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A new benchmark in the Okanagan

Culmina Family Estate Winery – Okanagan Valley

I recently went to visit Don Triggs’ new winery in the Okanagan Valley, called Culmina. I’ve never been so impressed by a new winery in Canada. And it’s not even open yet.

First, some background. Don Triggs is, along with Donald Ziraldo and a small handful of others, a pioneer of the wine business in Canada. In fact, he quietly became the most powerful man in the Canadian wine business, something he never mentions.

From humble beginnings as a farmer in Manitoba, he founded Jackson-Triggs. Over the years the company acquired several other prominent wineries in Canada. Vincor, the name of the corporate juggernaut that Triggs steered to continued success, was then purchased by Constellation Brands, which is the largest and most powerful drinks company in the world. And Don was officially done. Retired. He’d built the largest wine company in Canada. Mission complete.

Frankly, you have to pause for a second and appreciate just what an accomplishment this was. A small town Manitoba farmer, the most down-to-earth guy you could ever hope to meet, built an empire pretty much from scratch. Thousands of employees, hundreds of millions of dollars in turnover, wineries and wine brands left right and centre, publicly traded, and on and on. That doesn’t happen by chance.

Anyway, Triggs thought about putting his cheque in the bank, maybe build himself a humble palace, and retire happily ever after. But no, that would just be too boring. The man clearly has a deep love of wine, and although he’d never say it himself, it’s pretty clear he wanted to show the world what he can do at his own estate when he is fully in command.

So in 2006 he started looking for the right terroir. He hired a top viti consultant to help him. He tested soils on 5 different sites, by digging just over 100  soil pits and doing extensive lab analysis. He discarded each of those sites as not being good enough. Do you know how much it costs to do that? It’s not cheap.

Then, high up on the western side of the southern Okanagan, not far from Road 13 if you need a landmark, Triggs found what had eluded him. 56 acres spread over 3 different terroirs, each at a different altitude and each with a different soil composition. The testing panned out. The property was purchased, and work began.

What ensued was a scientific research study that most people would call extreme at best, and total madness at worst. In fact, I am not familiar with anyone else that has gone to the same lengths as Triggs to understand his terroir. Moisture probes everywhere, temperature gauges at every step, climatic data spewing out of computers for every micro plot of the vineyard. This is what you’d call precision viticulture, at its most precise.

And then there were studies on rootstocks, clones, and the perfect combination with each variety for each soil type, in each block. What is basically happening at Culmina is that each vine is being treated as an individual, rather than the whole block being farmed the same way. Organic? Do you really need to ask? Of course, that is their long term goal.

The winery has all the usual state-or-the-art equipment you could hope to find. Walk around the 1st growths of the world and you see much the same stuff. And Pascal Madevon of Osoyoos Larose fame has recently taken up the post of Vineyard Manager and Winemaker. There’s nothing like someone who knows the Okanagan and knows winemaking to guide the wines along.

Sara Triggs, Don’s daughter, is at the helm for Sales and Marketing. She’s a seasoned pro having studied wine marketing at Adelaide University, worked for Vincor, and done vintages at various wineries. And then Elaine, Don’s wife, is quietly in the background, but no doubt a huge driving force behind the whole enterprise. My guess is that she’s got the final say on all major decisions.

And so although the wines have not been released yet, and I have not tasted them, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that they will be very impressive. Keep an eye-out for the release date. Online subscribers will have first access to purchase limited quantities as of August 1; the tasting room at the winery will open on August 23. One thing is for sure – you’ll need to grab these wines fast because I bet they won’t last. Culmina will become one of the leading wineries in Canada – I’d bet on it. Stay informed by signing up for the newsletter at www.culmina.ca

Malbec

Malbec

Cuvelier, Los Andes 2009

Mendoza, Argentina

Cuvelier is one of the most prominent families in Bordeaux, owning several chateaux, including 2nd growth Ch. Leoville Poyferre, a fabulous estate in St Julien. The company was started as a merchant house in 1804, shipping wines to the wealthy towns of northern France.

