Back in September, my husband Gary and I visited Green Gables Winery in Oxford Station, just south of Ottawa. When I found out the property was for sale, I started dreaming aloud about how fun it would be to own a winery. To which Gary replied, “Yeah, but what you really want is a winery where someone else does all the work, and your job is to on a chair at the edge of the vineyard accepting glasses of wine from the staff.”
I laughed, because it’s totally true. I now know that running a vineyard is HARD work. It’s even harder when your vineyard is organic, like Domaine des Météores in Ripon, Quebec.
Domaine des Météores is owned by André Cellard (a professor at the University of Ottawa) and Chantal Ippersiel (a former government employee who now works at the winery full-time). André and Chantal have planted 10,000 vines, with another 2,500 planned for next year. The grapes are a mix of Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, Marquette, Sabrevois, Louise Swenson, and Radisson. The Frontenac and Marquette grapes are from the University of Minnesota, which has a grape breeding program for cold hardy, disease resistant grape cultivars.
The vineyard is set on a sloping hill overlooking the Petite-Nation River. It’s a bit of a walk to get to the vineyard from the “wine barn”, but that is part of the fun in visiting the winery. Above the vineyard, André and Chantal have recently added an old log home, and plan to restore it to be a workshop and possibly a place for guests to stay.
The vineyard takes its name from the two crater lakes on the property, which local legend says were caused by a meteor shower. The entire property is very special, and it’s no surprise that the owners snapped it up the day it went on sale, after spending 10 years looking for the ideal vineyard property in Quebec. (They originally wanted to buy a vineyard in France, but Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence gave everyone else the same idea and quickly put that dream out of financial reach.)
The location and soil may be ideal for growing grapes, but it’s still a constant battle against nature. In the winter, André and Chantal have been known to stay up all night tending fires in their vineyard to protect the vines from spring frost. In the warmer months, they remove – by hand – the thousands of rose chafer insects that attack their vines. When it’s time to prune the vines, the task must be completed within 2 weeks, allowing only a few minutes for each vine.
André and Chantal also need to protect the grapes against wildlife. In addition to the usual cast of thieves (birds, raccoons, skunks, wild turkeys), they also need to keep out bears! To do this, they wet a cloth with the juice from a can of sardines, and then run the cloth along an electric fence. The bears sniff the fence, and get a painful shock on their nose, which discourages them from proceeding any further.
Of course, the vineyard is only part of the operation. There is also the actual winemaking – pressing, filtering, fermenting, aging, and bottling. André and Chantal have studied winemaking through the École de viticulture et de vinification in Quebec. They also work with two oenologists (winemakers) from OenoQuebec, a company that provides contract winemaking services to vineyards throughout Quebec. Four times a year, an oenologist visits the winery and provides guidance for creating the best wine possible. The rest of the year, the oenologists are available for unlimited phone calls and emails. It’s a program that works very well for André and Chantal.
As a newer winery, Domaine des Météores is just ramping up on its production. Last year they produced 2000 bottles, and this year they produced 3000 (all of which are now sold out). They plan to double production for the next two years, and will soon reach 15,000 bottles per year. They sell 3 types of wine:
- La Cuvée du Minotaure: A red wine made from Marquette, Radisson, and Sabrevois grapes. ($15/bottle)
- Le Fil d’Ariane: A rosé wine made primarily from Frontenac noir. ($13/bottle)
- La Couronne Bouréale: A white wine made primarily from Frontenac gris. ($16/bottle)
We also sampled some tarragon liqueur that André and Chantal are experimenting with. It was delicious!
If you want to purchase Domaine des Météores wines, they are available at the winery, the farmers’ market in Lac-Simon, and at some restaurants in Quebec. Tours of the winery are available by reservation, or you can walk over to the vineyard on your own during the winery’s regular scheduled hours (available on their website here).
While you’re in the neighbourhood, don’t forget to drop by Domaine Mont-Vézeau, a winery specializing in strawberry wine as well as wine made from grapes. Better yet, make a whole day of it by visiting some of the other places in Ripon that I’ve written about (here and here). I guarantee you will have a great time in this hub of agritourism in Quebec!