Nk'Mip Cellars North America's First Aboriginal Winery (September 17, 2002)
September 13, British Columbia: To the sound of drums, Chief Clarence
Louis of the Osoyoos Indian Band cut a ceremonial rope of green sage to
open North America's first aboriginal owned and operated winery. Green
sage is a sacred plant used in cleansing ceremonies. Nk'Mip comes from
the local Salish dialect and means "place where the creek joins the lake."
The winery, with its 20-acre vineyard, is dramatically set in Canada's
only desert region. The Santa-Fe-style building perches on an arid bench
with rattlesnake-infested granite hills as a backdrop, overlooking Lake
Osoyoos close to the Washington State border.
The Band entered into a $7-million joint venture with Canada's largest
wine company, Vincor International, to produce four varietal wines Pinot
Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot, all currently priced between
$13.95 and $16.95 a bottle. The wines were made by Randy Picton, who spent
six years as associate winemaker at BC's Cedar Creek Estate.
Nk'Mip Cellars' attractive labels feature the company logo a turtle
(a symbol of vision) painted as a pictograph on an arrowhead.
The 18,000-square-foot gravity-feed winery will produce 15,000 cases
a year. For its first vintage in 2000, 3,300 cases were made.
Adjacent to the winery the Band have built a desert interpretive and
heritage centre to help protect the remaining desert landscape and endangered
species. A popular attraction for visitors is the snake pit, where the
curious can get up close and personal with four-foot-long rattlers that
are captured, marked with electronic tracing chips and returned to the
The winery is the second phase of a $25-million project that will include
an all-season RV park, a nine-hole golf course, a hotel and a conference
hall on lakefront land adjoining the town of Osoyoos.
The Osoyoos Band has a history of viticulture dating back to 1968, when
they first planted the Imkameep Vineyard. The 32,000-acre reservation
that is home to the Band contains 25 per cent of all vineyard land planted
in the Okanagan Valley.
The Nk'Mip Cellars 2000 wines:
Having tasted all four wines at the winery opening, I found that the Pinot
Blanc 2000 was light and peachy with a grapefruit note, slightly sweet
but quaffable. The Chardonnay, aged in French and American oak and stirred
on the lees, had a somewhat dilute Chinese pear flavour. The reds were
more successful. The Pinot Noir had a smoky, black cherry flavour with
evident tannin and acidity. The Merlot, my favourite, showed a lovely
nose of violets and blueberries, quite elegant, though it could have done
with more extract.