Okanagan Winery Culmina: Where Vision Meets Science


Many of us strive  for perfection. At least we talk about it. A lot.

Meet Don Triggs, a man who not only raises the bar, but takes his neighbours with him.

Years ago we were doing a  Canada AM special  in Niagara-On-The-Lake.  I asked Del Rollo of Constellation Brands, which includes Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery,  about the founders, Alan Jackson  and Don Triggs.  Before being taken over by Constellation, they   built their company into one of the largest producers in the world. Jackson remained  involved in the winery and joined us on the live show. Don Triggs headed west in search of the perfect piece of land to create the perfect BC wine.

Every few years I would ask Del the status of Don’s search. “Testing the land,” he’d say,   or  “Getting closer”  or simply “Not just yet.”  And I would keep waiting. Then last year on a visit to the Okanagan, I asked our tour guide if he knew anything about it. “Definitely Culmina,” he said without missing a beat.

An imposing gate welcomes you to the winery.  The gate opens slowly…ever so slowly for someone who has been waiting years for this and has been accused of suffering from NPIS (News Producer Impatience Syndrome).

Everything – the property, the vines, the building – is impeccable. Every detail carefully planned. Even the speed of the opening of the gates is calculated. Slow down.  Smell that rose bush at the edge of the row of vines. Breathe.

We were met by Sara Triggs, Don’s daughter who runs the marketing for the winery and arranged the tour,

Don Triggs took us around the vineyard sharing the history, the challenges and his vision for the future.

Culmina, which means peak in Latin, sits high atop the hills of Oliver in the southern part of the Okanagan Valley. With the help of French wine consultant Alain Sutre, Don and his wife Elaine did their homework – testing every inch of the land. The result: a grid of the winery with each grape varietal matched with the right soil to achieve optimal results.

There are rows upon rows of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah  – grapes that are comfortable  in  the hot and steamy temperatures of the area. There is also a field planted with Gruner Veltliner, a grape more commonly grown in the colder climes of Austria. Unicus is the first of its kind grown in the Okanagan. Don named the plot Margaret’s Bench, after his mother.  It’s also his favourite spot for a picnic with his wife Elaine,  so long as you don’t mind sharing  with the odd deer.

“Experience is the sum of mistakes when you take notice” quoting Margaret,   something he does frequently. And he takes plenty of notice.

Don’s  vision  is a blend of tried and true techniques of the past enhanced by the latest technology.  Every aspect of the vineyard  is closely monitored using data from solar powered gathering stations. The team can easily identify one patch that is getting too much or too little water.

In 2015, wildfires  licked uncomfortably close to the vines.  Staff monitored and watered the area around the clock to make sure the flames just one hill over did not spread.

By this time, I must admit I was feeling mighty eager to sample these wines. It was like that movie trailer that has you counting the days, hours, minutes to the release.

Don took us through a tasting of six wines. Decora a riesling, so flavourful it had me rethinking my under-appreciation for the grape.


Each wine has a story. R & D – a testament to the research and development that goes into each wine, and the importance of family, the photo on the label is Don and his twin brother  Ron,



My two favourites – the Cabernet Sauvignon and Hypothesis – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France and Merlot. Absolutely stunning. The marriage of Art and Science and years of Patience.


To Don, it is all about doing what you love.

“You enjoy what you do,”  I observed.  “I was here at 6 am.” Don says with a smile ear to ear.

Cheers Don, Elaine and Sarah. It was worth the wait.

If you are planning a  visit to the Okanagan, Culmina offers tours and tastings from the end of April to the end of October. Reserve ahead for a tour.  No advance booking for the tastings which are  regularly scheduled throughout the day.


Cheap Wines for January (or any month)

Yes You Can!

Next Monday January is  Blue Monday. It’s apparently the date when the Christmas bills come in. You may have already cheated on your resolutions and for We The North, it could be one of the coldest weekends of the year.

For wine drinkers like me, this budget-challenged time is a good time to explore some new wines.  Over the holidays, I found some outstanding wines in Quebec and Ontario between  $15- $20.

There are lots of tasty value wines to be found on the general list shelves of the SAQ and LCBO. Here are a few I tested, served to guests and MOST important, bought them again.

Crazy price

Bibi Graetz Casamatta Rosso, IGT Tuscany $15.95  (SAQ $18.95) Cassamatta means “Crazy House” in Italian and this little gem is tucked away  in the Tuscan section of Vintages for a crazy price. It is juicy, fruity and full-bodied and perfect for pizza night, If it is all about the numbers-for you, it earned a 90 from wine writer James Suckling,.



A Crisp Winter White

Nederburg, The Winemasters Sauvignon Blanc 2014, $11.95 LCBO   This South African white was a fan favourite at a recent holiday gathering, It is crisp, delicious and aromatic at an unbelievable price. Nederburg has been producing wines for more than 200 years. If you like this one, try the Winemasters Cabernet Sauvignon  – it is earthy full-bodied and approachable at an  equally approachable f$11.95


Thank you, Argentina


La Posta Pizzella, Malbec 2015 Mendoza, Argentina $15.95  This  holiday finds that had me going back for more. It is a  Malbec that is  deep and deliciously balanced. If you’re looking for something meaty sample these smooth  mocha notes.



Caparzo Rosso
Monte Antico

Finally a tip to help in your search, keep it in the family. Check out some of the names you recognize.  Many of the bigger producers have a portfolio that includes value wines worth trying.  Monte Antica, from the Antinori Family is $15.95 in Vintages, Caparzo Rosso $13.10  also makes a delicious Brunello and the Beronia Rioja 2013 $13.95 has a Reserva and Gran Reserva on the shelves of Vintages.

Most important, when you come across a great find, share with your friends. You will make their Blue Monday just a little bit tastier.