Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Road 13 Vineyards attracts attention

Photo: Road 13 Vineyards

Few Okanagan wineries have ramped up production as rapidly as Road 13 Vineyards.

The winery was launched in 1998 as Golden Mile Cellars. It was producing an anaemic 1,000 cases of forgettable wine annually when Pam and Mick Luckhurst purchased it in 2003. A decade later, Road 13 is making 25,000 cases a year, all of it good to outstanding.

Now, the winery is among several larger Okanagan wineries that are getting unsolicited purchase offers from offshore buyers. There are known to be several Chinese groups kicking the tires at several Okanagan wineries.

Mick Luckhurst has had at least one feeler recently. The winery is not actively for sale, especially now that Joe Luckhurst, their son, has become involved in the business.

Of course, every business has its price. One can only hope that the tire kickers don’t find Road 13’s price soon. The Luckhursts contribute far more energy and drive to the B.C. wine industry than absentee owners are likely to bring. One of the two Okanagan wineries already owned by a Chinese businessman is doing exactly zero to help lift the profile of his winery in particular and B.C. wines in general.

The Luckhursts, on the other hand, have just hosted winemaker dinners in Victoria and Vancouver and, with 26 other B.C. wineries, they participated in the Vancouver International Wine Festival. During the wine touring season each year, Road 13 as an active menu of events at the winery, as a quick glance at the winery web site will show. Perhaps the highlight is a monthly series of dinners at the winery with Joy Road Catering. The dinners are scheduled for the 13th day of each month from May to October.

Pam and Mick got into the wine business almost on a whim. Mick, who was born in Port Alberni in 1950, previously worked as a lumber broker and a real estate developer; and he owned a Nanaimo building supply store. Pam, a former flight attendant, often has been his business partner.

They came to the Okanagan in the spring of 2003 on personal sabbaticals, after selling a residential development business they had run in Edmonton for several years. All that summer, they took visiting friends around on winery tours. By the end of the season, they decided that the winery lifestyle was very appealing.

Mick has taken to grape growing as if he had been born in a vineyard. Indeed, one of Road 13’s popular red blends is called 74 K because Mick once calculated that he has 74 kilometres of vineyards to walk. (74 K is the blend formerly called Rockpile; the name was changed to avoid conflict with a similarly named Ontario wine.)

During their first five years as winery owners, Mick and Pam retained the Golden Mile Cellars name inherited from the original owners, somewhat to the dismay of their peers. The vineyard lands on the west side of the Okanagan Valley from Oliver half way to Osoyoos are known as the Golden Mile. It may one day emerge as a sub-appellation under that name. It would be awkward if an individual winery had pre-empted the name.

The Golden Cellars name was not working for Road 13 either because it was not distinctive from the nickname everyone else had assigned to the region. So in 2008, the winery rebranded, using the name of the road that ends at the winery door.

“Our sales have increased 250% since then,” Pam says.

They have worked with three excellent winemakers. Lawrence Herder was there in the first year they owned the winery. He was succeeded by Michael Bartier. When Michael left in 2010 to join Okanagan Crush Pad, he turned the cellar over to J-M. Bouchard, a Montréal native who has international winemaking experience.

At various production levels over the years, Mick and Pam have said that Road 13 was not getting bigger. In fact, at the recent winemaker dinner in Vancouver, when Pam disclosed that the winery is now making 25,000 cases, she said: “That’s it – no bigger.”

It seems to me that J-M winemaking style is one of the explanations for the production rise in recent years. Michael Bartier had persuaded Mick and Pam to focus most of their production on big blends (like Honest John’s Red and Honest John’s White). J-M continues to make those blends but, whenever he is offered interesting and well grown grapes, he has also expanded the varietal portfolio.

“We were making five or six reds when I arrived at Road 13,” he says. “Now, we are making 17 or 18, including a Gamay Noir.”

A case in point is how the winery came to add Syrah-Mourvedre 2011 ($35) to its portfolio. He has small lots of both varietals, along with a small lot of Malbec. With judicial blending, he produced 290 cases of Syrah-Mourvedre and 550 cases of Syrah-Malbec. The former wine was served at the Vancouver dinner and achieved 92 points in my notebook.

One of the whites served at the dinner was Viognier 2011. It appears to be sold out because it is not on the winery web site. Mick also disclosed that the varietal has been dropped from the portfolio but for a very good reason. “It makes every other wine better when used in blending,” he says.

