The second winery we preview that is participating in the 6th Annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival is Mission Hill Family Estate Winery, located in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.
Many American wine consumers are surprised to learn about the vibrant wine industry operating in our northern neighbors. Some may have tried an occasional Canadian Ice Wine, but few have discovered the vinifera wine produced in Canada’s wine “breadbasket”, the Okanagan Valley. This appellation is the northern extension of the Pacific Northwest wine region, nestled between the Coast Mountains to the west and the Monashee Mountains to the east. The valley is approximately 200 miles east of Vancouver, in south central British Columbia, about the same distance as Walla Walla is from Seattle and receives less than 10 inches of annual precipitation. Thus the environment that enables Washington wineries to produce excellent wines also exists in British Columbia.
In the early 1980’s Anthony von Mandl recognized the wine-making potential of this area and purchased a small winery producing hard apple cider. He transformed the new winery in the mold of Robert Mondavi’s Napa Valley winery and all the while increasing the quality of the vines and wines. In 1992 Mr. von Mandl hired John Simes, a person that shared his vision of producing quality wine, as the new winemaker. According to Ingo Grady, Mission Hill’s Director of Wine Education, Mr. Simes has “has increased the winery's estate holdings to take advantage of the valley's diverse growing conditions. And he has assembled an enviable arsenal of state-of-the-art wine making equipment to ensure gentle handling of grapes and optimum conditions for young, evolving wines.” In total, Mission Hill Family Estate farms about 900 acres in five distinct growing regions throughout the Okanagan Valley. This is about 15% of the total acreage of vinifera plantings in the valley. While the region’s vine planting is increasing, it is still less than 20% of Washington State's grape production.
Mr. von Mandl also encouraged the creation of the Vintners' Quality Alliance (VQA) to boost the quality and prestige of all wines produced in British Columbia. On January 1st, 1989 wine tariffs were eliminated on wine produced in the United States and Canada as a result of the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement. Vintners in British Columbia recognized that their wine was not competitive in the Canadian market because of its pooper quality as compared to wines produced in the United States. They painstaking agreed to a set of guidelines that wineries must follow in order to be classified with the Vintners’ Quality Alliance (VQA) designation. In essence a in order to be designated VQA a wine must be made from 100% British Columbia-grown grapes using optimum growing standards and a VQA tasting panel tests and approves each wine, twice (on in the tank or barrel, then again when the wine is bottled, but before it is sold).
The success of the VQA can be measured by the growth of the wine industry in British Columbia. When the designation was first implemented, only 14 wineries were operating in the Okanagan valley. Today there are more than 100 “quality-minded“ wineries operating in the valley, with Mission Hill Family Estate Winery at the forefront. Besides conforming to the VQA, Mission Hill wines are frequently recognized in international wine competitions. Specifically, the winery has won trophies or medals at the International Eastern Wine Competition, Selections Mondials, L.A. County Fair, Canada Wine Awards, San Francisco International Wine Summit, Northwest Wine Summit, and Vinitaly.
At the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, consumers will have the chance to taste the large selection of Mission Hill wines. The most famous is the Oculus, a Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. They also produce vintage or reserve versions of Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz. For white wines, the winery offers Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio, as well as Riesling and Vidal Ice Wine. If you are unable to attend the festival, the Mission Hill Select Lot Collection (S.L.C.) wines, Oculus, and Riesling Ice wines are available in Washington, Alaska, California, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Kentucky.