B.C. Wine Culture

Proprietor Anthony von Mandl (left) and winemaker Philip McGahan of CheckMate Artisanal Winery. Supplied photo

I’ve been dreaming of a 100-point wine my whole life,” says Anthony von Mandl, the proprietor of CheckMate Artisanal Winery.

And now that dream has come true.

Proprietor Anthony von Mandl (left) and winemaker Philip McGahan of CheckMate Artisanal Winery. Supplied photo

CheckMate’s 2015 Little Pawn Chardonnay just earned a perfect 100-point score from the highly respected wine critic John Schreiner, who noted: “It is impossible to find anything negative about this wine.”

Perfect scores are exceedingly rare in the wine world; indeed, this is the first time ever a Canadian table wine has received one. (Previously, two ice wines were rated at 100 points.)

“It’s a very significant watershed moment for the Okanagan wine industry,” says von Mandl. “This means the grapes we can grow and the wines we can produce in the Okanagan are at the highest level.”

And that means the rest of the planet is sure to start taking notice of the Okanagan, a region that produces just a tiny drop in the vast barrel of world wine, but is increasingly recognized for its great quality and even greater potential.

“We’d expected the moment would come because of the uniqueness of the soils and the micro climates of the Okanagan,” von Mandl says. “No other region in the world has the soils that we have, because no other region in the world was created first by volcanic activity and then by two glaciers. We have this amazing diversity, which means amazing complexity.”

But, he says, “The conundrum was how to get to the point where we knew enough about the land and knew enough about the vines to drive the character and the quality that nature has given us.”

It has meant an enormous investment of time and money in scientific studies, expert advice “and letting nothing stand in our way.”

Von Mandl credits Philip McGahan, “an amazing, intellectual winemaker,” for exploring the possibilities of what the vines could produce. After all, he already knew they could grow great wine—it was this same vineyard that produced the grapes that went into the Mission Hill Family Estate wine that won Best Chardonnay in the World at the 1994 International Wine & Spirit Competition in London, the first international recognition for a B.C. wine.

“It was like a cannon went off,” von Mandl recalls. “It was the first time I knew that not only my dreams had legs, but the valley knew we could produce wines at the top level in the world.”

Since the 1991 harvest that produced that wine, von Mandl’s team has been “carefully and lovingly tending these vines,” raising the quality with each vintage.

“It’s not an overnight success,” he says. “We have to do extraordinary things, otherwise it’s not viable.”

The temporary tasting room installation at of CheckMate Artisanal Winery near Oliver, BC. Supplied photo

Now they are focusing on building the winery itself. High on a hill near Oliver, it is designed by “starchitect” Tom Kundig and will be built over the structure that previously housed the Antelope Ridge Winery.

“It’s amazing how this has come together,” von Mandl says. “We’ve spent so much time creating a sense of place for CheckMate Artisanal Winery, and right in the middle of it this 100-point recognition should come along.”

CheckMate wines are available through the wine club and in gift sets at the tasting room in Oliver, currently housed in a temporary installation while the winery is being built.  

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