Monday, June 25, 2018

Culmina's vineyard begins to deliver

Photo: Vintner Donald Triggs at Culmina winery

Culmina Winery’s 56-acre vineyard was planted over a number of years, starting about a decade ago, by Donald and Elaine Triggs. Judging from the current releases, the vines have begun to deliver on the promise of the site.

The site, most of which is in the Golden Mile sub-appellation, consists of a series of benches, each higher than the other. Margaret’s Bench, the highest and coolest, has an elevation of 600 meters, or 200 meters higher than Culmina’s Arise Bench. This is the large vineyard encompassing the road to the winery. It is planted primarily to Bordeaux reds.

The elevations and the aspects give the winery the ability to grow a significant range of varieties – some benefitting from a cool location, such as Grunner Veltliner, Riesling and Chardonnay. Others varieties (Bordeaux reds and Syrah) grow in the warmer locations.

The current releases show the winery is now beginning to release some single varietal Bordeaux reds, even though the primary intent of the Triggs family was to produce a sophisticated red blend (called Hypothesis) in preference to a portfolio of single varietals.

“Why a blend versus a single varietal?” Donald said last year. “Fundamentally, my passion was rooted in the fact that the harmony of the blend creates more complexity in the wine. To me, the blend creates that complexity that has a beginning, a middle and an end. Each of the varieties contribute to that process. That was the first vision we really had.”

With that in mind the family chose a site where it believed the Bordeaux varietals would ripen consistently. “I felt there was a bit of challenge there; a challenge in understanding that each cultivar has to be sited differently, managed differently, to get the best results from each,” Donald said in 2017. “I don’t think we have the time to draw conclusions yet. Our oldest vines are six, seven years old. There is definitely global warming going on.”

He did venture some conclusions, however. “My perspective on the Cabs is that we are not there yet,” Donald said. “Merlot is further along in development, in terms of the intensity of flavours and what it is starting to give us. Cabernet Franc may be next, but Cabernet Sauvignon is still a baby in terms of developing in the vineyard. I am optimistic. We are getting ripe fruit.”

He made those comments before the winery had released three Bordeaux reds from the 2015 vintage, the warmest vintage yet in the Okanagan. Whatever one thinks about climate change, these are big ripe wines that should make one excited about what Culmina is producing.

The 2016 and 2017 vintages were solid vintages, producing high quality wines. And keep an eye on the 2018 vintage. To the end of May, the heat units have been higher even than 2015.

Here are notes on the Culmina releases.

Culmina Unicus 2017 ($27). This is the winery’s Grüner Veltliner, fermented 57% in stainless steel, 25% in a concrete egg and 18% in a concrete amphora, a technique that adds texture while preserving the wonderful fruit flavours. It begins with aromas of grapefruit, leading to a mouthful of tropical fruit. On the finish, there is the classic note of white pepper true to the variety. 93.

Culmina R&D White Blend 2017 ($19). This wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Viognier. The wine beguiles with spicy, fruity aromas leading to flavours of melon and apple mingled with an herbal note. The finish is dry. 90.

Culmina R&D Rosé Blend 2017 ($19). This is a blend of Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Fashionably pale, the wine hints of strawberries in the aroma, echoing that in the flavour. The tangy finish is refreshing. 88.

Culmina N◦ 004 Stan’s Bench Chardonnay 2016 ($39). This estate-grown Chardonnay was aged 60% in used oak, 40% in stainless steel. The result is a generously textured with bright citrus and apple flavours mingled with hints of oak. The aroma shows buttery marmalade notes. 92.

Culmina Saignée 2017 ($24). This rosé is made by bleeding juice from red grapes just after crush. The blend is 56% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Malbec and 11% Cabernet Franc. Pale in colour, the wine begins with a delicate raspberry aroma. The surprise is the fullness on the palate, with flavours cherry and cranberry. Dry on the finish, this is an excellent food wine. 90.

Culmina Merlot 2015 ($35). This wine, which was aged in French oak (20% new),  begins with expressive aromas of spicy dark fruit and cassis. The wine is big and firm and definitely benefits from decanting. It will age well, revealing more complexity beyond the flavours of black currant. 91.

Culmina Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($39). This wine was aged 16 months in French oak (50% new). It is a concentrated, well-structured wine that begins with aromas of cassis and black cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of blackberry, black cherry and black currant. The long, ripe tannins make this wine, paradoxically, more approachable now than the Merlot but it will cellar well. 92.

Culmina Malbec 2015 ($N/A). This wine is a show stopper, beginning with the intriguing floral perfume on the nose. It has flavours of black cherry and mulberry. The texture is concentrated. The bottle was sampled over several days, with the wine becoming richer in flavour and texture. This generous wine was aged 16 months in French oak (50% one-year old, 50% two-year old). This is arguably the best Malbec so far from the Okanagan. 93.


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