Wine: On a Mission

Mission Hill Sauvignon Blanc | BCBusiness

From its hilltop perch in the Okanagan Valley, Mission Hill has taken shape under the direction of a quiet yet scrupulous winemaker 

Mission Hill’s wine history can be easily separated in two: before 1992 and after. Or, pre- and post-John Simes, Mission Hill’s illustrious winemaker. In its early days, the architecturally stunning hilltop winery was a vision of owner Anthony von Mandl, a Vancouver-based wine, spirits and beer distributor. The von Mandl dream, and it’s a grand one, was to build a winery that would attract the attention of the international wine world, shining a spotlight on the Okanagan Valley. Some 11 years after Mission Hill’s birth, and following an extensive three-year global search for a winemaker, von Mandl got his man when Simes arrived on the hill.

1730 Mission Hill Rd. West Kelowna, B.C.
Tel: 250-768-7611
OWNER Anthony von Mandl

Simes, a can-do New Zealander who married an Okanagan girl, set the tone for excellence early on by winning the Best Chardonnay in the World trophy at London’s International Wine and Spirit Competition in 1994. As the quiet leader of Mission Hill’s grape-growing and winemaking team, Simes is responsible for the winery’s impossibly high standards. During the month he arrived in the valley, Simes met each of the growers who were supplying grapes to Mission Hill. Most had never seen a winemaker before, let alone receive explicit expectations from one for the next growing season.

In those days Simes had none of his own vineyards. Today, he has five splendid options stretching from the warm south to a spectacular mid-valley Naramata site and, finally, to the much cooler north. Couple that with an experienced wine-growing team and an even more impressive set of winemaking tools—including state-of-the-art sorters and crushers, basket presses and French oak fermenters—and Simes has all the ingredients to reach for the stars.

Mission Hill is beginning to cash in on the foundation that von Mandl and Simes laid down to foster excellence. Ripeness, elegance and complexity have come to the flagship red blend Oculus, which is about to celebrate its 17th vintage, and the same traits appear to have infected the rest of the winery’s reds.

Perpetua signals a new modern style of Chardonnay for Simes, while Quatrain and Compendium have allowed him to stretch his blending legs. Made from the finest blocks and the finest lots, they reflect a connection to the land with a European style. The winery’s fascination with Bordeaux reds has taken a back seat to the Martin’s Lane project involving Riesling, Pinot Noir and, in 2012, Viognier. With vivid fruit and cleanly presented, the Viognier speaks to a unique Okanagan climate.

The Select Lot Collection and Reserve lineups over-deliver for the price and, as you read this, the winery is relaunching its successful Five Vineyards wines, one of the few Canadian labels sold coast to coast. You might think von Mandl and Simes are two men on a mission. My advice is, don’t get in their way.

Anthony Gismondi is a West Vancouver-based globetrotting wine critic fascinated by the business of wine.

The Picks

UNDERRATED: Mission Hill Family Estate S.L.C. Sauvignon Blanc $22

UNDERVALUED: Mission Hill Family Estate Compendium $50

ADVENTUROUS: Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir $30

TOP OF THE HEAP: Mission Hill Family Estate Oculus $70