(Acknowlegement: sincere thanks to Hayley Findlay, PR manager at Arterra Wines Canada, and Troy Ravndahl, estate manager at Nk’Mip Cellars, for their invaluable help and support, putting this blog together)
June is set in Canada as National Indigenous History Month, and we at Aligra are proud to participate by showcasing Nk’Mip Cellars. Here’s some background on this industry leader.
Overlooking picturesque Osoyoos Lake, Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced “in-ka-meep”) is North America’s first Indigenous owned and operated winery. The name Nk’Mip means ‘bottomland’ (“bottomland” refers to the north end of Osoyoos Lake where the river and the lake meet, and which was used as a place marker. It would indicate where to meet at a certain time; for example, ‘after the third full moon of the summer, meet at Nk’Mip’), and for many years the grapes that were grown by the band were sold to larger wine brokers. At one time 24% of all the grapes grown in B.C were grown on Nk’Mip’s land! This award winning winery consistently ranks in the top tier of Canadian wines for its world class products. Originally established in 1968, The bands went through some tough growing pains: by the early 1980’s it looked like the doors would be closed for good, but in 1984, Clarence Louie was elected chief, and set out as a priority the management of Nk’Mip Vineyards. Within two years, the fortunes of the venture had been turned around, and the Osoyoos Indian Band focussed on business opportunities that would create long term employment and revenue for the community.
In 2001, the Osoyoos Indian Band partnered with Vincor (now Arterra Wines Canada) in a joint partnership to build Nk’Mip Cellars. The winery was designed by Robert MacKenzie, a Penticton-based architect with a passion for celebrating the Okanagan character and advancing sustainable practices. The Cellars are as much about the people who visit and tour it as the building itself, offering a memorable and pleasurable experience that provides a powerful insight into the Osoyoos way of life. Presently, the Osoyoos Indian Band has created a vibrant tourism industry with ten tourist focussed businesses, including the internationally renowned Spirit Ridge.
The label primarily pulls from two vineyards, an estate planting as well as the original Nk’Mip Vineyard in nearby Oliver, BC, planted in 1968. This is the dry, high desert of British Columbia. The long, hot days are followed by cool evenings, allowing for excellent hang time and development of grapes, resulting in wines of great depth and consistent character.
Winemaker Justin Hall
Justin Hall is a member of the Osoyoos Indian Band. Like so many vintners, he started low on the cellar ladder, tasked with cleaning equipment in the production room. On the side, he got a formal education at Okanagan University College and ultimately worked a harvest abroad in Australia. He’s been winemaker at Nk’Mip since the spring of 2017, working alongside Senior Winemaker Randy Picton, and the duo are giving Nk’Mip their all.
The winery produces three ranges: The Winemakers Tier is the winery’s entry level (“For everyday occasions, we offer wines that are anything but”). Qwam Qwmt (pronounced kw-em kw-empt), which translates to ‘achieving excellence’, is the estate wine produced in very limited quantities, and is sourced primarily from the finest grapes grown on the original Nk’Mip Vineyards established in 1968, over 50 years old. The Qwam Qwmnt Riesling vines are over 40 years old. Mer’r’iym (pronounced mur’-eem’) means “marriage”; the perfect union of varietals. Nk`Mip makes two wines in this tier: a Bordeaux red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec, and a Bordeaux white blend consisting of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
Aligra’s Portfolio: here’s what we carry at time of publication of this article
Winemaker’s Merlot: This wine is a blend of several blocks of Merlot located on Osoyoos Indian Band land in the southern Okanagan. The grapes are picked at various times throughout the month of October. The lots are fermented and aged separately in predominantly French oak barrels for 18 months prior to bottling. Winemaker’s Notes: Aromas and flavours of black cherry, blueberry, dark plum, cedar and spice. This medium bodied Merlot is well structured with a soft entry and finely grained tannins that lead to a lengthy finish.
Winemaker’s Talon: A blend of primarily Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon with some Malbec
and Cabernet Franc, this is a wine made from various blocks located in the southern Okanagan. The lots were vinified and aged separately for a period of 18 months in predominately French oak barrels prior to final blending and bottling. Winemaker’s Notes: Aromas and flavours of raspberry, blueberry, anise, pepper and a hint of chocolate. The entry is soft with smooth and complete fine-grained tannins and a pleasing acidity which leads to a lengthy finish.
Winemaker’s Dreamcatcher: Dreamcatcher’s grapes are harvested in various picks from two
different vineyard sites and fermented in five separate stainless steel tanks for complexity. This wine is an aromatic blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Ehrenfelser. Winemaker’s Notes: The nose is filled with aromas of pineapple, peach and freshly cut grass. The entry is soft and round bursting with flavours of juicy peach, mandarin orange and citrus fruits. A cleansing acidity leads to a very balanced finish that leaves you craving more.
Winemaker’s Chardonnay: Harvest usually begins early October and is done by mid-month. The grapes are whole cluster pressed, the juice is cold settled, and then racked into French oak barrels. The barrels are then inoculated with specially selected yeast strains, and fermentation takes place in the barrels. The wine ages for 10 months in 35% new French oak. Winemaker’s Notes: Aromas of pineapple, lemon grass, butterscotch and a hint of spice that carry over beautifully to the palate. The mouthfeel is perfectly balanced with a creamy, lightly oaked finish.
Qwam Qwmt Syrah: This wine is made from grapes sourced on the Nk'Mip and Driver
Vineyards located adjacent to the winery. The grapes are usually harvested late October.
Each of the blocks is fermented separately, spending an average of 8 days on the skins. Once fermentation is complete, the separate blocks spend 18 months in French oak barrels, after which the wines are blended and filtered prior to bottling. Winemaker’s Notes: Aromas and flavours of blueberry, spice, violets and pepper. This Syrah has a plush entry and is concentrated with very complete fine-grained tannins that lead to a long and smooth structured finish.
If you’re already familiar with Nk’Mip, you know just how good these wines are. If you’re learning about Nk’Mip just now, we invite you to come in, take a look at what we carry, and buy a bottle or two! The best way to learn about wine, after all, is not to read about it, but to drink it!
List Of Sources
Coop Wine, Spirits, And Beer, Nk’Mip Cellars, March 12, 2019
National Indigenous Economic Development Board, A Glass Of Success At Nk’Mip Cellars, Success Stories, 2014
Petten, Cheryl, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Osoyoos BC, First Aboriginal-owned Winery Opens For Business, Windspeaker Publication, Page 13, Volume 20, Issue 6, 2002
Photo Credits: Nk`Mip Cellars
Stock, Mark, Introducing Nk’Mip Cellars, the First Indigenous Wine Label, The Manual, December 4, 2019