Mission Hill
Part 2 of a series on the Okanagan Valley, a remarkable wine region in British Columbia, Canada

There’s a remarkable story behind Mission Hill.

Anthony von Mandl (pictured above) founded the Mark Anthony group in 1972 after he graduated with a degree in economics from the University of British Columbia. Over time, he grew this company to be the largest ready-to-drink (RTD) company in North America, as well as selling a full portfolio of wine brands across Canada. It is the success of this company, which turns over around CA$500 million a year, that has allowed him to build one of North America’s most impressive wineries: Mission Hill.

Mission Hill dates back to 1965, when an Okanagan businessman called Tiny Walrod led a consortium to start a winery called Mission Hills on the top of a hill near Kelowna. It failed, and in 1970 it was bought and renamed Uncle Ben's Gourmet Wines. This also failed and went into receivership, but the previous owner got funds together and bought it back, calling it Golden Valley Wines.

In 1981, von Mandl – then just 31 – purchased the run-down Golden Valley Wines, with big plans for it. It cost von Mandl CA$200 000, and to renovate it, he and his business partners needed to borrow over $2 million. Interest rates soared to 24%, and things were heading for disaster. So Mandl turned to a side-project that the winery had been producing, Golden Valley Cider. He added fruit-flavoured ciders to the range, and even went to Switzerland to get hold of the four-colour printing process he wanted for the label. Renamed Okanagan Premium Cider, these were the first flavoured ciders in the world. ‘It worked and it kept the winery alive,’ says von Mandl. The brand grew from 18 000 cases to 300 000 cases by year three.

Then in 1986 he started importing the then poorly known Mexican beer brand Corona into Canada, which took off, and he continued representing this in Canada until 2007. He also obtained the rights to California Cooler.

Von Mandl’s biggest success, however, has been an RTD (ready to drink) called Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Inspired by Hooper’s Hooch, an Australian product, Von Mandl set about making his own spiked lemonade. Launched in 1996 in Canada, it went big. Then, in a stroke of genius, he managed to enter the USA with Mike’s. There had been a barrier: for the USA regulations, the alcohol source would have to be beer (malt) based, not distilled. The problem? Malt base had too much flavour. So von Mandl devised a patented process that could produce flavour-free malt-based alcohol, and he was able to launch in the USA in 1999. Now Mike’s Hard Lemonade is huge in the USA.

John Simes, the current winemaker, joined from Montana in New Zealand.

Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig Architects was responsible for the winery design, and it was completed in 2002. ‘I didn’t want a North American feel,’ says von Mandl. ‘It’s much more of a transition between North America and Europe.’ The imposing 12 storey bell tower has four bells cast by Fonderie Paccard in Annecy, France. In the winery and cellars there are works of art. It’s a very impressive project, on a grand scale. The Terrace restaurant overlooking Lake Okanagan is also quite lovely.

Mission Hill owns 900 acres of vines, and have also recently bought Cedar Creek, where they have constructed a multi-storey winery built into the hillside, which will be where the Martin’s Lane wines will be made. There will be a big focus on Pinot Noir.

Having some money in the bank is good for quality. ‘It gives us the right to be patient,’ says von Mandl. ‘We are able to edit out and make sure that what we do is of the calibre we need. We have to do it right.’

THE WINES

Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris 2011 Okanagan Valley, Canada
A lovely, textured wine with some apple, nectarine and mandarin orange notes. Nice roundness, but also precise flavours with a bit of grapefruit on the finish. 89/100

Mission Hill Martin’s Lane Viognier 2012 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Varietally true with pure, fresh pear and apricot fruit, nice citrus notes and keen acidity. Detailed and fresh. 90/100

Mission Hill Perpetua Chardonnay 2011 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Lovely ripe textured fruit: pear and ripe apples. Open, textured and quite complex with nice balance. Yes, the metal label is a bit silly, but it’s a delicious, well balanced wine. 90/100

Mission Hill Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir 2011 Okanagan Valley, Canada
This won the Decanter World Wine Awards Trophy for Pinot Noir under £15. Supple, juicy, focused and bright with grippy tannins hiding under the black cherry and plum fruit. Nice density yet it still has balance, with freshness, detail and an attractive meaty undercurrent. 92/100

Mission Hill Quatrain 2010 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Merlot 40%, Syrah 20%, Cabernet Sauvignon 20%, Cabernet Franc 20%. Lovely sweet, fresh blackcurrant fruit with some appealing spiciness. Nicely balanced in a riper style with good structure, nice focus and some freshness. 91/100

Mission Hill Oculus 2010 Okanagan Valley, Canada
First made in 1997, this is Mission Hill’s top wine, a Bordeaux-style blend created with help from Michel Rolland. It’s around half Merlot, with the balance made up with the other Bordeaux varieties. Spicy, grippy and dense with fresh, sweet black fruits. Supple and bright but with some grippy tannins. 90/100

OKANAGAN VALLEY
Introduction
Mission Hill
Haywire
Tantalus
TH Wines
Cedar Creek
Blue Mountain
Bartier Bros
Painted Rock

See also:

Visiting Ontario's wine regions, Canada (series)


Wines tasted 06/14  
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