Text by Mali Navia
Lovers of natural wine will tell you: it often lies off the beaten path, and its remarkable taste is worth the journey. Created using an artisanal process that allows the taste of the grapes to shine with minimal intervention by the winemaker, each bottle offers a unique experience. The Quebec wine industry is full of innovative projects and experiments, like the groundbreaking Vignes en Ville. Founded in 2017 by Véronique Lemieux, this urban vineyard studies the benefits of growing hardy vines in urban environments, both in the ground and on unused rooftop spaces. The project also uses a relatively new technique — measuring the effectiveness of glass as a mulch that, thanks to the reflection of light rays, accelerates the ripening of plants in cold environments and helps facilitate drainage.
The main ambition of Lieux Communs is to share knowledge. “The initial goal of this experimental vineyard was to have fun making our wine, and we quickly got into the game. We had the opportunity to make a collaborative wine at Domaine Le Grand Saint-Charles and that served as a laboratory for us to take certain ideas to the limit,” explain Gillis and Laliberté, sommeliers and co-owners of Lieux Communs. From this partnership, a few wines were born in 2018 that quickly found eager buyers. The wheels began to turn. Building on their success and learning how different vines perform when grown in different areas, the partners are now opting for a unique formula, which includes their vineyard in Oka, a chai in Montreal, and collaborations with several winemakers. “We want to diversify the origins of our grapes to discover all the characteristics of Quebec’s subregions,” explains Guillaume Laliberté. By embracing a variety of different approaches at once, their business model solves one of the biggest challenges for new winemakers.
Alongside her work with Vignes en Ville, Véronique Lemieux dreams of taking viticulture to another level through polyculture. By simultaneously cultivating several compatible plants or crops on the same piece of land, she hopes to create a self-sustaining ecosystem. The entrepreneur has teamed up with Steve Beauséjour and Simon Naud, owner and wine- maker of Vignoble de la Bauge, to start Quebec’s first vineyard using regenerative Nordic viticulture. “Viticulture depletes soils, which affects yields and the survival rate of the vines, and requires vine renewal every 15–20 years. My strength is to create ecosystems and validate the ecological footprint of different projects. Cultivable land is becoming increasingly scarce, and vineyards take up a lot of space. The idea is to use the spaces between the rows to experiment with ground covers that improve the quality of the soil and increase biodiversity,” explains Lemieux.
"It’s all a question of production volume. For the moment, we mainly cater to our market, but some winemakers are starting to export to Canada and the United States."
Vignoble de la Bauge, where this innovative approach will take shape, is a place that already stands out for doing things the natural way. Lemieux points out that “at the estate, alpacas and sheep do the weeding between the vines. Historically, it was a breeding ground before it was a vineyard. It’s a magical playground that offers us infinite possibilities,” she adds.
Géraldine Beaulieu, a partner at the wine and spirits agency Vinconseil, speaks passionately about the recent boom in the world of natural wine. In addition to representing foreign producers, Beaulieu and her sister, Anne-Julie, help Quebec winemakers to develop their communication and marketing skills. Vinconseil works with the Charlevoix and Côteau St-Paul vineyards, among others, and manages the communications strategy for the natural wine bar La Louve—Buvette Gentille in Charlevoix.
Despite the growing popularity of Quebec’s natural wines, it can sometimes be difficult for consumers to get their hands on a bottle. “It’s all a question of production volume. For the moment, we mainly cater to our market, but some winemakers are starting to export to Canada and the United States,” explains Beaulieu. While some natural wines are available in the SAQ (the provincial corporation responsible for the trade of alcoholic beverages in Quebec), the majority are sold in fine grocery shops and wine shops, or on specialized websites like La Boîte à Vins. Steve Beauséjour, vigneron at Vignoble de La Bauge, hopes to solve part of the undersupply problem thanks to the natural turn taken by Vignoble de la Bauge, “It’s a 14-hectare estate that produces 60,000 bottles a year, and our goal is that it won’t be so hard to find one in a shop,” he says.