Winery Visits: Daily 9:30-7

Location: 1730 Mission Hill Rd, West Kelowna

Website: www.missionhillwinery.com

Phone: 250-768-7611

Located in West Kelowna, with a commanding view over Okanagan Lake, this iconic winery is a place of pilgrimage for wine lovers touring the Okanagan, its soaring Tuscan profile and bell tower visible from miles away.

If you'll be visiting the area, Mission Hill is a benchmark setter, and you'll want to have lunch on the Terrace just for the view, or catch a concert in the grass-stepped amphitheatre; the extensive cellars make it a memorable place to take a tour, where you can spot the antique drinking cups, admire the barrel-vaulted ceilings and dramatic lighting, and peek into the winemaking area to see a wide variety of fermentation vessels: the Italian amphorae, concrete eggs, and big German oak tanks, bubbling away with the many wines produced here.

Behold: the Mission Hill bat cave!

Behold: the Mission Hill bat cave!

Mission Hill's Chief Winemaker Darryl Brooker

Mission Hill's Chief Winemaker Darryl Brooker

Owner Anthony von Mandl made a fortune with Mike's Hard Lemonade, and used the considerable funds to build Mission Hill. In 2014, Kelowna's CedarCreek Estate Winery was purchased, becoming part of the von Mandl Family Estates, joining Mark Anthony Wine Merchants, along with CheckMate Artisanal Winery (focused on ultra premium small lot wines) later in 2015. 

Darryl Brooker, who was Chief Winemaker at CedarCreek, took over winemaking from John Simes as of the 2015 Mission Hill vintage, after assisting with the 2013 and 2014 blending. Darryl has worked all over the world, including Villa Maria Estate in New Zealand, recognized as a leader in sustainable wine production.  John is now in charge of viticulture for all the von Mandl properties.

According to Darryl, he's excited by the wines produced in "what may prove to be the best harvests ever in British Columbia from 2013 to 2015". You heard it here, it's time to stock the cellars!

The impressive entry to Mission Hill winery

The impressive entry to Mission Hill winery

Being one of the largest producers in the province, it might be assumed that this is a bulk wine operation, but that's far from the case. I'm very impressed by Darryl and Mission Hill's commitment to improving farming techniques and sustainability, along with making small lot and site specific wines. They're one of the first BC wineries to use drones to map vigour (very cool), by flying over vineyards to measure how the vines are growing.

They're now releasing their first organic Merlot, which comes from a special spot in Oliver. The 2013 Terroir Collection Whispering Hill Organic Merlot, is not just grown in a certified organic vineyard, but also meets Canada's tricky organic wine production rules.

If such a large company is willing to make a commitment in moving to biodynamic and organic production, I say kudos to them.

A view over Okanagan Lake as twilight turns the sky violet 

A view over Okanagan Lake as twilight turns the sky violet 

Mission Hill makes wine in several ranges, tasted below are wines in the following categories:

Terroir: Very premium, made with the top 3% of their estate grown fruit in small lots $$$$.

Reserve: Well made wines from select vineyards and special sites, in limited quantities. Offering a good balance of quality and cost. $$

Five Vineyards: Larger production wines and keenly priced, from the five Okanagan Mission Hill vineyards, offering full flavour and surprisingly good value for money! Look out for the appealing new redesign on the labels in shades of blue and rose. $

2013 Mission Hill Family Estate Whispering Hill Organic Merlot

Picking up the bottle, I'm struck by the substantial weight, and the sense of craft in the embossed golden crest, and sepia vineyard photo. Being part of the Terroir series, it's noted up front that only 19 barrels were produced, and there's a nice level of detail on the back label about the making of the wine including site, clone, and winemaker (John Simes).

A romantic deep garnet red shade, with notes of mocha cocoa out of the glass, along with spiced plums. On the palate, soft and full with dense yet fine tannins. Cocoa with dried mint, and black cherry in the background. The glass is pleading with me for a food pairing: cherry sauced duck, Dijon mustard sauteed mushrooms, or slivers of crumbly Manchego cheese. PS: this wine opened up quite a bit after two hours of decanting, and gained an added dimension of cherry and plum fruit.

