montérégie, is hopeful about the future of his business.
“We no longer say to ourselves that we don’t have the climate to grow grape varieties. We have the growing period in Quebec to bring the grapes to maturity,” he said.
“We have the know-how and there are people very strong in marketing who arrived in the industry who help democratize the Quebec vineyard.”