In the relatively short history of quality wine produced in Canada, one wine has stood out as the country’s most collected wine, emblematic of its region, terroir, winery and grapes. Oculus, made at Mission Hill Family Estate Winery, has helped define the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, and thus Canada’s impact on the world’s fine wine market.
The history behind Mission Hill isn’t as long-stretched as, say, Lafite in Bordeaux or Stag’s Leap in California, but the winery has more than made up for that with the quality of wines that they’ve produced. The 1992 vintage of Mission Hill’s chardonnay that would go on to win the Avery Trophy for “Best Chardonnay Worldwide” was only just the beginning.
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In 1997, Mission Hill was producing Canada’s first ‘icon wine’ – a rich, elegant and refined merlot-dominant blend that epitomized a fusion of old world and new world winemaking traditions rooted in the soils of the South Okanagan. The flagship and iconic Bordeaux-inspired Oculus is a statement wine, representing the pinnacle of everything Mission Hill does from viticulture to winemaking. It has captured the attention of sommeliers, collectors and consumers worldwide as a First Growth wine from the Okanagan Valley. In short: Oculus set the stage for premium Canadian wine.
With outstanding balance and pure elegance, Oculus is a wine worthy of its place among any collector’s cellar. In 2020, Mission Hill released the 2017 vintage of Oculus, marking the label’s 20th anniversary – a milestone that also signalled a new chapter of sorts.
Made with the intent to be among the world’s best – no matter the vintage, nor winemaker in charge – is no small undertaking. As all iconic wines start in the vineyard, Mission Hill’s viticulturalists have made the transition to organic farming, a process that was officially certified in 2020.
“Oculus has always been about our uncompromising approach to viticulture and winemaking and is the true expression of the quality that can be attained from the Okanagan Valley,” says Corrie Krehbiel, Mission Hill’s newest Chief Winemaker. “Oculus has evolved over the years with the changing vineyards and as methods have changed in the winery; however, exceptional quality has always been paramount.”
The fruit grown within the Osoyoos and Oliver sites is the most unique and sought after in the entire country – vineyards unlike any other. The transition to organics has been a huge shift and the winemaking team is definitely seeing the results, both in the vineyard and the winery.
“When Oculus was first produced in 1997, our vineyards were very young,” adds Krehbiel. “Today, our vineyards, which have been farmed exclusively for Oculus, have the benefit of over 25 years of age, adding complexity and concentration to the wine.”
Continues Krehbiel: “Our approach to Oculus is to build on the richness and concentration that the vineyard sites give us, supporting the blend with oak, rather than overpowering it. Over time, and with experience, we have refined our picking decisions, extraction and oak use to suit what the vineyard gives us each year.”
Boasting a dominant percentage of merlot, and generally with equal parts cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc in support, one can expect layers of complex, rich flavours from this wine, including black fruits, earth, cigar box, savoury herbs and licorice. Ageworthy, the wine is built to last 20 years or more in the right cellar conditions.
Wine collectors usually start with icons of a region. Often, these wines are already legendary, trophies per se, but can also be insider secrets. Whether Mission Hill’s Oculus is viewed as the former or the latter is within the eye of the beholder.
“I am excited to be tasked with ensuring that Oculus remains one of Canada’s most collected wines,” says Krehbiel. “We have an incredible, passionate team in the vineyards and in the winery with one goal in mind – making exceptional wine to be enjoyed.”
One thing is certain at Mission Hill and that’s the uncompromising approach to quality and persistent striving for perfection throughout the viticulture and winemaking process. It’s the type of formula and pedigree that results in a wine becoming the ultimate expression of its region, and thus, by no fluke, Canada’s very own icon wine.