For example, it is 92% of the blend in 2011 Viognier Roussanne Marsanne ($29) white blend that won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence last year. Viognier is also co-fermented with Syrah, improving both the aromas and the colour.

Viognier is also 20% of Stemwinder 2011 ($16.99), a 2,300-case white blend of Chardonnay (75%), Chardonnay Musqué (3%) and Roussanne (2%).

That wine is an example of Road 13’s commitment to offer wines at popular as well as premium price points as well as in all the major styles. The winery’s Sparking Chenin Blanc is one of the best bubblies in the Okanagan. The 2009 is sold out but the release of the next vintage is imminent.

The three Honest John wines are priced from $15.99 for the rosé to $19.99 for the red. Some 6,350 cases of the Honest John’s Red 2011 were released, enough that the wine is in liquor stores and private wine stores, in contrast to some small lot wines, available only at the winery.

The icon red is Fifth Element 2009 ($49.99), a 250-case production that is 68% Merlot, 22% Syrah and 10% Cabernet Franc. Earlier blends actually had five varietals, hence the name. This is an outstanding wine from a strong vintage.

With quality like this, no wonder Mick and Pam have to fend off potential buyers.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Helios Winery planned for West Kelowna

Terrabella winemaker Tom DiBello

In Greek mythology, Helios was the god who drove the sun in his chariot across the sky every day.

Winery entrepreneur Rob Ingram has chosen Helios as the name of a proposed new West Kelowna winery because the vineyard he purchased in January is exposed to the sun from morning to night.

Ingram, a chartered accountant, is the chief executive office of Terrabella Wineries Ltd., a Summerland company that began to build a portfolio of wineries with the 2011 purchase of Perseus Winery in Penticton.

Helios will be Terrabella’s second winery, with a tasting room to open next year on Boucherie Road, not far from Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. The first wines under the Helios label, however, will be released in September this year.

The Terrabella business plan projects a third winery in the South Okanagan, likely on Black Sage Road, and a fourth in Greater Vancouver. The timing of these is contingent on Terrabella’s future financings. Ingram raised $6 million from investors after taking over Perseus and he is about to go back to investors again to support the development of Helios.

The business plan calls for Terrabella to raise up to $20.5 million through a combination of debt and equity to develop its wineries to the point where the four are producing 60,000 cases a year. Most of the wine will be made either at central processing facility or at a custom crush winery in order to keep the capital costs down.

“By consolidating certain operating, management and marketing and sales strategies of multiple wineries, Terrabella will improve financial returns in what can already be a high-margin industry,” the company said in a news release.

There are comparable models already in the Okanagan. The Jackson-Triggs winery at Oliver does some or all of the production for four other wineries in the Constellation group. The Calona winery in Kelowna makes all the wine for Calona, Sandhill and Peller. The Mission Hill winery produces for a long list of brands. In this model, production and marketing costs are spread over several brands.

Terrabella wants all of its wineries in high traffic locations so that a substantial volume of wine can be sold directly, and most profitably, through the tasting room.

The Perseus winery is in a heritage house. It is almost within walking distance of downtown Penticton and it is on the street taken by virtually every wine tourist heading to Naramata Road. A renovation currently under way is expanding the wine shop and adding a small bistro.

Because of its location, the Perseus winemaking capacity is too limited to produce more than the minimum needed under the winery license. Because it is in a residential neighbourhood, it is unlikely that the neighbours would stand for the construction of a big producing winery.

In the 2012 vintage Perseus arranged to have 8,000 cases made at the Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland. The winemaker for Perseus (but not for Helios) is Tom DiBello, the California-trained winemaker who spent 10 years at CedarCreek Estate Winery before launching his own label and also becoming a Terrabella vice president.

Perseus may make several more vintages there until Terrabella has a central processing facility of its own. Helios is also likely to be an OCP client in the short term.

Helios is based on an 18-acre vineyard property immediately north of Quails’ Gate. It was acquired from Horst and Ilse Mueller, a retirement age couple who have grown grapes there for about 20 years. The vineyard has six acres each of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc and three acres of Gamay Noir. Until now, the grapes have been sold to Mission Hill.

