It fascinates me that two of this country’s most noted wine industry leaders continue to play such an important role long after the company they helped build was acquired by an American company.
Both Harry McWatters and Donald Triggs could have happily gone into blissful retirement when their company Vincor was sold to Constellation Brands in 2006, but their DNA wouldn’t allow it. Instead, both of them went their separate ways and build important wine projects in the Okanagan Valley.
Triggs started Culmina, an extraordinary property and winery on the Golden Mile with elevations reaching nearly 600 meters. The first few vintages of the wines have met with favourable reviews and the potential rises as each vintage brings older vines (the property was planted from scratch).
Triggs and his team just released the first of winery’s new “Number Series.” This micro-lot tier showcases specific wines of interest from a given vintage. Intrinsic to the Number Series is a lack of continuity vintage-to-vintage, with each micro-lot assigned its own unique numeral. With an emphasis on research and development, each number in the series is differentiated based on terroir characteristics as well as innovative viticultural and winemaking techniques.
I review that wine and the new release Chardonnay, below.
McWatters, meanwhile, has not slowed down one bit since leaving Vincor and later Constellations Brands. He and his family have built a small empire that includes Time Winery, McWatters Collection and Evolve Cellars all under the umbrella company Encore Vineyards.
McWatters also purchased the old PenMar Theatre in downtown Penticton, which he has converted into an urban winery to craft his collection of wines.
The restored theatre includes a working winery, crush pad, barrel cellar, custom fermentation hall, lab, warehouse, and administrative offices. When open to the public, the visitor experience will include a tasting bar, a small plates lounge, a 40-seat outdoor patio, as well as a retail wine shop.
I tasted through a number of Encore family wines and have reviews below, including the Platinum-award winning Syrah from Time Estate.
Culmina Dilemma 2014 ($36, 91 points) — This Chardonnay is aged in 56% new French oak, 16% year-old barrels and the rest in stainless steel. It’s at once appealing on the nose with notes of Asian pear, lemon curd, toasted almonds, intriguing barrel spices and hinting at citrus zest. It’s vibrant on the palate with creamy pear supported by rousing acidity that punctuates the lemon, minerals and spice notes. Recommended to cellar one or two years for further integration.
Culmina Haut-Plateau No. 001 Riesling 2015 ($30, released Nov. 22 to Culmina wine club members, 92 points) — This first wine in the Number Series is from a small parcel (four rows) of Clone 49 Riesling from Block XI on the estate’s high-altitude (595m) Margaret’s Bench. It has an intense nose of pear, lemon, river-rock minerality, lime zest and a hint of ginger. It’s rich, textured, almost creamy with laser-sharp acidity propelling the quince, citrus, minerals and wild honey notes on the palate. Impeccable balance, purity of fruit with crucial notes of zesty lime on the finish.
Time Estate Winery/McWatters Collection
Time Estate Syrah 2013 ($35, 93 points) — I first tasted this Syrah blind while judging for the B.C. Wine Awards earlier this fall. It was one of those wines that I immediately knew would emerge as a contender for top wine of the competition. It ended up with a platinum award — one of the top eight wines out of 650 judged over three days. It’s that good. After retrying the wine recently (non-blind) it only confirmed what I already knew. It’s gorgeous with a nose of blueberry, boysenberry, white pepper, forest floor, anise, black currants and barrel spices. The palate reveals sweet spices, pepper, savoury notes, supple tannins, herbs, smoke and range of dark fruits and wonderful length on the finish. You can cellar or drink this wine right — it’s irresistible.
McWatters Collection Meritage 2013 ($25, 90 points) — The blend is 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc. Plenty of defined blackberries, currants, smoky cedar, barrel spices and earthy nuances. It’s long on the palate with softish tannins, depth of fruit and well-integrated spices.
Time Estate Meritage 2013 ($35, 91 points) — The blend is 60% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 11% Cabernet Franc with a lovely nose of cherry, cassis, blackberry and elegant spice notes. It is highly structured but balanced out by firm acidity. The fruit is forward on the palate with ripe tannins, integrated spice notes and length through the finish.
Evolve Effervescence NV ($20, 88 points) — This non-vintage, friendly sparkler is a blend of Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay with a nose of lovely fresh lime and pear. It has a gentle mousse and a mélange of fruit on the palate with a touch of sweetness.
Evolve Pink Effervescence NV ($20, 88 points) — This pink blend consists of Merlot and Pinot Blanc with notes of raspberry, peach, strawberry and toastiness. It has subtle bead of bubble in the glass with expressive fruits and lively acidity.
Evolve Pinot Blanc 2015 ($15, 87 points) — The nose shows melon, Asian pear and peach. There is a ripe range of orchard and tropical fruits on the palate. A friendly, good value wine.