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Life as a Sommelier at Mission Hill Winery

I know you’ve been wondering why I’ve been MIA these past 2 months. To that, I’d say life gave me an unexpected opportunity in late May that I couldn’t pass up on – that was being apart of the Mark Anthony Group’s Wine Career Development Program, where I get to spend my summer in Kelowna at Mission Hill Winery as a Sommelier. So far, it’s been quite the adventure and has had many surprises in-store. In this program, it’s brought me an immersive experience into the wine world. I’m learning a ton about wine (and tasting lots of course), meeting wine lovers from across Canada and all facets of life, and experiencing what the Okanagan has to offer as one of the fastest-growing wine regions. This experience is basically like becoming fluent in a language, you must live and breath it to truly understand it. Not to mention, it’s been super busy at Mission Hill, which is why blogging has taken a backseat in my life lately. But knowing so much more than I did before, I hope to write even better, more intuitive blogs about wine for you.

The Property

My first visit to Mission Hill was on my first workday. Mission Hill truly lives up to its title of a world-class winery. Their wines are award-winning, their name is known on a global scale, and they have the most beautiful property in the Okanagan.

I love walking in the courtyard in the morning when no guests are around and seeing the sunshine on their finely cut grass while hearing the bells ring. It’s so serene and peaceful.

Then going into the barrel cellar brings me to a whole other world. It’s inside Mt.Boucherie, a dormant volcano. The aesthetic design with the earthy smell and the cool temperature is incredible. Anthony von Mandl (our proprietor) and Tom Kundig (our architect) have created a little Europe right in the Okanagan, which makes this place the perfect place to spend my summer, especially when my Italy trip got canceled.

Wine Life

Sipping N’ Learning on-repeat basically sums up my life here. I’m being mentored by one of the best sommeliers in the world, completing my WSET 2, and checking out wineries in the neighbourhood like CedarCreek and Kitsch Winery. Living in wine culture day in and out keeps things exciting, and is nurturing me more as a Sommelier on the job and the Wineisseur online. At Mission Hill, I’ve been able to serve guests with all ranges of wine knowledge from ones that don’t know anything to master sommeliers who travel to wine regions around the world. Having this experience, I understand more why wine can be a pretentious subject for people to learn. Especially being in North America, wine isn’t integral to our culture which is why having strong wine knowledge isn’t common, making the wine community smaller and more exclusive. This all reaffirmed that the wine knowledge I provide on my blog is needed and that I need to continue to live out my mission:

Simplifying the principles of wine to encourage my readers to dive deeper into the world of wine while making wine culture and the community more inclusive.

With wine, you never know everything, but you’re always learning and if you love to do that, you know…

“You’re a Sommelier?? You’re so Young”

A comment I’ve got a couple of times on the job. A Sommelier is a wine expert. I’m not sure if I am necessarily an expert, but I do know more than the average person, so I guess I can qualify as one. A lot of guests ask me about what training or certification is required to be a Sommelier and to that, I say the training is hands-on for the job. But being a Somm at Mission Hill requires a ton more than knowledge. The long hours, being on my feet, talking all day, and busting my ass to keep guests happy is exhausting. This is my first job in hospitality, so I didn’t know what I was getting into, especially working in high season. The first weeks of the high season were draining, but as the weeks go by, my body has built more endurance and strength for my job. So I hope people understand why the winery needs “younger" Sommeliers.

PS: If you want to get insights on the life of a young Sommelier, read Wine Girl by Victoria James, America’s youngest Sommelier.

To End Things Off...

Changing course in my life from being quarantined in Vancouver to coming to Kelowna has had its challenges, but has been extremely rewarding on my personal and professional development. Over these several weeks, I’ve seen so much improvement in myself and gained a greater appreciation for what I have. It’s been a work hard play hard summer, but I’m having a blast and look forward to what the rest of this season has in store for me. If you plan on coming up to Kelowna, stop by Mission Hill Winery and say hi (and book reservations in advance so you can get on the property)!!

Here are some interesting things I’ve discovered during this experience that I think y’all should know.

1. Decanting has changed my life!

Before this job, I was always the person that went for the fresh and fruity wines, typically whites or rosés. Since I’ve had the opportunity to try so many wines, red wines are growing on me and that’s because decanting has changed the game!! I’ve tried Mission Hill’s Oculus, our flagship Bordeaux-style blend, from the bottle and decanted and had 2 different experiences. I found the decanter made the Oculus so much easier to drink because it softened the mouthfeel and tannins, which really changed my view of red wines. Never again will I drink a full-bodied red wine from the bottle.

2. Wine and food pairing needs to be taken more seriously.

As I’ve mentioned, wine is not integral to North American culture, so wine with food isn’t either. I’ve heard a couple of times people tell me that the wine tastes so good in Europe, but there are tons of wines imported from Europe here, so what’s the difference? I think the main difference is that people in Europe know how to pair their wine with food. In North America, it’s uncommon for restaurant servers to be able to recommend a wine with your entrée unless you’re at a high-end restaurant. Luckily, being at a winery, our food and wine pairings show our guests what strategic pairings can do to enhance the flavours of your meal and make it more enjoyable. Being able to experience it myself, I’ve up-ed my wine and food game at home and hope that my guests do the same after visiting Mission Hill. One of my guests told me the most interesting wine and food pairing that surprised me, but totally made sense – Prosecco and Fish N’ Chips. Try it and tell me it’s not a match in heaven.

3. Slurp wine.

Many guests are surprised when I say this, and I probably gave a similar face to my boss when he told me this. Slurping mixes air with the wine in your mouth, which heightens your senses and allows you to pick up the flavours of the wine more easily. Plus, it gives you the opportunity (with good reason) to break the rule your parents instilled in you since you were a kid. So have fun!


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