The Helios wine shop, including some modest winemaking facilities, will be built 0n Boucherie Road in order to capture the drive-by wine tourists. “I was told Mission Hill is pulling in 130,000 visitors a year,” Ingram says. “Most of those people also visit Quail’s Gate. If we can get 10% of that ….”

Ingram is thinking of building a 10,000-15,000 square-foot production building in the southeast corner of the property near the Quails’ Gate production area, keeping truck traffic and crush pad noise away from the wine shop.

Photo below: Terrabella's Rob Ingram

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rustico recruits for its “Wine Posse”

Photo: Bruce Fuller in the Rustic wine shop

Don’t be surprised if hundreds of people emerge from the Vancouver International Wine Festival next week wearing sheriff’s badges.

Anyone who presents himself or herself to Bruce Fuller at the table of Rustico Farm and Cellars will be deputized as a Wine Marshall.

This is what Bruce does in the Okanagan winery’s tasting room all season. He estimates that he has deputized at least 4,000 members of the Rustico Wine Posse, as the wine cub is called here. He hopes that these deputies will spread the word for Rustico’s wines.

It is a bit of a gimmick but hardly an empty one.  Deputies are offered free shipping of wine within British Columbia. Other discounts also apply from time to time.

The badge reminds visitors of the rollicking good time they had in the tasting room. No one in the Okanagan runs a tasting room with as much élan as Bruce Fuller.

It comes from his previous careers in marketing, including some years with The Pattison Group.  Bruce is one of those people with more promotional ideas before breakfast than the rest of us have all week.

Rustico, which he opened in 2009 with the backing of silent partners, is the culmination of a decade-long dream to develop an Okanagan winery modelled on an Italian village.

The property he bought for Rustico, however, took him in a different direction, one inspired by the Okanagan’s former history as ranch country.

The property, at the end of the Golden Mile viticultural area south of Oliver, was purchased from the Crown in 1963 by a dapper Hungarian immigrant called John Tokios. He had been working in a silver mine at Beaverdell. When it looked like the mine was shutting down, he bought a massive log bunk house, moved it to the property and planted vines in 1968 for what eventually was a nine acre vineyard. The varieties planted included Chancellor, a red French hybrid. The last of the Chancellor has now been removed making room for, among other varietals, Zinfandel.

John Tokios reassembled the bunk house and added a sod roof. Over the next number of years, he prowled the surrounding sage-covered hills, collecting the bleached skulls of cattle and elk. He “decorated” the bunk house exterior, including the roof, with these. There was no habitation in the south Okanagan more unusual.

John died in 2000 and the vineyard was purchased four years later by Don Bradley, a brewer who planned a winery here. When the inspectors would not permit a tasting room in the bunkhouse – there was some question about its structure soundness – Don put up a new building next door for the winery and wine shop.

Then the whole property was on the market again when Don changed his mind and moved to Victoria to start a brewpub. Bruce Fuller was able to buy a near-turnkey winery and, after completing it, he was able to open in 2000.

The sod-covered bunkhouse is still there (seems there was nothing wrong with its structural soundness) but Bruce has removed most of the animal skulls, since they might have turned off some visitors.

He has added a number of antiques, including a centuries-old doctor’s buggy, to revive the heritage atmosphere. In the rustic wine shop, he decants the wines into pitchers and serves it from tumblers rather than fancy stemware. Only once has a wine snob objected. These all reflect the thespian flare that makes Rustico Farm such an entertaining visit.

As you might guess, the wine portfolio’s labels are a little different. There is Doc’s Buggy, Farmer’s Daughter, Isabella’s Poke, Mother Lode, Saloon Sally, Bonanza, Last Chance and Threesome. Coming soon are a pair of Chardonnays – Silver Garter for the unoaked and Golden Garter for the oaked version. Also under development is a bag in box wine called Ambush, marketed in a box resembling a stagecoach strongbox.

At the wine festival, Bruce will be pouring Isabel’s Poke Pinot Gris, Last Chance Zinfandel Merlot Chancellor blend, Doc’s Buggy Pinot Noir and Mother Lode Merlot.

The fifth wine at the trade tastings on Thursday and Friday afternoons is Bonanza Old Vine Zinfandel, the flagship red at Rustico. This is one of only two or three Zinfandels in the Okanagan. I recently sampled one and here are my notes.

