In Niagara, Canada: Jackson-Triggs/Arterra

Jackson-Triggs is an important winery for Canada. The story begins back in 1989, when Dr Allan Jackson, who managed the Canadian wine company of brewer Labatt, joined forces with Donald Triggs, who’d previously worked with Labatt, to complete a management buyout of their Canadian wine operation. This became Cartier Wines, and it had operations in both Niagara and the Okanagan.

Then, in 1993, they began a journey of expansion. They purchased Canada’s most famous winery, Inniskillin, to form Vincor International. Vincor went on a growth phase and purchased wineries in Canada and North America, and they were also in the wine distribution business. They became the fourth-largest wine company in the USA, but in 2006 they caught the eye of Constellation Brands, who purchased them in a hostile takeover for CA$1.5 billion.

Marco Piccoli, winemaker, Jackson-Triggs

Vincor kept its name until 2012, when it was changed to Constellation. In 2016 Constellation Brands Canada was purchased by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund for CA$1 billion, and changed its name to Arterra Wines Canada. In addition to Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin, Arterra also own Stellar’s Jay, Sumac Ridge and Se Ya Later ranch, as well as 163 Wine Rack Stores which operate outside the LCBO monopoly in a grandfathered-in arrangement selling Canadian and blended wines.

Indeed, Jackson-Triggs began life producing International Canadian Blends (ICBs; known at the time as wines Cellared in Canada, CICs). This commercially significant yet controversial category relies on blending together some Canadian wine with imported bulk wine to make an entry level product that provided a home for some of the region’s harvest (currently around 15 000 tons of Ontario grapes end up in these concoctions, and must form a quarter of the blend). They are controversial because they were made to look like Canadian wines; the rules have recently changed and ‘Canada’ will soon no longer be mentioned on the label of ICBs. But they will still be using brand names that consumers associate strongly with Canada.

Arterra is Canada’s biggest wine company, some twice the size of its nearest competitor, Andrew Peller Wine Group.

In 2000, Jackson Triggs decided to create a VQA brand, focusing on Niagara-grown grapes. This has since grown to a sizeable 200 000 case production. The winery here processes some 23 000 tons of grapes, with their own vineyards supplying around 20% of their needs. Sparkling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the main focus.

We visited with Jackson-Triggs Ontario winemaker Marco Piccoli, who arrived here in 2005, when the VQA wines were at 80 000 cases. He’d worked at Bidoli,a small family-owned winery in Friuli, Italy from 1994 until 2000, when he quit to train as a winemaker. He got a scholarship to work with Luigi Bosca in Argentina, and also did a Masters degree in Germany, doing lots of work on viticulture. Piccoli then travelled, and during one of these trips he ended up in Niagara, and met Don Ziraldo, one of the founders of Inniskillin. Ziraldo hired him, and he’s still here now.

Piccoli believes that there is lots of potential for sparkling wine, and so they are investing heavily in promoting this. It’s now 12% of production and is the fastest growing category in the portfolio. ‘Pinot Noir here is hit or miss,’ says Piccoli. ‘It is challenging to make good table wine with it because it is thin skinned and close to harvest you get rain and humidity, and it breaks down. For sparkling it is ideal, though. It ripens in a time frame for sparkling where there is no rain or humidity so the grapes are very healthy.’

Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grande Reserve Brut 2014 Niagara, Canada
6000 cases. Traditional method, aged on lees for 3 years. Hand picked. 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. Dosage 6 g/l. Warm, a bit toasty, rounded and a bit spicy, with rich pear and peach fruit. Has some depth here: a nice rich style. 88/100

Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grande Reserve Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc Brut 2015 Niagara, Canada
1000 cases. 12 months on lees, the minimum allowed by VQA, so as not to obscure the Sauvignon character. 12 g/l dosage. Lovely fruit here: tropical notes, a bit of grassiness, some table grape, and a bit of sweetness. Very attractive in a fruit forward style. This works really well. 87/100

Jackson-Triggs Moscato 2017 Niagara, Canada
Charmat method. The fermentation is stopped leaving some sugar. After a certain point with Moscato the terpenes start oxidising so it needs to be picked at relatively low Brix. This is the second year they have made it. They harvested at 19-21 Brix and were happy with the way the terpenes turned out. 60 g/l sugar. Highly aromatic: this has rich aromatic grapey characters. Very fruity and expressive and bright, this is bottled joy. Very nicely done. 88/100

Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve White Meritage 2017 Niagara, Canada
80% Sauvignon and 20% Semillon this year, but it can vary. Gives this some skin contact: destemmed grapes spend 4-8 hours in a tank, kept cold. No barrel. This has bright tropical fruit and some citrus brightness. Very clean, fruity and attractive with a crisp juiciness. Lovely fruit quality. 89/100

Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2016 Niagara, Canada
Nice weight with well integrated oak. Very well balanced with good texture, fresh pear and white peach fruit and some citrus. Shows mealy, spicy intensity. 91/100

Arterra Chardonnay 2016 Niagara, Canada
No sulfites until after malolactic fermentation. 10-15% in barrel. This is a bold, rich, spicy style with rich toasty oak and some hazelnut. Generous pear and peach fruit here with a savoury, cedary, slightly minty edge. A very rich, satisfying style with bold pear and peach fruit. There’s a lot of personality in this wine. 89/100

Arterra Pinot Noir 2016 Niagara, Canada
In 2009 Marco started making apassimento here. He thinks it is well suited to the region. With the Arterra project, he tried it on the Pinot Noir. 20% of the grapes are dried for a bit and this portion is fermented separately in stainless steel. The 80% normal portion is fermented and aged in barrel. This is savoury and spicy with nice density. It’s grippy and a bit smoky with some spicy cherry and plum fruit. Quite dense and angular with a savoury twist on the finish. Needs time. 86/100

Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Shiraz 2015 Niagara, Canada
Lively, peppery and quite intense with high acidity. There’s some pepper and menthol here. Lots of dense, spicy, vivid fruit with some oak imprint. Lots of everything here with a distinctive, savoury, slightly medicinal twist. Supple and bright with high acidity. 88/100

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NIAGARA SERIES

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