Vancouver might get all the attention in British Columbia, being the capital city and having hosted the 2012 Winter Olympics. But for lovers of year-round sports like swimming and skiing, take a look inward and you’ll also find some of the province’s finest wines and vineyards.
There is so much new growth here and so many new vineyards that the region is referred to as the “Napa Valley of the North.” Some vineyards in this region of British Columbia actually border Washington state, which is one of America’s fastest-growing wine regions.
Due in part to the location of the Okanagan Valley and its very large lake, the weather offers an incomparable zone for growing grapes.
Part desert and part alpine, the area is fast developing into a first-class destination for lovers of sports and wine. In the summer, dozens of incredible golf courses, miles of hiking trails, and lake activities, along with 100 wineries located in this valley, make this a desirable destination for multiple activities.
Microclimates dot the valley and range from hot, sandy, desert soils found in the southern valley to richer topsoil and clay found in the north end.
In recent years, the wineries here have stepped up their production of vinifera, focusing on grapes native to the Mediterranean and central Europe, and raising the bar on the region’s award-winning estate wines.
Fruits, especially grapes, grow very well in Okanagan Valley, making it British Columbia’s oldest and main grape-growing region.
On the same latitude as French and northern German vineyards, it’s no surprise that the main grape varieties tend to be the classics: Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir grow in the south; Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer grow in the north.
Winemakers here come from all over the world and often pay homage to the wine styles of their homelands. Ice wine—a very sweet after-dinner wine popular in Germany and France made from grapes left to freeze on the vine—is also produced here.
Grape varieties including Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Vidal, and Riesling are all grown on the five vineyard holdings that Mission Hill owns. These varietals also comprise the wine portfolio at the winery.
On Mission Hill
In relatively short time, Mission Hill Winery has helped put the Canadian wine and tourism industries on the map. Similar to Robert Mondavi, a leader in California vineyard operations, proprietor Anthony von Mandl’s vision was to make the area he now calls home “the Napa of the North.”
The elegant yet sprawling winery is designed to resemble a monastery and comprises 120,000 square feet. It rises above the lake and valley, includes caves, an education center, test kitchen for cooking classes, gift boutique, bell tower, rooms decorated with Chagall and Leger tapestries, an outdoor concert area, and the Terrace restaurant.
Tom Kundig is the lead architect on the property, and his architectural elements provide the perfect foil to the natural scenery and panoramic views.
One of the most arresting views is the one visitors see when they arrive at the winery. The entrance is a long and narrow driveway lined with trees opening out to a rose garden near the parking area, and views of the lake.
When entering the main “campus” of the winery, you see the elegant Loggia and dining terrace. There is a sunken amphitheatre where concerts take place, and the 12-story bell tower is the focal point of the courtyard; it is rendered in a simple unornamented style, and seems to hover in the distance.
Besides chiming the hour, the bell tower also houses four Paccard bronze bells from France. These bells were forged in the same foundry—dating from 1796—where the bells for St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and Sacré Coeur in Paris, were cast.
Noteworthy are the spacious caves called barrel cellars, which are blasted through volcanic rock, with enough space to hold 800 barrels. There is a single source of light coming from an oculus that sits above ground.
Russian-born artist Marc Chagall’s unique tapestry called “Animal Tales” adorns one wall of the Chagall Room—as it’s referred to—distinguishes the Wine Education Center. Behind the double doors, one enters the teaching kitchen, which is modeled after the one at the Napa Valley Culinary Institute (CIA).
Continued on next page… Wine with Food