Rustico Bonanza Old Vine Zinfandel 2008 ($34.95). The full-bodied wine may well be unfiltered because it throws a bit of sediment, which is not a problem if you decant the wine. It begins with aromas of oak, vanilla and red berries. On the palate, there are classic varietal flavours, including raspberry, blackberry and black cherry. The long ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture. 90.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

D'Angelo big reds for spring release

Photo: wine grower Sal D'Angelo

In April, vintner Sal D’Angelo, the owner of D’Angelo Estate Winery on the Naramata Bench, will release four of the best red wines he has made so far in British Columbia.

Unlabelled samples arrived last month because the wines will be launched with redesigned labels. I expect the labels will be interesting but what is inside the bottles is what really counts.

Sal is an interesting man, if only because he operates a winery in Ontario as well. He opened his Okanagan winery in 2007 on a vineyard just north of Penticton and beside the Kettle Valley hiking and cycling trail. The winery also operates a popular bed and breakfast. One reason it is popular is that five or six other wineries are within walking distance.

Here is an excerpt from the winery profile in the current edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

Sal D’Angelo, who runs a winery (also called D’Angelo) near Windsor in Ontario, which opened in 1989, has been attracted to the Naramata Bench since he started vacationing here in the early 1990s. He has a rare condition of the nervous system called Guillan-Barré Syndrome, which is far less trying in the dry Okanagan than in humid southern Ontario. Not that he has ever let the condition hold him back: during one four-hour medical treatment some years ago, he landed a $1,100 wine order from the doctor.

Born in Italy in 1953, Sal grew up in Canada in an immigrant home where his family made wine each fall. “I grew up with the smell of fermenting grapes,” he says. He became a science teacher but began to plant grapes in 1983 in his Windsor-area property, opening a winery six years later. During an early Naramata vacation, he presented one of his Ontario reds to Hillside Cellars founder Vera Klokocka with the cocky assertion that the Okanagan was not suited to growing big reds. She produced a Cabernet Sauvignon (she was the first in the Okanagan to make this varietal). Sal changed his mind and starting considering the Okanagan.

Since 2001, Sal has acquired an entire peninsula on the eastern bluffs above Lake Okanagan, only minutes north of Penticton. He planted about three hectares (7.4 acres) initially, with room to triple his plantings. Not afraid to be original, Sal was the first in the Okanagan to plant Tempranillo, the leading red variety in Spain. He also planted red Bordeaux varieties and some Pinot Noir and intends to add Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc.

If there was any lingering doubt about the Okanagan’s suitability for big reds, these four samples from the winery certainly dispel it. No doubt, it helps that three are from the 2009 vintage and one from 2007, two of the best vintages in the last decade in the Okanagan.

Here are my notes.

D’Angelo Pinot Noir Riserva 2009: This has yet to be priced. Sal has been tasting it against other Pinot Noirs priced anywhere from $25 to $50, trying to settle on a benchmark. I am betting the price will end up around $35, similar to most of the other Naramata Bench Pinot Noirs.

This is a dark Pinot Noir, with savoury aromas of forest floor, black cherry and chocolate. This is reminiscent of those red Burgundies said to have a barnyard note, something that Burgundy enthusiasts consider desirable. The flavours are savoury and herbal with a touch of cherry. The structure is still firm but evolving. I would recommend cellaring this wine another five years so it can blossom to its full potential. 88-90.

D’Angelo Tempranillo Riserva 2009 ($19.90). The aromas and flavours of this big red reminded me of some big Spanish reds I have tasted. It begins with spicy blackberry and vanilla aromas. On the palate, there is blackberry, boysenberry, dark chocolate and vanilla, with a lingering finish of spice and vanilla. The texture is generous. 90.

D’Angelo Merlot Cabernet Riserva 2009 ($22.90). The Merlot in this blend contributes appealing sweet berry flavours to this ripe and generous wine. It shows aromas and flavours of black currant, vanilla, chocolate and coffee. The wine benefits from decanting to liberate all of the aromas and tastes. 89.

D’Angelo Sette Coppa Riserva 2007 Unfiltered ($24.90).  The flagship red blend’s name, Sette Coppa, means “seventh measure.” This comes from the nickname of Sal’s great-grandfather, Donato, who persuaded the local flour mill to take every seventh measure as payment for grinding his grain when others were being assessed every sixth measure. You can see where Sal gets his shrewdness from!

