A New Mission
In 1981, a young entrepreneur named Anthony von Mandl purchased an ailing winery in Westbank, BC.
Legend has it he closed the deal with owner Ben Ginter with a best-of-five coin toss.
Despite his youth, von Mandl had a bold vision for the Okanagan Valley. His dream was to see lush vineyards winding their way down the valley, numerous estate wineries, and charming inns and bed and breakfast cottages to attract tourists from around the world. And, overlooking it all, Mission Hill Family Estate, a family-run winery crafting outstanding vintages that could stand alongside the best in the world.
Unfortunately, it was a vision uniquely his own. And since no one else believed in his dream, or was prepared to invest, his only option was to self-finance his dream to build Mission Hill, which The New York Times heralded as “the Versailles of the Valley.”
Inspired by the Robert Mondavi winery in Napa Valley, Mission Hill features a 12-storey bell tower as the winery’s central feature, with four bronze bells commissioned from a foundry in Annecy, France. Equally dramatic below ground as it is above, Mission Hill boasts a magnificent crypt-like barrel-ageing cellar blasted from volcanic rock. Visitors can peer down on the barrels through an ‘oculus’—a large lenslike glass set in a well at ground level that directs the only natural light into the cellar. (Oculus is the name von Mandl chose for his flagship red wine—a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.)
In 1992, von Mandl convinced respected New Zealand winemaker, John Simes to join Mission Hill and his first vintage won the prestigious Avery Trophy for —‘Best Chardonnay in the World’ at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London. In 2013, lightning would strike twice when Simes brought home the trophy for ‘World’s Best Pinot Noir’ in the under £15 category at Decanter World Wine Awards in London.
In addition to award-winning wines, guests at Mission Hill are welcomed at the seasonal Terrace Restaurant, a comfortable, open space that overlooks rows of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and offers stylish, seasonal wine country fare to complement Mission Hill’s wines. The 88seat Terrace Restaurant opened in 2002, and was soon designated by Travel + Leisure magazine as one of the “top five winery restaurants in the world” and “one of the most glorious dining experiences around.” The Mission Hill culinary team works with local farmers and producers to bring only the freshest, sustainable ingredients to the Terrace menu. There is a strong emphasis on the winery’s varietal garden which includes the winery’s own estate wildflower honey, which is 100% pure and is harvested at the peak of quality and freshness.
Von Mandl obviously has a penchant for antipodean winemakers, as Mission Hill’s current incumbent is Australian Darryl Brooker, formerly winemaker at Flat Rock Cellars and Hillebrand. Phil Mcgahan, another Australian, presides over the barrels at von Mandl’s most ambitious project to date—CheckMate Artisanal Winery, a tiny facility that specialises in the production of premium, iconic Chardonnays.
Each of the five wines produced at CheckMate have chess-reference names and they come from three different estate vineyards: Capture Chardonnay (Osoyoos), Queen Taken Chardonnay (Golden Mile Bench), Little Pawn Chardonnay (Black Sage Bench), Attack Chardonnay (Black Sage Bench) and Fool’s Mate Chardonnay—a blend of all three vineyards.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Anthony von Mandl has extended his family’s portfolio of wineries to include CedarCreek Estate Winery, Martin’s Lane Winery (named after his late father, currently under construction) and the above-mentioned CheckMate. And to enhance the quality of Mission Hill’s Riesling, he invited Fritz Hasselbach of Weingut Gunderloch in the Rheinhessen, one of Germany’s leading winemakers to consult.
Mission Hill, with its gorgeous architecture, award winning wines and spectacular Terrace Restaurant has become the go-to winery in British Columbia—and coin tosses are no longer required.