50 Years Later the Beat Goes on at Nk’Mip Vineyards
By Roslyne Buchanan
Drum beats accentuate a greeting in traditional language to guests assembled in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of grapes planted at Nk’Mip Vineyards in Oliver. It’s fitting from a customary perspective in the indigenous culture, and in this case even more appropriate because the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) has always ‘marched to a different beat’.
When the idea to plant vineyards on band land was first proposed, says Sam Baptiste, general manager of the Nk’Mip Vineyards LLP, it wasn’t immediately popular. “There were concerns about alcoholism and drinking problems in our population. The idea was to provide work for our people, keep them productive and encourage them to stay here rather than leave for jobs.”
Persistence paid off and vineyard plantings began in 1968. Baptiste and other OIB members involved from the beginning shared stories of how those early concerns of the impact of a crop related to wine were put to rest. As a high school student, Baptiste was one of those workers who first planted the vines: “With our members busy working, the opposite occurred. There was less drinking,”
The OIB entrepreneurial vision together with the ideal growing conditions for grapes ensured the quality of the fruit in one of the South Okanagan’s earliest vineyards, and now one of the largest in the Okanagan with over 300 acres of prime vinifera.
Predominate varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. On the 340-acre parcel owned by the OIB, Baptiste, who is a trained viticulturalist, oversees the plantings of new varieties to meet market demands.
Grapes were grown to sell to other wineries in the region in the beginning, says Baptiste, “When you own a vineyard and grow such premium grapes, you want to make wine, too.”
Under the leadership of Chief Clarence Louie, OIB founded Nk’Mip Cellars, the first vine-to-wine Indigenous owned and operated winery in North America. Located in Osoyoos at the OIB’s Spirit Ridge Resort, it was an enhancement of the band’s winery established in 1979 on a single acre. It is now owned in partnership with Arterra Wines Canada, and thrives with the winemaking team of Randy Picton, senior winemaker: OIB member Justin Hall, winemaker, and Cheam Indian Band member Aaron Crey, cellar supervisor.
The praises for the wines of Nk’Mip keep coming. It was named the 2016 Intervin Canadian Winery of the Year and the 2016 Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay was awarded a Gold medal at the highly prestigious Chardonnay du Monde in France. For a comprehensive list of Nk’Mip Cellars many wine awards, see www.nkmipcellars.com/Accolades
Nk’Mip Cellars, designed by Penticton-based architect Robert Mackenzie, is beautiful inside and out and truly captures the spirit of the land. Inside you can peruse the exhibits to learn more about the OIB, shop the colourful gift shop, taste the wines, and in season, dine at the onsite restaurant The Patio Restaurant. It’s hard to beat sipping on award-winning wine along with a contemporary lunch overlooking luscious vineyards and Osoyoos Lake beyond.
The celebration held on November 8 was a heartwarming gathering that drew key wine industry folks from across the Okanagan. Staged in a party tent at Nk’Mip Vineyards, it was an opportunity to give thanks for abundance. Visionary Chief Clarence Louie welcomed the many industry leaders and thanked all the individuals who had played a role in creating Nk’Mip Vineyards, which laid the groundwork for many of the entrepreneurial initiatives that followed.
Baptiste reviewed the history and asked, “Did we achieve the dreams and of our founding fathers?” In acknowledging vineyard workers, the OIB Council, and all those who had supported the project, he answered his own question. “We did. We achieved what we set out to do and the team can be proud of that.”
Along with the congratulatory comments by the many band members and leaders, it was a true celebration with appetizers catered by Spirit Ridge Resort and Vintage Hospitality, and wines from Nk’Mip Cellars as well as those brought by wineries such as Summerhill Pyramid Winery.
A highlight for me was the winemakers talking about their relationship, how Hall came to work there and how he has flourished under the mentorship of Picton. Hall attended the wine program at Okanagan College and continued his education in New Zealand and briefly worked in Australia. Chief Louie indicated that “Hall might be the first Indigenous professional winemaker”.
OIB has a Vision Statement: “To achieve self-reliance through economic development and to preserve the first nation culture through the creation of jobs on our lands for future generations.”
To actualize this vision, OIB has an array of businesses in addition to Nk’Mip Vineyards and Nk’Mip Cellars including Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, Nk’Mip Campground & RV Park, Nk’Mip Resort, Spirit Ridge at Nk’Mip Resort, Nk’Mip Gas & Convenience Store, Nk’Mip Corner, Nk’Mip Conference Centre, Nk’Mip Desert Canyon Golf Course, Canyon Desert Resort, Senkulmen Business Park, Oliver Readi-Mix LLP, and OIB Holdings Corporations (Land Leases).
To learn more about OIB and its diverse operations see oibdc.ca