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.

 

OKANAGAN WINERIES PACK A PUNCH

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Time. Much like wine, it is something I can’t seem to get enough of. And something I run out of. Hence the absence of my blog for the last few months. Any extra time I had, I spent drinking wine, not writing about it.

So to kick myself into high gear, I took a couple of days off  from my new job and headed to BC wine country for some inspiration.

I picked a few places I had never been to before. Places with great stories. And great stories in the Okanagan are not hard to find. There are new wineries popping up here all the time.

There are anywhere from 120 – 250 wineries here depending who you ask, and whether they’ve been drinking.  And they are making some spectacular wines that we never see on the other side of the country.

I picked by grape. I know I love big reds, so I headed south to Oliver and  Osoyoos – home of some wondrous Bordeaux blends.  I also learned that if you mention you’re going to the Okanagan,  inevitably someone  sighs like they are remembering a visit to paradise and shows you a picture of that little winery that turned into a big experience.

Three days,  seven wineries and here are  a few highlights.

  1. Invictus by Perseus
    Invictus by Perseus

    Perseus – I sampled a bottle of Perseus wine a year ago and I have been dreaming about it ever since.  The winery opened in 2011 in the middle of a residential neighbourhood.  It has already picked up a number of awards for Invictus, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. The winery is named after the constellation  which hangs above the Okanagan during harvest time. Had to take one home.IMG_1683

  2. Poplar GroveI visited this place  for the wine and the company.   Cindy, Cathy,
    IMG_1685
    Poplar Grove Winery

    Wendy and Sue have been friends since high school. Today they invited us join them  to  sample the best this stunning winery had to offer. One more for the suitcase. Imagine waking up to this treasure every morning?

 

Culmina Winery
Culmina Winery

3. Culmina Winery – This was one of the reasons I came back to  the Okanagan, Rumour had it the wine was among the best in the Valley – and it did not disappoint. Don Triggs (of Jackson-Triggs fame) and his daughter Sara have blended old-fashioned knowledge with high tech tools to create wines to remember, including wines that shouldn’t really be growing in that climate. The approach is inspirational and will be the subject of a separate story in its own. Stay tuned.  OK… we bought a case.

 

4.  Moon Curser This winery has a one-of-a-kind distinction for me. I actually had to risk arrest and  break-in to get a taste. My friend Lisa and I were staying in Osoyoos and decided to clock our 10,000 steps by walking to the winery (how cool is that)?

Let nothing stand between Me and My Wine
Let nothing stand between Me and My Wine

Google Maps directed us to a walking path along the cherry trees and vines. However, about 100 metres from our destination we were met by a locked gate, not that that was going to stop us. We got down on all fours and slipped under the fence. It was definitely worth the effort. Moon Curser – formerly Twisted Tree – is named after the smugglers who used to work in “them thar hills with veins of gold.” They cursed the light of the moon when trying to sneak across the border.

Moon Curser features  some old and new world varietals that are attracting attention. Owner and winemaker Chris Tolley, a former Montrealer, and his wife Beata, honed their craft in New Zealand. Their Tannant , Malbec, Sangiovese, Syrah,

Moon Curser Winery
Moon Curser Winery

Carmenere,  along with the Afraid of the Dark white and red blends, are all  worth a taste.  Yup, Moon Curser got the last spot in my suitcase.

Big Sky over the Okanagan Valley
Big Sky over the Okanagan Valley

Go to the Okanagan!  Demand more BC wines in your local wine store!  These are national treasures that stand up to Old World excellence. Thanks for the inspiration!

Cheers!

 

 

Cheers to Chardonnay; Celebrating A Day In Your Honour

With 400,000 acres of this vinifera varietal planted around the globe there’s a world of Chardonnay to choose from.  For a time consumers shied away from this once popular wine because many felt it was being over-oaked and people’s palates were craving something a little more crisp and cool.

Ontario Chardonnay_2But over the last few years Chardonnay has made a big comeback especially those from cooler climates. As Ontario’s (and the world’s) most popular grape from unoaked to Chablis style there’s a wide range of styles to suit everyone’s taste.

It’s so popular again, that today, winemakers, cellar masters, sommeliers, and wine lovers around the world will celebrate International Chardonnay Day.  There are lots of ways to join in the celebration online Twitter is @coolchardonnay with hashtags #chardday and #14c2013. Facebook is /CoolChardonnayCelebration, and Pinterest is pinterest.com/i4c.  Many wineries will have special offerings today but if you can’t make it out to one, just chill a bottle, crack it open and toast this new trend that everyone seems to be enjoying and join in the online party.

Ontario ChardonnayHere in Ontario, today marks the kickoff to the Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration taking place July 19-21 in Niagara.  Sixty-two winemakers from 11 countries will offer up a taste of the world’s best chardonnay to wine enthusiasts at events ranging from intimate vineyard lunches to the main event “The Cool Chardonnay Wine Tour”.

