A Q&A interview with a winemaker from Québec
When Stéphane Lamarre bought an orchard in the historic Québec village of Dunham in 2006, he was on the way to realizing a dream he’d had since childhood. Fast-forward more than a decade and the old farm has since been transformed into a family-run vineyard, winery and cider-making operation.
Although the past 12 years have been a steep learning curve – for both Stéphane and his business-partner wife Anik – Château de Cartes is now a popular destination for visitors exploring the province’s bucolic Eastern Townships. And with 14 small-batch wines and ciders on their menu, production has also expanded to a very tasty 20,000 bottles a year.
Despite his busy schedule, we sat Stéphane down for a chat about Château de Cartes.
Fresh Tracks Canada (FTC): Tell us more about your childhood dream.
Stéphane Lamarre: Wine has been part of my dreams for as long as I can remember. But my first contact with alcohol was around the age of 14 when I noticed my grandfather was fermenting beets to make vodka. It tasted horrible – but it was also cool enough to give me the will to learn more. Since then, I’ve never stopped learning.
Your winery’s name translates as ‘House of Cards’ – why?
Stéphane Lamarre: To me the name Château de Cartes means that you must be really attentive to your cards to build a great château. Everyone knows how to make a house of cards but growing grapes in Québec is not an easy game – it’s one card at a time!
What were your biggest challenges in the early years?
Stéphane Lamarre: Farming was the biggest challenge for me. I am a wine technician so pumps, hoses and tanks were easy but handling a tractor, hedge pruner or digging holes was another story. But I made my way through it and I’ve never looked back!
Château de Cartes is both a winery and a cidery – how do these work together?
Stéphane Lamarre: It seems to work perfectly. Apples are easy to grow and there are no bad years with this crop. But growing grapes in Dunham is another story. So our cider is like an insurance policy – if there’s a bad grape year, there will still be cider to make us a living.
Tell us more about the wines and ciders you produce.
Stéphane Lamarre: We produce a wide variety of wines and ciders but our Vin Gris [a pearl-pink rosé inspired by the wines of southern France] goes like a rocket. I can certainly say that 100% of our clients love it – and they keep asking for more every year.
Do you have a current favourite among all your wines?
Stéphane Lamarre: Yes, our St-Pépin [a Burgundy-style dry white] is my favorite at the moment. It’s one of the harder wines to make but the result suits my personal taste very nicely – it’s crisp, buttery and fresh.
Château de Cartes is a family-run operation – how do you divide the work?
Stéphane Lamarre: My wife Anik takes care of most of the administrative issues. She’s an HR specialist – exactly what I am not! – so this is the perfect combination. Visitors might also bump into our daughter Aurélie here. We are hoping she will be interested in taking over one day but if she wants to do something different, that will be fine as well – it was my dream after all.
What do you think people enjoy most about visiting Château de Cartes?
Stéphane Lamarre: I think they like the close contact with the winemaker as well as the ambiance of a family farm. We also sell a wide array of produce here. And I think the terrace and wood oven pizza helps, too!
It’s now more than a decade since you bought the orchard – is it still your ‘dream come true’?
Stéphane Lamarre: We are actually working through some growing pains at the moment. Expecting 30% more business year after year is challenging but so far it has worked out well. Looking back, I think my dream was smaller than where we are now – and Château de Cartes is better than I dreamed it would be!
Ask your Fresh Tracks Canada Vacation Advisor about adding a visit to the Château de Cartes on your next adventure to Québec.
Find out more about Château de Cartes by visiting their site.
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