Vision more than realized – May 3, 2014

By Anthony Gismondi

Had to laugh at the a�?drya�� Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon last week featuring Mission Hill Family Estate proprietor Anthony von Mandl. The wine, beer and Mikea��s Hard Lemonade magnate addressed a sold-out room of some 600 business-types for more than an hour, and there wasna��t a drop of wine to drink during the lunch. In some ways it was a subtle reminder how uncomfortable we can be about alcohol in this province even if ita��s responsible for billions of dollars of commerce each year.

With so many eminent politicians, government officials and captains of industry in the room you couldna��t help but feel the presence of some unspoken code that making money from wine is all good but sharing a glass over lunch, well, thata��s one step too far. It seemed especially ironic given how smitten the audience was by von Mandla��s rags to riches journey in wine.

With is his 98-year old mother in the room, von Mandl laid out the dream and told the story of how he got there all the while reminding us that one of the advantages of being a private company is you dona��t have to tell anybody what you are doing until you do it. In the case of Mission Hill nothing could be closer to the truth. Even those of us who know a lot about the winery have to admit most of what we know comes to our attention long after it comes to fruition. Ita��s a trade-off I suppose but after years of watching public wine companies act in the interest of their shareholders, instead of the wines, ita��s easier to accept the notion of privacy sought by small family wine producers.

Not too long into the lunch von Mandl revealed that the Mark Anthony Group of Companies generates more than half a billion dollars a year in revenues through the sale of wine both imported and domestic, beer and its runaway money maker, the flavoured malt sensation Mikea��s Hard Lemonade.

A lot of people with money get into the wine business, interestingly von Mandl had very little when he set out to build his dream Okanagan Valley winery. What he does have is vision and after 25 years of intensive work his dream for Mission Hill Family Estate is nearly a reality. Von Mandl is all about the details and if you visit wineries the way I do, the first thing you notice about the Mission Hill property is its a�?fit and finish;a�� it is second to none in the business. When you set out to build one of the worlda��s top ten wineries, in a valley most of the world has never heard of, in country better known for hockey and skiing, you best not skimp on anything.

The search for winemaker John Simes took more than two years and nearly 25 years later he is still in place. Reaching out for international superstar consultant Michel Rolland has helped to focus the team on softer, riper tannins while vineyard maintenance and refinement under James Hopper has been on-going since the late 1990s and is now so methodical you could say it is a vine by vine program based on wines and the grapes required to make them.

Winning some important national awards, including several Canadian Winery of the Year nods and grabbing some attention with big competition wins in London, England first for its chardonnay and more recently for pinot noir has really fuelled the team to reach for new heights.

Earlier this year von Mandl announced the acquisition of CedarCreek winery in East Kelowna that, after acquiring Oliver-based Domaine Combret, already rebranded and retooled as CheckMate Artisanal Winery. Each of these acquisitions are being reshaped to conform to specific grape varieties and wines. After a decade of site selection, vineyard work and clone testing the final piece of the von Mandla��s pinot noir puzzle will come together just north of CedarCreek winery in Kelowna. An amazing gravity-fed, pinot noir specific winery will be built to become the permanent home of Martina��s Lane Pinot Noir — the label that won the best pinot noir in the world at last yeara��s Decanter Awards in London.

At CheckMate, chardonnay will be taken to new heights, with several small lot releases due to arrive in 2014 and merlot will get the von Mandl specificity treatment. In many ways it is a natural occurrence. The team at Mission Hill has done their homework. The new projects can stand on their own. The dream von Mandl had a quarter century ago not only has come true but it is morphing into a much bigger reality, something much more intriguing than Napa Valley north.

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