As early as 1914 Paul Cuvelier traveled to Mendoza, in the foothills of the Andes. He discovered a thriving wine region, and upon his return informed his family to consider expansion plans to this remote, and unknown, part of the New World.

Many decades later, with the assistance of the world’s most prominent flying winemaker, Michel Rolland, the Cuvelier’s Argentine wine was unveiled to international acclaim. The wine consistently scores in the 90+ point range.

Malbec has proven to be well suited to the warm, sunny and arid vineyards that are flanked by the majestic Andes to the west. Many of the finest sites are at altitudes in excess of 3,000 feet, where the nights are cooler, and the acidity crisper.

Ripe, round, dense and plush, showing smooth textures, the power of the wine saturates the senses.  The fresh blueberries mingled with espresso and vanilla entices the nose. The palate has a beautiful level of dryness, and a subtle backbone of tannin enabling it to age further. This is one of the finest Malbecs from Argentina.

Food and wine pairing: Grilled meats, such as beef or lamb, are the perfect match, and the wine drinks well by itself too.

Gewurztraminer

Gewurztraminer

Gustav Lorentz, Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim, 2010

Alsace, France

Gewurztraminer reaches its pinnacle of quality in Alsace. And since 1836 Gustav Lorentz has been producing some of the finest examples.

When harvested from a top site, such as this Grand Cru vineyard, and the yields are kept low, you can produce one of the world’s most heady and exotic wines. The perfume is so intense, the fruits so tropical and spicy, and the palate so dense and layered.  The trademark aromatics of Gewurz are amongst the most beautiful in wine.

What is especially interesting is that the wines drink perfectly when just a few years old, but the best can age for a decade of more. The density of the stone fruit, pineapple, and lychee flavors are counterbalanced by a subtle yet bright acidity, creating the perfect balance.

We invite you to discover this fine white wine from Alsace, one of the world’s underrated treasures.

Food and wine pairing: Ideally suited to spicy Asian dishes, and other powerfully flavored food.

Semillon

Semillon

McWilliams, Mount Pleasant, Elisabeth, 2006

Hunter Valley, Australia

McWilliams Mount Pleasant Winery was rated 5 stars by the leading Australian wine critic, James Halliday.

In this small region, just a few hours north of Sydney, one of the world’s very best white wines is produced. It is a well-kept secret. And it’s called aged Hunter Semillon.

What is staggering is the longevity of the wines. A top Semillon, such as this, can age for 20-40 years, and some only hit their peak well into that period.

Semillon is a white grape that you mainly find here and in Bordeaux, for fine wine. It is picked early, fermented in stainless steel tanks, and then bottled in the Spring after the vintage. It is unoaked.

But then the magic begins. When the winery finally releases the wine at 4 years of age it starts to show its beauty. Notes of fresh lime, lemon zest and toast envelop the senses. The palate is broad, becoming increasingly full bodied with age. Flavors of nectarine and citrus unravel on a richly textured palate. And the hallmark thread of crisp vibrant acidity refreshes the senses.

This is a complex, elegant, classic white wine. Don’t tell anyone the secret.

Food and Wine Pairing: Perfect with poultry and richer fish dishes.

Amarone

Amarone

Tommasi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, 2009

Veneto, Italy

There are a handful of Amarone producers that command international respect for their truly fine wines. Tommasi is unquestionably on that list.

Established in 1902, the 4th generation now steers the ship. It’s a classic Italian family affair. The flagship wine of the company is this Amarone. It comes from the Classico district, which indicates that these were the first vineyards to be planted in the region, hundreds of years ago.

It is made from indigenous varieties that you don’t find elsewhere, named Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Corvinone. The best bunches are picked from the vine and then laid to dry on straw mats for 5 months before pressing. A tiny amount of juice comes out. It is deep, dark and concentrated.

