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Travel: Wines Tourism



by Jan DeGrass

(Coast Reporter, October 2002)

Mission Hill Winery at Westbank, BC

The July heat blazes. It is mid-morning and already the

temperature in the Okanagan wine country of B.C. has soared

beyond human endurance. On the many terraced hillsides covered

in vines, the grapes are eagerly soaking up the sunshine. By

October 4, the opening of the 22nd annual Okanagan Fall Wine

Festival, they will have been harvested at their peak of flavour.

We head for the Mission Hill Winery complex because we are told it

should not be missed; it is state-of-the-art wine tourism and the

highlight of the valley. We also know that there--among its vast

cellars and stone terraces--it will be mercifully cool.

Outdoor Restaurant

at Mission Hill Winery, Okanagan

The million-dollar complex is perched on a hill near Westbank and

simulates a European castle, a style favoured by its owner,

Anthony von Mandl, who was born in Canada, but lived in Austria.

A 12-storey bell tower casts a shadow on the vineyards of the von

Mandl estate. The grassy courtyard features a natural amphitheatre

so that Shakespeare lovers can listen to the bard with glass in

hand. Diners at an outdoor restaurant sit on an exposed atrium and

nibble their tapas while enjoying a vista of the valley. Even the

public washrooms are splendid; they have stainless steel doors,

marble basins and piped-in classical guitar music.

The tour begins in the Chagall Room, so called because a giant

woven wall hanging-actually a Chagall reproduction--dominates the

high-ceilinged room. Within, all is cool and quiet, as we had hoped.

We offer our $5 tour fee (good for a discount at the wine shop), and

we are ushered into a cinema to watch a video about von Mandl's

dreams and about his chief winemaker, John Simes, a New

Zealander, whose big breakthrough was in making haughty British

judges recognize a Chardonnay from the Okanagan Valley as the

world's best in 1994 and again in 1996.

The tour's highlight is the cavernous cellars blasted out of volcanic

rock--climate-controlled caves packed with rows of uniform barrels.

At one end, a tasting table is raised and illuminated like an altar.

We are allowed a peek into a locked crypt that shelters the owner's

private collection of ancient wine vessels dating from 3,000 years


After this tour, the wine tasting is almost an anticlimax. We sniff and

swish at the fabled Chardonnay, then stroll to the shop to sample

more before making our way to the busy cash registers.

Mission Hill is by no means the only winery in the area to offer a

palatial tasting room, free samples and a tour through their plant.

Gray Monk Winery near Vernon also snagged a picturesque

location overlooking the lake and is happy to help you through their

extensive list. Quail's Gate Winery also offers a fancy restaurant

and will whip up a five-course dinner with suitable liquid

accompaniment. Elephant Island Orchard Winery, on the road to

Naramata, is unique for its bottling of fruit wines and for its shady

picnic courtyard.

Most of these wineries will host special events during the 2002

Okanagan Wine Festival that runs October 4 through 13 at various

venues from Kelowna to Oliver. It culminates with a grand finale of

consumer tasting on October 11 and 12 in Penticton. My memories

of attending this vine fest many years ago are lost in a haze of

Pinot Auxerrois fumes. I know I had a good time and that it was

well worth the admission ($65. this year). For more info about the

festival, try www.owfs.com

or dial (250) 861-6654.


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Mission Hill Winery at Westbank, BC Outdoor Restaurant at Mission Hill Winery, Okanagan