You don't have to be a wine buff to enjoy a visit to Mission Hill Winery in Kelowna, Okanagan. Tom Kundig's strange and wonderful architecture is enough of a draw to entice the most ardent tea-totaller to this stunning, award-winning winery.
Purchased as an abandoned wine-growing estate in 1981 by Vancouver wine importer and merchant Anthony von Mandl, the winery was transformed between 1996 and 2002 when the owner commissioned Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects to design and build a new winery and associated buildings.
Located high above the Okanagan Valley on top of Mission Hill the 120,000sqft complex of buildings has an architectural style all of its own. As well as distinct ecclesiastical overtones in the shape and form of some of the buildings, the smooth, 'earth-toned' concrete used in their construction gives them a quality reminiscent of 1930s modernist architecture.
Visitors enter the winery's large, open, grassy courtyard through two, huge curved limestone arches held together by a central keystone carved with motifs from the von Mandl family crest, which are reminiscent of the Art Deco movement. Opposite is the 12-storey, 85ft bell tower, which dominates the estate, and a cloistered outdoor gallery or loggia which viewed together, give a monastic feel to the grounds.
Detail from the door of the Wine Education Centre, Mission Hill Winery, Kelowna
On one side of the courtyard is the Terrace Restaurant, recognised internationally as one of the top winery restaurants in the world, where from May to October you can enjoy lunch or dinner and a glass or two of Mission Hill's delicious wines looking out over the estate's Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines and Lake Okanagan.
The winery's principal building is the Wine Education Centre, adjacent to the bell tower, which houses a theatre where the wine tours begin. Impressive 24ft high wooden doors with metal handles in the shape of a pelican, lead visitors through to the giant reception hall or Chagall Room, named after the Russian painter Marc Chagall, whose tapestry 'Animal Tales' hangs on the back wall of the room.
Winery tours are available all year round and include a visit to the 800-barrel capacity underground cellars, which were blasted out of the rock on which the estate stands, a tour of the von Mandl's art collection, and a wine tasting.
No winery would be complete without a shop, of course, and Mission Hill is no exception. As well as exhibiting the estate's wine portfolio, including the luxury Legacy Collection of Bordeaux-style wines, its 'Wine Boutique' sells hand-painted Italian ceramics, books on Italian art and food, and many other high-end items. You can also sample Mission Hill's wines in the shop.
A 1,200- seater outdoor amphitheatre within the courtyard provides the venue for concert performances during the summer season, reflecting Anthony von Mandl's love of the arts.
No matter where you stand in the courtyard, there are panoramic views of Lake Okanagan and the Mission Hill vineyards stretching out into the distance - a truly wonderful sight.