On Saturday, June 21, I was among the guests at Mission Hill's official opening of its new sculpture exhibit, "Encounters With Iceland." I hadn't been to Mission Hill in a while. Keeping up with all the new boutique wineries, distilleries, cideries, meaderies and eateries in the Okanagan Valley seems to be a losing battle, frankly, so I'm not prone to repeat visits to places I've already been several times over. But I'm grateful that I was on the guest-list.
Grateful? Yes, actually, which is funny because as I said, it's been a busy 2014 already. Launches! Openings! Special Events! And other Must-Attend happenings had me a little road-weary by the first day of summer. Pathetic, but true. And in true journalistic fashion, I was verging on becoming jaded, the writer's equivalent of being a snivelling whiner.
Mission Hill, however, knows how to create an occasion, and with the invite-only cachet -- a small gathering of journalists and Mission Hill Family Estate Wine Club members, plus a few other friends of the winery, I suspect -- plus it was a major international sculpture exhibition opening right here, in the valley. Furthermore, the sculptor of the 42 pieces, Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir, would be in attendance from Reykavik, Iceland. Iceland seems to be punching well above its weight class drawing half of Western Canada to its geysers and Nordic-chic cultural coolness these days. Why would I not go?
As I walked through the keystone arch and into the loggia-framed courtyard, I was handed a handed a glass of the Terroir Collection 2013 Rosé. (More on this in a second.) Although I've seen it a million times, I stopped involuntarily and tipped back on my heels as I stared at the bell tower. Mission Hill's architecture never fails to impress me with its ambition and self-assurredness. It's the kind of winery that few Canadians would ever dare build, but Anthony von Mandl did. And it has been a significant part of why the Okanagan has reached the heights it has.
We were ushered into the Chagall Room, where proprietor Anthony von Mandl (wearing his Order of Canada pin) and Thóraninsdóttir (wearing her Order of the Falcon pin) gave us the background of the deal-making that went into the largest exhibit of Thóraninsdóttir's sculptures to date in North America, from just an initial meeting and conversation in summer of 2013, to having crates arriving at the winery less than a year later.
Thórarinsdóttir, somewhat statuesque herself, was warm and charming. She spoke about how her son has been the model for all of her sculptures. While he has had to sit for countless hours (albeit as a paid model), he likes that his image might outlast a future catastrophy or calamity, and be found by people who assume that he was worshipped as a god. She also spoke of the reality of living in Iceland, with its extreme light and darkness, and its elemental landscape that dictates the rhythms of Icelanders lives.
Our group was then taken on a tour of the sculptures in the courtyard and in the cellar by Thóraninsdóttir. The occasion seemed to be a good time to launch its first new collection in 8 years, so we sipped barrel samples from the as-yet unreleased Terroir Collection collection. Again, why would I not? (The Terroir Collection is limited in its production. The 2012 sauv blanc: 19 barrels produced. The 2012 merlot: 13 barrels produced. The 2012 chardonnay: 19 barrels produced. The 2011 syrah: 13 barrels produced. The 2013 rosé: 223 cases produced. These wines are only available from the winery.)
Now it will get very boring if I try to describe the sculptures, their subtle particularieties, and their specific settings here. Instead I just urge you to visit the winery. Take in the exhibit. Drink in the views. Eat at the restaurant and savour the wines. In this current fashion -- at least in food and wine journalism -- of celebrating the micro, the obscure and the fleeting, it's a nice palate cleanser to just let yourself be blown away by scale and magnitude. And that is what Mission Hill does very, very well.
Many of the sculptures looked very much at home at Mission Hill. Von Mandl mentioned "Gate" more than once. It's a cast iron and glass form, standing in a wide stance, with hands clasped behind his back, head bowed andslightly casting a look over the vineyards and lake from the north loggia of the winery. He mentioned that he often stands like that. And that he intended to purchase "one, two, or three" of Thórarinsdóttir's pieces to remain at Mission Hill. My money is on "Gate."
Encounters with Iceland exhibit runs from June 22, 2014 to October 2014 at Mission Hill Winery, British Columbia, Canada.