Back in 1989 Don Triggs sold his ski chalet, remortgaged his house, and sunk in his savings when Labbatt decided to sell the wine division of their massive beer company. Those shares sold became Vincor, which came to hold six Okanagan winery/vineyard properties, and several international properties, under the lead of Don Triggs, the Chief Executive Officer. It was his calling back to the wine business that he had originally entered into in 1972 with a marketing role for Labatt's wine division. In 1994 the company borrowed his and his then partner Alan Jackson's names to form Jackson-Triggs Winery. The rest is history.
In 2006 when Don and wife Elaine decided to re-enter the wine business again, their decision was cemented when Sara Triggs, the youngest of their three daughters, and holding a master’s in wine business from the University of Adelaide, came on to carry the family legacy. They set out to find the ideal property that would be Culmina (and what I would unofficially call a Wine Research Station) with the help of Triggs' wine business alliance, Alain Sutre. They certainly found that piece of wine paradise sitting on a diverse and varied piece of Oliver's Golden Mile... And again, sunk the family fortune in to a winery that "spares no expense".
You can call Don a pioneer and a heavyweight with this history. On September 10, a glorious warm day that teased of the harvest soon to come, I visited Don and Sara at the Winery. What had me most enthralled on a privileged two hour tour, was his passion that seemed to flow endlessly, with a youthful-meets-wise brilliance that is contagious and heartwarming. For me, this spirit is really what has set him as an icon of wine and as a true leader in the Okanagan's growing place on the world wine stage. The Triggs' deep investment in science and research will help generations of wine in the valley.
My photo account of the afternoon is a walk-through of his affectionately titled, marvelously scientific, and micro-farmed vineyards:
Here, tasting merlot grapes with Don in his Arise Bench, named for his family farming history dating back to the 1600's in Barbados. From row to row, from the sunnyside to the shaded side of the vines we compare the season's fruit. The farming techniques are managed at a micro level with watering and monitoring all row and even plant specific. A solar powered computer sits in the middle of each vineyard collecting data that winemaker Pascal Madevon (who happened to be in France during my visit) monitors the farm meticulously with, through this data collection and careful observation, even from his temporary french locale.
Up at Margaret's Bench (named after Don's mother) which sits at a higher elevation we taste the different Chardonnay clones (at their third leaf this season) all planted at specific locations on the sloping plot. This bench is also home to alsatian varieties including Riesling and Gruner Veltliner.
Margaret's Bench is the highest vineyard on the property, and it's view spans across the valley, nearly spotting Gallagher Lake to the north and funneling down south to Lake Osoyoos and across the US/Canada border.
Driving past Stan's Bench, we arrive at the "BV" project... Bush Vines, the land of the strugglers - 1500 vines planted in to the natural landscape of the hillside. This is the most non-invasive vineyard management I have ever witnessed! Those vines struggling amidst the indigenous sage brush will be a most true expression of "Okanagan Terroir".
Back at the new high tech, purpose driven, architecturally designed gravity flow winery, Don Triggs and Event and Hospitality Manager Justin McAuliffe show me the centrifugal destemmer, a new and advanced piece of machinery that removes stems and debris with the very least amount of fruit damage.
These stainless tanks are only used/filled once in a vintage, so to keep the juice company over it's time in the tanks, they have installed a raising and lowering chandelier and dance floor... Why not? It's a great place for dinner party!
With oak barrels made from the trees from five french forests, their cooperage and their barrel program is something they take as seriously as their vineyard management.
Culmina's fist three wines in three gorgeous shades:
- 2012 Saignee Rose
- 2011 Dilemma
- 2011 Hypothesis
I'll leave the rest of the story of the wines for you to enjoy and hear from the family at your visit to Culmina.
"We make what we want to drink," says Sara. The love they have for this tradition and industry is palpable, both in the wines, and in their smiles that speak of time well loved and spent.
Visits are by reservation only, where once through the gorgeous gate of Culmina, you will experience it and leave with a renewed or perhaps newly borne excitement for the future of BC Wine and the Okanagan.
Tarynn Liv Parker
September 20, 2013