Okanagan winery seeks to put B.C. wine on the world stage

Anthony von Mandl has spent his career trying to shine a global spotlight on British Columbia’s Okanagan wineries – and next week, his quest is going to get a big boost from a pair of royal visitors.

The founder and proprietor of Mission Hill Family Estate near Kelowna will be playing co-host to an afternoon event at his winery on Sept. 27, when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be among the 200 invited guests at the Taste of British Columbia gathering organized by the provincial government.

Premier Christy Clark, who represents the Westside-Kelowna riding, will join Mr. von Mandl as co-host as the province touts B.C. wine and cheese. Top B.C. chefs will be on hand to prepare food for Prince William, his wife, Kate, and other dignitaries.

Mission Hill wine will be paired, for instance, with wild B.C. geoduck with miso mustard sauce prepared by Vancouver chef Hidekazu Tojo, who will also present vegetarian sushi (asparagus, zucchini, carrot and red pepper) and his specialty dish featuring marinated albacore tuna.

Mr. von Mandl recalls the early days of vineyards in the Okanagan back in 1981, when there were just five wineries in the region. “At the beginning, nobody believed that you could possibly produce acceptable drinkable wines in the Okanagan, let alone international wines that would stand next to the best in the world,” he said in an interview.

Today, the Okanagan Valley has more than 120 wineries, including Mission Hill’s majestic site that overlooks Okanagan Lake. The region’s international reputation has blossomed over the years, with award-winning wines sparking tourism, Mr. von Mandl said.

“The reason for everything that I’ve done in my life has been to be able to put the Okanagan on the world wine map, as crazy as that sounds,” he said. “Luxury is art and creativity. It’s artisanal, it’s an art form. Mission Hill has a wine called Oculus. And I think it’s without a doubt acknowledged as the top red, the top Bordeaux-style wine in Canada.”

Mission Hill 2011 Martin’s Lane pinot noir won top honours in its category at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London in 2013.

“I set the bar very high. The only way that you can win on the world stage is if you’re at the highest level in every single thing that you do,” Mr. von Mandl said.

Both the B.C. Okanagan and Ontario’s Niagara region are striving to become major global players in the wine industry and raise Canada’s profile.

But Mr. von Mandl said Canada’s reputation for top-end products has suffered some blows, including the demise of Nortel Networks Corp. and the struggles of BlackBerry Ltd.

In Mr. von Mandl’s quest to forge Mission Hill as a luxury brand in consumers’ minds, he has hired a big name in the wine industry, Ian Morden, the former estate director at Cloudy Bay Vineyards in New Zealand. Mr. Morden is now managing director at Mission Hill.

“There’s a big difference in wine, as there is in fashion or food,” Mr. von Mandl said. “Each winery is producing 10 or 20 wines. Walking into a wine shop is a very confusing shopping experience. How does one region, let alone one brand, set itself apart from another? It’s the ultimate marketing challenge, even more so on the high end. That’s what Ian did with Cloudy Bay.”

The South African-born Mr. Morden said he is pleased to join Mission Hill. “I’m delighted to be in Canada, and with some major U.S. markets on our doorstep and the Pacific Northwest’s natural pivot towards Northern Asia, I sense enormous potential ahead,” he said in a statement.

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