A good harvest and improving expertise among wine producers in Quebec is helping propel the industry forward. But a lack of consistency in terms of quality is still a challenge, according to one producer.
Rick Bresee started Domain Bresee, his winery in Sutton in the Eastern Townships, back in 2001. At the time agricultural experts warned him that it wouldn't work, but 15 years on Bresee said he is experiencing his best harvest yet.
"All the clusters are complete and they have a nice colour: blue, blue, almost like a blueberry," says Bresee. "We're on the right track."
He is expecting to up his wine production from 33,000 bottles last year to 55,000 this year on his 20-acre property.
He said Quebec wine is slowly getting better, but it's not quite ready to compete with the Bordeauxs and the Cote du Rhônes of the world just yet.
Quebec wines getting attention
Bresee said he takes pride in putting the best wine in his bottles year after year. Three of his wines are named after his children, so he feels a special affection for them.
"It's a thrill, It's a challenge. You have to love it," said Bresee.
"My prize is seeing customers come back to my place. We are a back-road winery, so seeing people come back is the ultimate."
Wine writer, David Pelletier said the profile of Quebec wines is rising, be it with casual drinkers or with sommeliers.
"More often than not, when you ask a sommelier for a recommendations, they will pull out a Quebec wine now," said Pelletier. "People are tasting it and really getting excited by some of what is coming out of Quebec."
He says several factors come into play when explaining the improved quality of homegrown wines.
The slightly longer summers and less harsh winters extend ripening season. Another factor is the increasing expertise of Quebec winemakers.
"Is the expertise widespread across the industry? Not as of yet, but you're seeing names come out of people who actually put a lot of time and effort into perfecting their craft and their wine year after year," said Pelletier.
Consistency and name recognition still lacking
The main issue for the wine industry in the province according to both Bresee and Pelletier is a lack of consistency in the quality of the wine from producer to producer.
Bresee says retirees with "truck loads of money" are buying up vineyards for the prestige and lifestyle of it and not caring about the quality of their wine. He says it's leaving consumers unimpressed.
"People are probably not satisfied and I don't blame them. I've tasted some Quebec wines that are better than others," said Bresee.
"A lot of people think they can just pop up and plant vines and create a winery. Well I'm sorry, but you've got a big mission ahead of you."
The Quebec Winegrowers Associations has been trying ot normalize issues of quality since 2009, with the creation of the "vin du Quebec" certification. It involves 13 taste-checks and standards for every aspect of wine production, from planting to fermentation.
"We are trying to make this more of a business venture for people," said Yvan Quirion, president of the association.
Another issue dogging the Quebec wine industry is people simply don't know about wines made in their own backyards.
Pelletier says awareness campaigns by the SAQ and wine producer associations have helped, but people will still gravitate towards what they know.
So a Quebec wine made with a lesser known hybrid-type of grape, like Rochefort, is less likely to be picked up off the shelf than a Bordeaux or a Pinot Noir.
"[Quebec wine] is competing against 15,000 wines that are basically technically flawless," said Pelletier. "They have a steep climb in some cases to 'make it' and compete at equivalent and comparable prices as the ones offered."