Nestled amongst the majestic mountains of British Columbia, is one of the Okanagan Valley’s first wineries: Mission Hill Family Estate Winery. This glacier-formed wine valley, created centuries ago by mother nature, consists of ancient soils, unique geological pockets, diverse microclimates and breathtaking mountainsides. Located in West Kelowna, British Columbia, Mission Hill Family Estate is Canada’s only five-time recipient of “Winery of the Year.” The underground barrel cellar at Mission Hill was blasted out of volcanic rock and is one of the many reasons for visiting this incredible winery.
About Mission Hill Family Estate Winery
If you’re into exceptional food and wine experiences, the outdoor Terrace Restaurant services a Michelin-star quality tasting menu. Their outdoor amphitheatre has an incredible lineup of concerts, which occur all summer long. This year they are welcoming guests such as Canadian songwriter, Sarah McLachlan and Diana Krall. Today, the winery employs organic growing practices to cultivate wines of the highest quality with depth and character. As of 2021 all of the vineyards at Mission Hill are certified organic. Behind these award-winning wines is Chief Winemaker Corrie Krehbiel. Krehbiel is the first Canadian female Chief Winemaker at Mission Hill and her vision for Mission Hill wines has made them internationally recognized and revered.
About Krehbiel’s journey
Born and raised in the Okanagan Valley, from a proud 4th generation fruit farming family, Krehbiel joined Mission Hill Family Estate in 2015. She currently has over 24 years of winemaking experience and truly loves to make wine.
Her first dream was to get into pre-med, but during school, she fell in love with winemaking and has been in the industry ever since. “When I was in high school, a local winery called to see if I would work on the bottling line during spring break. I spent my first week weeding the gardens, rather than on the bottling line,” explains Krehbiel.
She continued working in the wine industry throughout her high school years, but she was determined to go into pre-med. In her second year of university, she had an “ah-ha” moment that changed her career path and caused her to immediately switch courses toward winemaking. “Since then I have never looked back,” she says.
Krehbiel is skilled in technical winemaking, operations management, strategic planning, sensory analysis, blending and wine education. She is a focused, knowledgeable professional with a Bachelor of Science, post-graduate training in Enology and Viticulture and a master’s in business administration. She’s a true superstar winemaker making a difference in Canada’s west coast wine region.
How organic certification affected their wines
Mission Hill converted vineyards in the Kelowna area six years ago to organic certification. Krehbiel says that farming organically has forced the team at Mission Hill to be more sensitive in the vineyards. “Our viticulturists know every block like the back of their hand,” she shares. “Any disease or pest pressures must be caught early because we do not have the conventional sprays to rely on and overall our soils and vines have become healthier due to our use of cover crops and compost to revitalize the soils.”
Krehbiel says that the change to organic farming has truly changed the overall taste and style of the wines. They have a flavour profile that is more rich and more concentrated. These wines are gaining high points and international critical acclaim securing them on the world stage.
About the extreme climate challenge
The critical acclaim doesn’t come without its challenges. According to Krehbiel one of the biggest winemaking challenges in the Okanagan Valley is the climate. “We are on the edge of grape growing,” she says. “With varying seasonal conditions we can have deep freezes in the winter, cool weather during flowering and set and frost (or snow) as we are picking our reds.”
Krehbiel says that she and her team work diligently with mother nature, listening to her, as they guide the vines and accent the wines in the final winemaking. “I rely on my knowledge, experience, and instinct to guide me, as it’s important to remain flexible to respond to the needs of the season and each vintage,” states Krehbiel.
Expression of Art & Science
Krehbiel believes that the wine’s balance, texture, and overall taste profile come down to the multiple decisions that the winemaker makes in the vineyard, as well as the final blending process.
“Winemaking is certainly a mixture between science and art. I suspect that each winemaker would quantify this mix differently. To me, winemaking is based on science, but it is the art that allows a winemaker to express themselves in wine. In a wine, you can adjust the acidity, the alcohol and the sweetness using analysis and numbers, but how the wine is expressed is the craft of the winemaker.”
Living in the Okanagan Krehbiel loves being outdoors and spends her time running, hiking, mountain biking, skiing, camping and appreciating the natural art around her. All of her hobbies require agility, gut instincts and flexibility – skills and talents she also uses in her day-to-day activities as a talented winemaker crafting award-winning wine.
“Winemaking has taught me many important lessons; however, two of the most important are trusting my gut instinct and being agile,” shares Krehbiel. She explains that in this wine-growing climate, it is important to remain flexible in the approach and respond to the needs of each season and vintage with insight.
What does the future hold?
When it comes to the organic certification, Krehbiel says that Mission Hill’s vineyards are unique and many of them were planted over 25 years ago, now all of them are farmed organically benefiting from the history and knowledge of farming those same vineyards for 25 years. She hopes that her children and her grandchildren are able to enjoy the beauty of this area for many years to come.