Culmina Family Estate Winery winemaker and vineyard manager Jean-Marc Enixon has been in the Okanagan for only a few years. But his early career in winemaking spanned over a decade in Fronsac, close to Bordeaux. There he ran his family’s Château Puy Guilhem, before coming to Canada in 2016. After working briefly for Osoyoos Larose (co-owned by Vincor and Groupe Taillan), Enixon joined Culmina, taking the reins from Pascal Madevon.
Ask him his first reaction to the Okanagan and he chuckles.
“When you’re coming here you check the weather and so on, you see that it’s dry, you see that there is beautiful sunshine… You check the brix of the grapes and you’re like, ‘Wow!’ Summers will be beautiful. Probably no rain during harvest and so on,” says Enixon.
“So you think it’s going to be so easy. And then, when you get here, you discover all those things you need to manage, like irrigation, mildew, leaf-hoppers and a lot of stuff like that!
“At the beginning I was thinking it was going to be much easier than France. But in the end. I’m not sure! Those are real challenges,” says the winemaker. “It was like learning how to grow grapes and make wine all over again. After all, it’s not like Bordeaux—it is the Okanagan.”
Culmina was established by the Triggs family, who purchased the existing vineyard and surrounding land in 2007. Drawing from his farming background and experience as Vincor CEO, Don Triggs spared no expense in exhaustively mapping the property before deciding what to grow and where to plant it.
Enixon says he’s never seen that before (“It’s crazy!”), where somebody puts so much effort into planning before planting. Overall, from the choice of rootstock to siting the Merlot specifically to take advantage of the mountain shadow, he says it’s paid off. As has the ambitious development of Margaret’s Bench at 595 metres, one of the Okanagan’s highest-elevation vineyards.
I’m not sure there’s another vineyard like this in the valley. And the terroir is very interesting.
“I’m not sure there’s another vineyard like this in the valley. And the terroir is very interesting,” he adds.
Coming from Bordeaux and an estate that concerned itself purely with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, Enixon had little to no experience in making white wine. But he’s taken everything in stride and now finds it quite satisfying.
“Sometimes it can be frustrating, because as soon as you press, while it’s not finished, you can’t change too much. You can try different yeasts—we’re using more wild yeasts now—maybe some skin contact and play with malolactic [fermentation] for Chardonnay.”
It does make it a little more interesting, he says.
As for his favourite varieties, Enixon says when he arrived Merlot was his “nemesis.” But he’s been surprised by the elegance and expression of Cabernet Sauvignon and is “a big fan of Malbec.”
If all goes according to plan—a major step forward—next year Culmina will complete its organic certification.
“Because we have less humidity, I think it’s much easier to go organic here than in France,” he says. “We may lose some vigour, so we’ll compost some more. And improve air flow by even more crop thinning, to prevent mildew.
“Ultimately, the goal is to grow the best grapes and make the best wine that we can. For me, the biggest challenge is to continue to learn. What I want in the end is to make wine from the terroir. Maybe that’s very French! But I want wine that best represents Culmina, with the lowest possible intervention in my winemaking process. To keep the juice of the grapes as they are.”
Culmina Family Estate Winery
4790 Wild Rose St., Oliver
For more information, visit Culmina.ca
@ Vitis Magazine