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.

 

Wine Picks for the Weekend

SAN FRANCISCO 018This is how I felt when I walked into the LCBO this past weekend.

There are some fantastic new wine picks this week that are worthy of attention. I spent some quality time at the tasting bar and my shopping cart went from 0 to 12 faster than I could say Vino Nobile de Montipulciano.  These wines range from affordable (under $20) to downright cheap ($14.95)  and every single one of them will make you cheerful.

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Three Ring Shiraz 2013, Barossa Valley, South Australia $18.95  Full-bodied plush with pepper, spicy, great buy.  The big fruity full-bodied attack down the middle at its best. This is the perfect wine for steak or stew, burgers or any kind of beef, or just for sipping.

 

 

 

 

ramitello

 

Di Majo Norante Ramitello 2011 $18.95 – Molise, Italy

Before I taste a half ounce of swanky wine in the LCBO tasting room, I always start out tasting a wine I can actually afford.   This one was a real pleasure. It is a blend of 80% Montepulciano and 20% Aglianico grapes so it carried some decent body and plummy flavours. Wine Spectator gave it 90 points.

 

 

 

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Monasterio de las Vinas Reserva 2006 $14.95 LCBO $15.45 SAQ – Spain This is the value buy of the week. It’s a medium-bodied blend of 70% Garnacha, 20% Tempranillo and 10 % Carinena.  At that price, get a six-pack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

bila haut

 

Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013 $25.95 – Midi, France 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 10% Carignan – – medium to full bodied with a lovely long finish. This was my splurge of the week and worth the extra few dollars.

 

 

 

 

Hope you enjoy the choices. Have a great weekend and let us know what you are drinking!

 

Family Ties

IMG_0734The wine was perfect, the champagne superb. This gathering was as much about family as it was about the wine. It had all the hallmarks of a big family event bursting at the seams. The extended table was set for members who have come from all over Europe for this little get together, the inside jokes, the teasing, the nudging, the respect for elders. And some of the best wines in the world. This is what wine dreams are made of.

The event – a luncheon with the PFV, Primum Familae Vini –  the first families of wine of Europe.images

These names represent the treasures tucked away in the finest wine collections: Antinori, Perrin, Torres, Mouton Rothschild, Drouhin. They are also accessible to all wine drinkers.

The PFV was established in 1992. Its 11 members share a commitment to excellence. Each member is a  family-run operations.  The legendary Robert Mondavi was the 12th, until he sold to the Constellation group.  Membership is by invitation only. Together they share the passion and the challenges, and when they get together, it feels like you have been invited to Sunday dinner.

An Ocean of Delights
An Ocean of Delights
Bottle SASSICAIA 2007 (750ML)
Sassicaia 2007

 

I had the pleasure of sitting beside Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta,. Her family produces Sassicaia, the queen of the Super Tuscans. She talked about the birth of the brand. Her grandfather Mario, a lover of Bordeaux wines,  in the 40s defied tradition and experimented by planting Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in Tuscany’s Bolgheri region.

Those of you who have tried wines from Bolgheri DOC will know that you can rarely go wrong with anything from that region. If you haven’t, buy a bottle tonight!

 

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Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta & his groundbreaking father Mario Incisa della Rocchetta

“People thought my grandfather was mad,” said Priscilla. But the quality of the wine, which came as no  surprise to her grandfather, led her father to believe there was an opportunity here.
With the help of his cousin, Piero Antinori – of the Italian wine dynasty, Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta began to sell his wine commercially. Sadly, her grandfather died in 1983 before knowing the extent of the success of Sassicaia. Tenuta San Guido also produces Guidalberto  ($52.95) and  Le Difese ($31.95) – wines typically available at the LCBO.
Priscilla said without her grandfather’s vision, Sassicaia would not be the grand wine it is today.  “It is a great legacy” she told the small group gathered to hear the stories of the great families of wine, and even better to taste their finest offerings. At Christmas, they send each other one bottle of their finest.

The group spend three days together once a year. Asked how long does it take to recover, Thomas Perrin of Famille Perrin laughed. Another inside joke.

Each time they meet, they debate inviting one more member. But getting 11 strong personalities to agree takes time. “It must be the right fit with the entire group,” said Priscilla.

Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2012
Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2012

 

“The walls and the wines have stories to tell,” said  Laurent Drouhin, whose family founded the winery in 1890.   He chose a to showcase a crisp and delicious Chablis – the afternoon just kept getting better.

