BC Wineries

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED AT MISSION HILL FAMILY ESTATE?

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!

CHECKMATE ARTISANAL WINERY

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.