This wine begins with mint, vanilla and black currant aromas. Full-bodied, it tastes of black currants, coffee, dark chocolate and vanilla. The latter reflects the long, but not excessive, barrel aging that Sal gave to all of his big reds. 90.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Tied House rule untied and other good news.

Photo: Carbrea Vineyard's Stephen Bishop

Last week was a good week for Stephen Bishop, the owner of Carbrea Vineyard and Winery on Hornby Island as well as the owner of another island business, Sea Breeze Lodge.

Long overdue changes in B.C. liquor regulations, announced last Friday, mean that Bishop will be able to serve his wine in his lodge, effective March 1, for the first time since Carbrea opened in 2006. The government has finally abolished the so-called tied house rule.

It was also a good week for the craft distillers in British Columbia, who got what they have long sought: the ability to sell directly to consumers (like wineries) without paying the government’s punishing markups on those sales. That should mean a significant improvement to craft distiller, hitherto a marginal business. The little bit of revenue the government gives up will more than be offset the taxes it collects from an industry that is poised for expansion.

And it was a good week as well for breweries which will be allowed to have on-site tasting rooms and lounges.

And it was a good week for wineries trying to ship directly to consumers in other provinces, some of which still maintain barriers in spite of last year’s federal legislation to open the provincial borders. The B.C. government has appointed a “wine envoy” to facilitate the opening of the domestic market. He is Herb LeRoy, the former executive director of the lieutenant governor’s office and a very able and diplomatic administrator.

These changes are part of a general liquor law overhaul that seems to be underway to eliminate rules that made no sense but were still enforced in the spirit of the late Col. McGugan, the longtime liquor czar who once said the legislation was all about control.

The tied house rule, in fact, predates McGugan, who called the shots from the 1920s to 1969. The rule said that a liquor manufacturer could not sell its products in any hotel or restaurant it might own. Apparently, this originated more than a century ago when it was thought necessary to stop brewers from owning hotels and thereby creating monopolies for their own beers.

The ban has been pointless for decades. Almost no liquor manufacturer had the least interest in owning a hotel. I am aware of only three examples during the past 15 years that even triggered the tied house prohibition.

Wineries have been allowed to operate restaurants since 1995, but only when the restaurants were on the same property as the winery. Burrowing Owl, Tinhorn Creek and Hester Creek, for example, all have top-rated winery restaurants but they would not have been allowed to operate restaurants elsewhere in the Okanagan (not that they would want to) and sell their wines there.

When Larry Page opened Saturna Island Family Estate Winery, he also owned a rustic lodge on the other side of Saturna Island, four kilometres from the winery. He was told he could not have his wine on the wine list at the lodge. He pushed back by hiring a high-powered lawyer – and the regulators threatened to pull the winery license. Ultimately, he sold the lodge. He does have a bistro at the winery, however.

In 2003, Michael Marley opened Marley Farm Winery on the Saanich Peninsula. Getting the license was a major challenge because he owned two pubs and a golf course. Marley, who was delayed at least a year by the hassle, had to provide the government with notarized statements from his entire family, his Arizona business partners and even the landlords from whom the pubs are leased, that he would not sell Marley Farm wines in his pubs.

Marley Farm, a charming winery, unfortunately closed a few years ago. You have to wonder whether pub sales might have made a difference.

The tied house rule has been a significant business impediment to Steve Bishop at Carbrea. In 2007, he had extensive meetings and correspondence with the provincial government to get the rule lifted, and actually had the impression that legislation would be forthcoming in 2008.
In one letter in 2007 to the late Stan Hagen, the cabinet minister who was also his Member of the Legislature, Bishop argued: “Creating and sustaining a living on Hornby Island is already difficult, given its short tourism season, ferry prices and the tied house rule is an added economic detriment, not only to Carbrea but local businesses also. My primary objective is to merely market and distribute Carbrea wines in an open and transparent manner, alongside other products at our family operated, 15 cottage resort, Sea Breeze Lodge.” [Emphasis in the original.]
Consider how ridiculous the tied house rule was in the case of the Sea Breeze Lodge. Bishop could have offered his guests products from the other two wineries and the meadery on Hornby Island but, until now, not from his own winery.
Now, more than five years later, Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for liquor, has finally pushed his regulators to be flexible. Bishop, and any other liquor maker with an off-site restaurant, will now be able to sell his wine there, as long as the wine list also includes the products of competitors.
Should that change have taken 15 years?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Wine Access magazine is shut down

Photo: Final issue of Wine Access

For those interested in wine, Friday’s Wine Access announcement was shocking.

