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Wineries get into the summer-event-hosting spirit

At the main gate at Mission Hill Family Estate, two sculptures climb the winery’s wall as part of an exhibition of Icelandic artist Steinunn Thorarinsdottir’s work titled Encounters with Iceland.

<137>James_O'Mara<137><137><252><137>/Mission Hill Family Estate

Come for the wine, stay for the show. Or maybe vice versa.

Recognizing that fine wine and the arts can cater to the same crowd, Canadian wineries are pouring on the cultural offerings. Several host summer concert series in spectacular outdoor settings (Cowboy Junkies play the amphitheatre at Jackson-Triggs in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., on Saturday night; next weekend you can catch the Odds at Tinhorn Creek south of Oliver, B.C.).

Or perhaps you prefer sculpture with your chardonnay?

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"Art and sculpture to me just made sense for the grounds at Mission Hill Family Estate and it's one of the things I always imagined," says proprietor Anthony von Mandl.

"But like anything else it needed to be the right kind of works."

Mission Hill first hosted a major art exhibition in 2011, with eye-popping works by Paris-based sculptor Nathalie Decoster.

"I pursued her for eight years," says von Mandl, whose West Kelowna, B.C., winery recently brought in Tony Bennett for two shows and will feature the Gipsy Kings next weekend.

This summer, Mission Hill hosts a major exhibition of work by Icelandic sculptor Steinunn Thorarinsdottir. The show, Encounters with Iceland, features more than 40 of her works – mostly large-scale human figures, including a couple you'll see scaling the wall of the winery as you approach the front gate.

Von Mandl, who has been integral in building the Okanagan as a wine region, plans to host a major sculpture exhibition every two to three years. He says he feels a responsibility to promote and support the arts, but this Dionysian vision that he shares with other Canadian vintners is also about building the brand and enhancing the winery-visit experience.

Says Stella Brown, event and on-site co-ordinator at Quails' Gate Winery: "People are looking for a little bit more than just coming and learning about how grapes are grown."

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