If you’re looking for information on Chardonnay Day activities and the i4c (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration) you’ll find it here www.coolchardonnay.org

How will you celebrate today?

 

 

Ontario Wines: So Many More To Discover

I know Lis and I often go on about how much we love big bold reds from Italy but we also like to promote home-grown grapes and the wines they produce.  In truth there are so many wineries in the Niagara region I’m not sure how long it will take us to visit them all but we’re going to give it our best.

We’ve certainly been to the bigger ones, Jackson-Triggs, Inniskillin, Colaneri Estate Winery, Chateau des Charmes, Stratus Vineyards, and several others located near the main strip but there’s so many more throughout the Niagara region and they’re yours to discover.

0One of my colleagues found out about our blog and said his wife worked for a winery called Calamus Estate Winery. Telling him I’d never heard of it he kindly brought me a selection of their wines to taste.   I started with the whites because even though reds are my passion, every wine deserves a chance…plus a nice light white is always great for summer sipping.

0-3The whites included a 2011 Pinot Gris, a 2011 Riesling and a 2010 Gewürztraminer.  Of the three my favourite was the Riesling, which was a light straw colour, tasted clean and crisp with a hint of peach and because of it’s acidity it went wonderfully with the cheese fondue we were having for dinner.

0-2The reds included a 2010 Cabernet Franc a 2008 Calamus Red.  Of the two I definitely gravitated towards the Calamus Red, which was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  Ruby red in colour is smelled of cherry, blackberry and vanilla and tasted delicious.  This one is definitely worth a trip down to the winery but you can also order online.

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Founded by Derek Saunders and his wife Pat Latin they first purchased 14 acres near Beamsville, Ontario and planted a 10 acre vineyard in 2000.  When the land was being cleared for planting fragments of rock from the original First Nation inhabitants were found and played a role in its naming as CALAMUS is Latin for the word arrow.  In 2001 they purchased a second property next to Ball’s Falls Conservation area and this is now home to the Calamus Estate Winery.

The old barn that now houses the tasting room is also home to a very cool feature, a Chronos Observatory.

BarnwLogoOften mistaken for a farm silo the observatory actually includes a working deep space telescope.  Located on the Niagara bench it’s just a short distance from the town of Jordan and this is definitely one of the areas we would like to explore more. It would make for an amazing venue in the evening, gazing at the stars while sipping the wines.

Is there a hidden treasure we should know about?  Send us a comment and we’ll add it to the post.

 

Mozart Makes the Vines Grow Stronger

A Rocking VintageThe connection between wine and music is a marriage made in heaven, not just because it is the combination of two of my favourites things, or even because I can’t imagine my life without either, but there is actually a science behind the power of this pairing.

Throw a little ACDC on the sound system and you might describe the red you are sipping as as punchy or bold, while those Pat Metheny tunes will have you calling a white wine  light and crisp. A study out of Herriot – Watt University in Edinburgh suggests the music you are listening to  affects the way it tastes and certain kinds of music will make the wine taste better.

Research out of the University of Leicester in the UK found that music can also  affect the kind of wine you buy. So  listening to Tony Bennett Leaving his Heart in San Francisco while shopping could lead you to a lovely Napa Valley red – while sultry French songstress  Edith Piaff could send you directly into the Bordeaux aisle.

There are web sites dedicated to music and wine pairings. WIneandMusic.com – tells us Katy Perry’s Teenage Dreams goes nicely with 7 Deadly Zins Zinfandel 2007, or Maroon 5’s Hands All Over is perfectly paired with d’Arenberg’s Stump Jump. The web site’s philosophy is “Wine is like music, you may not know what is good, but you know what you like.”

Seven Deadly Zins Suggested with Angelic Katy Perry

Another web site dedicated to harmonic pairings, WineFoodMood.com – combines beat of the music and wine style – so fast-paced and energetic tunes like Abba is best consumed with something easy drinking – like a Beaujolais. Most of the research focuses on how our wine decisions and appreciation are  influenced by music.

You don’t have to look far to see more evidence of the marriage of music and wine. For example, AC/DC Back in Black Shiraz, the Rolling Stones Forty Licks Merlot, or Sting’s Tuscan creation Sister Moon – clearly wine appreciation extends to all musical genres.

Wines That RockA Calfornia winery out of Mendocino County called  Wines that Rock produces Forty Licks Merlot and that’s just the beginning. Wines That Rock calls itself the official wine of rock and roll. Its mission: to  “create great tasting wines inspired by music.” http://www.winesthatrock.com/The-Wine. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet Sauvignon, Police’s Synchronicity Red Blend, Woodstock Chardonnay – the labels are amazing and the reviews pretty great, too.