2015 Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Limited Edition Viognier

An unctuous and mouthcoating wine, delightfully textured, with honeysuckle, baking spices and ripest peach (reminding me of sneaking a slice of peach from the pie dish). Has a hint of sweetness, but balanced.

2015 Mission Hill Family Estate Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio

You had me at hello, lemon citrusy nose. A very zesty Mandarin orange flavour is joined by honeyed pear at first sip. Fuller bodied, this might be heading in to richer Pinot Gris territory. A little heat on the finish at 14% ABV. Delivers lots of flavour and very good value for money. 

2015 Mission Hill Family Estate Five Vineyards Rosé

A vivid watermelon pink hue, and strawberry nose. It might be the power of suggestion, but the flavour is decidedly watermelon, zingy, with red cherry and a snippet of red rose. Dry, but generous. Could stand up to roast chicken, but best shared with friends at a Friday sunset.


All images courtesy of Mission Hill Family Estate. Wines samples were provided by Mission Hill. Please see my Sample Policy for more information. Cheers!


Dig in! Delicious roast salmon, berry salad, and honey hazelnut butter.

Dig in! Delicious roast salmon, berry salad, and honey hazelnut butter.

Winery Visits: April-June - Daily from 10am-6pm; July-Sept - Daily from 9am-8pm; Oct - Daily from 10am-6pm; Nov-April - Daily 10am-5pm 

Location: 1400 Ranchers Creek Road, Osoyoos, BC, V0H1V6

Website: www.nkmipcellars.com 

Phone: 250-495-2985

June 21st marks the 20th anniversary of National Aboriginal Day, which celebrates the unique heritage and cultures of Canada's First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Nk'Mip Cellars (pronounced "in-ka-meep") was opened in 2002 by the Osoyoos Indian Band. It was the first Aboriginal owned and operated winery in all of North America. The winery tasting room features unique First Nations art, along with a stellar selection of wines to try (on my last trip I picked up a bottle of their very tasty Pinot Noir). The winery's restaurant, The Patio, is one of my favourite stops in Osoyoos, and has one of the best lake-watching perches in the whole Okanagan to enjoy a glass of wine and the sunset.

I was excited to receive a shipment from Nk'Mip Cellars  along with some delish indigenous inspired meal ideas designed to pair perfectly with their wines: roast salmon, served with savoury berry salad, and freshly made bannock topped with hazelnut honey butter. The recipes (especially the honey butter, so easy and so, so good) and wines were a big success with my dinner guests.


The Wines:

2015 Nk'Mip Cellars Dreamcatcher $17.49

A crowdpleasing fragrant blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Ehrenfelser, Semillon and Chardonnay comes together with just a hint of sweetness on the palate for the ultimate summer sipper. The Riesling's all about apple and pear, while the Sauv Blanc brings guava and lime.  There's a touch of honeysuckle blossom in there too. Would pair beautifully with roast salmon, salads, as well as sushi (think spicy tuna roll). 

2015 Nk'Mip Cellars Rosé $16.99

You'll taste juicy strawberry and cherry flavours in your glass of this dry saignée method rosé (a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Pinot Noir), backed by an undercurrent of warm weather minerality. A lovely match for fresh berry salad, roast chicken, or crab cakes.

2014 Nk'Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Riesling Icewine $66.99

Lush peach, apricot, wildflower honey, and mango mingle on the palate in this vibrant Icewine. Bright, playful acidity keeps the sweetness in check. A remarkably balanced yet intensely flavoured dessert wine. In the Okanagan language of the Osoyoos Band, Qwam Qwmt (pronounced "kw-em kw-empt") means 'achieving excellence', and in this wine, mission accomplished. Rich enough to enjoy on its own, or pair with stone fruit creme caramel.



Summer Berry Salad

Wash berries and set aside, in a bowl mix all other ingredients, then fold in berries. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and chopped toasted hazelnuts, served over a bed of greens.

