As the 2014 Wine in Canada guide makes its debut, Maclean’s dips into the archives to publish some of the best of the 2013 edition online.
It was 1981 when 31-year-old Anthony von Mandl, the indebted owner of a decrepit old winery, shared his vision with the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce: “I see world-class vinifera vineyards winding their way down the valley, numerous estate wineries, each distinctly different … seducing tourists from around the world.” It was a ridiculous notion then, but a prophetic one. The province has since gone from 14 to 200-plus wineries, the majority in a transformed Okanagan.
Few would argue that his Mission Hill Family Estate winery set the standard with a portfolio of internationally regarded wines and a magnificent hilltop winery that ranks among the finest in North America. The buildings are architectural gems, filled with fine art and antiques; the underground cellars are blasted from volcanic rock. A 12-storey bell tower, “our gift to the valley,” rises like a sentinel above Okanagan Lake.
Walking through the winery in the final stages of its construction, the Canadian-born proprietor betrayed his European upbringing and apprenticeship. Don’t see it just as it is today, he’d instructed, imagine this in 100 or 200 years. Nor is his “life’s work” complete. His long-time winemaker John Simes, aided by international consultants, continues to add value across the spectrum from the modestly priced Five Vineyards wines to the red ultra-premium Oculus blend.
Now there are plans for a winery expansion, including a 120-room hotel, guest cottages, restaurant and conference centre aimed at the elite traveller. He explained the concept at another public meeting, staying true to the vision of three decades before. “There is no place, no valley where wine grows that is as beautiful a region, as precious and pristine as the Okanagan Valley,” he said. “We see a pilgrimage of people from all over the world coming to see the winery.” The ambitious expansion is a 15-year project, a blink of an eye for a proprietor who plans centuries ahead.