RedPoint Media Group of Calgary announced that Wine Access magazine was being shut down immediately. The announcement likely also kills the Canadian Wine Awards and the International Wine Value Awards.

Wine Access magazine was established in Toronto in the 1990s by David Lawrason. Somewhere in its early history, it was taken over by Warwick Publishing of Toronto.

From firsthand experience, I know that Warwick was one of Canada’s most inept publishers because they published my 2001 book, Icewine: The Complete Story. The agent who steered me to Warwick said I would benefit from the synergy of being published by a firm who owned a national wine magazine.

As if. Wine Access never published a single house ad for my book. Now did Warwick do much else to sell the book, finally sending part of the print run to a U.S. distributor where the books actually disappeared.

In 2004 RedPoint bought Wine Access and brought considerably more resources and editorial expertise to the magazine, as well as adding complementary publications and services. That included the Canadian Wine Awards, one of the most credible and ably judged of Canadian wine competitions. If no one picks it up, it will be a major loss to the Canadian wine scene.

In 2006, Wine Access also began publishing The Canadian Wine Annual. David Lawrason, then the editor, wrote that “we were inspired … by a similar publication in New Zealand.” There were about 250 wineries in the 2006 CWA. Last year’s issue included about 550 wineries.

As dynamic as the Canadian wine industry had been, it appears the CWA, which was available on newsstands and in wineries, was not being purchased as briskly as one would have expected. And when a version for the Ipad was also published last year, Wine Access sold only 34 copies.

The 2013 CWA was going to appear as Canadian Wine Traveller. Wine Access thought that by adding travel articles but reducing text on wines, the product would sell better. We will never know (I doubt it) because this has also been scrubbed.

Why did Wine Access fail? RedPoint is no Warwick. It has other successful publications, including Westjet’s inflight magazine. What Wine Access needed, apart from perhaps a sharper editorial focus, was far better distribution, such as a partnership with a national newspaper.

We are left with two national wine magazines. Vines Magazine is part of Sun Media. Tidings was launched about 25 years ago by the Opimian Society, which now has 20,000 members, a healthy readership base. A subscription comes with membership.

There also are regional magazines covering wine and food, such as Savour in Kelowna, Eat Magazine in Victoria, Northwest Palate in Portland and Wine Press Northwest in Washington State.

The challenge that Wine Access was always going to have was to appeal with a national magazine to wine and foodies who eat and drink regionally. I have found that with my books. The two dealing with all the Canadian wineries have flopped while those dealing with just British Columbia have succeeded. Readers in one region could care less about the wines from other regions that they cannot get anyway.

Wine Access’s coverage of the food and wine scene probably was too broad. The final edition now on the newsstand had a cover article on New York chef Daniel Boulud. There are also articles on California vintner Mario Andretti, Canadian wine sales to China and Japan, a profile of an Arizona winemaker, and a big advertising feature for the wines of California, the theme at this month’s Vancouver International Wine Festival.

The focus may have been a bit fuzzy. I have not seen an Andretti wine in this market in a decade (and I follow Formula One racing) and I have never seen an Arizona wine. Why would I want to read about them? Well, I might from professional interest but why would you?

I would love to see the books, however. The magazine has always had a lot of advertising. Unless production and distribution costs were excessive, I have trouble understanding why there was not the revenue to sustain the magazine.


This news release from the All Canadian Wine Championships has some relevance to the above blog post.

From: Bev Carnahan
All Canadian Wine Championships
February 12, 2013
Windsor, Ontario

Yesterday Red Point Media announced their decision to drop Wine Access magazine and its wine competition,  the Canadian Wine Awards , from their portfolio.  While this is a definite setback for Wine Access and the Canadian Wine Awards and indeed a great disappointment for all Canadian winemakers and wine consumers alike, we are confident this acclaimed publication will find a new publishing partner soon.
Since there has always been confusion  between their competition and the All Canadian Wine Championships, we want assure all Canadian wineries that the two are indeed separate entities and that the All Canadian Wine Championships  is definitely still in operation. Indeed it remains Canada’s oldest and largest competition for Canadian wines and we are are currently ramping up for our 33rd annual judging in May, 2013.
To all Canadian wineries who have participated in the All Canadian Wine Championships in the past and especially to the growing ranks of fledgling operations eager to compete against Canada’s best wines, we extend our invitation to enter the 2013 All Canadian Wine Championships. Entries have been mailed recently and inquiries may be directed to or by visiting the website at

With regards,
Bev Carnahan
All Canadian Wine Championships, Director

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

CedarCreek scores with Earls

CedarCreek's Gordon Fitzpatrick (l) with George Piper, wine buyer for Earls

In something of a breakthrough for Okanagan wine, CedarCreek Estate Winery has been selected to produce two of the “Rascal” wines for Earls Restaurants Ltd.