The ferment and maceration are lengthy and can go for weeks. The wine is then aged for 3 years in Slavonian oak casks.

It has an inky dark color. The nose explodes with sweet dried fruit, with a note of raisin and dark chocolate. The palate is very full bodied, with luscious fruit sweetness, round tannins, and an aftertaste that lingers on and on. These wines can age for 30-50 years, but they taste beautiful now too.

Food and wine pairing: Grilled meats pair well. The wine is also perfect with hard cheeses as you finish your meal.

Amarone

Amarone

Masi, Amarone della Valpolicella, 2008

Veneto, Italy

We were thrilled to find this outstanding Amarone from the famous producer Masi. It won in our blind tasting of dozens of wines.

Amarone is made in a very unusual way. First, the grape varieties that are used are generally unknown and only found in this region in north eastern Italy. Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara are the varieties.

Only the ripest and healthiest bunches are picked for the Amarone style. Instead of crushing them immediately, the berries are taken to a warehouse where they air-dry for 5 months. This process dehydrates the berries, causing them to shrivel, and increasing the ratio of sugar to juice in the berry.

In the Spring the berries are crushed, fermented over a long period, and then aged in barrel and bottle, usually for 3-4 years before release.

Amarone is always deep and dark, almost inky black. The aroma is so intense with raisin and sweet chocolate that it verges towards a Port style. The palate is dense, concentrated, full-bodied, and packed with sweet ripe fruit. The alcohol degree is over 15%, as it must be by law.

Masi is one of the most respected producers, and we are thrilled to bring you this discovery wine.

Food and wine pairing: The perfect match with beef, pasta in a tomato sauce and hard cheeses.

Gewurztraminer

Gewurztraminer

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, 2011

Alsace, France

There are a handful of truly iconic wineries in Alsace. Zind-Humbrecht stands tall among them.

The winemaker and owner, Olivier Zind-Humbrecht, is one of the few Masters of Wine in France. He practices bio-dynamic farming techniques. This means the vineyard is farmed in an ultra-organic way and the earth’s cosmic rhythms guide all of the viticultural practices.

There’s no other place in the world that makes better Gewurztraminer than Alsace. The Vosges mountains create a warm and sunny micro climate enabling late harvesting at intense levels of ripeness. Olivier pushes the boundaries even further, picking very late at massive levels of flavor development. This is the Zind-Humbrecht style.

A pale gold color, is typical from this pink skinned grape. The heavy viscosity coats the sides of the glass. The nose envelopes the senses with a heady array of ripe and sweet tropical fruits, sweet spices, and rose petal aromas. The palate is rich, thick, yet lively with bright acidity, and a perfect touch of fruit sweetness, pushing this into an off-dry style.

We are delighted to offer you this beautiful Gewurztraminer from an iconic producer.

Food and wine pairing: This is especially well suited to spicy dishes, and white meats like chicken.

Champagne

Champagne

Billecart-Salmon, Brut Rose

France

Rose is the signature wine of Billecart-Salmon, a House that is considered to be the benchmark for this style of Champagne.

Pink Champagne is the most difficult sparkling wine to make. The color must be perfect and there shouldn’t be a trace of tannin. This requires a high level of skill as a winemaker, given that the wine will not be opened for at least 3 years.

Billecart-Salmon is considered to be one of the most stylish boutique Champagne houses. Since being founded in 1818 it has remained one of the best kept secrets in wine.

The gorgeous winery and underground cellars are hidden in a small village surrounded by vines. Billecart uses some old techniques such as basket presses, which gently extract the finest juice. Modern technology is used to create extra cold temperatures during fermentation, which extend the process, and add freshness, elegance and delicacy to the wines. There is an extra-long ageing period in the dark underground cellars, which allows the complex flavours to unfold.

Billecart-Salmon is pure luxury. We hope you enjoy it.

Food and wine pairing: The perfect way to start your journey in style, it is also the classic aperitif, and well suited to smoked salmon and other light seafood.