Anthony von Mandl Is Awarded la Légion d’honneur, the National Order of the Legion of Honour, France’s Highest Order of Merit
Show and tell.
Beneath the gilded and frescoed cupola at the palais de la Légion d’honneur in Paris, a party of people stands in a semicircle. Each is nearly blinded by the gilt that surrounds them: carvings and ornamentation as elaborate as possible in France’s signature Louis XIV style. Hushed whispers break the silence. All eyes are fixed on one person who, for one of the few times in his career, has no control over what comes next. A giddy nervousness is evident in the smile on the septuagenarian’s face, his eyes glowing with overwhelming emotion. Looking back at the invited group of friends and family is Anthony von Mandl, a rare vintage of an individual who is about to be awarded la Légion d’honneur, the National Order of the Legion of Honour, France’s highest order of merit.
“This very nice historical mansion/house is a perfect place to celebrate great events,” says army general Benoît Puga, grand chancellor of the Legion of Honour, upon entering the great room. “We are all together here to honour a very important Canadian personality who has dedicated his life to the friendship between our two countries.” The Legion of Honour was founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, and for two centuries, it has been presented on behalf of the head of state to people who make significant contributions to their fields of activity. “It is difficult to describe such a rich career as yours,” continues Puga, a decorated army general. For 50 years, von Mandl has, through Mark Anthony Wine and Spirits, been the main importer of French wines in Canada. “More than 30 million of French wine bottles have been imported so far… which is a good beginning.”
The rags-to-riches tale of what is now the Mark Anthony Group begins in a 100-square-foot office on Cambie Street behind Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre in the 1970s. After several challenging years (including storing inventory in the trunk of his car), von Mandl built his small business, then turned his passion for importing wine into making wine. In the 1980s, he invested in his belief that British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley would become one of the world’s great wine regions—that he could lead the region onto the world stage by making fine wines there that were inspired by the best of Europe.
There is a perceptible humility to von Mandl, and yet his self-assurance and drive have allowed him to build one of the world’s 10 most recognized wineries in a region hardly anyone had previously heard of. Mission Hill Family Estate is one of those magnificent landmarks that anchor a city. And yet this dream had to be self-financed, so he created additional businesses to do so.
Today, the Mark Anthony Group is a multibillion-dollar global drinks company whose hallmarks include a portfolio of wineries, spirits, and ready-to drink brands, like successful Mike’s Hard Lemonade, followed by White Claw Hard Seltzer, now transforming the beverage industry. While the Mark Anthony Group represents dozens of prestigious wineries, the Okanagan wineries—Mission Hill, CheckMate, CedarCreek, Martin’s Lane, Road 13, Liquidity—are a special part of von Mandl’s life, giving him a commanding presence on the valley’s landscape. “Wine inspires and contributes much for the joy of living,” Bonaparte once said, and for von Mandl, that could not be more true.
Von Mandl fell under the spell of wine as a boy at his father’s table, watching and listening to discussions of how it was combined with food and “getting to try a little.” So too, Anthony Sebastian, von Mandl’s 14-year-old son, has been watching and listening to his father. “Everything I’m doing, especially in terms of vineyards in the wineries in the Okanagan, they are not for my lifetime. They are for my son and his children’s children,” von Mandl says.
The business venture von Mandl has created in Canada has succeeded against all odds. In a country known for its natural resources, there is no context for the luxury conglomerate that is the Mark Anthony Group. “It’s very humbling, and just very fulfilling when you get to a certain stage in your life, and you’re looking back,” von Mandl says of the recognition from the French Republic. “I never could look back because the present was so challenging. I always had to live in the future. So this is, for that reason, very significant.” For a man known to conduct six-hour meetings, von Mandl on this day seems at a loss for words.
The Legion of Honour medal is a five-armed Maltese asterisk, enamelled in white and suspended from an oak-and-laurel wreath. The central disc is surrounded by oak and laurel branches. A very select group of Canadians have been awarded the Legion of Honour, including 17 Second World War veterans; Beverley McLachlin, then chief justice of Canada; former prime minister Brian Mulroney; and Céline Dion. Foreign honorees are distinguished for having “rendered service to France” through culture or economic achievement, or for fighting on behalf of causes France supports.
A very select group of Canadians have been awarded the Legion of Honour. For Anthony von Mandl, “it’s very humbling and fulfilling when you get to a certain stage in your life and you’re looking back.”
“Why would the French bestow this honour on a Canadian?” master of ceremonies Hon. Wally Oppal asks tongue-in-cheek when opening the private dinner celebration at Le Bristol hotel following the formal ceremony. To which he responds, “He has won everything in Canada. There is nothing left.” Von Mandl is an Officer of the Order of Canada and recipient of the Order of British Columbia. While winning is a competitive endeavour, honouring recognizes those who have contributed beyond the medal.
As the evening continues with speeches and congratulatory addresses from dignitaries, royalty, business acquaintances, and even a performance from fellow Vancouverite Sarah McLachlan, it is von Mandl’s long-time friend Marc Buhofer who presents a very personal award: “This award will not be mentioned on your Wikipedia page or in any who’s who profile. It will not appear in your email signature or letterhead. This award is simply meant for you, for your heart. It is only to say thank you for being such a wonderful and loyal friend.”