Photo: Culmina proprietor Don Triggs
Don and Elaine Triggs, and Sara, their daughter, launched
Culmina Family Estate Winery with wines grown in the challenging 2011 vintage.
As good as the debut wines were, one wondered what Culmina
would do with a more typical Okanagan vintage. The answer: even better wines.
Don has a chart tracking the growing degree days in his
Arise vineyard (south of Oliver) in the last four vintages. “In 2011, we had
about 1,350 degree days on Arise compared with 1,65o in 2014,” he says. “A 300
degree day change.” Both 2012 and 2013 also were warmer years, although not
quite as warm as 2014.
The bottom line: wines made in 2012, 2013 and 2014 all show
more power and intensity. This spring, Don has been hosting tastings, mostly
for sommeliers, to prime the sales when the wines are released.
I have also had a chance to taste the wines and they are
terrific. The good news is that this year’s releases include a fine Meritage
blend for $25, an entry-level red for those who find Culmina’s $44 red,
Hypotheses, beyond their budget. The bad news is that the 285 cases of Unicus
2014, the white made with Grüner Veltliner, is almost entirely on allocation to
“The issue is how are we going to find more terroir like
Margaret’s Bench,” Don says, referring to high altitude vineyard where he
planted the Okanagan’s first Grüner Veltliner. This is the major white variety
grown in Austria.
The first release of Unicus, from the 2013 vintage, was only
60 cases. With the vineyard reaching full production in 2014, Culmina expected
a more substantial bump in volume.
“It was a big challenge,” Don says. “We are still learning.
That early heat wave we got in July, 2014, thickened up the skins. Pressing it
was like pressing rubber bullets. We got 40% less wine than we thought we would
But what a wine! Unicus
2014 ($27) begins with floral and citrus aromas with a hint of white
pepper. It delivers a fruit basket of flavour, including lime and guava. The
finish of this dry wine refuses to quit. 92.
Decora 2014 ($23
for 800 cases) is the winery’s Riesling. It is a racy, exciting, bone-dry wine
that will be offered both to restaurants and to wine stores. It begins with
floral and citrus aromas that lead to flavours of lime and lemon with a spine
of minerality. While this still shows all the primary fruit aromas and flavours
of a young Riesling, it will blossom over the next several years to show that
complexity that Riesling fans call petrol. 91.
Dilemma 2012 ($33
for 160 cases). This is Culmina’s Chardonnay. It was released in January and is
almost sold out. The style seems Burgundian, perhaps because winemaker Pascal
Madevon’s grandfather was from Burgundy.
The wine has toasty notes of expensive French oak on the nose and on the
palate, along with buttery notes and rich tangerine flavours. 92.
Saignée 2014 ($25
for 600 cases) is Culmina’s dry, food-friendly rosé. The wine is made by
bleeding some juice from newly-pressed reds: four tanks of Merlot, two each of
Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. A salmon-pink wine, it has aromas and
flavours of strawberry, rhubarb and cranberry. The wine has good weight on
the palate and a very long finish. 91.
This is Culmina’s second rosé. This vintage, which will be
available in wine stores, comes in a brilliant package. Culmina is using tall,
crystal-clear bottles produced by Saber Glass in Europe
with glass stopper closures.
“This is made entirely from Bordeaux
reds and the idea is to position it
more as a food wine,” Don says. “This isn’t your sweet pink popsicle. Consumers
are starting to discover that rosé isn’t just a refreshment wine. It’s a real
food wine and you can do things with it.”
New this year is R&D
Red Blend 2013 by Culmina ($25 for 800 cases). This is a meritage anchored
around Merlot and made to be an approachable red for earlier consumption than
Hypothesis. This wine, to be released in June, shows that 2013 was a strong
vintage. The wine begins with aromas of vanilla, black cherry and black
currant. It is generous on the palate with flavours of black currant, dark
chocolate and coffee. The texture is firm enough that the wine benefits from
decanting; it will also cellar well. 91.
The wine has an intriguing label reproducing a Triggs family
photograph of eleven-year-old twin brothers, Ron and Don Triggs. Ron is now a
retired sales executive and a passionate fisherman.
“R&D is also a reflection of all the research and
development we did in the vineyard,” Don says.
Hypothesis 2012 ($44
for 2,200 cases) is the second release of Culmina’s flagship red. This is 57%
Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 17% Cabernet Franc. This is a wine built to
age a decade or so but, with time in a decanter, it can already be appreciated.
It has aromas of vanilla and black cherry. The texture is concentrated and
almost chewy, with flavours of black currant, black cherry, dark chocolate,
coffee and cedar. The point score depends on how long you age the wine. 91-94.