The Bell Tower in the distance is unmistakable. As soon as you turn onto Boucherie Road in West Kelowna and drive alongside Okanagan Lake, you see it perched atop a ridge, beckoning you to come have a taste. Head straight for that wine beacon and you’ll arrive at Mission Hill Family Estate, one of the most renown wineries in BC’s Okanagan Valley, and a five-time Canadian winery of the year.
The man behind Mission Hill is Anthony von Mandl, a Canadian-born entrepreneur who helped elevate his home country as a serious player on the world wine scene thanks to a truly bold vision. Today, the billionaire behind White Claw Hard Seltzer and Mike’s Hard Lemonade can expand and continue to acquire properties thanks to the success of these incredibly popular beverage companies.
But four decades ago, his purchase of the property that would become his flagship winery was prior to his financial success, and involved tremendous risk.
In 1981, he along with some partners purchased Golden Valley, a property that was established in 1966 and was one of the first 5 wineries in the Okanagan Valley. If you were like most people, you wouldn’t have seen the potential of producing high quality wine in Canada then, let alone from a property that was somewhat neglected, and at a time when there were just 45 wineries in the entire country (today there are more than 700).
From the beginning, von Mandl believed strongly in Canada’s wine tourism potential and wanted to make that statement. He wasn’t just interested in purchasing an estate, he wanted to create a destination winery that was experiential in every sense of the word.
He hired architect Tom Kundig to design buildings that would ‘stand the test of time.’ Construction commenced in 1997 and it took 5 years to complete the buildings that are enjoyed by visitors today. Kiera, our tour host at Mission Hill, explained that the architecture represents “…celebrating the Okanagan Valley, while learning from the past to help direct the future.” It feels both modern yet somehow traditional.
This acknowledgement of the past to help direct the future is embedded within every aspect of the estate from the architecture through to the vineyards.
von Mandl’s love of art and design is evident everywhere the moment you walk from the parking lot to the imposing keystone arch entrance. That entrance consists of 4 pillars held together by a 3-tonne limestone block in the centre adorned with the family crest that was gifted by Austrian royalty. Pelicans feature prominently on the family crest and are found there, on the pillars, and hidden throughout different places on the property. The large water birds are a nod to von Mandl’s Austrian heritage, and they also represent altruism and giving back.
Stunning artwork is also displayed throughout the property including in the vineyards, adorning the walls, and culminating with a particularly striking piece at the base of the prominent Bell Tower made by Henry Moore.
The most recognizable feature of the property, the Bell Tower rises 12 stories into the air and seemingly stands guard from its perch overlooking the Okanagan Valley below. It features four bells cast by Fonderie Paccard in Annecy, France, that ring every half hour. The tower also serves as a rain catcher, collecting rain water that flows down into a tank in the cellar and is used to water the vineyards and gardens.
The shape of the barrel room is designed to make you feel as if you’re IN a barrel, complete with a round oculus overhead serving as the life-sized bung. The room also includes von Mandl’s private wine cellar highlighted by a feature wall decorated with antique clay wine vessels from different civilizations, the oldest one dating back to 3,000 BC.
Unlike some wineries we’ve visited that are opulent and luxurious, this is not a ploy to distract you from the wine. Its intent is to create a truly special ambiance in a beautiful setting that enhances the wine tasting experience.
The wines certainly back up the grandeur and have deservedly won numerous awards. The most significant was when the International Wine and Spirits competition named Mission Hill’s 1992 Grand Reserve Chardonnay the very best among the global entrants. This instantly provided credibility and helped to put the world on notice that high quality wine was being produced in Canada. It also served to raise the bar, and expectations, for producers and consumers in its home country.
Beyond the design accolades, Mission Hill is the only Canadian winery to be ranked among the world’s top Vineyards, a list selecting the best vineyard experiences worldwide.
They currently produce their wines from their own fruit which is farmed sustainably and all of Mission Hill’s vineyards and farms are now certified 100% organic. Not an easy feat when you consider that the winery owns 47 vineyards that total 1200 acres. Yet, another influence from many of the best Old World wineries which have adhered to this practice for many years.