Based in Vancouver, Earls is a 30-year-old restaurateur, operating more than 50 restaurants across Canada and in several U.S. states.

The Earls wine list, put together by George Piper, the restaurant’s wine buyer, has always focussed on offering a reasonable number of well-chosen selections (but not too many) at reasonable prices.

The best value wines on the list have been its house wines under the Rascal designation. Typically, the restaurant has sourced those wines from producers outside Canada. The current wine list still includes two Rascal wines from France.

CedarCreek, however, has displaced an Australian winery to produce The Rascal Next Door white and red blends. These are now on the Earls menu by the glass or at a very reasonable $28 a bottle.

CedarCreek has a long history with Earls. The Kelowna winery already had more wines on the Earls list (four) than any other Okanagan winery. It was the logical winery for Earls when the restaurant chain needed to change its house wine.

This should prove to be a good piece of business for CedarCreek president Gordon Fitzpatrick. The winery produces between 35,000 and 40,000 cases of wine annually. Earls could easily sell 7,000 cases each year of the two Rascal wines.

The Rascal Next Door White 2011 is a blend of 31% Gewürztraminer, 28% Chardonnay, 23% Pinot Gris, 8% Riesling, 7% Ehrenfelser and 3% Viognier. As one would expect from that blend, this moderately aromatic white is a delicious fruit basket on the palate.

The Rascal Next Door Red 2011 is a blend of 35% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Pinot Noir, 16% Cabernet Franc and 5 Syrah. This is a wine with vibrant berry aromas and flavours. The soft tannins make it an easy and accessible red to drink.

These are solid blends, packaged under screw cap to maintain freshness and to avoid cork taint. The servers at Earls will love to pour them and the clientele will enjoy them.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Donald and Elaine Triggs announce their new winery

Culmina's Elaine and Donald Triggs

Donald Triggs, the former chief executive of Vincor International Ltd., is back in the wine business with the launch of Culmina Family Estate Winery in the Okanagan.

This is his third career in the Canadian wine business and the second time that he and Elaine, his wife, have sunk their life’s savings into the business. This time, they are doing it at an age when most people retire.

“Retirement to me is a nasty word because it implies stopping,” says Don, who was born in 1944. “I don’t think life is about stopping. It is about continuing and doing what you love.”

Vincor was the 14th largest wine company in the world when Constellation Brands took it over in mid-2006 for $1.6 billion. As a significant shareholder in a publicly-traded company, Don emerged from that transaction well fixed for life. But he and Elaine, who had run a premium Niagara vineyard for Vincor, only took a few months off before looking for land in the Okanagan for a new vineyard and winery.

That decision firmed up when Sara Triggs, the youngest of their three daughters and with a master’s in wine business from the University of Adelaide, agreed to join her parents in a family winery. Culmina, named from the Latin word for peak, is not just another Okanagan winery: it is a legacy project for the Triggs family.                              

Culmina, a no-expenses spared project, has scheduled its grand opening for August 2013.

Photo: Culmina Winery (south side)

The project’s new gravity-flow winery, with a capacity to produce 6,000 to 8,000 cases a year, was built last year, surrounded by vineyards on the Golden Mile, on western flank of the south Okanagan Valley. One of the vineyards, with an elevation touching almost 600 meters, is the highest vineyard in the Okanagan.

Don is well known in the wine industry: he and former partner Alan Jackson gave their surnames to Jackson-Triggs when that became the new name for Brights Wines in 1994.

Both he and Elaine grew up on farms in Manitoba. After getting degrees in agriculture and business administration, Don 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, Don was promoted to Fisons head office in Britain, where he ran a division.