1 Cup strawberries (hulled and sliced)

1 Cup blueberries

1 Cup raspberries

2 T finely chopped fresh mint leaves

1 T seeded, finely chopped green onion or jalapeno pepper (I used pepper)

Juice of 1 lime

Dash of olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 T chopped toasted hazelnuts

3 Cups mixed greens (arugula, dandelion, mache)

Roast BC Salmon

Take the filet out of fridge 15 minutes before cooking. Place on a lightly oiled parchment lined baking sheet. Top with olive oil, salt, pepper, and honey. Pre-heat oven to 400C, then right before cooking the salmon, turn on only the broiler at 450C. Roast the salmon mid-rack for 6-8 minutes, or until the salmon gently flakes when pressed.

1 whole filet of wild BC salmon

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 T honey

Hazelnut Honey Butter

Don't be afraid to double or triple this super easy recipe, it's so tasty that guests wanted to take some home to use for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Think topping toast, or even served warm over ice cream. Yum! Simply mix your butter and honey until combined, then fold in your chopped hazelnuts.

1/4 Cup peeled roasted hazelnuts, chopped

1/4 Cup salted butter, room temperature

1/4 Cup local honey

Cast Iron Bannock

The ideal partner for melting honey butter, these bannock are crunchy on the outside and tender in the centre. In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. In a measuring cup, add your milk and water, then microwave for 30 seconds. Add the warmed milk mixture all at once to your dry ingredients, then mix gently until just combined. Don't mix too much or you'll get tough bannock. On the stove, warm your cast iron pan on medium-low heat, adding the oil. Scoop spoonfuls of batter into the pan, letting them get light golden brown for 3-5 minutes per side. This recipe made 12 pieces. Serve warm.

2 Cups all purpose flour (or pastry flour)

2 T baking powder

1 T granulated sugar

1/2 t salt

1/2 C milk

1/2 Cup water

1/3 Cup vegetable oil (or other oil for frying)


Wines samples were provided by Nk'Mip Cellars. Please see my Sample Policy for more information. Cheers!



Gorgeous views: Evolve's Summerland vineyard swoops down towards Okanagan Lake (photo courtesy Evolve Cellars)

Gorgeous views: Evolve's Summerland vineyard swoops down towards Okanagan Lake (photo courtesy Evolve Cellars)

Winery Visits: May-October - Daily from 10am-6pm 

Location: 20623 McDougald Road, Summerland, BC, V0H1Z6

Website: www.evolvecellars.com

Phone: 778-516-7728

With its 2015 releases, the first full vintage under winemaker Lawrence Buhler, one year old Evolve Cellars in Summerland is carving out a reputation for juicy, fruit forward, and enjoyable wines that are easy-drinking and most definitely food friendly. 


2015 Pinot Gris $15.99

A glass of nectarine and ripe peach, wildflower honey, and a touch of desirable grapefruity acidity to keep things fresh. Well chilled, this dry Pinot Gris is a wonderful choice for a patio sipper, served with a guest-worthy platter of antipasto, tangy chunks of aged white cheddar, and paté.


2015 Riesling $16.99

This off-dry Riesling tastes almost dry due to the juicy acidity that's a hallmark of the grape variety. I very much enjoyed the honeysuckle aroma, and rich guava and lime flavours packed into my glass. Would pair beautifully with summer fruit (think grilled peach and pineapple), along with corn on the cob, and sweet fresh-caught halibut, crab, or prawns.


2015 Gewurztraminer $15.99

A full-flavoured expression of this grape, with tropical fruit, zingy ginger, and rose on the palate. It's lightly off-dry, making it a great match for meals with pungent spices and full flavour, like curries, tajines, or sweet chili BBQ. 


2015 Rosé $16.99

A total crowd pleaser, this super juicy rosé has generous flavours of strawberry and melon, and just the right touch of sweetness. An ideal partner for salmon or grilled seafood, or a burger on the patio. I found it to be the perfect aperitif match for lightly spicy piquillo peppers and guacamole.