Mission Hill also subscribes to the biodynamic idea of the property nurturing its own ecosystem evident by the multiple beehives, the use of chickens instead of pesticides and insecticides, and using compost instead of chemical fertilizers.
At the base of the restaurant running down toward the lake is the winery’s show vineyard which produces grapes that are used exclusively for the Terrace Restaurant due to inconsistent growth. It makes for a remarkable foreground while enjoying a sip or a meal from the outdoor colonnade.
Inside the winery you’ll once again see evidence of the convergence of old and new with concrete eggs and oak barrels next to clay amphorae.
We tasted through several of their wines from each of their three collections (see tasting notes below). The Reserve Collection is Mission Hill’s entry level offering consisting of wines that are produced from specific vineyard properties. The Terroir Collection features wines made from the top 3% of their estate fruit. The fruit is hand selected from a single vineyard for the final blend.
Finally, there is their top tier Legacy Collection. These wines are made from the top 1% of their fruit and see extended barrel aging and 2 years in the bottle before release. These wines are distinct, vintage-dependent and meant to be aged to enjoy them at their peak (which could be decades). It’s in this collection where you will find, Oculus, their most renowned wine and one of the most iconic from the Okanagan Valley.
Mission Hill represents a destination winery in the best sense of the word. It provides historical significance to a region finally growing into itself while providing a terrific and intimate wine tasting experience whether you’re an enthusiast or oenophile. As much as we gravitate toward small, artisanal wineries, Mission Hill should definitely be on your list the next time you visit The Okanagan Valley.
2020 Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay
Black Sage and other South Okanagan vineyards provide the fruit for this wine. Freshness is the theme here with medium/light body and a good acid line that leans more Chablis than Sonoma Coast. White peach and lemon zest along with hints of mineral for a refreshing drink that has enough interest to stand alone and would also accompany shell fish appetizers with style.
Very Good+ ($26 at the winery)
2021 Mission Hill Terroir Border Vista Rosé
A lovely dry, earthy style of rose that takes a step away from the all too familiar overly fruity style that we think too many have succumb to. Here the emphasis is well-placed on the wines mineral aspects. Baking spices and even a hint of flint bring intrigue to the glass. The acid is medium+ and matches well to texture of this impressive rose. A blend of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc gives it its sense of power.
Excellent ($36 at the winery)
2019 Mission Hill Perpetua Chardonnay
Chardonnay is the grape that made the wineries reputation and the Perpetua shows why. Very complex, it manages to show buttered popcorn hints overlaid by more traditional Okanagan citrus and stone fruit notes. Terrific balance with medium+ body, this is a wine that offers something pleasing to a wide range of palates.
Excellent+ ($65 at the winery)
2020 Mission Hill Reserve Merlot
Lots of plum and cherry show its varietal characteristics. Medium body with a bit if chewy tannin, this wine has a slight stemmy note which we founded added complexity and did not distract from the fruit. Spice and herb notes infuse the finish. For immediate consumption.
Very Good+ ($30 at the winery)
2014 Mission Hill Terroir Riesling Icewine
Icewine is a rarity in the wine world but when done well it can be delicious. This is a terrific example of great icewine. Sweet and unctuous with flavours of honey and apricot, this hit all the right notes of gorgeous fruit flavours, sweetness without being cloying and beautifully textured.
Excellent ($100 at the winery)
2017 Mission Hill Quatrain
This blend is Syrah dominant and joined with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Lovely dark colour shows us right from the start the breeding of this wine. Black cherry and blackberry are joined by notes of vanilla and baking spices. The tannins are present put structure around its textured core. The wine is smooth and sexy and pleasure-driven. The finish is long and slightly herbal. Made for a slice of juicy prime rib!
Excellent ($80 at the winery – wine club members only)
1730 Mission Hill Road
West Kelowna, BC
Canada V4T 2E4
T: (250) 768-6400
Winery Open Daily 10am-8pm *Reservation Required*