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Making Terroir with Cow Horns, Manure, and Lunar Rhythms in Quebec

“You have to be absolutely fearless to be a winemaker in Quebec—you have to be fucking ballsy. It’s hard to make wine anywhere in the world, but it’s especially tough here, with this ridiculous climate.”

Emily Campeau does not mince words when she talks about wine, or anything else, for that matter. A native of Sainte-Thècle, a town of 2,500 some 200 kilometers away from Montreal, Campeau was destined for the bright lights of Paris, where she worked in Helene Darroze’s Michelin-starred kitchen, and those of New York, where she was chef de cuisine at Racines.

Now, she’s back in Montreal and at the helm of Candide’s wine list, a job that has allowed her to reconnect with her own racines and rediscover the “terroir” of her native province.

Campeau is bringing us to Farnham, Quebec, to hang with two of the “fucking ballsy” wine producers she mentioned earlier: Mike Marler and Véronique Hupin of Les Pervenches, the first biodynamic winemaking operation in Quebec. But there is more to this visit than getting a little day drunk and geeking out about wine. We have enlisted Campeau, Marler, and Hupin to shed some light on the mystical process of biodynamic winemaking and to understand what, if anything, is meant by Quebec’s wine “terroir.” 

It’s easy to talk about terroir when it comes to Quebec’s maple syrup, cheese, and honey, all products which have been made here since for centuries, but it gets a little trickier when it comes to wine. Despite already being home to 130 vineyards and 40 grape varietals, Quebec farmers only began experimenting with grapes in the 1970s and the province got it first wine growers association in 1987, meaning that the wine industry is roughly the same age as a Millennial.

“The word ‘terroir’ is a very loaded word,” Campeau explains. “There are so many things like cheese, for example, where you can taste Quebec terroir; where there’s actually a thing that tastes like Quebec. But is there something which is translating to wine yet?”

Mike Marler certainly thinks so. “To use the word ‘terroir’ in a very objective sense—any plot of land is a terroir,” he says. “But do we have something unique in our terroir? Will the wines from Quebec be different because of the terroir? I truly believe so.”

And while the vines of Quebec may not have the same pedigree as their European counterparts, our soil does have a chronological advantage advantage. “I was speaking to a soil specialist about terroir, and he said that in Quebec, the rock is much older than Europe’s. There is a totally different type of flora, fauna, bacteria, and fungus in the soil. That’s going to make it completely different [from] any other terroir. So, for sure, there is a terroir to be exploited here. But we need to get the vines older and [to] develop and continue making wine in a certain way to see what that terroir is.”

For Marler and Hupin, that means not fucking with the soil or the grape; and the secret weapon in their agricultural arsenal is biodynamics. Developed in 1924 by Austrian philosopher, educator, and esotericist Rudolf Steiner, biodynamism is a holistic take on agriculture that essentially treats a vineyard like a living organism.