And behind each story – a wine dynasty – like Vega Sicilia that began selling wine to the Spain’s royal family in 1876 or Miguel Torres – whose family winery was established in 1870 . I have been drinking (and recommending) his wines for years. Torres paid tribute to the group. “We are all of us a real family,” he said between signing autographs.

 

Pablo Alvarez of Vega-Sicilia
Pablo Alvarez of Vega Sicilia
Miguel Torres
Miguel Torres

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the purpose of the PFV is more than public relations. At their annual meeting, which rotates among members – they share best practices, help each other develop new markets, create new memories. and then there’s the wine.

 

Champagne Pol Roger Churchill 2002
Champagne Pol Roger Churchill 2002

I started off with a glass (or two) of Pol Roger Champagne – I would have happily sipped this all day. But then I would have missed my journey into Red Wine Heaven.

 

 

 

Vega-Sicilia Unico 2004
Vega-Sicilia Unico 2004
Mouton Rothschild 2005
Beaucastel 2005
Chateau Beaucastel Rouge 2005

 

SOLAIA_BASSA
Solaia 2007, Antinori

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the wines served were simply  spectacular. My two personal favourites: Solaia and Sassicaia.  And while guests sampled from of the finest wines of Europe, the event was really was the vines that bind.

“It’s all about the family” said Allegra Antinori.

Family and tradition, a perfect pairing.

 

 

Wines for the Weekend

A weekend when the weather was spectacular and the wine even better.

Here are a few suggestions if you are looking for some great new additions.

Topping the list:

FullSizeRenderCASTANO SOLANERA VINAS VIEJAS 2012 –  This suggestion came from wine writer Eric Schneider who has made some great recommendations to date. Sadly, they often are gone by the time I get to the LCBO so this time I took no chances. I headed directly to the store after work on Friday only to find out the mass release was only coming on Saturday. So I was at my local LCBO when it opened at 9:30 and picked up a case. This better be good, I thought. And it was. The Spanish blend is 70% Monastrell, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Garnacha.  It’s a big wine, perfect for a barbecue. According to Eric, is it best between 2015 and 2018 – but it will never last that long in our house.  I am actually regretting not getting a few extra at $16.95. Don’t wait.

FullSizeRenderWIRRA WIRRA CHURCH BLOCK CABERNET/MERLOT/SHIRAZ 2012 – Also in the big bold section of the wine rack. I saddled up to the tasting bar at the LCBO after I couldn’t get my hands on the above-mentioned Solanera and tested a few. This one was terrific. It comes from McLaren Vale – which is one of my favourite sources for Australian Wines. Lots of dark fruit, a touch of vanilla, and spicy finish. My OTC – official tasting companion’s love for wines with “an attack down the middle” would be pleased. $19.95

FullSizeRenderSPLUGE-WORTHY: STRATUS CABERNET FRANC 2010

I must admit Cabernet Franc is not a go to wine for me. Most often, I find it best in a blend, but on it’s own a little rough around the edges. This wine is worthy of a solo. It brings out the best of the varietal. It will not disappoint. $38.20

 

 

A perfect way to spend last weekend, and wishing you some wine adventures coming up. Let me know if you come across a gem.

Cheers

Montemercurio: On the Wings of Fine Wine

On the Wings of Paradise
On the Wings of Paradise

I am under the Tuscan Sun, the place  where magic happens, where grapes become wine, history becomes a playground, and life truly feels like this was how it was meant to be lived.

the square
The Grand Piazza of Montepulciano

Montemercurio Winery combines legend and science to create memorable wines.
It is said the grand piazza of Montepulciano was once the site of a temple honouring Mercury, the winged-God of Roman mythology. Mercury was the God of communication, commerce, eloquence (poetry) and travellers (how forward-thinking those Romans were).

Honour Thy Grandfather
Honour Thy Grandfather

 

 

In 2007, when Marco Anselmi decided to create his own brand of wine in the shadow of the hill town of Montepulciano or Mons Mercurio as it was once called, he honoured the legend and he honoured his grandfather Damo who taught him everything about wine.

 

First Place
Poetry in a Bottle

 

Last year at an informal blind tasting of producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano at the E Lucevan Le Stelle – a wine bar par excellence in the pretty hill town , Montemercurio came first. It sparked brisk sales, and my interest in getting to know their wines better. Much better.

