Okay this one’s a fairy tale.
Once upon a time there was a man who worked in the Canadian wine industry at one of most well-known, well established wine organizations in the land. As his time with the big winery came to an end Don Triggs decided to use all the experience he had acquired to grow his own family estate.
There were hurdles to overcome and tough decisions to be made but in the end Don and his wife built Culmina Family Estate Winery. Their commitment to making the best wine possible includes a dedication to the land and to sustainable farming that embraces the sustainability of their community both locally and further afield.
Don and his wife Elaine started the winery in 2006 with the sole purpose of making the best quality wines possible from their own properties.
Around the same time, a young business student (born and raised in Alberta) was discovering his passion for the restaurant business working behind the scenes at a chain restaurant in Vancouver. This interest took him to the Culinary Institute of America and landed him a job at Daniel in New York where he learned the art of French cooking.
Not yet satisfied with his training, Scott Downey adventured across the ocean to Denmark to work under the watchful eye of Rene Redzepi, the man who pioneered foraging for food in the wild at Noma.
With this kind of culinary pedigree Scott came home to Alberta to open his own restaurant that brings together the art and science of cooking. At Butternut Tree you can experience a meal that transcends just the assemblage of ingredients.
I went there for the first time today at the invitation of Pacific Wine Spirits and Don Triggs.
On arrival I was offered a glass of the Culmina R&D white blend, a vibrant wine redolent of honeysuckle and nectarine. At the same time all the guests admired the panoramic view of the river valley, High Level Bridge and the Provincial Legislature.
We sat down in Butternut’s private room where our first course came out promptly. Scott described the elegant single Oyster with Pink Lady Apple Foam, Lemon Balm & Sumac which we slurped down with Culmina’s 2016 Unicus a round, highly textured Gruner Veltliner with the heavy body of a Chardonnay and the bright, mineral acidity of a good Riesling. The Lemon Balm on the Oyster produced a lovely echo of apple on the finish of the Unicus. A great combination.
Offals were offered next. We had Pig Head Cheese, Bison & Blueberry Salami and Rabbit Liver Mousse accompanied by the 2016 R&D Rose blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Cab Franc and Malbec. It’s a wonderfully elegant wine that absolutely provided a perfect backdrop for the charcuterie.
The third course was a Chaga Broth with Icelandic Moss, Red Currants and Black Garlic. The bowl came out with a carefully arranged tableau of wild local mushrooms and the aromatic broth was poured from clear teapots for each guest. This is where I have to wax poetic. The broth itself was compelling from the moment the first scent wafted toward me. It was rich without being heavy while the mushrooms and moss provided sublime textures. I didn’t want it to end. I want to wake up every morning and have that broth be the first thing I taste. It gives me goosebumps to think of it now. Of course the R&D Red blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Cab Franc provided a juicy contrast for the umami dream broth.
The final course of Pork Belly, Polenta, Mustard-Maple Carrots with Cipollini Onion and Pickled Carrot arrived with Culmina’s flagship Hypothesis. This blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc is perfectly named. It is the answer to the question; what can happen when we blend the artistry, science and excellence of our land, our experience and our grapes? The combination of spicy dark fruit, beautifully structured with velvet tannins and a long plummy finish was an astonishing foil for the perfectly cooked pork belly and creamy polenta on the plate.
It was a magical meal and I think the moral of the story is that when you amalgamate art, science, passion and a true sense of community (whether in wine growing or in presenting scrumptious, tempting dishes) you are bound to come up with a peak dining experience.