You may have thought it was just a Dutch thing,…
I’ve never been to Tuscany, but I imagine that it might be something like the Chapelle Ste Agnès Vineyard–lyrical and idyllic. Set in the rolling hills of of Quebec’s Eastern Townships in Canada, about an hour and a half’s drive from Montreal, the landscape here is picture perfect.
And, as if that weren’t enough, there’s wine!
But that’s where it differs from Tuscany. The specialty at this vineyard is icewine. Because it’s Canada.
The Chapelle Ste Agnès vineyard is also quite new by Tuscan standards. It was established in 1997 by Henrietta Antony, a Montreal antique dealer. The vineyard is named after a Romanesque stone chapel on the estate, which was consecrated to Saint Agnès, a thirteenth century Bohemian saint. Saint Agnès was a princess who gave up the royal life to care for orphans, the sick, and the elderly.
The vineyard has over 7000 vines across 2.5 hectares (6 acres), with a variety of grapes including Riesling, Vidal, and Gewürztraminer. It’s built on a steep hillside, with massive stone walls supporting 18 terraces. The vineyard faces south in an amphitheatre-like bowl, with a pond at its base. It creates a unique microclimate, which helps with the challenging Canadian climate.
The cold weather is needed to make icewine, however. For that, the grapes are hand-picked off the vines after they’ve frozen in the winter, once the temperature reaches about -10º C, and immediately pressed. When the grapes freeze, the juices become more concentrated, creating the complex flavours of icewine.
I took a brief tour of the grounds. Naturally, I was drawn to the cellars, where the tasting happens. They’re located in a medieval looking underground complex beneath a colourful building, where there is a great room for wedding dinners and the like.
The temperature and humidity are almost constant year round in the cellars – – a welcome chill on the hot day I visited. When we reached the tasting hall, I met Oscar, a knight in shining armour who was secretly coveting a tipple, I think.
The Chapelle Ste Agnès has won several international awards for its wines. I tasted three of them as part of the tour. The Vin Doux Naturel, made of a mixture of grapes, was fruity and almost like a port to me. The two icewines, Cuvée Chapelle and Vidal, were long on the palate, rich and sweet. Oscar and I liked the Vidal Icewine best.
I enjoyed tasting the wine, but the best part of the visit was relaxing on the beautiful grounds. It was special because I felt transported to another era in Europe, a perfect beginning to a few days of downtime in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Plus, you can’t beat these sipping spots!
How to Visit the Chapelle Ste Agnès Vineyard: You can visit the estate between 10 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. in season (generally from June 1st to the end of October). The tours are offered as people arrive every day, except Saturday afternoons. It costs $20, including the tasting, and lasts about half an hour. You can also have a picnic on the grounds, or stay overnight. Check the web site for those details.
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