(Saint-Fulgence) Summer is short north of the 48th parallel. However, extreme climatic conditions do not prevent vines from multiplying on the shores of Lake Saint-Jean and the Saguenay Fjord. No doubt, more and more of them believe in the terroir of the North, as our colleague observed on site, who met two passionate producers.

On the gentle slope bordering the Saguenay Fjord, the vines planted two years ago are still too young to produce an abundant harvest. The few bunches hung here and there nevertheless fill the Bouchard family with pride.

The Battures vineyard is the new project of the owners of the Distillerie du Fjord. Known for its KM12 gin, the distillery was the dream of the Bouchard brothers, Jean-Philippe and Benoît.

The vineyard is the dream of their father, Serge.

“It’s a welcome return,” explains his son Jean-Philippe. He helped us finance and start the distillery. Now it’s up to us to help him with the vineyard. »

To do this, we first had to find the ideal place, and it wasn’t next to the Distillerie du Fjord. It is located in Saint-David-de-Falardeau, in the heart of the boreal forest.

The Bouchard family instead found agricultural land near the fjord, at the foot of the Valin mountains, in Saint-Fulgence. The proximity to the Saguenay, the west orientation and the low altitude create suitable conditions for planting vines. Two small private estates have been producing grapes in the village for several years.

Like many wine lovers, Serge Bouchard has been producing his house vintages with California grapes for 20 years. He admits that growing vines is a much greater challenge.

To help in the field, the Bouchard family teamed up with two biologists, Héloïse Côté and Luc Godin, with whom they already collaborate at the distillery.

It was Mr. Godin who found the vineyard’s star grape variety: Roland. Still not very common in the province, this white hybrid is the name of the Le Raku vineyard in Kamouraska. Tasting a bottle was enough to convince the Bouchards to plant some.

This grape variety represents almost a third of the 4,010 vines at Domaine des Battures. Marquette, radisson, vandal-cliche, saint-cliche, louise swenson and aldamina occupy the rest of the two hectares cultivated according to the rules of organic farming.

“Our target is to produce a sparkling wine as exceptional as the Orpailleur reserve cuvée,” admits Mr. Serge. And if it’s not good, we’re not going to sell it, we’re going to distill it! »

After two years of experience, is the job of winemaker more difficult than that of distiller? Without hesitation, Serge Bouchard exclaims: “My God, yes! »

Looking at the vines which plunge into the grandiose panorama of the fjord, Mr. Bouchard regrets nothing. His racing partner of recent decades owns the Couchepagane vineyard, 85 km further north. The latter proved to him that the efforts are worth it.

Bernard Tremblay always knew that his land in Métabetchouan–Lac-à-la-Croix would be a good place to plant vines. The proximity to the immense Lac Saint-Jean protects the region from spring frosts and extends the wine season until the end of October.

The trained veterinarian was one of the first to plant vines north of the 48th parallel, in 1999. However, the first planting of the Couchepagane vineyard was a failure.

The producer learned from his mistakes. He uses the snow to bury the vines and insulate them as much as possible from the deadly cold. Rows of raspberry bushes installed in the vineyard also serve to accumulate snow in the right places.

If, for 10 years, Nordic viticulture has no longer been a challenge for Bernard Tremblay, he had another challenge: selling his bottles. Alma restaurateur Olivier-Hugo Duchesne-Tremblay gave him a helping hand.

“He came to work at the vineyard during the pandemic,” he remembers. He told us that we were trying to make wines that were too perfect. That we forgot the terroir. »

Bernard Tremblay changed his ways: he put aside the use of commercial yeasts, abandoned the addition of sugar to increase the alcohol level and renewed the labels. Couchepagane wines have changed in look and, above all, in taste.

Interest has gone up a notch.

For several years, the vineyard has been distilling all its wine waste (grape skins and seeds) on the advice of the former cellar master of the Charlevoyou vineyard in Baie-Saint-Paul. When the time came to produce a gin, he called his friend Serge Bouchard.

But before you can distill, you have to harvest. As summer draws to a close, Bernard Tremblay knows that his fruits have not yet reached full maturity. However, he remains hopeful. Thanks to Lake Saint-Jean, which releases its heat until late in the fall, the first frosts will not arrive before the end of October. The grapes will thus be able to ripen further and produce wines with a potential of 10% alcohol, a rate that many winegrowers around the world dream of.

Looking at his field, he proudly exclaims: “I wouldn’t change my land! »