The name of our Chardonnay stems from a tough decision made by the Triggs family. When the original 44 acres were purchased on what’s now Arise Bench, though predominantly raw land, approximately 11.6 acres were previously planted. Among these plantings was a block of nearly 20 year-old Chardonnay vines.
The Triggs’ dilemma was indeed what to do with this previously planted block of Chardonnay. Rigorous analysis of Arise Bench from 2007 to 2009 found Growing Degree Days averaged 1500-1600 units annually, ideal for Bordeaux red varieties. Although this suggested a site too warm for a cool-climate variety like Chardonnay, Don was hesitant to rip out such old vines without evaluating the quality of the fruit. The decision to produce a Chardonnay in 2011 instead of selling the fruit or ripping out the vines was a direct result of cooler conditions in that vintage year. Consequently, we were able to produce the quality and style of wine that merited the Culmina name.
In the meantime, Margaret’s Bench was planted in 2011 at 595 metres elevation, the highest altitude vineyard in the South Okanagan. This was purchased, planted, and developed after extensive climate and soil analysis determined that it had a similar growing season to Dijon in Burgundy, and so was ideally suited to Chardonnay. Furthermore, these new plantings allowed us to use the proper ‘Grade A’ clones and rootstocks suited to the vineyard. (A post for another day, perhaps.)
As our new, high-density plantings also came into production for the first time, we finally had an opportunity to compare fruit from young, high-density vines versus older, lower-density vines. As Don says, the difference was “night and day.”
The answer to the dilemma became obvious: the old vines had to be pulled out. This was painful both in terms of ripping out 20 year-old vines, but also in losing a crop for three years from this block. The decision allowed us to focus on our commitment to quality and excellence. And to focus on what was best-suited to Arise Bench: late ripening Bordeaux varieties including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.
The 2012 Dilemma, consequently, is history in the truest sense. It is the last vintage produced from our former small block of 20 year old Chardonnay vines. We’re now approaching the fall release of our much anticipated 2013 Dilemma, the first from Margaret’s Bench, and we can share after tasting with our team that it is of outstanding quality. Despite our Dilemma, you will now be able to reap the benefit of our having made this tough decision.
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