Montreal rooftops transformed into vineyards with urban wine project

The Vignes en Ville project has expanded in recent years after the SAQ came on board as a sponsor. Now there are four rooftop vineyards across the city.

Vignes en Ville project now operates four rooftop gardens across the city

Vignes en Ville is an urban agriculture project with an environmental research focus. (Vignes en Ville)

Imagine taking a sip of a sparkling rosé wine and then finding out it was made from grapes grown on the roof of Montreal's convention centre, the Palais des Congrès. 

That's not the central goal behind the urban wine project Vignes en Ville (Vines in the City), but it is an exciting by-product of the research being done by Montreal's Urban Agriculture Laboratory.

The project, started by Véronique Lemieux in 2016, began as a way to study the use of crushed glass from a local recycling centre, Tricentris, as a replacement for sand in soil mixtures.

Véronique Lemieux is the founder of the Vignes en Ville project. She pitched the idea to Montreal's Urban Agriculture Laboratory in 2016 and it's since expanded to four rooftops. (Vignes en Ville/Facebook)

Lemieux told CBC's Let's Go that some research shows crushed glass might even work better than sand in the growing of grapes because it reflects sunlight.

"Vines were the ideal candidate for this kind of experiment," she said.

She said the project is also a green initiative.

"Sand is non-renewable resource, so we wanted to find a solution for this."

The Vignes en Ville project has expanded in recent years after the SAQ came on board as a sponsor.

Now there are four rooftop vineyards across the city, at the Palais des Congrès, the Institut de tourisme et d'hôtellerie du Québec, the Ubisoft building and a new one above the Centre Agricole in Ahuntsic-Cartierville.

In all, Lemieux said there are 545 plants, some of which are now ready to be harvested.

Lemieux, who has both a background in green energy and in wine import/export, was inspired by a commercial rooftop wine operation she visited in Brooklyn.

After pitching her project to the Urban Agriculture Laboratory, she took a course on viticulture and jumped in feet first.

In designing the project, she had to adjust her plan to accommodate Quebec's climate.

"The challenge in our cold climate is acidity. Sometimes grapes do not achieve the level of maturity that we want," she said. 

Lemieux decided to see this challenge as an opportunity, and planned to use the grapes for a sparkling wine.

"Sparkling wine — it needs acidity. So instead of fighting acidity, we decided to embrace it and make the most of it."

The grapes on top of the Palais de Congres are going to be harvested for wine-making in September. (Vignes en Ville/Facebook)

In May, she finally got to taste the fruits of her labour.

Some of the grapes planted at the Palais de Congres were mature enough to be harvested, so the team set to work on actually making the wine.

Lemieux worked with a wine expert, to develop and produce about 30 bottles — the first ever vintage of Vignes en Ville.

"I never thought I would be into wine making," she said. "I always knew I wanted a vineyard and to cultivate grapes, but honestly the magic of all of a sudden drinking your own wine was so intense. The feeling was so great. That day I knew that I was hooked."

She said the first sample they tried was a sparkling white wine, which was okay but not great. So they decided to convert it to a rosé.

"That was the best decision ever. This is where the magic happened."

"It tasted like hard candy, without being sugary. It had a nice acidity, like an explosion of fresh raspberries," said Lemieux.

For those wishing to try this 100 per cent Montreal wine, Lemieux says it's not likely to be available for purchase anytime soon.

Since the yield is so low, she said it wouldn't be fair to sell 100 bottles and run out.

Instead, she'd like to organize a tasting event down the line, so that more people can have a chance to sample the wine.

With files from CBC's Let's Go


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