Wines samples were provided by Evolve Cellars. Please see my Sample Policy for more information. Cheers!


Looking down towards Osoyoos from the Golden Mile near Oliver

Looking down towards Osoyoos from the Golden Mile near Oliver

I've been a busy bee lately, just back from trips to England and Italy, which were respectively to be an associate judge at the IWSC on Canadian and American wines and study at the Vinitaly Italian Wine Ambassador program.

Now that I'm back in Vancouver, regular trips up to the Okanagan and Similkameen have recommenced. I've been continuing my grand tour of wineries, both new and old favourites, as I finish the research for my book Winetripping. Which is no hardship! The weather's beautiful {pool weather in April? yes, please}, and the desert flowers are in bloom in Osoyoos, a rare sight.

Winetripping is something I've been working on for over a year, and am so excited to see released this June. My goal in writing this winery guide comes down to my passion for the region, which I think is some of the most beautiful wine country in the world. I want you to come and visit! 

Certainly, the Okanagan is one of the friendliest wine regions you can explore, with sweeping valley views, glistening lakes, oh, and let's not forget the hundreds of unique wineries with tasting rooms and restaurants ready for your arrival!

Ultimately, there are more wineries than you can visit, so I've curated a list of places I love recommending to friends and family. I want you to have an awesome time on your trip up to Osoyoos, Oliver, Naramata, Kelowna, Vernon or Keremeos!

There's nothing like hitting up the tasting rooms on a sunny day, choosing your very favourite wines to bring home with you, then opening those bottles up months later to reminisce about your trip.

I've heard from wine lovers that there're so many wineries that it can be overwhelming choosing where to go, and planning which you'll include and which you'll skip. So, my guide is all about making it easy for you to find the exact kind of tasting room you love, whether that's somewhere with a log cabin and dogs wandering through the vines, or a modernist producer with fancy glassware and a view over the lake.

In addition to the 89 wineries listed, other handy sections will cover arranging a tour, getting to know the local grapes, wine tasting etiquette, and suggested itineraries based on your interests (love bold reds, want the hidden gems, or maybe you're into Riesling? I've got you covered).

I feel strongly about supporting our local wineries, who work day in and out to produce this incredible beverage we all adore. By visiting the wineries, dining at their restaurants, and buying wines on site, we consumers are not only having a great experience, we're ensuring that they're able to keep doing what they love while making a good living. Cheers to that!

Find out more here.


Photo courtesy of CheckMate Artisanal Winery

Photo courtesy of CheckMate Artisanal Winery

Winery Visits: By Appointment Only

Location: Golden Mile, Oliver, BC

Website: www.checkmatewinery.com

A no-expenses-spared undertaking funded by the Mission Hill umbrella, this top secret project is finally available to taste. The winery has released just five wines: all are 100% Chardonnay from the 2013 vintage.

CheckMate’s winery is tucked away off the road south of Oliver in the Golden Mile area - near CC Jentsch and Culmina - available to visit only through privately arranged appointment (and it sounds like those are very exclusive indeed). Actually, until recently almost everything about this project has been cloaked in a shroud of prestige and mystery, including the wines themselves.

Before we talk wine, though, a little history: in 1994, Mission Hill Winery's reserve Chardonnay won Avery's Trophy at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. This was to put it mildly, a game changer for the Okanagan. The grapes used in that wine are from some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in Canada, from a plot on the Golden Mile that’s newly under the ownership of CheckMate. The plot’s still planted with this not yet identifiable clone that's being called Heritage.

These are wines several years in the making, and no corners have been cut. From three different sites, Aussie winemaker Philip Mcgahan (a transplant by way of the Hunter and Russian River Valleys) had his pick of the best rows from the best sites. Grapes are hand picked, hand sorted, and in the winery they’re experimenting with wild ferments. Kudos for their championing of no fining or filtration, instead letting the work of gravity and time take place. The bottles themselves are a tactile person’s delight, heavy and stubbily 19th century in shape.

