Union Libre is a 70-acre property that’s home to 30,000 vines and over 4,000 apple trees. Charles-Henri De Coussergues welcomes me into his world, glass in hand. Having recently acquired the estate with the aim of diversifying his offering, he tells me that the products on either side of the street are completely different from one another.
From diversification to variety
Production methods, know-how and type of terroir (which can even vary from one side of the street to the other!) all contribute to the difference in the products. Located on the hillsides of the charming town of Dunham, the terroir consists of layers of mineral-rich soil on a base of slate dating back to the Ice Age.
In addition to Chardonnay, the varieties of grape found on the estate are Seyval Blanc, Seyval Noir, Vidal, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and, most recently, Chenin Blanc.
“What’s great about Quebec is that there’s always something new to try. There’s been a real surge in the popularity of locally made wine and spirits,” explains Charles-Henri.
Union Libre also offers a range of ciders—dry cider, hopped cider, sparkling cider, fire cider, and ice cider. “You know the cold that Quebec winters are famous for? Well, we found a way to bottle it!” Charles-Henri’s passion for what he does comes through in both his warm welcome and the products he crafts.
As I chat with Charles-Henri, I begin to understand the meaning behind the name “Union Libre.” It symbolizes the union of winemaking and cider making—passion and effort, savoir-faire, and the freedom to create distinctive products that are truly different from one another.
The one-and-only fire cider
Have you heard of fire cider? It so happens that Union Libre is the proud inventor of this product, which originated right here in Quebec. Rather than cold, fire cider is made using heat (evaporation). The apples are hand-picked and then pressed. The must is then gathered and heated with an evaporator that’s normally used to make maple syrup. The resulting concentrate is left to ferment for several weeks in stainless steel vats.
The result is a delectable treat, not too sweet and not too sour—a perfect balance of the two.
The best thing about it all? The entire process is powered by clean energy and is zero-waste. Some of the leftover ingredients are even used to make taffy. Yet another delicious idea!
A single degree Celsius makes all the difference
Everything is carefully thought out at Union Libre. You might not notice as you walk around the beautiful, lush grounds, but the vines run along a north-south axis to maximize the benefits of the sun and wind.
At the top of the hill, the temperature is 1 ˚C higher than at the base. Even I feel a slight difference as I make my way down the bank. That one degree is crucial here. When there’s concern about the vines across the street in winter, Union Libre always has a slight edge.
After your visit, treat yourself to a picnic on the hilltop, where you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the Eastern Townships, the Adirondacks and even the skyscrapers in downtown Montreal. From that vantage point, it’ll feel like time stands still.
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