British Columbia's wine tourism centerpiece: Mission Hill Winery
British Columbia tourism's wine region centerpiece is Mission Hill Family Estate in the Okanagan, where wine, food, and BC's famed beauty meet.
On my first visit to Kelowna, British Columbia, I was blown away by the Mission Hill Family Estate. The winery is situated atop Mission Hill and the view, overlooking a 145 kilometre lake, mountains and vineyards, is spectacular and the grounds of the winery are equally impressive. Visitors enter through an archway and arrive in a courtyard with a 12-storey bell tower as its centerpiece.
12 storey-bell tower is the centre peice at Mission Hill Winery
Along with the impressive view and grounds comes the award winning Terrace Restaurant. In its February 2008 issue, Travel + Leisure magazine named Mission Hill Family Estate's Terrace Restaurant one of the top five winery restaurants in the world.
In an article entitled "Top Winery Restaurants", the magazine referred to Mission Hill Family Estate as "the centerpiece of the Canadian wine tourism industry" and the Terrace as "one of the most glorious dining experiences around."
Award winning Terrace restaurant and outdoor amphitheatre
However, it is not only Mission Hill Family Estates’ restaurant that's been getting all the attention. Mission Hill's wines have also been receiving international recognition, having been named “Winery of the Year” at the InterVin International Wine Awards Competition in 2011, topping the list of more than 300 wineries to have entered the competition. Along with their title of “Winery of the Year” Mission Hill Family Estate collected a total of 20 medals for its portfolio of fine wines spread across virtually every category in the competition.
Award winning wines from Mission Hill Winery
While we were visiting, we decided to undertake the Discovery Tour which lasted an hour. The tour began in the vineyards and was followed by a film on the winery setting out the history of the winery and that of the proprietor Anthony Von Mandl.
I wasn’t aware that Mission Hill Family Estate farms vineyards in five distinct growing regions throughout the valley, with vines in Osoyoos, on the Canada/United States border and other estates in east and west Oliver, Naramata and plantings at the winery in West Kelowna. A visit to the underground Barrel Cellar was impressive and gave an insight into the size and volume of the Mission Hill operations.
Underground Barrel Cellar on the Discovery Tour
The tour concluded with a sampling of 4 award winning wines. Many of the Mission Hill wines are truly world class, particularly the Oculus and Legacy Series of wines, yet despite this quality and that of many other BC and Ontario wineries, the Canadian wine industry remains relatively small in terms of exports and makes up only a tiny fraction of the overall economy. Raising consumer awareness of the quality of its products remains critical.
Wine Sampling on the Discovery Tour
Visitors to the Okanagan should not limit themselves to a trip to Mission Hill, as there are many of other wineries worth stopping in at. Spend 2 or 3 days and give yourself time to explore the whole region. Among my other favourites were Burrowing Owl, Gray Monk, Quail’s Gate, See Ya Later Ranch, Sumac Ridge and Tinhorn Creek. Each winery offers a unique experience and a number also offer truly world class food whatever your taste or budget.