French-trained winemaker Pascal Madevon, who is now at
Culmina Family Estate and formerly managed Osoyoos Larose, had not made any
white wine in 20 years prior to the 2013 vintage.
He was handed a neat challenge last fall when he had to make
the first Grüner Veltliner in the Okanagan. For good measure, he also made his
first Riesling and his first rosé in two decades.
Culmina, the winery launched by Don and Elaine Triggs (right) and
their daughter, Sara, is just releasing those 2013 wines. Pascal rose
brilliantly to the challenge.
There are just 60 cases of Grüner Veltliner. The winery has
released it under a proprietary name, Unicus. Don explains that bit of Latin
translates as unique or one of a kind.
Perhaps it should be called Almost Unicus. The first Grüner
Veltliner was planted in British Columbia
2008 on the Saanich
by De Vine
Vineyards. The winery released its first Grüner from the 2012 vintage, also
under a proprietary name, Grü V. It was well reviewed but I never tasted it
because De Vine only sells its wines on Vancouver Island
I have tasted Unicus and I am impressed. The wine, which
sells for $27 a bottle (compared with $19 for Grü V), can be purchased from
Culmina’s winery. Culmina offers free shipping in British Columbia on six-pack or case-lot
orders for any of its wines.
Grüner Veltliner was planted in 2011 in Culmina’s highest
and coolest vineyard. Of course, there is cool and there is cool. The grapes
for Unicus were ripe enough to yield a wine with 14% alcohol. The grapes on
Saanich yielded a wine with 10.5% alcohol.
That suggests that Grüner Veltliner is a versatile grape for
vineyards. Some growers have been interested for quite some time in planting Austria
widely grown white varietal. Until recently (and perhaps still), no Austrian
nursery had the Canadian government’s approval to ship vines to Canada
of introducing viruses. I think it is improbable that there are no virus-free
sources in Austria
but plant regulators are very cautious.
The vines for Culmina (and probably for De Vine) came from a
virus-free block at the University
which, in turn, got them from a certified French nursery.
The varietal has become popular with North American
restaurants, which is why plantings have been increasing in Oregon,
California and Washington.
“We were looking for a cool climate white, and some
diversity,” Don Triggs says, explaining why Culmina has planted about two
acres. “You know the three standard varietals for cool climate are Chardonnay,
Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. We were looking for a variety that was winter
hardy. And we were looking for a variety where there might be some consumer
interest. We did see some interest in this in California wine bars; and in people planting
it around the world.”
He gave some thought to Torrontes, the Argentine white, but
was not sure how well it handles hard winters. Grüner Veltliner has a good
history of surviving continental climates in central Europe
And there was some anecdotal evidence from Ontario
where Karl Kaiser, the Austrian-born
founder of Inniskillin, planted a small block in the 1970s.
“It was a suitcase clone,” Don thinks. “They had one of
those bad Ontario
freezes and Karl’s Grüner Veltliner and Seyval Blanc were the two varietals
that survived the best. So I knew it was winter hardy. The sad part of that
story is that when Inniskillin expanded, they pulled it out to increase the
the Culmina Grüner Veltliner was “very, very easy,” Pascal (left) says. The grapes
were crushed carefully in a basket press and fermented in stainless steel
between 17°C and 19°C. The wine was
removed from the lees in two weeks, cold stabilized and bottled within a few
months. In 2014, when he will have twice as much fruit, he is debating whether
to age some in neutral oak, as some Austrian producers do.
Pascal used the same minimalist approach
to making the Culmina Riesling, which is being released under the name, Decora,
and the rosé. The latter is called Saignée because it made bleeding some juice
from each fermenter of red wine. The French call this technique “saignée.” The
method not only makes good rosé but it also concentrates the remaining red
Culmina makes just two other wines. The
Chardonnay is currently called Dilemma because the winery was uncertain whether
to continue making it from an old block that Don inherited when he bought the
property; or whether from a new planting in the same vineyard as the Grüner
Veltliner. The 2011 and 2012 Dilemma are from the old vines, which have now
been removed, and the 2013 is from the young block. Don thinks it is a better
The red icon is called Hypothesis. The
2011 was released last fall and the 2012 is scheduled for release this fall.
The first vintages include the three main Bordeaux
reds. Going forward, it will become a Merlot-anchored blend with all five Bordeaux
Here are notes on the three releases from
the 2013 vintage. The 2011 wines have been reviewed in earlier blogs.
($27 for 60
cases). This expresses the classical varietal fingerprint of the Grüner
Veltliner – the touch of white pepper in the aroma and the palate. There is
also tropical fruit in the aroma, leading to flavours of citrus and melon. The
texture is rich; and the wine has a lingering dry finish. 92.
($23 for 160
cases). This wine, with 12.5% alcohol, has a fine spine of minerality with
citrus aromas that emerge on the palate as lime and grapefruit flavours. The
wine has the potential to become complex with another six to 12 months in
for 178 cases). The blend here was four barrels of Merlot juice, two barrels of
Cabernet Franc and one of Cabernet Sauvignon. The light rose petal hue is the
hue that is increasingly popular with rosé drinkers. The wine begins with
aromas of cherry and cranberry, going on to flavours of cherry and strawberry.
The finish is crisp and dry, like a fine Provence