Mission Hill Winery: Legacy Series Culinary Class
We are very fortunate to have Mission Hill Winery in the Okanagan. Situated on top of the hills in West Kelowna overlooking the lake, Mission Hill has been a prominent winery in the valley, contributing not only world class wines abut also food, art and music to the local cultural scene. Architecturally it is a stunning estate reminiscent of Tuscany, complete with a loggia, a bell tower and gorgeous views, spanning the vineyards, lake and the mountains beyond. There is a simplicity to the architecture that is very enticing. An Italian saying that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication becomes more meaningful when you stroll through the estate, experiencing the minimalist yet grand rooms and spaces. Every time I go there I tend to see something that I hadn’t noticed before.
Mission Hill is also home to the award winning Terrace Restaurant, named one of the top five winery restaurants in the world by Travel and Leisure magazine. It is an outdoor restaurant, open only in season, from spring to fall. See-through roll down shades protect diners from excess sun or wind, enabling you to enjoy lunch or dinner in any kind of summer weather. The restaurant has a spectacular view over the rows of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and an expansive lake view. The menu is carefully prepared each season by a culinary team headed by Executive Winery Chef Chris Stewart and the quality, selection and presentation would please the most discerning of palates.
Over the years I have attended many classes at Mission Hill as well as some of the special dinners in the Chagall room or outdoors in their vineyard. During the summer Mission Hill holds concerts at their outdoors amphitheatre-like stage and we have been to all of them enjoying musicians such as Tony Bennet, Gypsy Kings, Jesse Cook, The Canadian Tenors, Pink Martini and more. These are all wonderful events that make life in the Okanagan that much more pleasant if you appreciate good food, great wines, beautiful music and gorgeous settings.
Legacy series culinary class
In addition to offering world class wines Mission Hill also holds cooking classes in their culinary theatre with the talented trio of chefs: Executive winery chef Chris Stewart, Catering chef Adam Vaughan and Terrace restaurant chef Patrick Gayler.
The Legacy Culinary class last week was the last offering of the season and they went out with a bang, holding the class on the date of release of their Legacy Collection wines which they call “the pinnacle of excellence at Mission Hill Family Estate”. The class was sold out within twenty minutes of being offered online and a second class was scheduled to meet the demand.
That second class was the one I attended on a Saturday afternoon. We entered the Wine Education Centre through 24 feet tall heavy wooden doors leading to the Chagall room, named for the original Chagall tapestry hanging on the wall. The room, with it soaring ceiling, is bare other than a fireplace, a grand piano, a few benches and the Chagall tapestry (one of only 29 ever made). It’s a minimalist yet comfortable space in which they hold receptions and dinners, some of which I attended.
The kitchen is perfect for a cooking demonstration so don’t worry, you can sit and watch Chef Stewart prepare the food and you don’t have to get your hands dirty. “It’s a live cooking show like you’d see on the food network” says Chef Chris, “on TV you watch a show and think how good the dish must taste. Well, here you actually get to taste it.” While Chef Stewart demonstrates, Chef Adam does the actual cooking in the back. “We do the Martha Stewart swap” says Chef Stewart, “I show you the raw chicken and four seconds later it comes out of the oven cooked”. That’s because Chef Adam has been working in the back of the kitchen preparing the food. I need this arrangement in my own kitchen.
Coconut corn soup and Perpetua Chardonnay
The menu that evening featured Chef Stewart’s favourite dishes and was heavy on meats. Leaning towards vegetarian foods myself, I appreciate a more vegetable focused menu but wine is often paired with protein while vegetables tend to take a secondary place. The first course however, paired with the Perpetua Chardonnay, was right “up my culinary alley”: a delicious corn and coconut soup made from entirely vegan ingredients. “This soup takes 6 minutes to make” says Chef Stewart, “as long as you have your vegetables chopped and ingredients ready”. We watched him heat up the extra virgin olive oil, soften the garlic and scallions in it and build layers of flavours one by one, adding coconut milk, rice milk, lightly cooked fresh corn and the few spices that made up the fragrant and silky, mildly spicy soup.
As the soup for 30 magically appeared and poured into bowls, Mission Hill’s Director of Wine Education Ingo Grady stepped forward to speak about the wine and the food pairing. “We are first and foremost a winery” says Grady, “sometimes the culinary team forgets that and thinks we are a restaurant…”. That’s what happens when you are good at so many things.
