Overlooking the bountiful mountains and dazzling lakes of Kelowna is the majestic Mission Hill Winery, a magical and historic former monastery building turned prestigious winery and restaurant. This, with all its elegance and history, is a taste of Europe in the heart of the Canadian desert. A truly impressive space that sublimely combines history, art, culture, and the finest of the rustic, authentic Canadian experience.
Mission Hill Winery’s proprietor encapsulates this enigmatic hybrid of Old and New World: born in Vancouver to European parents, Anthony Von Mandl returned to Europe at the age of 9, where he was raised, before educating himself at the University of British Columbia back in Canada. With a career that has meandered between European culture and Canadian experience, Anthony brings his European ambition to Kelowna’s beautiful landscape with Mission Hill. The estate itself, has undergone a six-year transformation by international architects (led by Seattle’s Tom Kundig), designers, and craftsmen. It is a modern and impressive sight for the eyes, vast and powerful, with nuances of its former monastery past blending into its meticulous modernity. Kundig built Mission Hill with a nod towards his thesis of ‘second glance architecture’, the idea that visitors should be able to discover something new about the space every time. It is this aesthetic that invokes that sense of surprise one finds in Mission Hill, a building and space both familiar and consistently new.
I arrived at these splendorous grounds on a Saturday afternoon in early May, with a pleasant backdrop of 26c degrees and fresh Spring breeze, to be greeted in grandiose fashion by the delightful Dutch Lead Sommelier named Bram. Handing me a glass of their classic Rose wine, the Reserve, Bram introduced himself and the winery, before embarking on a tour of the grounds entitled Taste of the Estate. Taking me slowly around the various vineyards, from the Pinots to the Sauvignon Blancs and Viogniers, he led me on, what was essentially, a wine-hunt. Together we discovered different wine barrels that were tucked away throughout the various vineyards, (in front of the Pinot Gris vines, behind the Chardonnay patch) where he would bring out a glass of each respective wine accordingly with a food-pairing to match, and story to tell. Mesmerised and in heaven, I learnt all about the wine making process whilst tasting the sumptuous wines which, truly, were matched exceptionally to interesting local produce. Think: Reserve Sauvignon Blanc with green olives and a herb pesto, Reserve Viognier with spicy apricot chutney on poppadum crackers, Legacy Quatrain red with beets and coffee salt, followed by grown cherry with cacao. There was also a sweet wine, the Late Harvest served with Blue cheese and home made estate honey. Both hospitable and knowledgeable, fun and interesting, Bram made the perfect man to spend the morning with. As I learnt about the winery’s old world practices and their fusion with new world developments, I soaked in the majestic chateau style feel of the grounds and let watched my affection for Mission Hill grow. Truly, I felt myself transported to an alluring, liminal space somewhere between Europe and Canada, old world and new, and any homesickness I had at this point in my time in Canada dissipated without thought.
To name some of the wines, though: I tried the Legacy Collection, which represents Proprietor Anthony von Mandl’s vision of showcasing the Okanagan Valley’s diverse microclimates. Each wine is extremely distinct, with each vintage marking a clear departure from its former, giving testimony to the more than three decades of viticulture, sustainable farming and winemaking of the vineyard. The Terroir Collection marks the hallmark of Mission Hill, with only the top 3% of all of their estate fruit being hand-selected for these wines and each individual batch carefully tasted throughout the winemaking process. The Reserve and Estate series are the more accessible wines, elegant and balanced, fruity yet pleasantly dry, these wines marry handsomely the Okanagan’s New World style with Mission Hill’s Old World finesse, aged selectively in French and American oak. My favourite was perhaps the Legacy 2014 Quatrain, a unique Okanagan red-blend (44% merlot though), which, priced at over $75.00 per bottle, ought to be expected to be delicious, but perhaps less so to be deemed a bargain. It’s truly magnificent.
After my wine-tasting trail, Bram took me back to the main restaurant for lunch. Overlooking the vast expanse of Okanagan Lake and rows of scrupulously cultivated Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the Terrace restaurant marks the hallmark of luxury outdoors. With a beautiful white patio and pillars, spacious chateau-balcony feel, this restaurant evokes a Bordeaux-prestige-St-Tropez-chic that is unlike any other venue I have found in Canada thus far. Offering local, sustainable and seasonally sourced produce (much of the ingredients are grown in the estate’s own Varietal Garden and it is nearly all bio-dynamic agricultural produce), the restaurant bespeaks truly high-quality fine dining. Though given the stunning backdrop, it is worth coming here even for a drink.
Yet I did more than just have a glass of wine. Greeted by the lovely server Maddy, I was brought to my vista-viewpoint table and offered sparkling water as I perused the menu. Featuring modern European food, with a focus on local Kelowna delicacies like the estate’s own home-made wildflower honey, dishes included a variety of seafood options like Poached Wild Shrimp with BC seaweed broth, smoked crème fraîche, and anise hyssop, to a homemade BC charcuterie and cheeseboard, steak, and pasta dishes (think, Fresh Made Tyner Durum Wheat Orecchiette with Wild mushrooms, black pepper & garlic, and local Triple Island parmesan). I opted for the starter of Unearthed Farms Kale & Apple Carmeli’s feta, with the estate’s own apricot pepper jam, and puffed grains, which I enjoyed with a glass of 2018 Reserve Reisling. The starter was exceptional. Redolent of Michelin star dining, each flavour was well balanced with its neighbour, and the apricot pepper jam was fantastic – tangy, sweet, sticky, and yet delightfully fresh.
For the main, I had the Poached Wild Shrimp with BC seaweed broth, smoked crème fraîche, and anise hyssop. This too, was remarkably delicious and presented immaculately. To pair, I had the 2017 Terroir Collection Chardonnay
For dessert, I was treated to a selection of gorgeous macaroons – pistachio, chocolate, strawberry and coconut. Enjoying them all, though the pistachio was a favourite, I finished my meal with a glass of the estate’s sparkling 2018 Exhilaration Brut. Perfect.
As the afternoon sun began to slowly make its way over the horizon, I reclined back into my seat with its splendorous view to rest and reflect: my lunch at Mission Hill was truly exceptional. From the decadent and delicious wines, to the generous hospitality and attention to detail in the wine tour and the Michelin level of excellence in my meal, the entire experience was one I will most certainly be repeating – and hopefully soon. I cannot recommend it more, and will always remember this Mission Hill’s meal as a very, very, special one.
Mission Hill Family Estate Winery
1730 Mission Hill Road
BC V4T 2E4