Wine Culture Magazine

At Culmina Family Estate Winery, winemaker Jean-Marc Enixon captures the essence of the Golden Mile

Jean-Marc Enixon, the winemaker and vigneron at Culmina, handles grapes with utmost gentleness to capture their truest flavours.

Jean-Marc Enixon has only one goal as the winemaker and vineyard manager at Culmina Family Estate Winery: “I try to put the terroir of the Okanagan in every bottle,” he says.

Of course, it helps that the terroir he is working with is among the best in the valley.

These 56 storied acres at the very top of the Golden Mile Bench were the dream property for Don and Elaine Triggs, who bought it in 2007 after decades of working in the wine industry. Joined by their daughter Sara in 2012, they named the estate “Culmina,” Latin for the “peak” or “apex.” In 2019, the Triggs family sold the estate to Arterra Wines Canada, which is committed to building on the founders’ legacy and crafting some of B.C.’s most iconic wines.

“We are owned by Arterra, but we manage everything on our own. They are very respectful. They are here to support us,” says Enixon.

A classically trained French vigneron and winemaker, Enixon grew up in the village of Manot near Bordeaux, studied winemaking in France and worked in Sonoma and China before becoming the winemaking director at the Château Puy Guilhem in Saillans. He spent 10 years there, producing top-rated estate wines.

But the New World beckoned and, in 2016, he found himself in the Okanagan Valley and eventually at Culmina, where he has been crafting unique, highly awarded wines ever since.

The Culmina vineyards sit at the very top of the Golden Mile Bench south of Oliver, where the terroir is ideal for producing expressive, well-balanced Bordeaux and other varieties.

“On 56 acres, I have a bunch, a bunch of possibility,” he says. He now produces some 15 different wines, including whites, rosés and reds, both single varieties and blends. “In France, I had the same size vineyard, but I only produced two red wines. It’s a fun challenge. I try a lot of different things, like carbonic maceration and orange wine.”

He laughs a little.

“When you arrive from France and they tell you there is no wine for two or three months, you think it’s going to be so easy to manage the vineyard. And it’s not so easy. I’m having to learn everything again,” he says. “For 10 months, I try to grow the best grapes in the vineyard and for two months I play in the cellar.”

His winemaking is based on two principles: gentle handling of fruit and minimal intervention of wine. The grapes are harvested and sorted by hand, then gently crushed in the Bucher Oscillys destemmer, the first of its kind in Canada. The team also uses a basket press, gravity flow and peristaltic pumps, all designed for the most delicate handling of the grapes, then fermented in cone-shaped, French-made stainless steel tanks.

“All my wines are very long fermentation because I don’t like to push them. I’m a lazy winemaker, I don’t have to do any bâtonnage. We take our time. It’s working well,” Enixon says.

“I’m a very old school guy in my winemaking. I like a well-balanced acidity in my white wine and a classic red wine. I’m never proud of my work, it’s very French, we are never happy, but I like our Grüner because it’s fun to make and I discovered it here. And for the red, of course I like the Hypothesis because it’s our Bordeaux blend. Every year it’s a surprise.”

All that said, he is at least a little proud that in 2021, the vineyard was certified organic, even if that makes an already challenging terroir even more difficult to handle.

“Every year in the Okanagan, we are never bored. It’s always a new challenge. We never have any normal years. Last year we finished harvest with 30 centimetres of snow,” Enixon says, noting that his vineyards at least survived last winter’s killing cold reasonably intact.

“We fight a lot because we are organic. We fight against the leaf hopper, we fight against the mildew,” he adds. “But it’s worth it.”

Culmina Family Estate Winery

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