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How to Keep 'Em Down on the Farm (February 14, 2003)

Every emerging wine region needs a magnet, a visual attraction that draws wine lovers to the area (and, more importantly, those who have yet to see the light).

California has many such magnets: Gil Nickel's antique car collection at Far Niente; Francis Ford Coppola's movie memorabila at Neibaum-Coppola; the US$5 million gold nugget the size of a barrel at Ironstone Vineyards in the Sierra Foothills; the magnificent art at The Hess Collection on Mount Veeder and Clos Pegase in Calistoga; the Opus One winery that resembles a Mayan temple and Robert Mondavi's Copia, America's Center for Food, Wine & the Arts in Napa City.

We're beginning to get the message in Canada: to be successful a wine region needs to stimulate agri-tourism. After a drive from the city there has to be something for the consuming public to see other than tanks and bottling lines. Concerts and events are fine, but you need an all-year-round attraction.

Ontario will get its own magnet in four years' time when Le Clos Jordan's winery is finally built. Designed by Frank Gehry, it will draw architecture buffs from around the world with its amazing roof that looks like whipped egg whites. The design is so complex that it will take three and a half years to build. Ground will be broken next spring.

In British Columbia, the magnet is already in place: Mission Hill Family Estate Winery. In 28 years of chasing the grape around the world I have visited literally thousands of wineries and I can say without being accused of chauvinism that this is the most extraordinary facility I have ever seen.

If Dionysus dreamed of a cathedral to celebrate wine he could happily take residence here. A soaring bell tower dominates the valley, its bells tolling the quarter hour. The crypt-like cellars with their massive curved cement ceilings are spaces for contemplation. The tasting rooms and glass collection boast museum-quality artifacts. Every detail is in perfect taste.

The remodelling job cost owner Anthony von Mandl $31 million. This investment has given a boost of confidence to every other winemaker in the Valley and they, too, have started to put money into their vineyards and infrastructures.

Vincor, the other BC wine enterprise with deep pockets, has also been busy investing in the province. Their joint venture with Groupe Taillan, the large Bordeaux shipper, has produced one of the best red wines I have tasted from Canadian soil. At the newly-designed winery in Oliver, Pascal Madevon, a winemaker from the Médoc, made Osoyoos Larose 2001. I sampled this wine from barrel last September; it will be bottled in April after 18 months in oak. Very St. Emilion in style, it's a blend of 70 per cent Merlot, 20 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 per cent Cabernet Franc. Dense purple in colour, it offers a many-layered, fragrant nose of vanilla, cedar, chocolate, violets and blueberries. Firmly structured, well extracted with ripe tannins, it finishes with a minty note. This was Madevon's debut vintage in Canada and he likened his first child to "a Third Growth Bordeaux." The wine augurs well for the future of a young vineyard.

Vincor's talented resident winemaker, Bruce Nicholson, walked away with the "Red Wine of the Year" trophy at the Canadian Wine Awards announced in November: Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Proprietor's Reserve Shiraz 2000. As good as this wine is, I preferred the blended J-T Proprietor's Grand Reserve Cabernet Shiraz 2001 when I tasted them side by side in September, so watch for that one.

And last September Vincor saw its joint venture with the Osoyoos Indian Band bear fruit with the opening of Nk'Mip Cellars – the first aboriginal winery in North America. Although the wines – all from the 2000 harvest – were competently made, this first vintage of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot were relatively costly for the quality.

Certainly the winery, set in Canada's only desert, has an attraction that must be unique in the wine world – a cage of rattlesnakes caught on the property, tagged with an electronic device for tracking and then released. Signs throughout the 50-acre heritage centre warn you to keep to the paths.

To find out more:
"Master architect Frank Gehry presents design plans for Le Clos Jordan winery in Canada's Niagara peninsula"

Mission Hill Winery website

"Nk'Mip Cellars – North America's First Aboriginal Winery"

Nk'Mip Cellars website




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