 

Wine Tasting with Irene
Wine Tasting with Irene

 

Sommelier Irene Lesti was our guide. She drove us to the stunning fields just below Montepulciano, most planted with Sangiovese –  the Tuscan hero grape,  a little Merlot, Canaiolo, Colorino, and Barbera for blending –  along with Malvasia Bianca, Canaiolo Bianco, Trebbiano and Pulcinculo used to produce a kick ass white.

Owner and winemaker Marco Anselmi is a firm believer in traditional methods.  He respects the old ways – from the size of the oak barrels to the regional grapes.

Cementing the Future
Cementing the Future

 

His latest experiment, aging wine in a gigantic cement block as the Romans did 2000 years ago. It’s an idea that’s caught on in the last few years with Crush Pad in the Okanagan and a number of California wineries, including Conundrum and Cliff Lede, doing the same.

 

The Full Montemercurio
The Full Montemercurio

Back at the Cantina, Irene let us sample the entire production line, starting with Caduceo IGT 2012, a white even my husband Steve, a seriously dedicated red wine drinker, appreciated. It was full of all the flavour Pinot Grigio often lacks.

Irene took us on a journey through the Tedicciolo, an IGT Toscana Rosso which softens the 80% Sangiovese with 20% Merlot. “Sangiovese can be a very aggressive grape,” said Irene. “Merlot gives it a little fruit.” Steve, my official tasting companion, loved it….until he tasted the Petaso – a Rosso di Montepulciano that went down so nicely, we had to take one home. With a flavour that is equal parts intense and elegant, this is a great value wine. Snap it up if it comes to the LCBO or SAQ!

Of Gods and Great Wine
Of Gods and Great Wine

Messaggero Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2008 was my favourite. It was big, bold and beautiful – a delicious blend of 95%Sangiovese and 5% Canaiolo. The reason this vintage was special – Marco did not think the selection grapes met the standard for their premium wine, DAMO, so all the grapes meant for DAMO went into the 2008 Messaggero. Essentially a Riserva without the price tag. This was only the second harvest for the winery. The good news is Messagero is coming to the LCBO – so keep an eye out for it.

Finally, DAMO, Montemercurio’s premium wine is a blend of the best grapes of the vineyard. 80% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo, Mammolo, Colorino and Barbera. Named after Damo, Marco’s grandfather and inspiration. Irene let us try the 2007 – the first vintage and the 2008, a complex blend that opens with age.

Montemercurio produces 30,000 bottles a year, 80% is exported. Thankfully that means you don’t HAVE to return to Tuscany to try it, HOWEVER  this is where the magic happens so I highly recommend it!

Saluté

Two Glasses Half Full
Two Glasses Half Full

 

Weekend Wine Picks from Canada, California and an Italian Best Buy

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One of the many things I love about a long weekend…there is one more day to drink wine. I have a rule (with the odd exceptions) not to drink Monday-Thursday except on a holiday weekend. Sitting in the backyard sampling wines and listening to good music is one of life’s great pleasures

 

 

California ruled my Friday night visit.

aug31wine 014Diamond Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from Napa Valley is the LCBO’s wine of the month. For good reason. Winemakers described 2012 as ideal and excellent conditions and this full-bodied cab – perfect for the barbecue –  delivers. $23.95

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My next Californian – Jekel Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from Arroyo Secco, Monterey County.  My husband and I loved this wine –  we love big wines and this was full-bodied, fruit forward without oak trying to steal the show.  Good value at $19.95

 

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Raise a Glass to BC and Niagara.

The second visit left me  tipping my hat to VQA wines from BC and ON. The Sperling Pinot Noir 2012  from the Okanagan Valley was a show stopper.  It was delicious this afternoon  and will only improve with age. $27.95

 

 

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Creekside Estate Winery Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013 – fresh and inviting on this warm weekend. At $17.95, great value.

 

 

 

 

aug31wine 021Best Value Wine: My wine find for the weekend was a modest unassuming wine tucked away on the bottom shelf of the tasting room. Tormaresca Neprica 2012  from Puglia over delivered.  A blend of Negroamaro, Primativo and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes – clearly not for the faint of palate. What can I say? At $14.95 in Vintages, I bought five. Ok –  true confession – the next day I bought a case.

