Intro: Donald Triggs is a giant of the Canadian wine industry, a deal maker and visionary who in 1989 set in motion the framework to create the nation’s largest wine company, Vincor, that still thrives today with wine properties across the country and world under new ownership and a new name — Constellation Brands (once U.S.-owned, but the Canadian properties are now back into the hands of Canadians).
When Vincor went public in 1996, raising $40 million at $8 a share, the acquisitions came swiftly: London Winery, R.J. Grape, Spagnols, Hawthorne Mountain (bought by Harry McWatters and renamed See Ya Later Ranch) and Sumac Ridge (founded and owned by McWatters). It had already merged with Inniskillin partners Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser.
It also developed Le Clos Jordanne (in partnership with Boisset, and the Okanagan’s Osoyoos Larose (in partnership with Groupe Taillan). The Le Clos brand is now dead, Osoyoos Larose was sold.
It then moved on to the international wine community buying R.H. Phillip, Hogue Cellars, Goundry, Kim Crawford and, perhaps its undoing, the South African brand Kumala.
As part of Vincor, in 1993, Triggs partnered with Alan Jackson to co-found Jackson-Triggs Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which would become the largest VQA brand in Canada.
On June 1, 2006 Vincor was officially sold to Constellation brands for $36.50 a share plus a 15% dividend. The dream was over, but the profit form the original $8 shares enabled a lot of new dreams to be born.
Donald Triggs and his family decided to embark on a new phase of their lives in 2006. For Triggs, it marked the end of a major chapter in his life, having nurtured a successful Canadian wine business from its inception to its acquisition by a U.S.-based company in 2006. However, Triggs, an entrepreneur at heart, decided that instead of thinking about retirement, he and his wife Elaine (seen with Donald in the very top photo of this post) would pursue another direction. Still having a passion for growing grapes, and wanting to create something truly special, Donald and Elaine embarked on a journey to develop a boutique family winery estate that crafted terroir-driven wines.
Purchasing raw land in 2007 and joined by their daughter Sara in 2012, the Triggs began developing their new estate, naming it Culmina, on the Golden Mile Bench in the Okanagan Valley. They chose the name to reflect not only their lifetime of efforts in the wine industry, but also their desire to coax the highest possible quality grapes from their incredible virgin terroir.
The question put to Triggs for this series on the future of Canadian wine was this:
What are your thoughts on Canadian wine, why you love it, how you drink it, where it’s been and where it’s going?
This is his response in his own words.
Note: For all past columns on this series go here
By Donald Triggs
Rick, that’s such a big question in so few words. How does one comment on a subject that is so vast and in many ways so very personal.
Wine touches us in so many ways; as non-permanent residents of an ever-changing planet, as farmers, as students of bio-diversity, as winemakers, as hospitality hosts, as marketers and as consumers.
Trying to address the entirety of the subject of wine, I’m intimidated before I start. What other industry producer of consumer products has over 50,000 producers (editor’s note: this is likely a low number, so to put that into perspective, there are over 31 billion+ bottles of wine bought and sold worldwide every year) in the world and, to complicate things, creates a new unique vintage every year?
What has struck me most over the few years that I have been privileged to be a part of the wine industry is that the only constant has been change. I am sure there are far more knowledgeable people than I to not only comment on the trends but also to interpret the complex inter-relatedness of social, economic, political and environmental forces and how they impact and change our industry. We have seen global travel impact consumer interest and knowledge in wine and how the exploration of evolving tastes in food in a globalizing multicultural world has impacted wine.
We have noted the growing (pardon the pun) consumer interest in buying local, in organic and bio-dynamic farming and winemaking practices and increasing interest in appreciating the nuances of the terroir’s impact on the character of the wine.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that, to me, it is a true gift to be able to live and work in the world of wine. Whether it is our farming and winery neighbours, who generously share equipment back and forth in emergencies, or the welcome support and camaraderie as we work together to market our wines, we are indeed united. May I venture to say that it is because we are anchored in the land.
Wine has joined me in almost every social occasion of note in my life with the possible exception of the birth of my three daughters and even then it was part of the joyous celebrations.
This is where wine is most important to me: What, where and how are we going to have a glass with family and friends, what special memories were or will be created, how well did the wine pair with the food, what was the weather like in the year that we grew it, what about the fermentation protocol, was wild yeast the right choice, and what might we change in the future. It’s Impossible to wrap up the discussion with only one bottle. Do you have another??
The wonder of wine is the wonder of life itself. This year vineyards in the Okanagan are off to a slow start after a cool winter and late spring. We’re just starting to see some bud break on Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc on our bush vines today (April 21). And so starts another year!
The wonder of how the year unfolds; will it be a bracing hot summer and close the gap or will we be debating about thinning a second time to get precious small quantities of fruit to full ripeness. This excitement and wonder of wine growing is matched only by what arrives on the palate over the years that follow.
About Donald Triggs
Growing up in rural Manitoba on the family farm, Don developed a passion for the land very early in life. Encouraged by his mother, Margaret, to believe in himself and follow his dreams, he left the farm in 1962 to make his own way. Working numerous jobs to put himself through university – from painting houses, to digging soil sample pits, to working as a research assistant – he graduated with an Honours Agriculture degree in 1966. It was there that he also met his future wife, Elaine, with whom he shared a vision for a life beyond the family farm.
Having been turned on to economics during his undergrad, and encouraged by his professors to further his education, Don applied and was accepted into the University of Western Ontario’s prestigious Ivey Business School. Don and Elaine consequently headed to London, Ont. immediately after their 1966 marriage so that Don could start his MBA.
Following his graduation in 1968, Don embarked on a high-trajectory career path in marketing and management, first working in consumer packaged goods for Colgate Palmolive, and then transitioning into the wine business with John Labatt. For the next 10 years, he worked in John Labatt’s wine division, eventually as President of the Canadian business, followed by 3 years as President of the US division. These experiences not only sharpened Don’s understanding of the Canadian wine industry, but working in California also gave him a strong International perspective. Wanting to return back to Canada, Don left Labatt’s in 1982 to lead Fison’s struggling North American horticultural business, spending the next seven years growing Fison North America to a market and category leader.
When the chance to start up his own wine business emerged in 1989, Don could not pass up the opportunity to build and develop his own business. Don, three friends, and 26 fellow employees then pooled their life’s savings to purchase John Labatt’s wine business. With the impending North American Free Trade deal looming, many in Don’s extended network, including those in the banking and investment communities, questioned the timing and rationale behind their decision, suggesting it was absolute lunacy to enter into the Canadian wine industry at that time.
Don only saw opportunity, however. Leading the new business, Don partnered with Alan Jackson to co-found Jackson-Triggs, which then went on to become the most powerful wine brand in Canada. By June 2006, this part of Don’s career came to a close. Instead of retiring, Don opted to apply his 35+ years of experience as a wine industry leader to once again pursue his entrepreneurial passion in the business he loved. With that, Don embarked on the next chapter of his life – the culmination of his life’s work – to start with his family Culmina Family Estate Winery in 2006.
Don now leads Culmina as Co-Proprietor & Principal. His experience and knowledge serve as a lighthouse not only for the family business, but also for the Triggs family itself, providing the strategic guidance and support that everyone needs to stay on track, ensuring that everyone involved is able to see the big picture and not lose sight of the forest for the trees.
Don can be found walking through Culmina with his dog, Barry; salmon fishing with his twin brother off the coast of B.C.; wandering through contemporary art galleries; visiting antique furniture shops looking for rare wine glasses; traveling with his wife Elaine to visit his four grandchildren, or listening to opera in the living room as he peruses one of his art books.