The development of a food cluster in Brome-Missisquoi: Wine actors’ practices and innovation for regional development

Tarek Ben Hassen

Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay


Despite public policy attempts to improve socioeconomic development in the rural areas in Canada, those regions face enormous social, economic, and environmental challenges. Traditional dependencies on agriculture and natural resources and a weak industrialization leave rural areas and small towns vulnerable. The development of a food cluster may be one way of addressing such challenges by focusing on tourism and local food production. Since the 1980s, the Brome-Missisquoi region has moved from an economy based mainly on farming and low added value industries, to an economy based on local products and agro-tourism with a main product: wine. Our article shows the importance of a wine route in developing a food cluster in this region, and highlights the role of the wine product in this cluster.


The methodology of this article is mainly based on a literature review and interviews based on three grids of semi-structured interviews which were conducted face to face or by phone. The research began with a preliminary stage in which we reviewed the literature on the Quebec wine industry: actors and characterization, relationships between actors, institutional arrangements, etc. In a second part of the literature review we studied the literature on the Brome-Missisquoi region: history, main socioeconomic characteristics, the evolution of the tourism and the agriculture sectors, etc. All this was done mainly from institutional and business reports, websites, etc.

The second step of the research was a qualitative investigation that included three rounds of interviews and was conducted during the months of March and April 2014 for the first two and in the months of July and August 2014 for the third. The first series of interviews were held with nine experts and organizations in the Quebec wine sector. They represent the different institutions involved in the wine sector in Quebec such as the Quebec Winegrowers Association (QWA) QWA, the Vignerons Indépendants du Quebec (VIQ), the Conseil des appellations réservées et des termes valorisants (CARTV), etc. and also some organization engaged in the regional development in the Brome-Missisquoi as the CLD (Local center of development) and the regional tourism association. The average duration of the interviews was 1 hour 15 min. The questionnaire included questions about a) the organization or firm: programs and services, role in the development of the industry, etc.; b) the local network: the network of partners, role in the network, the level and type of relationships and interactions, etc.; c) their vision for the development of the sector.

The second series of interviews were held with 18 winemakers on the basis of a semi-structured questionnaire. The average duration was 58 min. The 18 winemakers were randomly selected according to a representative survey design in terms of size and representativeness of the major wine regions in Quebec (Eastern Townships, Montérégie, Lanaudière, Chaudière-Appalaches, etc.)[1] (Table 2). Also, we tried to have some members from the two associations. Thus, we interviewed 12 members of the QWA and 6 members of VIQ.

Table 1. Distribution of vineyard respondents

Region/Size 0–5ha (Small vineyard) 5 ha + (Big vineyard) Total
Eastern Townships 4 2 6
Montérégie 2 1 3
Québec 1   1
Outaouais 2   2
Lanaudière   1 1
Laurentides 1 1 2
Chaudière-Appalaches 2   2
Mauricie 1   1
Total 13 5 18

This major change seems to have greatly influenced the emergence of the wine touristic route. The creation of the wine route in 2003 strengthened the tourism sector and the general economy of the region.

We should note here that Brome-Missisquoi is the birthplace of viticulture in Quebec. In 1981, the Domaine des Côtes d’Ardoises, the first and oldest winery still operating in Quebec appeared, followed in 1982 by the Orpailleur; they are both located in Dunham in Brome-Missisquoi. Today, we find here the largest concentration of vineyards in Quebec. With some 25 wineries, the region is home to about a quarter of all the vineyards in the province and produces 60% of Quebec wines. In recent years, the number of wineries has increased in the region; the growth rate was 150% between 2003 and 2013 with the creation of 15 additional vineyards (Table 4).

Table 2. Evolution of the number of wineries in the area of Brome-Missisquoi between 1983 and 2013

Year Number of wineries
1983 2
1993 3
2003 10
2013 25

Source : (Accessed june 10, 2014)

Main results

Our research shows how the Brome-Missisquoi region has experienced many economic changes and how the region finally succeeded in establishing a creative food cluster. The region was a predominantly agricultural region, specializing in industrial agriculture (milk, cereal, etc.), and manufacturing industries with low added value (mostly textile). Since the early 1980s, the region has diversified its economic activities with the development of viticulture, agro-tourism and local products but also manufacturing high added value products. The region succeeded to transform its many advantages into a creative food cluster.

This success is due to some organizational and natural conditions that may not be replicated exactly, but that can inspire other regions and local development projects. First, the geographic location of Brome-Missisquoi and availability of road transport infrastructure, are clear advantages for the economic development of the region. Downtown Montreal is within an hour of the region. This proximity has been a source of major touristic development in the region, ensuring customer proximity. Second, the region boasts many natural landscapes: mountains and rivers, which have greatly contributed to the development of tourism. Third, because of its geographical location in southern Quebec, the region enjoys a favorable climate for the development of viticulture and other specific productions. Also the region benefits from the growing demand for local and regional foods in Quebec and in Canada in general. 

Moreover, the region is characterized by collaboration between the various stakeholders. This collaboration manifests itself in numerous collective strategies implemented by various stakeholders such as the Wine Route. The Wine Route of Brome-Missisquoi favors the development of a collective project led by local actors. The wine route plays an important role in establishing the creative food cluster. The Brome Wine Route presents itself as a positive dynamic, highlighting the agricultural heritage of the region, but bringing it up to date and to new views, with the addition of the wine production.

The wine route was the “unifying element” and the “unifying project” which brought together the different activities related to tourism, food production, agriculture, to build a “ creative food cluster”.  As we mentioned, the Wine route has contributed to the establishment of a whole range of related activities: restaurants, antique shops, art galleries, lodging, bakeries, microbreweries and a range of other food products such as cider, blueberry, specialized farms, dairies, etc. Viticulture and the Wine route appear to have significantly changed the image of Brome-Missisquoi in the last twenty years and have led to a new territorial image and identity. The food cluster and the wine route in Brome-Missisquoi participate also, in the economic and the social dynamism of the region

The food cluster, especially wine, in Brome-Missisquoi plays an important role in increasing the place identity and pride. In fact, today, the identity of Brome-Missisquoi is connected to wine and viticulture. The wine served as a base and a unifying project that connected several generic resources and made them part of a whole: culture, tourism, local products. This is all perfectly connected to the type of wine produced and the nature of the tourism business.


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[1] Here it should be mentioned that Brome-Missisquoi is located in southern Quebec, and is part of the administrative region of Montérégie, but is part of the historical region of the Eastern Townships.