Who is Anthony von Mandl?
Let me first admit I haven’t had the pleasure, but visiting British Columbia’s idyllic Okanagan Valley, it’s clear he casts quite a spell both for the international esteem he’s bestowed on the region and for his unprecedented level of investment in the local wine industry. Twice, von Mandl and his team have collected best-in-the-world awards for their new world interpretations of old world classics. He’s also received the Order of Canada. Yet, here in Ontario – he has little “brand” recognition. So who is this celebrated wine laureate?
Let’s start with the owner of four of British Columbia’s most impressive winery estates: Mission Hill – the Dionysus inspired, hallowed flagship brand perched atop the mount in West Kelowna; CedarCreek, the twice-voted Canadian winery of the year in East Kelowna, purchased by von Mandl to give him a left bank/right bank-like presence; Martin’s Lane – a contemporary, architectural and wine-making shrine to the heartbreak grape; and CheckMate – his understated strategic play at the south end of the Okanagan Valley that has Judgement of Paris potential.
So he’s an entrepreneur, he’s ambitious and he has VERY deep pockets.
He’s also a considerable risk-taker. Anthony von Mandl was willing to build the awe- inspiring, architecturally precise, Mission Hill Winery when few thought of Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley as a premium, cool climate, wine-growing region.
He obviously relishes a good challenge. Pinot Noir may be an unforgiving, thin-skinned grape, but that quirk of nature only served to spark a winemaking workaround in the form of a sensational five level, gravity-fed winery called Martin’s Lane. Why not build a ‘kind and gentle’ winery to compensate for the grape’s shortcomings? Clearly Mr. von Mandl sees hurdles as challenges, not setbacks.
He surrounds himself with smart and talented people with glass-half full optimism, inquisitive minds, and a worldly perspective. Mathematicians and lawyers turned winemakers, committed planetary stewards, geology-loving architects and sommeliers who live and breathe hospitality.
He loves art and beauty, form and function, believing fine wine is best paired with inspiring art, antiques and magnificent surroundings.
He loves a good metaphor, challenging guests to see the inherent parallels between art, architecture and the science of winemaking. Exhibit A? The impressive collection of Henry Moore sculptures that welcome visitors at every turn at Mission Hill. Exhibit B? The Douglas Coupland commissioned, two by three-metre Vincent van Gogh bronze sculpture celebrating the red hair genetic mutation in humans and the natural clonal mutation in Pinot Noir grapes. Both, it appears, represent only 2% of their respective populations – further justification, perhaps – for celebrating the unique brilliance of the man, the famous red fruit and the expansive Martin’s Lane shrine in East Kelowna (I am still struggling to connect these metaphorical dots).
Of course, this is my first question. How has Anthony von Mandl been able to do this? We’ve all heard the old saw “how do you make a million dollars in the wine-business? Start with $2 million.” But legend has it Anthony von Mandl’s story is more rags to riches. So, what’s really different here?
Mike’s Hard Lemonade for one.
Y’know….those easy, breezy summer quaffers? It turns out von Mandl is the father of the ‘alcapop’ category. The gritty and resourceful businessman launched Mike’s as a vodka based, spirit cooler in Canada 30 years ago and it was an immediate success.
Eager to duplicate his success in the significantly larger U.S. market, he reformulated the brand with an un-flavoured malt liquor to reduce the tax rate and increase bottom line (spirit based beverages were taxed at 10x the rate of beer coolers). Today, Mike’s Hard Lemonade is the U.S.’s fastest-growing “Flavour Malt Beverage” (FMB) brand and available in a dozen flavours….clearly, a revenue juggernaut that just keeps on giving.
von Mandl also distributes Palm Breeze Spritz – the U.S. registered name for Palm Bay – another cash cow that’s essentially spiked koolaid in a can. Rounding out the ready to serve (RTS) U.S. cocktail offerings are Cayman Jack Margarita, White Claw Hard Seltzer and T.G.I. Friday’s (he sold the Canadian distribution rights for these brands to Anheuser-Busch InBev-owned Labatt Breweries of Canada for U.S. $350 million in 2015).
In addition to these single serve, alcohol coolers, von Mandl is the founder of Mark Anthony Brands Inc., the distribution arm for his company in the U.S. and Canada and the leading importer of wine in Canada. Started in 1972, the company grew organically from “Tony Mandl” – the one-man wine importing business – to the “leading family-owned company in the Canadian wine business” with one of the largest national sales and marketing organizations in the industry. His ascension in the alcohol industry included bringing Corona-branded beer to Canada, creating Artisan Wine Co, a retail subsidiary including small VQA value wines and wines blended with foreign juice, building the $20 million dollar Turning Point Brewery on Annacis Island in Delta BC, launching Okanagan Cider and stirring up the craft brewing community by creating a local “craft beer” called Stanley Park. Fair to say this man knows how to build a brand.
Today, Mark Anthony Brands focuses on supplying restaurants, wine boutiques and retailers with von Mandl brands, a diverse portfolio of domestic wine (i.e. Hidden Bench), imported beer (Asahi), spirits (Whyte & Mackay) and masstige and luxury wines from iconic international brands such as Antinori (Italy), Rodney Strong Vineyards (California), Treasury Wine Estates, Henkell, Hope Family Wines, Symington, Louis Latour (Burgundy), Tenute di Toscana and many more.
Of course all of this collateral activity – the “How” – has allowed Anthony Mandl to follow his heart and create his entrepreneurial oenophile dream.
Von Mandl Family (VMF) Estates is the crowning glory and centrepiece of his Canadian wine empire and includes an exquisite collection of prestigious wineries and estate vineyards in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.
So, yes; add knows-how-to-craft-world-class-wine to the list.
When I dropped by Allen’s Restaurant in Toronto to try to taste Martin’s Lane (wasn’t able to taste at the winery and they have no retail presence here – sigh), the waiter didn’t know the name Anthony von Mandl, but he certainly knew of his brands. When I debriefed him on my research he laughed: “Well,” he said, “He’s clearly got a nose for business. I guess sometimes you need to sell a little plonk to fund your passion project.”
Yep……a nose for business and clearly a nose for world class wine. And cheers to his passion project!!
Up next on the blog: visiting Mission Hill Family Estate, CedarCreek Estate Winery, Martin’s Lane Winery and CheckMate Artisanal Winery.
Feature image: Photo credit – Kelowna Daily Courier