The 2012 Chardonnay from the Legacy Collection is 100% chardonnay made with three different clones (“not clowns” says Grady) each giving the wine a different flavour and different fruit profile. One brought bright citrusy acidity, another rich tropical fruit flavours (think pineapple) and the third, bright open aroma reminiscent of fragrant Ehrenfelser. “Are you of the ABC persuasion?” asks Grady, referring to the ABC that stands for Anything But Chardonnay. I didn’t see any hands go up. “We love chardonnay” he says, “we want our chardonnay to taste and smell like the place. There are many great chardonnay wines in the world but this one can only come from our Perpetua vineyard.”
They take a minimal intervention approach in making the wine. The grapes get a quick de-stem, a light crush and then the berries go into the press “but we don’t turn the press on” says Grady. “We let the grapes have skin contact for a couple of hours then they rotate the press drums and the purest juice drops out the bottom. That purest juice goes into Perpetua” he says. That juice, called free run in wine industry lingo, is set aside and a carefully selected portion is barrel fermented in French oak, aged for 9 month sur lie (with natural sediment), and stirred by hand every two weeks. They produced 32 barrels of this gem and bottled it in December of 2013.
“Chardonnay goes well with corn, squash, potatoes, starchy things” says Grady, “try to incorporate them into your menu to drink with chardonnay”. The soup was a lovely paring that brought out the best in both the food and wine. The rich and elegant single vineyard chardonnay had mineral notes and crisp palate that cut through the rich coconut cream in the soup. The flavour was clean, with subtle oaky notes. Perpetua, meaning long lasting..continuous.. is a descriptive name for this wine, apt as a double entendre for Mission Hill’s continuity concept and the lingering sensation the wine leaves on your palate.
Cassoulet and Quatrain
The next course was a cassoulet, a classic French bean stew from the south of France (Languedoc) named after the traditional earthenware casserole in which it is made. There are probably as many cassoulet recipes as there are cooks in France. I mentioned beans but that’s just part of this dish. It is made with duck fat and sausages along with pork, lamb or other meats. Chef Stewart made his with duck confit. Vegetarians, don’t despair, you can make this dish with beans, leeks, carrots, celery and herbs and top it with a mixture of bread crumbs, garlic, parsley and oil. It’s a rustic flavoured hearty dish that can stand up to a good wine. If you don’t have a traditional cassoulet dish cook it in a beautiful le Creuset enamelled cast iron pot. Mais oui.
The cassoulet was paired with 2011 Legacy Collection Quatrain. “One thing that excites me the most is pairing Okanagan grown wines with classic international foods” says Grady. “That’s the beauty of new world thinking, you are not forced into rigid parameters”. He was referring to the fact that in the “old world” there are many restrictions on what grapes you can grow in a region and which grapes can be included in a blend. In Burgundy you can only grow chardonnay and pinot noir. In Bordeaux you can only blend certain Bordeaux grapes. You cannot add syrah (Rhone Valley) to a red Bordeaux, for example. Making wine in the new world frees you of those restraints and you can blend almost without restrictions. Quatrain is one of those non-traditional blends. “Back in 2005 during Oculous blending trials “someone” might have added a syrah to the oculus blend of merlot, cabernet, cab franc and petit verdot” says Grady, “That someone may have been me. Everyone liked what the result was so the next year we made Quatrain. Syrah injected juicy fleshiness to the wine and made the Bordeaux blend a little less tannic.”
Quatrain, meaning four-line stanza in poetry lingo, is interpreted by Mission Hill in using four grape varieties in the wine, giving it balance and structure. The red mark on the bottle represents a bookmark, also called quatrain in literary lingo. The grapes (merlot, syrah, cabernet sauv and cabernet franc) come from Osoyoos (80%) and Black Sage Road in Oliver (20%). They were hand harvested in October 2011 and underwent fermentation and extended maceration in small French oak fermenters and aged in French oak barrels for 12 months. This is a rich, full bodied wine with fruit forward palate and juicy, fleshy texture. It has a good tannin structure and vibrant acidity that ties in all its components.
Word of advice from Grady: “We double decant these red wines. If you buy one (or six) today, I would advise you to do the same thing” he says. “These wines will be the most enjoyable in the next 4-10 years. This is the kind of wine that if you cellar, would reward patience. If you must have them now, decant them. It takes the wine one level up. Another thing that helps is a little protein, a little salt and the burn marks from a grill.”
