Neighbors to the North—A Vintner Mentor
Written onNovember 15 , 2016
Over the years, we at Local Banquet have heard about Vermont farmers and food producers who have thriving professional relationships with growers and food manufacturers in Québec. So for this issue, we asked some of our writers to highlight a handful of these cross-border relationships. What follows are six vignettes about Vermont and Québec producers working together to strengthen our regional food system. —Caroline Abels
When David and Linda Boyden started Boyden Valley Winery in Cambridge in 1996, they had zero experience in viticulture or oenology, save for a class that David had taken at Cornell University. Initially, they planned to grow fruit other than grapes to make wine, because like most farms in northern Vermont, their farm is in a zone 4 region, which means average low temps of -25. Not exactly chardonnay-friendly temperatures.
But around that time, David’s brother, Mark, was traveling up to Québec to buy tractor parts for his farm and told David he should join him to meet a local vintner who was successfully growing grapes in a climate even colder than in Cambridge. David accompanied his brother on that trip and started a relationship that was to result in one of Vermont’s pioneering grape wineries.
In Québec, David met Robert LeRoyer, who runs his own winery, Vignoble LeRoyer St. Pierre in Napierville, about 30 miles southwest of Montreal. Robert grows varieties such as Marechal Foch, Cayuga, Geisenheim, and cabernet franc to make white, red, and rose wines. He had been making wine since 1989 and was using a variety of techniques to keep his vineyard thriving in challenging growing conditions. “The Québec guys were the innovators,” David says. “All of us [Vermont winemakers] started with connections to Québec.”
Robert offered to mentor David and the two became good friends, sharing a passion for making fine wines in an unfriendly climate. Robert consulted for Boyden Farm and offered advice for varietals and techniques. As David recalls, “Having Robert helping us in the beginning was really instrumental. He gave us great insight into cold-climate viticulture and enology.” One technique was to hill the vines in late fall to protect them from icy winds in winter. David has since changed to varietals that don’t require hilling, but those early lessons resulted in very good yields from his first few plantings.
Québec vintners also collaborate with Cornell University and the University of Minnesota, which are the leading research facilities for grape growing in cold climates. With advice from Robert, Minnesota, and Cornell, David and Linda broke ground on a section of the family farm (which had previously been a dairy farm) and started Boyden Valley Winery.
Since those first grapes were planted, the Boydens have developed their own techniques and planted even more varietals, creating wines that have won six silver and eight gold medals in national and international competitions, plus numerous other awards. They are especially known for their exceptional ice wines, experimenting with both white and red varietals to develop complex profiles that are reminiscent of fine port wines. Twenty years later, they remain grateful to Québec growers like Robert LeRoyer who were so forthright with advice. Although they admit they do not see their old friend as much as they used to, David and Linda will always acknowledge their debt to their fellow oenophiles up north.