The five wines, in what some may consider hubris, others brilliant marketing, range from $80 to $125 per bottle, and are available only through direct purchase on their website or from a restaurant wine list. Online, they are offered in elegantly packaged sets of three or five wines.

As I tasted the wines, I had a mixture of thoughts: not wanting to be accused of provincialism, but proud that these marquee wines may further help put the Okanagan on wine lover’s minds and maps. I’ve talked with some people ready to dismiss them as outrageously priced, and others ready to drink the kool-aid before they’ve even drunk the wines.

After tasting, I’m converted. They’re impeccably made, beautiful wines with soul.

Capture $90 - 94 points

The grapes for this wine are from the Border Vista vineyard, a warm site on the east bench of Osoyoos overlooking Osoyoos Lake. The wine spent 18 months in French oak, and only seven barrel’s worth was made. 

This was my favourite of the five, peaches and cream in the mouth, mineral, then with a clementine-citrus ring of acidity that kept going and going. Just amazing.

Queen Taken $125 - 92 points

Made from those mysterious Heritage grapes, on the cooler slopes of the Golden Mile, aged in French oak for 17 months.

Pear, apple, white peach, less linear than Capture but there’s lime here, and a touch of feminine floral perfume.

Little Pawn $110 - 93 points

Grapes are from the Barn vineyard, on the sunny eastern side of the valley’s Black Sage Bench.

Playful, with mineral on the nose, then pepper and ginger spiced apples on the palate. Sophisticated, hinting at ripeness yet taut.

Fool’s Mate $80 - 91 points

A blend of all three vineyard sites, aged 17 months in French oak.

Delightful yeast and biscuit nose. Generous but balanced oak, vanilla cream, mandarine, citrus, and peach.

Attack $115 - 93 points

A blend of grapes from the Black Sage Bench and Golden Mile sites. Aged 18 months in a substantial and new French oak foudre (large oval barrel).

Restrained toast and vanilla nose, silky textured palate, with gunmetal and gravel, then a hint of lemon, almond blossom, white pepper and ginger root.


Photo courtesy Road 13 Vineyards

Photo courtesy Road 13 Vineyards

Winery Visits: Daily 10 am-5:30 pm Easter to Oct 31st / Mon-Sat 11 am-4 pm Nov 1st to Easter

Location: 799 Ponderosa Road, Oliver, BC

Website: www.road13vineyards.com

Phone: 250-498-8330

I recently had the chance to taste through some of Road 13 Vineyard’s best reserve bottles. The winery, located in the Okanagan’s Golden Mile, has some of the oldest Chenin vines in Canada, planted in 1968. They’re having fun making a wide variety of wines, and experimenting with Rhone varietals like viognier, mourvedre, and syrah. GM Joe Luckhurst was on hand to walk us through the tasting, and he explained the Jackpot series is named for the old gold mine once open near the property.

The 2011 Jackpot Chardonnay ($40) stood out among the whites, and is the perfect gift for the Chardonnay hound in your life. Full bodied, vanilla finish, barrel fermented in French oak, this is a big, ripe, smooth wine that tasted like “liquid luck”.

Among the reds, their 2011 Jackpot Syrah ($40) was notable for its incredible nose, with tobacco smoke, and an earthy, savoury leather character. It tasted of ripe cherries and blackcurrant, with a pleasant meaty note and silky tannins. This would be a real hit with your next Sunday lamb roast.

Also of note was the 2011 Petit Verdot, at $75, a contender for the next big cult BC wine. Opaque ruby in the glass, this had candied violets and mocha on the nose, with big high acid black fruit and a long peppery finish. Lay it down for a couple of years, and you would have a spectacular special occasion wine.

All the wines we tasted were well made, with attention to detail and obvious pride. While the whites shared a full bodied style, with a distinct mouth coating waxiness, moderate acidity, and interesting character, the crowd pleasers were the ripe, luscious reds. Road 13 is making some great wines which are worth seeking out.

Road 13 Vineyards

799 Ponderosa Road, Road 13
Oliver, BC V0H 1T1
Phone: 250.498.8330