Once upon a very recent time, I took an unexpected road trip and stumbled upon a vineyard nestled within the sprawling hillsides of Quebec’s Eastern townships. With a hundred and ten acres of sandy soils, apple orchards, and a lush, lofty forest, Val Caudalies setting is an idyllic one that sits perched upon the edge of Dunham – just a few kilometers away from the charming town of Frelighsburg. As a relative newcomer to Canada’s wine scene – and even more so to Quebec’s – I was smitten by my surroundings, so much so that I sat myself down to an impromptu wine tasting that stretched far beyond my usual wine o’clock. It turned out to be a wise move as I treated myself to some fine local wines and sparkling ciders, not to mention an award winning sweet vermouth – the first of its kind in Quebec. Pretty damn good for an accidental afternoon, when sipping Pinot noir in a picturesque meadow was the furthest thing from my mind.
A passion project founded by high school friends Alexis Perron, Julien Vaillancourt, and Guillaume Leroux – together they form the trio behind Val Caudalies who began planting their roots – or vines in this case – in 2005. With an apple orchard already established within the estate, ciders were sold at first, followed by wine two years later. It’s been full steam ahead ever since. “We were determined to elaborate on authentic and qualitative wines and ciders, reflecting our terroir’s excellent potential,” says co Founder Alexis. “Our combined expertise in the making and marketing of wines, along with countless hardworking hours would prove to be great assets and allowed us to build a very solid and notorious brand. Our business has been growing every year since, and find ourselves to be at the wheel of a well-known and renowned estate, commercializing a wide line of quality wines, vermouths and ciders.”
When I asked Alexis about Val Caudalies’ breathtaking views, he explains how he and his partners set out on a quest for the perfect land. With over twenty wineries in the vicinity at present, it made sense to set up the vineyard in Dunham – the birthplace of Quebec winemaking and the first wine route established in the region. “We quickly fell on that spectacular location which also had the key advantage of including an apple orchard that would allow us to produce ciders while the vines were gaining maturity.”
With about fifteen products on the market including dry white wines, roses, red wines, late harvest whites, ciders, and vermouth – their signature wine is the Vidal, a dry white and winner of last year’s “Coup des Nations.” Naturally, I had to give it a taste. Light, crisp, and beautifully balanced, it’s exactly what I craved on what turned out to be a scorching midsummer day.
Their sweet amber vermouth has also caused quite a stir (no pun intended) in the industry and was awarded a gold medal at the International San Francisco World Spirits Competition earlier this year. A few years ago, the founders met with a few prominent Montreal cocktail bar owners and learned that there were no vermouth producers in the province.
“It gave us the spark to initiate a creative partnership in order to develop Quebec’s first vermouth” says Alexis “We tested several aromatic substances such as plants, herbs, spices and roots to come out with a 14 aromatics recipe for our sweet vermouth, which was first launched. The success was immediate and we then worked on a dry version designed to create the ultimate Martini cocktail and several other mixing creations requiring vermouth.”
Having recently developed an affinity for the Negroni – a cocktail that uses sweet vermouth as one if its main components – I was intrigued. I try both au natural. I’m tempted to take them home, and not just for the smooth mouth feel. The bottles are beautifully branded – a black label for the sweet vermouth, a white label for the dry. Note to self: these would make a funky addition to my expanding boozy bottle collection. Must come back for more.
The estate’s three ciders were packaged equally as beautiful and piqued my curiosity. With an effervescent pop of pink, the Sparkling Raspberry Cider is fruity, floral, and strikes the perfect balance between fresh notes of raspberry and apple. The Ice Cider, which uses dessert apples harvested in the depths of Canadian winter, has a rich, concentrated flavor – think apricot, nuts, marmalade, and warm spices. it’s powerful stuff and can act as either the perfect intro or grand finale to a fabulous meal. Last, but in no way least, I try the Cidre Liquoreuex – a sunshiny blonde liqueur with flavors of apple, pear, and pineapple. It’s lighter than its ice cider and raspberry counterparts and seems so versatile that my food-obsessed mind starts concocting of ways to incorporate it into a dessert. Beyond impressed with Val Caudelies cider collection, I’m left scratching my head as to why I’ve never tried cider before…
On wine trends, I’m given the lowdown on orange wine, which typically sells out before this coveted nectar hits the cellar shelves. At the time of this interview and much to my dismay, there were no bottles left for me sample. I even tried to steal one from the Estate’s private stash but got caught orange … I mean red-handed!
So what exactly is orange wine? Produced similarly to red wine, Alexis explains that once the grapes are pressed into juices they let the skins macerate in the musts for a certain period of time, rendering a more structured, slightly tannic and oxidative wine. The result is a vibrant, orange-tinged wine with aromas of peach pits, black tea, melon, orange peel and vanilla. It looks and sounds absolutely divine, sign me up for next year’s harvest.
After having sampled more than my lions share of booze, my glass was finally empty. Alexis shared the very à propos meaning behind the estates name. Val refers to the the valley – the landscape on which the estate rests upon. Caudalies – derived from the sommelier lexicon of the length of a wine, or more specifically, the persistence of a wine’s aromas. It seems like that theme of persistence echoed through the adventure Val Caudalies’ founding trio has passionately pursued by turning their grit, creativity and determination into a well-deserved reality. One vine, one apple, and one grape at a time.
Val Caudalies is open to visitors 7 days a week from 10am to 5pm from May to November. November to April is upon reservation only. *Groups of 8 or more people are required to make a reservation at all times. Visitors can enjoy a tasting of several products and are then free to enjoy the property to take a hike, have a picnic or simply relax and enjoy the nature and splendid panoramic view our site is offering. Apple and grape u-pick is also offered in season.
Photos by Valeria Bismar
Shot on location at Val Caudalies
Dress by Faithful the Brand