The final winery of my Thanksgiving week-end was l’Orpailleur. If The Gagliano Winery were the young upstart and Les Côtes d’Ardoises were the romantic poet, l’Orpailleur would have to be the businessman.
With a restaurant, small wine museum and large selling space, this winery also offers tours. The day I was there, several bus-loads of elderly Montrealers were dropped off for a guided visit of the fields and production facilities. Although organized for large-scale sales and visits, the uniformed staff were very attentive and polite.
They were finishing the harvest and there were pails of lovely green vidal grapes ready to be pressed. Now, while the sight of the harvested grapes, with the images of the sunshine, rains and hours of hard work their presence evoked, delighted me, there was something lacking in the way they were carted around in white, painter buckets…a far cry from the wicker baskets of my imagination.
I tasted four wines and one liqueur at this winery. The only one that I enjoyed and would recommend is l’Orpailleur Cuvée Spéciale, what they call a “vin gris”, a rosé made from a blend of Seyval, New York Muscat and Geisenheim (another new one for me – who knew drinking could be so educational?). I enjoyed it most of all the wines: a light pink coloured, slight acidity to balance out the fruitiness, grapefruit and a surprising lychee on the palate and a nice, sweet finish. If you can find this wine, I suggest you try it next summer in the garden or for a picnic after a bike ride by the river.
The gentleman at the tasting station told me that the winery is very proud of its La Marquise, a fortified white Seyval Blanc, with macerated fruit and spices….we did have the opportunity to taste it. The Seyval grape does not yield a lot of juice and it therefore not usually a winery’s go to grape. But its sugar to water ratio give it a strong and sweet taste. The Marquise seemed to be a great hit with the visitors one of whom told me they loved to have it neat on a cold, winter evening before the fireplace. It is exactly what one would expect when cinnamon, cloves and fruit are added to sweet alcohol: fruit cake in a glass!
“La Part des Anges” is that which evaporates when alcohol is placed in barrels for aging. You can smell is in the air when you enter a distillery and you can just imagine tipsy little cherubs bumping into things as they fly around on drunken wings. L’Orpailleur makes a wine by that name that consists of grape juice blended with alcohol and walnuts, then placed in large glass containers and left outside for six years. The sight of these enormous mason jars on the roof of the winery, filled with a dish-watered coloured liquid did not inspire confidence in the finished product…someone needs to work on the marketing of that one. Still, having drunk water that was less clean in my time, I bought a bottle and will keep you posted.
Whether or not the table wines were worth recommending is a little harder to say….the tasting tables were set up outside to accommodate the crowds…but smoke from the grills and BBQs also set up interfered significantly with my ability to assess the differences from one wine to another. (On a positive note, the grilled sausage on baguette with grape mustard was fab!!!!)
What I can say is that, with the exception of Les Côtes d’Ardoises, red wine is not the strength of these Eastern Township wineries. I would skip the table wines from this region completely and go for the sweet, late harvest or ice wines. Let’s face it: it’s Québec…it’s a winter climate…how much can we really ask of a grape? But the region is pretty and worth a visit.
The Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ) carries five Orpailleur wines, including several gift sets of their sweet wines and La Marquise fortified wine.
1086 Bruce, road 202, Dunham, Quebec