 Enjoy your weekend. It may not be a long one, but hopefully this will save you time at the LCBO giving you more time to savour.

Cheers

 

 

The Wines of Sicily: Le Vigne Biondi

april 2014 381Some of the best surprises come from a little random research. Looking for a winery recommendation,  I searched #Sicilanwine, using my new favourite travel tool Twitter. Stephanie and Ciro Biondi of Le Vigne Biondi tweeted me back instantly inviting me to drop by.  It turned out to be one of the best tasting experiences I have ever had.

april 2014 380
Ciro Biondi met us in the tiny town of Trecastagni.  We followed him to his first vineyard, Chianta
( meaning “to plant”) which was a feast for the eyes.    The vines grow in perfect symmetry up the steep hills surrounded by the spent craters of Mt. Etna..
These vines have been in his family for generations.
april 2014 385As a boy, Ciro played here with his sisters. His grandfather tended the grapes. So did his father until he decided that life was not for him.  Ciro also chose a different path, studying architecture in Florence. But he could not stay away. In 1999, Ciro and wife Stephanie brought the vines back to life.  His father’s reaction, “Your education cost me a fortune. Don’t screw it up.”.
 While talking about the importance of respecting nature, Ciro  leans into a  flowering fennel, sniffs the fronds and picks just enough to make that evening’s dinner. He believes you must allow the earth  to express itself in the wine without manipulation. 
april 2014 388“You don’t own the land, you lease it,” says Ciro.
Located on the eastern slope of Mount Etna, the earth is black from volcanic soil. The quality of the specific terroir has been recognized with the appellation ETNA D.O.C. , responsible for creating rich reds and elegant whites.
Our tasting took place in a modest building in the heart of his Cisterna Fuori  vineyard nearby. A retro fridge last seen on “Leave It to Beaver”, a simple table and four complex wines.
Over a discussion of Sicily, its history, its strengths and its troubles, photos of his children, and his father’s pride when he first tasted Ciro and Stephanie’s wine.  We sampled two whites and two reds, all blends of Sicily’s traditional grapes.

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There is a humbleness when talking about the success of their wines. When I asked him whether he has a winemaker – he says why pay someone to make mistakes when he can make them himself. He doesn’t seem to be making that many.
Biondi is one of the wineries featured in “Palmento: a Sicilan Wine Odessey” by Wine Spectator contributor Robert Camuto. The two became friends, and when he asked to bring a group to the winery including the American wine importer, producer and influencer Kermit Lynch, Ciro naturally agreed.   The group arrived, They tasted. They discussed techniques, terroir, exchanged philosophies. Some time into the afternoon, Ciro learned the group included Aubert de Villaine of Domaine Romanee-Conti – only the most prized and expensive burgundy in the world. romanee contiBoth share the highest regard for terroir. When de Villaine extended a invitation to visit Burgundy, Ciro and Stephanie jumped at the chance. “I was afraid to ask questions after one of the people in the group asked the head winemaker at Romanee-Conti about the PH level of their grapes. ” The winemaker snapped back  “Do you ask a beautiful woman what her cholesterol level is?”
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The Wines We Sampled:
Outis Etna Bianco
Outis Etna Bianco

Outis (Nessuno) Etna D.O.C. Bianco 2013 – straw-coloured, vibrant and delicious. 

 
Chianta Etna D.O.C. Bianco 2012 the blend of Carricante, Cataratte, Minello grapes looks like spun gold, with a flavour that is rich but not overly oaked.
And then there were the reds – oh, I wanted to take a case of each of these reds home.  
They are the pride of Etna:

 

Cisterne Fuori Etna  D.O.C. Rosso 2011: a blend of Nerello Mascalese and  Nerello Cappuccio grapes.  This is why Homer braved the wrath of Cyclops to travel to this part of the world. 
 
San Nicolo' Etna D.O.C. Rosso
San Nicolo’ Etna D.O.C. Rosso 2012 
St Nicolo Etna D.O.C.Rosso 2012 – the single vineyard blend was simply spectacular. We bought four bottles to take home to Canada. They didn’t make it that far.
Sadly the wines of Le Vigne Biondi  are not available at the LCBO or SAQ, but they are available at Terroni’s, the chain of Italian restaurants in Toronto. SO, I will just have to go back, to Terroni’s or better yet, Mt. Etna.