Stuffed cannelloni and Compendium
To go with the 2011 Compendium Chef Stewart prepared cannelloni tubes stuffed with pork and pecorino and baked in a bechamel sauce. For a vegetarian version you can substitute the meat with ricotta, pecorino, spinach and mozzarella. Chef rolls the pasta in a pasta machine and pipes the filling into the cannelloni from a pastry bag, so it comes out in a nice and neat roll. He uses a pastry scraper to roll up the dough and clean flour off the counter. His kitchen is kept immaculately clean as he works, partly because his Mom was sitting in the back row keeping an eye on him…(“how am I doing Mom? he asked). The Chef was working on each layer of the dish with patience, tasting as he goes. “It’s very important to pay attention to the layers as you cook” he says, “you need to add seasoning at each layer rather than all at once at the end, it distributes better that way. Also take time to reduce, brown and caramelize as you cook. This concentrates the flavours and makes a better tasting dish.”
The compendium wine is made from grapes that are grown together with the Oculus and Quatrain vineyard blocks so it bears resemblance to both. They are similar yet different, because quatrain is so cabernet rich (44%). Quatrain came about in 2006 when they were tasting through the red wine lots. They made Oculus and Quatrain and had a few good barrels left that didn’t really fit and the prevailing flavour was cabernet. “They decided that if Oculus is driven by merlot”, says Grady, “let’s push the envelope and make compendium more cabernet and cab sauvignon and cabernet franc heavy. That’s how it was conceived, a blended red wine that emulates the red wines of Bordeaux.” To prevent a “house palate” they always have one of two Bordeaux consultants in the room when they do the deliberation of tasting through the barrel lots. “It’s nice to bring outside perspective” says Grady. The Compendium is a full bodied wine with beautiful deep red colour, velvety texture and concentrated flavour. Dark stone fruit, chocolate and dark berries are there along with vanilla and subtle spiciness. It has good tannin structure and balanced acidity. It’s a food friendly wine, more edgy, tannic and chewy then the quatrain.
Chef’s Roast beef dinner and Oculus
The last course was Chef Stewart’s famous Sunday Roast Beef Dinner. He used grape seed oil to sear the roast because of it’s high smoking point. Olive oil would burn at much lower temperature so they use it more as a finishing oil. Make sure you heat up the pan well so the meat doesn’t stick. It only sticks if the pan is cold. If you make it at home you would sear it and then place it in the oven but since this is a commercial kitchen they cook it sous vide and then fry it in beef fat in a special appliance and the meat comes out seared outside and is perfectly medium throughout the inside, if that’s how you like it. Together with this Chef served Yorkshire pudding and a couple of roasted carrots and poured the juice from a restaurant style sauce gun (see image below).
The 2011 Oculus served with this course was special. “It’s the kind of wine that people have heard about but very few have tasted” says Grady. “People ask me when they should open their Oculus. I say: you drink Quatrain early, because it’s smooth, drink Compendium later and drink Oculus when you bloody well deserve to drink it”. This generated a good laugh from the class. “We don’t apologize for the price point” says Grady, “we make more money on a bottle of chardonnay then on Oculus because of the amount of work that goes into the wine. In the vineyard cropping is extremely low and then we are picking the eyes out of the vineyard (meaning pick the best grapes). We then bring the grapes in and have serious tools to make sure the grapes are in pristine condition throughout the whole process. We bring the berries in small shallow bins, then put them on a conveyor belt and de-stem, then sort them.” They don’t crush the berries, Rather, whole berries are placed through gravity in specially constructed oak vats before aging in small French oak barrels. The wine spends 16 months in barrel and 2 years in the bottle and is well on its way before being released. “Our goal is to produce a wine that has a balance between tannin and acidity, gets your attention and will stand up to scrutiny a decade from now” says Grady. This is a big wine with bold fruit and noticeable chocolate and spice. It will age well and long but you know, you deserve to drink it when you want to.
“If there is one thing I can leave you with” says Grady “is this: when in doubt, decant.”
To end the menu dessert was… well, there was no dessert. I know, I was disappointed too. We considered stopping elsewhere to finish our “dinner” and have a dessert on the way home. But you have to forgive them for this minor oversight. The wines were special and the food was carefully chosen to showcase the wine at its best. With the season of cooking classes at Mission Hill over, I look forward to attending their special summer events, dinners and concerts, and especially enjoying their wines. I encourage you to do the same.