Mission Hill Winery visit engages Prince William and Kate

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge given the royal treatment during their one hour visit to West Kelowna winery.

Okanagan chef Bernard Casavant prepares his special menu item for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Mission Hill Winery on Tuesday afternoon.

Interested and engaging.

That was the common sentiment from those who had the opportunity to share a few words with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the Mission Hill winery in West Kelowna on Tuesday afternoon.

The royal couple arrived on a beautiful sunny day to an invited group of more than 200 people gathered in the winery courtyard, with the Mission Hill winery bells greeting their arrival.

Prince William and Kate had a chance to pick grapes off a vine branch, sample some items from some of the best chefs in B.C., oversee some youngsters involved in a cooking class and take a tour inside the winery before being whisked off to the airport and a flight to Whitehourse.

The whole visit to about an hour, and for many a chance to speak with the couple was often mere seconds, but their visit still left an impact.

Okanagan chef Bernard Casavant said the couple were very engaging when they stopped to sample what he prepared at his food booth, taking an apparent interest in what he had to say.

“They were very engaging. And they sampled what we had prepared which is very unusual for royals because with the cameras shooting hundreds of frames a second around them, you can end up with some awkward images when trying to eat something,” he said.

Jeremy Luypen, executive chef at Predator Ridge and president of the Okanagan Chefs Association, said the opportunity to showcase a variety of agricultural products in B.C., from beer to cheese to salmon and halibut to sushi, was fantastic.

“A lot of people worked very hard with the chefs to make this happen and they all deserve a lot of credit,” said Luypen.

Michael Ballingall, vice-president of Big White Ski Resort and chair of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, said the royal visit brings tourism promotion and marketing to our region that money otherwise can’t buy.

“Everything they do here is big news back in the UK, and that is one of the biggest markets we are going after for tourism,” said Ballingall.

“This is a five-start story on a five-star day and nobody in the tourism industry is having an unhappy day today with the exposure this is getting for our entire province.”

Ballingall cited one example of a story in The Daily Mail newspaper back in England about the royal visit. “The UK is one of the markets we want to go after at Big White and we normally have about 20 to 30 visits a week on our website. On the day that story came out, we had 300 hits in one day.”

Anthony Von Mandl, proprietor of Mission Hill Family Estate Winery, called playing host to the royal visitors a “surreal experience.”

“I never believed something like this could every happen at our winery,” said Von Mandl, who noted that Kate actually pick a grape off a vine to get a sense of what that is all about during a vineyard tour.

Von Mandl said Prince William and Kate seemed “very surprised”  that what he called “one of the most unique wineries” in North America was located in the Central Okanagan.

“I think there were surprised by the beautiful setting here, the winery itself and even the bells ringing for their entrance to the courtyard,” Von Mandl said.