Monday, January 23, 2017

Mission Hill's seamless changing of the guard

Photo: Mission Hill vice-president and winemaker Darryl Brooker

The passing of the winemaking torch at Mission Hill Family Estate has been exceptionally smooth.
John Simes, the legendary New Zealand-born winemaker, who has been there since 1992, was succeeded after the 2014 vintage by Darryl Brooker, previously the winemaker at CedarCreek Estate Winery, which Mission Hill had acquired early in 2014.

Darryl holds the title of vice-president as well as chief winemaker. Born in Canberra, Australia, in 1973, Darryl came to the Okanagan in 2010 after making wine in Australia, New Zealand and Ontario.  

“Virtually every job I have started, the previous winemaker was not there any more,” Darryl says. “It has been interesting here. John and I knew that I was coming for a while. There have been a couple of advantages. John invited me to blending sessions. He was still fully in charge, but I had an 18-month transition into the job. It was a good way to see the 2013 reds and the 2014 whites. I got to sit through the blending sessions with Pascal Chatonnet, our consultant, and be an observer.”

He and John agreed the John “would see through the 2014 vintage, including the reds, in to the bottle, and I would take over from 2015. Obviously, I was running the winery by then, but out of respect, I made sure he was happy with my decisions.”

Darryl adds that “it has been a nice transition. You don’t experience that very often at all, unless you go from assistant to winemaker at the same property. It is not that I am going to make the wines exactly the same as John. It has been a good way to get a handle on why he is doing things a certain way.”

John remains involved at Mission Hill, overseeing the vineyards, and Darryl still taps his expertise. 

“I trust his palate a lot on picking decisions and things,” Darryl says. “When the Merlots came in, I asked him to spend a couple of hours with me in the winery and taste through the Merlots. It is quite nice having him around and having that experience. I would be silly not to use it.”

The wines currently available reflect the seamless transition from one talented winemaker to another.

Mission Hill has a large portfolio, divided into tiers. The entry-level tier is called Five Vineyards, reflecting the fact that Mission Hill operates  at least five vineyards throughout the Okanagan.

In ascending order, there is a reserve tier and a terroir tier. The Legacy Collection sits at the crown of the portfolio.

The Terroir Collection wines, which were the last major initiative by John Simes, are available exclusively at the winery because production is limited. These wines are made with grapes that are among the top three percent of the fruit in Mission Hill’s vineyards.

The Legacy wines includes a Chardonnay called Perpetua, a red Bordeaux blend called Compendium and another red blend called Quatrain, which includes Syrah in the blend. The flagship is Oculus, the Bordeaux blend that Mission Hill launched in 1997. It is now one of the Okanagan’s outstanding Icon wines.

Here are notes on the wines.

Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2015 ($12.99). This wine is screaming good value. It is juicy with aromas and flavours of peach and lychee. Absolutely delicious. 90.
Mission Hill Five Vineyards Rosé 2015 ($12.99). This may be sold out but it is another delicious wine for the price. It has aromas and flavours of cherry, strawberry and watermelon, with a lingering fruit sweetness on the finish. 89.
Mission Hill Five
Vineyards Pinot Noir 2014 ($15.99). This is a silky, medium-bodied Pinot Noir long on quaffability, with aromas and flavours of cherry and with a spicy finish. 88.
Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($20.49). This refreshing and vibrant wine delivers lush aromas and flavours of tropical fruits, including lime and grapefruit. The wine is beautifully balanced with a creamy texture. Twenty-one percent was fermented and aged six months in French oak. 91.
Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris 2015 ($20.49). Twenty percent of this wine was fermented in barrel, adding depth and complexity to the final blend. It has aromas of spice and citrus, with flavours of peach and citrus. 91.
Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay 2014 ($N/A). This wine, with buttery and toasty notes on the nose, is a reminder that one can always count on Mission Hill Chardonnays to deliver. The wine is rich and buttery on the palate, with flavours of marmalade and orange zest and with a lingering finish. 91.
Mission Hill Reserve Merlot 2014 ($24.99). This is 87% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 13 months in French and American oak. The firm, age-worthy texture is typical of Okanagan Merlot. The wine begins with aromas of vanilla, cedar, black cherry and black currant. The dark red fruit flavours, reminiscent of Black Forest cake, develop as the wine breathes. This delicious wine came into its own after being open overnight. 91.
Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($25.99). The wine, which was aged 13 months in French and American oak, begins with aromas mint, cassis and vanilla. On the palate, the texture is concentrated, with flavours of  black currant and plum. 92.
Mission Hill Reserve
Limited Edition Viognier 2015 ($N/A). Here is another wine not on the winery’s website, meaning it is available just at the winery. The wine begins with appealing floral aromas with notes of apricot, peach and honeysuckle. The palate is rich with flavours of stone fruit and ripe apple. 91.
Mission Hill Terroir Collection Bluebird Passage Viognier 2014 ($30 for 423 cases). These two Viogniers are something of a benchmark for Okanagan Viognier. This wine begins with appealing aromatic notes of stone fruit. On the palate, there are rich and luscious flavours of peach, apricot and mango. The finish is long and lingering. 93.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Bluebird Passage Viognier 2015 ($30 for 398 cases). This is a single vineyard wine. One third was fermented in a concrete egg, one third in older oak barrels and one third in stainless steel. Darryl’s objective: “A big, unctuous Viognier but with nice aromatics and brightness to it.” A terrific wine, it begins with aromas with floral and ripe apricot notes. The palate is luscious, with flavours of apricot, peach and mango. The finish lingers. 92.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Whispering Hill Organic Merlot 2013 ($N/A). This wine is made with grapes from a 14-acre vineyard near Oliver that has been managed organically since it was planted in 2006. In 2013, Mission Hill began the process of getting organic certification. The wine begins with intense aromas of plum, blackberry and blueberry, which lead to flavours of black currant, black cherry and blueberry jam. There is a touch of chocolate on the finish. 92.
Mission Hill Terroir Collection Whispering Hill Organic Merlot 2014 ($N/A). Like the previous vintage, this wine is remarkable for its concentration. It begins with aromas of spicy cassis, leading to flavours plum, blueberry, chocolate and licorice. 93.
Mission Hill Terroir Collection Crosswinds Syrah 2012 ($65 for 950 cases). This wine as aged 13 months in French oak. Even after several years in bottle, the wine still has grippy tannins and notes of oak and vanilla. However, once decanted, it shows aromas of spice, cedar and white pepper, leading for flavours of black cherry and chocolate. The wine has intense concentration. 91.

Mission Hill Perpetua 2013 ($50). This is an elegant Chardonnay with aromas of citrus, butter and toast. On the palate, the citrus and apple notes are supported by a mineral backbone and by bright acidity. 91.

Mission Hill Compendium 2012 ($75 for 2,500 cases). This is 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot and 17% Cabernet Franc. The volume of this wine speaks to the quality of the fruit Mission Hill is getting from its Osoyoos vineyards. The wine was fermented in small French oak fermenters and aged 14 months in French oak. The wine has aromas of oak and cassis leading to flavours of plum and black currant, with a hint of dark chocolate on the finish. 93.

Oculus 2013 ($125 for 1,975 cases). This wine, not yet fully released, is 51% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, all from Osoyoos vineyards. It was fermented in small French oak fermenters and aged 14 months in French oak. It begins with appealing aromas of black cherry, blueberry, vanilla and a suggestion of oak. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, black cherry, black coffee and dark chocolate. The long, ripe tannins give this elegant wine a svelte and polished texture. Because of its youth, I doubled decanted the wine. But for the need to reviewing it, I would have cellared it for seven to 10 years, allowing it to blossom naturally. 94-95.

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