Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Oka Valley Quebec: Skip the Cheese, You Want the Wine.

Last year, Rivière de Chêne celebrated it’s 20th year of winemaking in Quebec. In 1998, with a desire and belief in the potential of his family’s land in St-Eustache, Daniel Lalande planted the first hybrid vines, on his family’s 7 hectares of land. 

“We have come a long way”, says Lalande. “We have made a lot of mistakes, lots of removal and exchanges of vines. We have learned so much in the past twenty years that has helped us create great quality wines.”

Rivière du Chêne is making wine from both hybrid and viniferous varieties, and have recently expanded their vineyards and portfolio by gaining land in the Oka, west of Montreal. “We purchased this property a few years back and we decided to name it La Cantina in honour of my grandmother who was from Italy.”  Of the 23 hectares of land at the Oka site, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling are planted.  The site has excellent exposure, and excellent proximity to the lake, helping it keep away from Spring frosts which can be a very stressful time in our Canadian climate.”

Lalande is very excited about the results of the wine he has been making at his Oka vineyards.  He believes that it is truly a special place and has amazing potential for future winemaking in Quebec.  “We have the same degree days in this location as they do in Burgundy and New Zealand.  This, along with the protection of vines with our geotextiles, we have every opportunity to make wines that are expressive of terroir.” 

Lalande is not the only one who believes in the potential of Oka.  Hugo Grenon , a geologist - turned vigneron has recently purchased 7 hectares of land in Oka, and will see his first  bottlings in the next few years.  “It took me 5 years to find the land that I believe is a perfect site for growing vines.”

The land he purchased in Oka showed not only favorable factors for quality wine, like exposure, drainage, and degree days, but it also had to have a special characteristic: alkaline intrusion.  He believes this specific type of subsoil would be ideal for the viniferous grape varieties like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Gamay.

“Alkaline intrusion is very rare and unique.  In an alkaline environment, the organic soil is more capable of storage where these metals and elements can be redeposited in the soil with water.  The vines have the ability to convey these characteristics into the fruit. “

Grenon said he had could not just plant his vineyard anywhere, as it had to be a very specific site that he believed could express a terroir for Quebec. It took him 5 years to find the site he was looking for.  “I have a clear vision of what I want my wines to be like; fruit forward with freshness and elegance, simply allowing the grapes to show their character and unique expression of Quebec terroir…..and yes we have terroir.”  The name of the winery is still yet to be determined, but Hugo and his team are working tirelessly to stay on track and do things right. In the mean time, they are making some delicious cider as a side project. 

 Both Grenon and Lalande have been working closely with CRAM, le Centre de Recherche Agroalimentaire de Mirabel, where a special experimental vineyard in Oka is being closely studied.  “They know the land, the soil, the micro climate”, says Lalande.  “We work together to create some of the best wine that is coming out of Oka. We know we have something really special here, we just have to keep developing it. It takes time”.

There are some exciting wines being made in Quebec, and Oka is starting to gain some buzz and attention.  With the support of CRAM, lessons of the past, and keen, passionate winemakers like Hugo Grenon and Daniel Lalande, there is endless potential here.  

For more info and where to purchase La Cantina products, head to :

Hugo’s Project:

Instagram : hugo.grenon