Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
OLIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — When you can’t retire, you reinvent.
So it is for Don Triggs, the brilliant, passionate and seemingly unstoppable force who has been a pioneer in Canada’s wine industry and, even to this day, one of its innovators.
At his winery in Oliver, an agricultural town in the southern Okanagan Valley, Triggs is engrossed in not only creating elegant, beautifully constructed wines, but also in changing how British Columbians grow grapes. Culmina Family Estate Winery includes drip irrigation (to conserve water), dryland-farming practices (used in regions where precipitation happens primarily in winter) and microclimatization (the winery has 44 blocks of grapes, with each block averaging 1.2 acres and containing a specific grape). It also features the highest elevation of any grapes grown in the Oliver-Osoyoos wine region and root stock imported from France to match with the land’s gravelly soil.
Culmina’s wines are classic and innovative. It includes Unicus, the only Gruner-Veltliner — a varietal most often associated with Austria — produced in the province, and Dilemma, a wine whose origin makes Triggs grimace when discussing it. Dilemma was born after the team at Culmina realized the grapes had been planted too low to create the quality of wine they sought. The vines, five years after being put in the ground, needed to be ripped up and the grapes that now produce Dilemma were set on a stony bench 600 feet above sea level.
While the creation of Dilemma was a painful episode, Triggs’ commitment to high-quality wine-making is one of the reasons he’s so well-respected in the industry. His skills are also revealed on the tongue. As he says, “The winemaker’s expression in the glass shows what he believes the market will want and also what he thinks is good wine.”
I was in Oliver-Osoyoos in May to run the Half-Corked Marathon, the wacky and well-organized race through the vineyards of the region. More than 1,200 participants sauntered through 16 wineries, sampling wine under 25 Celsius degree temperatures and partying at the finish line with more wine, poured by the approximately 40 wineries in the area. The race — and all that goes into it before and after the finish line — is great fun and a brilliant opportunity to sample British Columbia wine.
Here are 10 wineries you must visit when you’re in the Oliver-Osoyoos region of the Okanagan Valley.
1. Culmina — Triggs founded Jackson-Triggs in Ontario but, as he admits about his operation in British Columbia, “I knew nothing about this land or its terroir when I opened up here.” He was exaggerating, of course. Triggs had been working with wineries in the province for years. He also did know what he wanted, and that was the best available land for producing outstanding wine. He and his family surveyed five properties in the Okanagan before deciding on the sweeping 56-acre grounds where he is growing an array of grapes for Culmina’s fabulous line of products. Along with Unicus and Dilemma, the winery’s big red, Hypothesis, is a terrific choice, showcasing the earthiness and minerality Triggs references in his discussion about the ground and the evolution of wine-making in the country.
2. Hester Creek — Featuring big, bold reds and a unique white, Trebbiano, Hester Creek’s vineyards include vines planted as far back as 1968. The 2014 Judge, the winery’s iconic blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, was recently unveiled and is a must-try. The on-site restaurant, Terrafina, serves craft beer and cocktails, along with wine, and features charcuterie boards with local cheeses and pizzas that have won many loyal fans.
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3. NK’Mip Cellars — The first Aboriginal-owned winery in North America, NK’Mip is also a stellar place to base your visit. Its adjoining property, Spirit Ridge at NK’MIP Resort, is a luxury property with spacious, well-appointed rooms, some of which include full kitchens. The restaurant, Mica, has an outstanding wine selection that includes bottles from around the Okanagan Valley. Try the NK’Mip Cellars’ Dreamcatcher, a delicate white with subtle fruit flavours.
4. Tinhorn Creek — A stunning 500-seat amphitheatre hosts concerts during the summer and the restaurant, Miradora, serves Italian cuisine featuring west-coast ingredients. The restaurant’s menu pairs nicely with Tinhorn Creek’s wine offerings.
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5. Hidden Chapel — A cute, small, family-owned operation, Hidden Chapel takes its name from a quaint piece of architecture a hundred yards or so away from the winery operations. The chapel is secluded amid woods at the back of the property and pays homage to the land’s former owner, a man of religion. The wines also include fun names that match the chapel theme, including White Wedding, Nuns on the Run and Amazing Grace.
6. Black Hills — Perhaps the most famous winery in the south Okanagan, Black Hills — co-owned by actor Jason Priestley — is situated on a gorgeous property with a members-only pool and lounge area. The winery’s Nota Bene, a luscious Bordeaux-style red, is among the most iconic wines in British Columbia.
7. Road 13 Vineyards — Housed in a building whose facade resembles a castle, Road 13 is worth a visit for the views alone. Set on a cliff overlooking the winery’s vineyards in the foreground and the snow-capped mountains in the backdrop, Road 13 has a tasting room made for lingering. Be sure to try the tasty Rose and Chardonnay, both recently released.
8. Platinum Bench — Murray Jones and his wife, Fiona, moved from Winnipeg to launch a winery on the Black Sage Bench, an area Jones says is the best in the region for growing grapes. Built on what its owner says is 300 feet of sand, Platinum Bench is a little gem that doesn’t ship any wines “beyond the driveway,” Jones notes. Its tastings also include pairings of bread made in-house by Fiona Jones.
9. Kismet — Owned by the Dhaliwal family, who have built a bit of an empire in the Okanagan agricultural industry, Kismet includes wines whose names are inspired by eastern religions and symbolisms. In June, it will launch a restaurant that serves Indian food.
10. Bartier Brothers — A tasting here will also likely include a lesson in geology. Michael Bartier is passionate about the land on which his grapes are grown and, like Triggs, he will tell you why the mineral composition of the soil in the Golden Mile Bench area of the Okanagan Valley is so conducive for producing stellar wines. Try the Bartier Bros. Rose, a pale, delicious varietal made with Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Cabernet Franc.