Nk’Mip Cellars has the auspicious distinction of being the first winery in North America owned and controlled by an aboriginal band.
The 450-member Osoyoos Band controls roughly 32,000 acres of land around the town of Osoyoos, which is just minutes from the U.S. border in what is known as a pocket desert. The desert is the northernmost part of the Sonora Desert, which runs all the way to Mexico.
But being in a desert doesn’t leave the Osoyoos Band high and dry. Backed by the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation, they are perhaps the most self-sufficient and prosperous native people in the world.
Taking advantage of their location in a premier agricultural and tourism region, their solo and joint ventures include the Spirit Ridge Resort and Spa, the Nk’Mip Canyon Golf Course, the Nk’Mip Conference Centre, the Canyon Desert Resort, Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, a concrete company, gas station, RV park, and a future business park close to the border.
All this without resorting to gaming.
At a recent release party by the pool at the Four Seasons Hotel, I was able to chat with Nk’Mip Cellars winemaker, Randy Picton, who shared his experiences and thoughts about the winery’s success. He’s been with Nk’Mip since the beginning, when the winery opened in 2002, so he knows a few things.
Nk’Mip (pronounced “in-ka-meep” and translates to “flat bottom land at the mouth of the creek or river”) remains majority owned by the Osoyoos Band, but 49% of the company is controlled by Constellation Brands, one of the largest wine companies in the world.
I asked him what it’s like to work with the Osoyoos band, and he said they actually have very little control on a day-to-day basis.
“The band understands their strengths and weakness. They knew how to grow grapes, but not how to build a winery, make wine, market wine or sell wine. So they collaborated with Vincor (since purchased by Constellation) for a joint venture.
“There’s a board of directors who include the chief and council members from Osoyoos band and the president, CFOs, and CEOs of Constellation who meet twice a year to set the direction for the winery.”
He said as successful as they are, the Osoyoos band are very down to earth, with most of their wealth tied up in equity. Occasionally they make distributions, but they are mostly focused on the future.
“Chief Clarence Louis is a great guy. He’s a motivational speaker and is all about self sufficiency.”
Nk’Mip Cellars Next Generation
Picton is also planning for the future, to a time when the winery will be entirely run by native Canadians.
“I’m fortunate to have two fantastic young native winemakers working for me. Justin Hall (from Osoyoos band) is my assistant winemaker. At some point he will be fully prepped to take over. I have no immediate plans to leave, but I won’t feel I’ve done my job if I don’t leave him in a position where he can handle it. He’s 33 now and started 11 years at age 22.”
The cellar supervisor Aaron Crey is from the Cheam band from Chilliwack.
“Both guys have been to school in Okanagan University College and went to work in New Zealand and Australia, and they earned post graduate diplomas in Christchurch. I think they’re happy. We’re a nice, tight team.They take a lot of pride in their work.”
Award Winning Wines
As for Nk’Mip wines, we got to taste the lastest: 2013 Dreamcatcher. It’s a blend of reisling and chenin blanc that represents a new direction for the winery.
“They wanted me to do something on the sweeter side,” Picton said, “because we didn’t have anything like that in the portfolio. They originally wanted me to use reisling and gewürtztraminer, which to me don’t work. They are like oil and water to me.
“We got some chenin blanc and decided to work with that. Chenin has the nice crispness like reisling and a little grassiness, so they seem to work well together. We added sugar but made sure we had the acid to make it punchy, so it’s easy to have another glass.”
He said their philosophy is to do things right before adding more things which mean removing wines from the portfolio when others get added. In this case, the Dreamcatcher blend is in and the varietal reisling is out.
“A lot of people love our reisling, but now it’s the base for the Dreamcatcher, so going forward we won’t have a reisling. But, we are thinking of introducing a sauvignon blanc/semillon blend this year.”
Nk’Mip Cellars Dreamcatcher is a gorgeously aromatic wine with bright citrus and stone fruit flavours that leaves a nice dollop of sweetness on the finish. It was excellent with the sous vide duck breast served at the event, but later I found that Dreamcatcher made perhaps the best pairing with sushi I had ever tasted.
We also sampled the beautiful Nk Mip 2013 Rosé, only the second vintage they’ve made. It’s ripe and juicy with a big body. And once again, it’s colour was stunning. I asked Picton how he got such a vivid colour.
“The rose is a sangnée (the French term for “to bleed.”) of all the reds: merlot, cab franc, pinot noir, malbec, and syrah,” he said.
“It spends 24 hrs on the skins, and then we drain it, consolidate it and ferment. The rosé does two things: lets us to concentrate our reds by sanguine the juice out, and then we have a nice byproduct with the rosé. The colour probably comes from syrah we get really good colour from syrah in the Okanagan. It’s always really deep black.”
Qwam Qwmt translates to “achieving excellence,” which is what these upper tier wines do.
Nk Mip continues to impress. At the WineAlign 2014 National Wine Awards they took home medals for all 14 wines they submitted, which earned them the titles of #2 winery in BC and #3 winery in Canada.
Twelve years ago, the Osoyoos band gambled on the enterprise of Nk’Mip Cellars, and from what I’ve tasted, I’d say they’ve won – big time.
Today is the last day to enjoy lunch at the Patio Restaurant at Nk’Mip. The Nk’Mip tasting room is open throughout the Winter from 9 am to 6 pm until January 6th, and from 9 am – 5pm until April 30, with tasting tours by appointment only. Select Nk’Mip wines are available in the USA from www.winebcusa.com