Grown and processed with minimal chemical or technological involvement, low-intervention wines are a sought-after tipple du jour in Quebec. Their popularity has grown over the past five years, largely in the city of Montreal, where they dominate wine lists at bars such as Cul-Sec or Bar Loïc, and are offered at top restaurants including Montréal Plaza and Le Mousso.
Also known as natural wines, they’re seen by supporters as a true expression of their distinct terroir, the environmental factors that affect a wine’s character. Others categorize their funky aroma and taste to be flaws—and all hype.
Although trendy, natural wines aren’t new: for thousands of years additive-free grape juice has been fermented into wine. Labour intensive and unfiltered, these wines are often organic and biodynamic, coming in various styles from skin-contact (orange-coloured wines) to those fermented and aged in clay amphoras. Some find their lower alcohol levels appealing. Others like that they don’t contain additional yeast or sulfites that, although unproven, are associated with the wine-related headaches experienced by some wine drinkers.
“People are curious and drinking more wines because the quality is better,” says Steve Beauséjour, who champions the producers he represents at pioneering natural wine importer RéZiN. “Visitors from Europe are flabbergasted by our selection from Europe, North and South America that they might not even have.”
Describing the Quebec scene as bigger than that in New York or London, Isabelle Legeron brought Raw Wine, the international artisan wine fair she founded, to Montreal last year. The 2019 edition, taking place October 24 and 25, promises an opportunity to meet grower-producers, more educational sessions and restaurant programming for wine aficionados.
Quebecers aren’t only enjoying imported wines, provincial growers are making their own. Unfortunately, making wines, let alone natural wines, in Quebec’s extreme climate is difficult. Besides having a short growing season, the hands-off approach (meaning that vines are treated organically for disease) translates to small releases and many bottles being purchased before they hit the general market.
“Wine agencies are currently involved in the movement and raising the awareness for natural wines in Quebec,” says natural wine importer Julie Audette of Le Vin dans les Voiles. “While they all have different styles, their common denominator is low-intervention.”
Three Natural Wines in Quebec
Two kilometres from the village of North Hatley, this is one of the few vineyards that is certified organic and dedicated solely to the production of traditional-method sparkling wine, such as its Le Blanc Brut.
The small yields from this Magog producer, less than two hours from Montreal, are known to sell out. Fruity, elegant and slightly effervescent, Pornfelder is made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Dornfelder grapes.
In Farnham, Véronique Hupin and Michael Marler have managed to tame temperature-sensitive 28-year-old chardonnay vines for 10 difficult seasons to produce organic and biodynamic vintages of Le Couchant.