Mission Hill Family Estate presented Oculus, their signature 2003 Bordeaux blend which currently wholesales for $60 a bottle, to a gathering of 20 local restaurant owners and managers at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler on June 8. The verdict, after much swishing and spitting, was effusive.
"If you want to impress some people and show them some of our province’s finest efforts this would be a good choice," said Scott Downing of Thai One On.
A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, Oculus will likely sell for $100-plus on a restaurant wine list, says Bob Dawson, Rimrock Café owner.
"It’s very well balanced, has all the characteristics of a normal Bordeaux blend — very nice," Dawson said at the mid-afternoon tasting.
Mission Hill’s Ingo Grady says Oculus is a contemplative wine.
"You wouldn’t serve this at a pool party or grad ceremony," he said. "It’s a fine, elegant, sophisticated wine that commands full attention."
Mission Hill, the winery that shook the global wine market when its 2004 Chardonnay was judged best in the world at the International Wine and Spirit competition in London, England, may have another winner. Although it’s still a young winery they have accomplished in 20 years what normally takes wineries generations to accomplish.
"The Okanagan has defied the normal evolution of wine region (development) by recognizing the sheer potential of a unique climate and soil combination and by bringing in wine master expertise," he said.
The Okanagan Valley, between the Coast and Monashee Mountains, is particularly well suited for growing wine, Grady noted, receiving only 200-300 ml of rain annually – one quarter of the rainfall France’s Bordeaux and Burgundy regions receive. The valley also receives about two hours more sunlight per day than California.
Grady, a former wine importer who’s been with Mission Hill since 1981, says the winery followed "severe selection" procedures in its five Osoyoos/Oliver area vineyards: hand- picking and hand-sorting grapes, employing a gravity flow system so grapes don’t stress and using small lot fermentation for the 2,822 cases of Oculus produced.
Bottled after mixed 2003 summer weather and an extended warm fall, Grady says the Oculus’ quality speaks to an amazing potential for the ’04 and ’05 vintages that had consistently warm weather.
"The ’03 Oculus is a bloody good wine but I know for a fact the ’04 and ’05 will be even better so I can see somewhere in the future a day when a serious Okanagan wine will be $100 a bottle," Grady said.
In addition to the 2003 Oculus, Grady presented a 2004 Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay and ice wine, as well as 2003 Shirah and Merlot. Available in select Whistler restaurants and through Blackcomb Cold Beer and Wine store, Mission Hill’s Oculus can also be purchased online in boxes of six 750 ml bottles for $300.