According to the website,  winemaker Mark Beaman has music blasting through the cellar while working his magic. He even has playlists for harvesting (including U2, Smashing Pumpkins, Led Zepplin and Dire Straits) and for blending (Fleetwood Mac, Police, Pink Floyd and The Red Hot Chili Peppers).

A  small winery in Tuscany believes the love affair  goes both ways.. It uses the power of music to coax the best out of its grapes.

The Sound of Mozart in Paradise

Il Paradiso di Frassina plays Mozart to its vines 24 hours a day. Owner Giancarlo Cignozzi believed playing music to the vines would enhance their flavour – and make Giancarlo happy at the same time. A civil lawyer from Milan, he bought the vineyard in 1999 and brought his love of music with him.

Whether classical music makes the vines go stronger, or if it is merely a marketing tool, it is an effective one.  Il Paradiso has become known as the Mozart Vineyard. Every major wine publication along with the international media has come to call and to sample.

“We became known as the people who play music to the grapes. They thought we were nuts,” says Ulisse Cignozzi, Giancarlo’s son who gave us the tour.

The speaker people at BOSE believed enough to donate 100 speakers to the cause. The University of Florence took notice and is currently involved in a long term study to see if there is science to support the theory.  Ulisse says it’s too early to tell, but there are some initial findings that suggest the grapes respond to sound.

“We noted the sugar content is higher in grapes that are closer to the speakers,” he says.

One of the wines under the influence that we sampled, a Brunello di Montalcino 2007 was full-bodied and delicious. While I haven’t found it in the LCBO, Zoltan Szabo – sommelier at Toronto’s Trump International Hotel and Tower stocks it at the hotel.

Another wine, though not grown in the shadow of the speakers, accompanies the musical theme. 12 Uve (12 grapes) features 12 different varietals – 6 Italian, 6 Bordeaux – one for each note on the musical scale.

There’s no shortage of interest in the pairing of music and wine closer to home. Mount Royal University in Calgary offers a course in music and wine pairings. www.Mtroyal.ca

Jackson-Triggs holds a  spectacular concert series each summer, a perfect example of the harmonious blend of good music and good wine – www.jacksontriggswinery.com

The Outside Lands Festival near San Francisco even hired a wine curator to pair wines with the music performances on the menu.

“We’re creating a new platform where all these pleasure points in our life – eating, drinking and music,” curator Peter Eastlake told Wine Spectator earlier this year.

True, because there is nothing more pleasureable than a tasting a great glass of wine – at any price, while listening to the perfect piece of music.

Slainte (cheers in Gaellic – pronounced Slawn-tcha)

 

 

Holiday Discoveries to Wine About..

This week’s edition of Wednesday Wine Picks comes after much holiday sampling. Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the glasses sparkled and the pouring was plentiful.  Many wines were sipped and savoured and here are a few  that kept the crowds coming back for more without my husband threatening to seize my debit card.

 

Bruzzico Malenchini – IGT Toscana IGT 2006  $25.85 SAQ grassby red

Sampled and enjoyed Chez Grassby, it is medium-bodied plus with enough punch for the full-bodied wine loving types. It is smooth as silk and exceptionally well balanced,.  Lynn served with a a yummy plate of shrimp.  I would highly recommend for an evening with friends.

 

Mara Vino di Ripasso Cesari Valpolicella Superiore Classico 2010 $17.85 SAQ $15.45 LCBO

This is a terrific wine for a party, a get-together with pizza, pasta or even a burger. It’s a medium bodied well-structured red that is spicy and fruity and at the right price.

Entourage Sparkling Wine by Jackson Triggs $22.95 LCBO

What is New Year’s Day without a Mimosa or three? Entourage by Jackson-Triggs is perfectly good on its own or if you feel better because it is only 9:30 in the morning – add some fresh orange juice, along with a dash of pomegranate juice if you are feeling adventurous and, of course, because it is really good for you. A few of these will take you right through to nap time.

 

Antinori Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 $29.95 SAQ

This wine has been part of my holidays for the past few years (and this year it even came with a wine bottle opener which somehow ended up in my husband’s stocking). My brother Rob and I cook up a storm while sampling a few treasures. While he is more prone to Bud than Barolo (yes, we really are related) , each year he looks forward to the sibling selection. This  was a perfect eve before Christmas Eve pick – with cherry, herbal and tobacco hints. This one stays on my Christmas wish list.

Peppoli Chianti Classico 2010 LCBO $19.95 SAQ $24.45

Just released at the LCBO,  this vintage got such a great reaction that my husband went out hunting down more bottles at LCBO’s in the neighbourhood. Red fruit – currants, cherries, raspberries, a little sweetness, ruby red in colour, medium bodied and delicious with just about anything.

Cheers! And wishing you all a year of adventurous wine tasting. If  you had a holiday favourite or your own, let us know!