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Column: First Indigenous-owned winery in North America

Three wine recommendations from Nk'Mip Cellars.
Three Nk’Mip Cellars’ wines Tony has tried and recommends.

Nk’Mip Cellars is the first Indigenous-owned and operated winery in North America, which is owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band.  The origins of the winery are that a 32,000 acre reserve was created in 1877.  The Band decided to originally allocate 260 acres to growing grapes and in 1968, Inkameep Vineyards was established.  In addition, the Band sold grapes to Andres Wines (now Peller Estates) and Inniskillin Estate Winery (owned by Vincor).  Originally, the grapes that were grown were native and German clones like Riesling and Ehrenfelser.  But in 1988, the Canadian government encouraged wineries to uproot these grapes and replant European wine grapes.

In the late 1990, Vincor wanted to lease an additional 900 acres of reserve land to grow wine grapes. However, the Band decided to form a partnership with Vincor whereby the Band would retain 51-per-cent ownership of the winery.  So in 2002, Nk’Mip Cellars was established. In 2006, Vincor sold its 49-per-cent interest in the winery, together with the contractual rights to vineyards leased from the Band to Constellation Brands, who in turn sold their interest in 2016 to Arterra (which is owned by the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan)

Today Nk’Mip has over 1350 acres of vines producing over 18,000 cases of wine.  They now grow several grape varietals including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Malbec, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay.  Nk’Mip has three lines of wines: their basic level wines (Winemaker’s Tier), their premium wines (Qwam Qwmt) and a line of wines with blended grape varieties (Mer’r’iym)

I had the good fortune of trying a few of their wines.

Nk’Mip Cellars 2022 Qwam Qwmt Riesling ($32.99) – this wine uses grapes from 42-year-old vines.  It is fermented in 100% stainless steel. I found this wine not as sweet as typical B.C. Riesling and more resembling an Alsatian Riesling.  You get peach, lime and tropical fruit flavours with an orange grind and a minerally aftertaste.  It will pair nicely with seafood or cheeses.

Nk’Mip Cellars 2019 Qwam Qwmt Cabernet Sauvignon ($40.99) – this wine is made with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which have been aged in 100-per-cent French oak barrels for 18 months.  It packs a punch with 15-per-cent alcohol content.  You will get a tannic, full-body wine with lots of blackberry, currant and oak flavours and a tobacco aftertaste.  You can drink now with three to four hours of aeration or save this to drink in 5 years' time.

Nk’Mip Cellars 2019 Mer’r’iym Red Meritage ($69.99) -- Mer’r’iym means marriage so this wine is a blend of 42-per-cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 37-per-cent Merlot, 11-per-cent Cabernet Franc and 10-per-cent Malbec. As compared to the Cabernet Sauvignon, I find this wine milder.  The Merlot grapes give the wine some softness and chocolatey aftertaste.  You get a bit more mocha and earthiness in the wine compared to the Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine is drinkable now with a few hours of aeration but it will be much better if you age it for three to five years.

I was very impressed with the quality of Nk’Mip’s wines.  Their winemaker, Justin Hall, is also a member of the Osoyoos Indian Band.  I am so happy that this winery is thriving and that the Band is creating jobs for not only their members but for the general community.  For more about these wines, see my video here.

Until next time, happy drinking!

Tony Kwan is a Richmond News columnist. Lawyer by day, a food and wine lover by night, Kwan is an epicurean who writes about wine, food and enjoying all that life has to offer.