Ottawa, Canada’s beautiful capital, is home to great culinary tours as well as many award-winning restaurants. But did you know that Ottawa’s thriving culinary scene also delves into locally-made wine and cheese? It’s true! And what better to go with great wine than great cheese?
You might wonder how vines and grapes can survive in a climate that is cold for about five months of the year (roughly November to March), but the Frontenac grape – used by several local wineries – thrives in colder regions. As a result of this characteristic, Frontenac grapes are widely used across Canada and the northeastern part of the United States. And a great vineyard is closer than you think!
Just a 20-minute drive east of Ottawa, you’ll find the charming and locally-owned Domaine Perrault vineyard. Imagine sitting on a patio by an old stone house, tasting various types of wine as you look out across vast, beautiful, rolling green fields. In the distance, birds chirp softly in the hot summer haze.
Vineyard owner Denis Perrault began using a part of his 400-acre farm property to grow 1,000 vines in 1999. When Ottawa Tourism visited the vineyard this summer, Perrault said the number of vines had grown to 6,000 in 2004 and wine began being sold in 2006. “It takes a while to grow a good vine,” Perrault told Ottawa Tourism.
According to Perrault, the vineyard’s ‘big break’ came in 2006 along with its first wine, named ‘Rosalie’ after his grand-daughter. At that time, the world-renowned Cirque du Soleil came into town and was looking for local products to use during a special VIP event. “They ordered 120 cases of wine,” Perrault said, and the vineyard was off to the races after that. Over the past nine years, Perrault said the small vineyard’s popularity has grown steadily through word of mouth, as it does not do any formal advertising.
Julie Ricard, Domaine Perrault’s sommelier, noted that the vineyard’s wines are only available at the vineyard itself and at a few local bars and restaurants. “We’d rather people come here and have an experience,” Ricard said. “Rather than picking something off of the bottom shelf at the [store].” She added that everything in the making of Domaine Perrault’s wine is done by hand. “From the crushing of the grapes to the putting of the wines in barrels,” she said.
Ricard also noted that Domaine Perrault offers 17 different types of wine from off-dry wines to a dessert wine. She said that the vineyard works to make wines that are “season specific,” meaning you’ll rarely find copies of the same wines. She specified that the wines Domaine Perrault makes depend on how the grapes grew that year.
“How our wines turn out is dictated by the season,” Ricard said. “So the amount of sunlight and the amount of heat. We use what Mother Nature gives us. It’s basically a wine that comes from the grape, rather than trying to make the exact same wine year after year.”
Katie Duchesne, one of Domaine Perrault’s vine experts, noted that the winery grows the “cold-hearty” Frontenac grape variety, among seven other varietals in its vineyard. She said that there are a few grapes that were developed in Minnesota in the United States that are made to withstand temperatures of 30 below zero. “European varieties can only survive until about -25 at the most,” Duchesne said in an interview with Ottawa Tourism. “So we grow them out here. We don’t have to bury them underneath the ground and they’ll still survive our winters.”
If you’re wondering what Domaine Perrault’s wines are like, both Perrault and Ricard invite you to visit the vineyard’s quaint store. Open from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from May to December, you can learn about Domaine Perrault’s wines, buy them – and here’s the best part – you can taste them for free!
Or if you want to take your vineyard experience one step further, Ricard said that visitors can book a romantic wine tasting for two in which you can sit on Domaine Perrault’s beautiful patio and taste five to six wines along with various cheeses. This package starts at about $25 CDN per person. “We just ask that you give us 48 hours’ notice,” Ricard said, adding the vineyard can also accommodate larger groups for special occasions, corporate events and weddings, as there is a large 200-person tent on site.
Now, you’ve picked up your delicious wine, the next step is to pick up some great cheese!
Just around the corner from Domaine Perrault, you’ll find the newly rebuilt St.-Albert Cheese Factory. The famous cheese factory was originally established in 1894, operating successfully until it was destroyed by fire in February 2013. The devastating fire caused $3 million worth of damage to the factory. Factory owners – who are a collaborative of local farmers – however, vowed that the factory would be rebuilt bigger and better than ever.
The factory officially reopened in August 2014. You’ll now find a large, bright and airy building that is home to a cafeteria-style restaurant and dairy bar. Try the St.-Albert’s traditional and beloved poutine (fries, cheese curds and gravy) or go for the vegetarian option; a delicious black bean burger. Then for dessert, try ice cream or gelato from the cheese factory’s dairy bar, which offers a variety of flavours. The new building also offers a large store, where you’ll find many fresh cheese products as well as an abundance of sauces, maple delights and other gourmet items.
And if you want to see how the famous St.-Albert cheese is made, head upstairs to the factory’s observation area. From this hallway lined with large windows, you can watch as cheese curds are stirred and enormous blocks of cheese are sliced and packaged for the grocery store. Access to the observation area is free.
Or if you’re also interested in Ottawa and the surrounding region’s craft beer scene, opt to visit these sites as well as a few craft breweries on a Brew Donkey tour. Hop on the Brew Donkey bus for the Rideau Rally Tour #2, which will take you to Domaine Perrault, the cheese factory and three craft breweries. And the best part? You get wine, cheese and beer samples all along the way!
Now whether you choose to visit the winery, the cheese factory or to go on a Brew Donkey tour, you’re sure to spend a great day just outside of Ottawa in the scenic township of Prescott-Russell.
For more ideas on what to see and do in Ottawa as well as its surrounding regions, browse Ottawa Tourism’s website.