When Canadian wine legend Donald Triggs sends an invite for lunch you simply say what time and rearrange whatever else you have going on that day and show up with bells on.
Triggs has always had that magical touch in whatever he has taken on — from the corporate boardroom with the largest Canadian wine company Vincor (long ago sold to Constellation Brands) to his newest remarkable venture, the Culmina winery in the Okanagan Valley — and shows no signs of taking a break from a long and successful career..
He has the same drive and enthusiasm for the wines he presides over now as he did when he started the successful winery Jackson-Triggs with Allan Jackson in 1993 and later Vincor, with some of the top properties from Niagara to B.C. and the world in his portfolio.
His latest project, in the newly named Okanagan sub-appellation of the Golden Mile Bench, just may be his most fascinating achievement to date and the one that now gets his full attention.
His passion shines through during a lunch at the Aberdeen Tavern in Hamilton on a recent summer day.
He certainly doesn’t have to come to Ontario to sell his wines — they sell out quickly enough in his new home province of B.C., but he says it’s important not to be insulated, to spread his wings in top markets in Canada and beyond.
“It’s about building a brand,” he says. “I believe in the long term. There’s a lot of emotional connection. I’d like to have my old friends (in Ontario) be able to buy my wines.” His highly rated Hypothesis red blend is currently on the shelves at Vintages stores in Ontario.
Triggs, who has his Culmina wines already in Quebec, Alberta and Ontario markets, says expanding beyond the B.C. borders is an insurance plan if things there go south (not that that is likely). But it’s also a point of pride, much the same way that other great wineries, which can sell also out in their own country, want to make sure their wines are available around the world.
“I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket,” he says, with that classic Triggs’ twinkle in his eyes.
I really don’t think Triggs has to worry about that; his Culmina project, even in its infancy, is producing some fascinating wines up and down the modest, but stellar, portfolio, which he wholeheartedly credits his winemaker Pascal Madevon for much of the success.
It’s appropriate that Culmina is one of 11 wineries that make up the new Golden Mile Bench sub-appellation.
“After careful study and scientific analysis, the Golden Mile Bench has been identified for the unique character of the wines made from grapes grown here,” says Triggs.
The scientific parameters for the Golden Mile Bench sub-GI include slope, soil, and elevation or aspect, as mapped out in partnership with scientists from the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre – Summerland (AAFC-PARC Summerland).
“We began working on this in 2009,” says Sandra Oldfield, CEO of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards. “This sub-region has the most scientifically defensible boundaries that we (and PARC) could find.” The B.C. Wine Authority approved the initial application and presented it to the Minister of Agriculture in October 2014.
The criteria outlining the unique Golden Mile Bench GI are:
- Slope. Fluvial fans with an easterly-facing slope of between 5 to 15%, creating a mesoclimate and assisting with air drainage.
- Soil. Coarse-textured and without water table influence within the rooting zone, derived entirely from geological formations of Mount Kobau.
- Elevation or aspect. Minimum elevation is defined by the base of Hester and Tinhorn Creek escarpments, with maximum at the apex of the Reid Creek fan.
The Golden Mile Bench sub-GI consists of 11 voting members: Rustico Farm & Cellars, CC Jentsch Cellars, CheckMate Artisanal Winery, Culmina Family Estate Winery, Fairview Cellars, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery, Hester Creek Estate Winery, Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards, Road 13 Vineyards, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, and Willow Hill Vineyards.
I tasted the new releases from Culmina (in Hamilton, at the Aberdeen Tavern) and Tinhorn Creek (during a recent trip to the Okanagan and during a spectacular “Long Table” family style meal at the winery’s Miradoro restaurant). Here are my reviews from these two wineries from the Golden Mile Bench.
Culmina Dilemma 2013 ($33, 93 points) — With this vintage of Culmina Chardonnay, the fruit is sourced from the highest elevation on the property, Margaret’s Bench, at 600 meters. What a beautiful, elegant wine. The nose shows swirling pear, citrus, green apple, minerals and soft vanilla spices. It’s perfectly balanced in the mouth with complex pear-apple fruit, lightly toasted vanilla spice and freshening citrus that kicks in through the long finish.
Culmina Unicus 2014 ($30, 91 points) — This is Culmina’s second vintage of Gruner Veltliner, the first planting of this Austrian grape in the Okanagan Valley. Triggs says Gruner is “a bugger to grow” with its thin skin and low yields. “It’s like learning to grow grapes all over again.” The fruit has to be harvested in two different stages to get consistent ripeness. It’s highly aromatic with floral notes, citrus, melon, grapefruit, ginger and even a white pepper accent. The flavours range from lime, lemon peel and grapefruit to rounder notes of pear and peach with some minerals and spice.
Culmina Saignee 2014 ($25, 89 points) — Donald Triggs calls this a true “collage of the whole vineyard” with the blend for this textbook saignee style rose consisting of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose shows rhubarb and cherry fruit. Moving to the palate you feel light tannins with a vibrant core of rhubarb and a mélange of red fruits that are perfectly dry and refreshing. Triggs says this pairs well with all manner of charcuterie or even braised pork.
Culmina Decora 2014 ($23, 90 points) — The nose on this Riesling shows sweet citrus, lime, grapefruit, subtle spice and a lovely mineral note. It’s refreshingly dry on the palate with bright green apple, peach, citrus and river rock minerality. It’s built on a steely frame and with laser-beam acidity. Can hold up to five years.
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench White 2013, Okanagan ($20, 90 points) — A blend of Semillon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Muscat that shows pear, melon, apple and peach notes on the nose. It’s fairly elegant on the palate with a cacophony of flavours that are layered and lush, but lifted by firm acidity through a fairly long finish.
Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2014, Okanagan ($17, 88 points) — Tinhorn always does a nice job with this Okanagan staple. The nose shows honeysuckle, melon, tropical fruits and a smidge of citrus. All that lovely fruit is balanced nicely by racy acidity through the finish.
Tinhorn Creek Pinot Noir 2012 ($20, 88 points) — A nose of savoury cherry, field raspberry, plums, herbs, bramble and spice. It’s a juicy offering on the palate with earthy red fruits, silky smooth and a savoury edge but balanced through the finish. This was made for grilled wild-caught Pacific salmon.
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Rose 2014 ($20, 89 points) — Made with Tinhorn CEO Sandra Oldfield’s favourite grape, 100% Cabernet Franc. Love this nose of cherry, watermelon, strawberry and herbs. Great balance with strawberry cream, cherry and subtle herbs and citrus. Yummy.