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It is in Frelighsburg, on one of Quebec’s oldest orchards, that Louise Dupuis and Christian Barthomeuf took the first steps back in 2002 that would bring about the creation of Clos Saragnat. The orchard and now vineyard occupy an area 35 hectares at an altitude of 220 meters on the south flank of Mount Pinacle; a sentinel of the Appalachian mountain chain, located a mere mile from the Vermont (U.S.A) border, on the 45th parallel, hence benefitting from the best possible exposure for growing fruit.
“The challenge we faced with this undertaking was considerable, given that, from the get-go, we knew we wanted to create high-end products worthy of the international stage without giving in to compromise. That’s to say we sought to work with the fruit and fruit alone; without additives, sugar or extenders; without product enhancement, say with alcohol; nor artificial tinkering, say by adding colour.”
The land itself had been left to its own demise over a period of many years; allowing for something of a head start when considering an organic approach. It then followed that the various varieties of fruit, be they apples or grapes, that we introduced to the land, had to be carefully chosen. They needed to be disease resistant whilst still offering the necessary palatable qualities sought in view of later transformation.
Many indigenous plants had re-established themselves over time and were kept as found so as to maintain and enhance bio-diversity. “Any other changes would only be made slowly, as we came to gain both knowledge and understanding of our new environment.”
Clos Saragnat is a research center specifically geared towards viti-(vines) and vini-(wine) cultural and fruit-based wine-making development. Hoping to leave its mark on the Quebec landscape of wine-making craftsmanship based on organically home-grown produce.
Christian is considered a pioneer of modern viticulture in Quebec. In 1980, he planted the first vineyard to be established in Dunham, Le Domaine des Côtes d’Ardoise, now the heartland of the Quebec wine route. While there, he created the very first ice cider in 1989.
He would later do the same in Sutton with Chapelle Ste-Agnès, and finally, in 2002, he brought his work home with Clos Saragnat.
Louise, Christian’s partner in crime, has been lead-hand in vineyard development since the implementation of Chapelle Ste-Agnès where she led the way for three years. Louise now furthers her knowledge at Clos Saragnat.
A bit of History
Christian Barthomeuf first made ice cider during the winter of 1990, thus marking ice cider’s first vintage. The product itself was further produced in Dunham, under the label Pomelière, from 1992 until 1996.
But regulating bodies refused to recognize the designation of Ice Cider as such, constraining this new product to familiar denominations such as liquorous cider, strong cider or even strong sweet cider.
By the end of 1996, Christian had been hired as a consultant by the Pouvac orchard of Hemmingford, with the specific mandate of setting up a cidery and further developing this so-called ice cider that Quebec was starting to hear about. The orchard was renamed La Face Cachée de la Pomme (the hidden side of the apple), and both Neige (snow) and Frimas (frost) are now established ice ciders.
Only in July of 1999, was La Cidrerie St-Nicholas, of St-Nicholas, Quebec, finally granted permission to use the designation of Ice Cider. It had taken a full 10 years for this marvelous product to be fully recognized for what it was and given the name it rightfully deserved. The designation Ice Cider therefore appears with the 1998 vintage, bottled in 1999.
In the year 2000, Le Domaine Pinnacle was a Frelighsburg-based start-up company that owned an orchard. Christian was brought on board to steer an idea and once again create what was quickly becoming recognized as a specialty liqueur: Ice Cider.
Over the next four years, Le Domaine Pinnacle grew at an astounding rate and, in so doing, brought ice cider to the world stage. In 2004, whilst furthering product development, Christian created the first sparkling ice cider under the Domaine Pinnacle banner.
Parallel to his work with Domaine Pinnacle, in 2002 Louise Dupuis and Christian Barthomeuf establish their own domain; Clos Saragnat, also set in Frelighsburg.
As they reclaimed an abandoned orchard, they sought to develop their own ice cider that truly relies upon a hand-picked frozen-on-the-tree harvest, grown within an organic framework.
In 2007, the « Fundacion de la Sidra » et el « Museo de la Sidra » of Spain was the first to recognize and honor the invention of Ice Cider, acknowledging Mr. Barthomeuf with the 2007 Premio award. Similar recognition came with a declaration in the House of Commons, in Ottawa, followed one year later by the Mondial du Cidre de Glace 2008, held yearly in Quebec.
2008 culminated with Christian winning his 45th gold medal award for wine making; be it ice wine or ice cider.
Further recognition came his way whence invited to Ottawa for an official dinner attended by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, after which he was invited to meet Prince Charles.
The making of Ice Cider
There are essentially two techniques to making ice cider:
1 - Cryoconcentration (cold-freeze concentration)
With this technique, Ice cider is made from apples that have been picked when ripe, in the fall, and kept in cold storage until mid-December or January. Once the cold winter nights are well upon us, the fruit will be pressed and the juice exposed to seasonal temperatures until completely frozen. Water being lighter in weight and freezing before sugar; the must can be extracted through a gravitational process and vatted to ferment. Because the apples are picked in the fall rather than later, any variety of apple may be used to make the cider. Most Ice Ciders are indeed made by cryo-concentration.
2 - Cryoextraction (cold-press extraction)
Apples are left in the trees throughout the fall, and will be picked only whence the weather has provided us with three consecutive nights of -10° C. Apples, by then frozen to the core, will be picked and immediately pressed. No more apples will be picked than can be pressed while the temperature remains freezing, as they must not be allowed to thaw while in queue!
One’s yearly output is therefore completely dependent upon the weather; 2006 allowed for no more than 2 consecutive days of picking and pressing, whereas 2007 gave us two full weeks and our best yield in a decade. This of course in view of the fact that at least 50 average sized apples are needed to yield a liter of cider; thus translating into 18 or 19 apples per 375ml bottle, and about 10 per 20ml bottle. This technique certainly turns the making of Ice Cider into a labor of love, noticeable in the taste itself; revealing a more refined and complex pallet.
This endeavor is further complicated by the fact the many of the easier-to-grow commercial varieties of apples simply cannot hold the fruit in the trees beyond ripening. As they did for Newton; whence To embrace this technique of cider making is to make the commitment to planting an orchard specifically designed to this end; that is to say, choosing varieties of trees capable of withholding fruit well beyond ripening, into winter months. A little known fact is that during any given apple growing season, commercial growers can spray trees to avoid the apples falling to the ground should they be behind schedule in harvesting. (An apple on the ground is worth less than 25% of an apple picked from the tree).
Clos Saragnat chose the latter approach. The orchard was re-planted, in great part with indigenous apple trees that we patiently hunted down along road sides, in forests, private collections and eventually, from specialized growers. Our orchard now garners some very old varieties, many forgotten, some wild and some newly developed, however, all showing two main traits: the capacity to hold their fruit through December, and being highly disease resistant given that we use neither fungicidal nor pesticidal sprays on our crops.