Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Arterra Wines buys Culmina from the Triggs family

Photo: Elaine and Donald Triggs

In the words of that great people’s philosopher, Yogi Berra, it is Déjà Vu all over again for Donald and Elaine Triggs.

Culmina Family Estate Winery, founded in 2007 by the Triggs Family, has been acquired by Arterra Wines Canada, the successor to Vincor International – which Donald established in the early 1990s.

Vincor had become the 14th largest wine company in the world by 2006 when it was taken over by Constellation Brands, then the world’s largest wine company. In 2016, Constellation spun off its Canadian wineries and related businesses to the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund. The Canadian assets were renamed Arterra Canada Wines.

This is Arterra’s second acquisition of an Okanagan winery. It bought Laughing Stock Vineyards in 2017.  Arterra’s Okanagan portfolio also includes Jackson Triggs Vintners, Inniskillin Okanagan, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, Black Sage Vineyards, SunRock Vineyards, See Ya Later Ranch and 50% of Nk’Mip Cellars.

Arterra also owns or controls about 1,000 acres of vineyards, most of it in the South Okanagan.

In 2007, the year after Constellation swallowed Vincor, Don and Elaine bought property on what is now the Golden Mile sub-appellation to develop a major vineyard for the winery they opened in 2013.

“Retirement to me is a nasty word because it implies stopping,” Donald told me at the time.  “I don’t think life is about stopping. It is about continuing and doing what you love.”  

Clearly, he has had a change of heart. The Arterra announcement says: “Don and Elaine are planning for retirement, but will be supporting the transition over the next several months. Sara [their daughter] will be joining Arterra as sales and marketing director in continued support of the vision, strategy and planning for Culmina.”

Donald, who was born in Manitoba in 1944, has had a long and distinguished career in the Canadian wine business. After getting degrees in agriculture and business administration, Donald spent several years in marketing with Colgate-Palmolive before joining the winery arm of John Labatt Ltd. in 1972. Four years later, he was sent to turn around Labatt’s money-losing winery in California.

His performance there caught the eye of headhunters. In 1982, he was recruited to run the Vancouver-based North American operations of Fisons PLC, a British fertilizer company. While Elaine was becoming a chartered accountant, Donald was promoted to Fisons head office in Britain, where he ran a division.

At heart, Donald is an entrepreneur who enjoys building companies.  “I’ve always had this yearning to be in my own business,” he said. “And I really had a twinge in my bones for the wine business.”

In 1989, when Labatt decided to sell its the wine business to the managers, Donald came back from Britain to lead the team that turned it into a thriving wine business. It soon took over T.G. Bright and Co, a wine company started in 1874. Thus, Arterra dates its founding as 1874.

In 1994, Donald and former partner Alan Jackson gave their surnames to Jackson-Triggs when that became the new name for Brights and other winery assets in 1994. In turn, that was the vehicle that was transformed into Vincor.

When Donald and Elaine decided to get back into the wine business in 2007, they looked in detail at five Okanagan sites, in some cases taking soil and temperature readings, before buying 44 acres in 2007 from Olivier Combret and his family, then the owners of Antelope Ridge Estate Winery.

There is a delightful sentimental streak in how Donald and Elaine named their vineyard blocks. The former Combret property is called Arise Vineyard. One of Donald’s ancestors several generations ago was a purser in the first British garrison in the Barbados who settled on a 10-acre farm that he called Arise.  

In 2009, while Arise was being planted, Donald and Elaine bought another 60 acres on two hillside benches above Arise. Here, two new vineyards were planted. The lower of these two is called Stan’s Bench, named for Elaine’s father. The upper bench, a cool northeast slope that rises to 595 meters, is called Margaret’s Bench, for Donald’s mother.

By acquiring Culmina, Arterra adds a solid selection of premium wines to its portfolio, including Riesling, Chardonnay, Bordeaux varietals and blends and an exceptional white called Unicus, made from the first planting of Grüner Veltliner in British Columbia.


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