 At heart, Don is an entrepreneur who enjoys building companies.  “I’ve always had this yearning to be in my own business,” he says. “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, Don came back from Britain to lead the team. Even though conventional wisdom at the time held there was no future for Canadian wine, he sunk his savings into the winery buyout.

I sold my ski chalet and took all the money I had saved up, and re-mortgaged my house,” he recalls.
 But this is what ultimately grew into Vincor which owned, among other assets, six Okanagan wineries.

One of them, Osoyoos Larose, is a joint venture with Groupe Taillan of Bordeaux
One of their consultants was Alain Sutre who was sufficiently impressed to take on other Okanagan clients 
since then.  (They include Burrowing Owl, Painted Rock and Poplar Grove.)

When Don and Elaine decided to get back into the wine business in 2006, they also turned to Sutre. “I said to Alain, is it possible to raise the bar again?” Don says. “Osoyoos Larose pushed the bar up and others have embraced that vision, because quality has gone up around the industry.” Sutre said yes, noting that Okanagan terroir was so much better understood than had been the case a decade earlier.

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. Only 14 acres were under vine, almost all of which has since been replaced. The decision, Don says, was financially painful but necessary to upgrade the vineyard.

There is a delightful sentimental streak in both Don and Elaine, illustrated by the names of their vineyards.

The former Combret property is called Arise Vineyard. One of Don’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. The property stayed in the family even after Don’s grandfather moved to Canada about 1900. Don decided to revive this family name for his new vineyard.

Photo: Vineyard at Culmina

In 2009, while Arise was being planted, Don and Elaine bought another 60 acres on two hillside benches above Arise. Here, two new vineyards have been 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 Don’s mother.

When the three vineyards are fully planted – the final planting is scheduled for this spring – Culmina will have about 54 acres of vines to supply it.

These are among the highest density plantings in the Okanagan, with 2,044 vines per acre. In most Okanagan vineyards, the density ranges from 900 to 1,500 vines per acre. The theory behind high density is that by forcing the vines to compete with each other, each vine will produce less fruit but better quality.

In addition to these three vineyards, Don and Elaine are also planting about 1,000 bush vines (Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon) on three sun-bathed  and almost inaccessible fingers of soil on the mountainside. They admit that this is a $10,000 experiment.

That, however, is pocket change in this project. Total investment is not disclosed but is substantial. The technology for computer-monitored real time moisture and temperature data alone is a $100,000 investment. Soil analysis is so detailed that the vineyards are broken into 1 ¼-acre blocks, with the choice of clones of rootstocks precisely determined by the soil in each block.

The multiple exposures and soils of the site governed the planting decisions. “We have not planted what I want to drink, and that upset me no end,” says Don, who had hoped to plant Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache and Mouvedre until his consultant advised against them.

The varieties planted in Arise, lowest and warmest of the vineyards, are Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Malbec. Stan’s Bench, which has both heat pockets and cooler exposures, is planted to Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Margaret’s Bench is planted to Chardonnay, Riesling and 2.3 acres of Grüner Veltliner. This is the first planting of that Austrian white in the Okanagan.

Photo: Steep road in Culmina's vineyards 

Culmina has dynamite winemaking.. Matt Dumayne, after more than a decade of winemaking in New Zealand, moved to the Okanagan in 2010 and joined Don and Elaine in time to make Culmina’s 2011 and 2012 vintages before leaving at the end of January to become associate winemaker at Okanagan Crush Pad Winery..

In mid-January, Pascal Madevon left Osoyoos Larose, where he had been winemaker and vineyard manager since 2001, to join Culmina.

The wines to be offered this summer, likely between $25 and $30 a bottle, are expected to be a Chardonnay called Dilemma (because there is still some debate whether to keep those old vines or plant newer clones) and Hypothesis. The latter is a Bordeaux blend – 50% Merlot, 25% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

The winery explains that Hypothesis can be defined as “a provisional idea whose merit requires evaluation. … To the Triggs, Hypothesis wine represents ‘their best effort’ bringing together all the wisdom of 30 years in the industry.”

The winery is equipped with a tasting room and function rooms to take advantage of the stunning views over the valley from this site. Like everything else here, the owners want to raise the bar on the visitor experience. There will be a casual tasting bar but the intent is to go further.

“We want to tell our story,” Elaine says. “We will do sit-down tastings. But because we have spent so much time and energy on vineyard development, we really want to focus on providing as many people as possible with a vineyard tour; and to educate them on what we are doing.”