Donald Triggs has been an important figure in the Canadian wine industry. A businessman with international experience, he partnered with Alan Jackson to form Niagara-based winery Jackson-Triggs in the early 1990s, and this became part of a larger company, Vincor International, with Triggs as CEO. In 2006 it was subject to a hostile takeover by Constellation Brands. This left Triggs and fellow shareholders $1.5 billion better off, but he needed a fresh project. And so did his wife Elaine: the Delaine Vineyard that Jackson-Triggs made a Chardonnay from was her baby, and it was sold. And they weren’t ready to retire.
So he and Elaine left Niagara for British Columbia, and set up a new vineyard, Culmina, on a property in the south Okanagan. Joined by their youngest daughter Sara, they are clearly very ambitious, and have constructed an 8000 case gravity flow winery. The Triggs have just over 56 acres of vines split over three sites, and the first wines are now beginning to emerge. Alain Sutre is providing some consultancy advice: he’s known to Triggs because of his work at Okanagan winery Osoyoos Larose, which was owned by Vincor when Triggs was in charge.
They used Sutre’s expertise to find the right site, and their goal was to make a Bordeaux blend. They identified five potential vineyard sites, and then did a cull using data from temperature loggers. The most exciting site was the one they bought, which was then virgin land. They were keen not to inherit other people’s decision making. This site is in what is now known as the Golden Mile, the Okanagan’s first official sub-region. It’s an ancient river bed, combined with fluvial flooding deposits, and it’s quite rocky. It faces south east.
After they purchased it they did 22 soil pits and identified 44 microblocks on three benches. It’s a site that got the check mark for Bordeaux reds, but not Bordeaux whites: Sauvignon and Semillon are just too frost susceptible. This led them to look for another white site, and rather than move north to get a cooler site, they went up to the top of the hill, where Margaret’s Bench is now planted, and it’s 200 degree days cooler. So as well as Bordeaux varieties, the property boasts Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, as well as Chardonnay.
We had a look round the vineyards, and then tasted with Sara Triggs and winemaker and vineyard manager Jean-Marc Enixon. He’s from Bordeaux, where he worked for 10 years in Fronsac, and he relocated his family here in 2015. Interestingly, he;d never made white wine before he joined Culmina! Alain Sutre still consults here. The style of the wines is quite modern, but they have freshness and definition. ‘There’s an interesting line that you toe to be true to yourself while bearing in mind the market,’ says Sarah.
Here is a film of the visit, showing the different vineyard blocks, a spectacular view from the top of the property, and some bush vine experiments:
Culmina Unicus 2017 Okanagan, Canada
Gruner Veltliner from Margaret’s Bench. 14% alcohol. Fine and fresh with some notes of mandarin and pepper, as well as sweet citrus notes. Really attractive and delicate, but with some body and a smooth mid-palate. Lovely expressive wine with real appeal. 90/100
Culmina No 002 Wild Ferment Gruner Veltliner 2016 Okanagan, Canada
Two stainless steel barrels, pressed to barrel without sulfites. Took two months to ferment. This has 5 g/l residual sugar and 13.5% alcohol. There’s some richness here with a bready edge and fine spices, as well as pink grapefruit. Has a bit of creaminess too. Quite pure and restrained. 90/100
Culmina No 004 Stan’s Bench Chardonnay 2016 Okanagan, Canada
This was the first vintage from Stan’s Bench, and this was the first white wine he made in his life. All wild yeasts. No malolactic fermentation, fermented in old French oak with a bit in stainless. Complex, restrained and slightly spicy with some nuts and fine-grained structure. Some ripe pear fruit and a hint of baked apple. Very expressive with a distinctly savoury character. 91/100
Culmina Dilemma 2016 Okanagan, Canada
Chardonnay. When the site was purchased there was some Gamay and Chardonnay here, with low density planting. It was hard to rip them out, but the proof in the pudding came when the old and new fruit were compared, and so the new Chardonnay planted up top was named Dilemma. 60% barrel fermentation, 40% in stainless steel barrel, partial malolactic. This has nice depth and concentration, with pear, almonds, a bit of spice and some baked apple. Nicely dense and compact with a bit of fruit sweetness, but also some savoury notes. Finished with a distinct citrus twist. 91/100
Culmina Hypothesis 2011 Okanagan, Canada
13.5% alcohol. 40% Cabernet Franc, 36% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon. Complex, savoury, spicy nose. Nicely balanced palate with a spicy, savoury edge to the ripe berry and blackcurrant fruit as well as some savoury, slightly earthy development. Has nice concentration and balance, and is drinking very well now. 91/100
Culmina Hypothesis 2012 Okanagan, Canada
14% alcohol. 57% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc. Very compact and bright with nice structure and fresh finely spiced berry fruits. This shows good structure and refinement, and is developing nice and slowly. Quite firm tannins with red and black fruits. Should be good for a few years more now. 92/100
Culmina Hypothesis 2013 Okanagan, Canada
14% alcohol. Merlot 38%, Cabernet Franc 36%, Cabernet Sauvignon 26%. I love the focused ripe blackberry and blackcurrant fruit here, alongside a sheen of slightly spicy oak. Good structure with a savoury twist and a sleek fruit character. Should develop nicely. 92/100
Culmina Hypothesis 2014 Okanagan, Canada
45% CS, 33% M, 22% CF. This is so fresh and fine. Pure and opulent with ripe, dense, focused, floral blackberry, black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Good structure here with nice concentration and weight. Still quite primary. Really impressive fruit here showing good balance. 93/100
Culmina Malbec 2015 Okanagan, Canada
Pure, vivid, fresh and focused with lovely fleshy fruit and good acidity. Sappy blackcurrant and black cherry with a spicy edge to it. Lovely stuff. 93/100
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