Culmina Family Estate Winery occupies a very special location on the Golden Mile Bench. It is on an elevated area abounding with potential but was mostly unused when Don and Elaine Triggs first noticed the property. When the development of Culmina began in 2006, the Triggs family knew that they wanted to break new ground in the wine industry. From the soil in the vineyard to the final customer experience, everything about growing, making, and selling wine was examined to achieve the highest quality wine and customer experience possible.
Both Don and Elaine had grown up on farms on the prairies and had been in the wine industry for decades. Elaine managed the family’s vineyard in Ontario and Don spent the majority of his career pioneering the modern Canadian wine industry. They knew what kind of land they were looking for to grow the kind of wine they were most interested in: a site with great potential for making Bordeaux-style reds. Because it was essentially a fresh start for them, they sought out undeveloped vineyard land in the south Okanagan, which had become a rarity by that point. They studied various sites using temperature probes and soil samples. Eventually, they selected a scenic site with a southeastern facing slope set high on the Golden Mile Bench near Oliver.
A lot of climate and soil research was carried out before the vineyard could be planted. “We wanted to understand our terroir before we planted,” explained Sara Triggs. They dug 22 soil pits on the site to find the types of soils, where they changed, and how much moisture they could hold. They discovered that each one of the soil pits were very different which meant that each section of the vineyard would have different needs for water. They developed an irrigation system that broke the vineyard down into micro-blocks, each averaging 1.25 acres in size, and customizing a watering regime for each block. Since there are 43 micro-blocks on a total of 56 acres of vineyard, irrigation becomes a complicated task that is made slightly simpler with the help of technology. Vineyard monitoring stations track precipitation, temperature, wind speed, humidity, and soil moisture content at three different depths every 30 minutes. The information is stored in a cloud-based system which also has the ability to program precise adjustments for irrigating the micro-blocks.
The intense studying of the terroir has resulted in a portfolio of wines that have received high critical acclaim and strong consumer demand. The culmination of the Triggs’ vision to craft an iconic Bordeaux-style red wine is manifested in Hypothesis, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc that author John Schreiner scored as high as 94 points. In fact, each of the new wines this year has rated above 90 points, including Unicus – the Okanagan’s first ever Grüner Veltliner – of which wine critic Anthony Gismondi stated simply, “This is an amazing wine.” Unicus (Latin for singular, unique) is grown high above the winery on Margaret’s Bench and is very limited. Being unique, it is only available for tasting and purchase as part of the Reserve Tasting experience.
The visitor experience at Culmina reflects the Triggs’ desire to share their story with their guests in an intimate setting. “We definitely have a lot to say,” jokes Sara. When visitors arrive at Culmina, they are welcome to enjoy the incredible view on the patio while the team sets up the guests’ seated Reserve Tasting. From there, visitors are seated at the tasting room’s antique Dukhobor table and guided through a line-up of four wines. For the duration of their visit, they receive the undivided attention of Culmina’s staff in a setting that is relaxed, engaging, and surrounded by stunning views of the vineyard.
Because of the amount of time that is spent with each group, all of Culmina’s Reserve Tasting experiences take place at set times throughout the day on the “:15” of every hour (10:15, 11;15 until the last seating at 4:15). Sara likens it to a ferry schedule. “If you’re late, it’s full, or you miss it, you will have to catch the next seating.” Sara emphasizes that Culmina’s Reserve Tastings are not ‘by appointment only’ and that drops-ins are welcome at any of the daily seated times. However they do recommend booking ahead on Saturdays and over long weekends to make sure that there is room at the table, which has a capacity for 10 people. Reservations can be made at Culmina.ca or by contacting the winery directly.
~ Luke Whittall