The following research was conducted by the Vignoble Coteau St-Paul.
The following research was conducted by the Vignoble Coteau St-Paul. Vine cultivation was practiced from the beginnings of New France, on a very small scale certainly, but with a sudden expansion in the last quarter of the 19th century, and especially since the early 1980s. Jacques Cartier was the first to see and to note in his travel notebook that vines grew on the territory that he was exploring. In 1535, during his passage on l'île d'Orléans, wild vines known as Vitis riparia were abundantly present. The island was therefore baptized: Isle de Bacchus. As revealed in a particular text from that era (Boucher, 1664), it is said that this vine made for a slightly acrid wine, that stained a lot, but became better after one year of ageing. Subsequently, in 1608, Samuel de Champlain planted vines from France known as Vitis vinifera, which had a difficult time withstanding our winter climate.
The idea of cultivating vines to produce wine continued all the same since the religious congregations, mainly the Sulpicians and the Jesuits, saw to the development of viticulture by planting several varieties of grapes coming from Europe. On the other hand, common people made wine and drinks, using wild grapes and other small fruit grown here.
At the time, innkeepers, religious congregations and the wealthy imported large quantities of wine from France and Spain. For example, in 1739 New France imported the equivalent of 775,166 bottles of wine for a population of 24 260 adults (over 15 years of age), which equalled 32 liters per person annually. To compare, in1992, Statistics Canada evaluated the average consumption of wine per Quebecer to be 14 liters per person annually (Lafrance, 1992). The consumption per capita in Québec only has surely doubled since.
From the Conquest until Confederation in 1867, hard liquor dominated the market, the English favoring the trade of hard liquors with other British colonies, to the detriment of trading with France. The development of viticulture was therefore reduced to local knowledge and the importation of French wine was diminished.
Later on, from 1864, the government of Québec encouraged the cultivation of vine by giving grants for experimenting with grapes from our country and more rustic hybrids from the United States. The creation of varieties better suited to our climate and our land, as well as the sustainable development in viticulture, could have been possible back then; yet, without continued support from the government, with the changing governmental regimes and the political and religious anti-viticulture pressure, the subsequent results were variable and with no follow-up.
At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, trade and commerce gradually resumed with France, an important exporter of wine, so much so that the consumption of imported wines increased steadily. As a result, the development of Québec viticulture was considerably slowed down. The lack of expertise in vinification on the farmers’ part did not help to produce good wines at competitive prices. And with the years of war, and the prohibition in the United States our governments preferred trading with Europe.
With the arrival of immigrants like Italians, Portuguese and people from Central Europe, who came from wine- producing countries, where the production of wine was an integral part of their daily lives, there was, once again, a marked interest for viticulture and viniculture.
But only in the seventies, after the Quiet Revolution, when young Quebecers traveled and remained in France and Europe, did the attractiveness for wines from here, made from French, European and North American hybrids, resume its development, and these same young people developed an expertise specific to our northern climates and our land without the assistance of Quebec and Canadian Governments which, at the same time, supported and financed excessively, through their respective institutions, other crops and fruit crops.
There are currently nearly fifty artisanal wineries in the province of Québec, spread throughout the regions bordering on and south of the St. Lawrence River, with only a few of the oldest wineries producing more than 40 000 bottles year, most average between 10-20 000 bottles annually, and profitability is often not there for many. It is a sorry state of affairs. Yet, in international competitions, where one tastes the wines blindfolded, Québec wines have won over 140 medals in 16 years.
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