The world of wine has grown exponentially over the past few decades. Wine enthusiasts and newbies alike can agree that there is little more enjoyable than touring the grape-growing countryside and sipping on a few delicious spirits. However, many are not aware that when it comes to the wine of the New World, Canada has a lot to offer.
The Okanagan Valley is a prolific strip of land along western British Columbia where soil and climate come together to form an ideal environment for growing pretty much anything: grapes, peaches, apples, tomatoes, peppers, and more. If you are lucky enough to be driving through one of the small towns in this region on a typical hot summer day, you would be granted with the sight of fruit carts, one after another, filled to the brim with a rainbow of the day’s harvest.
Of course, no trip to the Okanagan Valley is complete without experiencing a wine tasting at one – or more – of the many vineyards. Since it is impossible to visit them all in a single day, or even a single weekend, you may find it difficult to choose. Nk’Mip Cellars is a must-visit Osoyoos Winery in Osoyoos, a region just south of Okanagan Falls. When you walk into the tasting room full of Indigenous-inspired art and architecture, you will not only be greeted with a great selection of carefully curated wines but a bit of history as well.
Nk’Mip has long been present in the area, and they are considered to be the First Indigenous-owned winery in all of North America. The word Nk’Mip translates in English to “Bottomland” referring to the fact that the winery is situated in the southernmost end of the Osoyoos Indian Reserve, a 32,000 acre stretch of land that includes Kelowna and Penticton. The land itself is part of the Sonoran Desert and it surrounds Osoyoos lake, which affords a climate ideal for the cultivation of multiple grape varieties. While the lake is important for the ecosystem in Osoyoos, it is bordered by rolling hills and scattered forests, providing an exceptional view for visitors of Nk’Mip’s patio.
Speaking of this Osoyoos winery, its tasting room is one of the most spectacular aspects of the building (aside from the patio view, of course). The interior has an art-forward layout balanced by an open concept, and the décor features a selection of Indigenous-made designs, the most striking of which is a colourful floor mosaic depicting animal and plant motifs. Upon entering the room, you will be guided to a marble counter, where a tasting guide will greet you with a wine list. While the list boasts a wide variety of nuanced blends of both red and white grapes (thanks to the land’s abundance), you don’t need to feel overwhelmed. As a former visitor of the Cellars myself, I can testify that you simply cannot go wrong with a glass of Nk’Mip’s wine.
After a tasting, you might come to understand why Nk’Mip Cellars was awarded the #2 winery in British Columbia by Wine Align. I recommend trying the 2018 Quam Qwmt Syrah, which is part of a reserve series made with grapes specially harvested and fermented in small batches. If you are a fan of white wines, the 2020 Dreamcatcher is a dry blend filled with open aromas of citrus and fruit-forward flavours. And, after enjoying your tasting and the surrounding ambiance, you can take a short walk over to The Bear, The Fish, The Root & Bakery, a neighbouring restaurant containing a list of Nk’Mip’s wines – among other local vineyards – and a farm-to-table menu inspired by Indigenous tradition. One of the main delights of this restaurant aside from the food is that it shares the same elevated view as the Cellars. So, you can take a seat on the patio with a plate of local Okanagan cuisine and a glass of wine, all while enjoying the panorama of Lake Osoyoos and its sunlit, scrolling hills.
When completing your wine tour along the Okanagan Valley, the subregion of Osoyoos should absolutely be on your list. Since it is the southernmost stretch of the valley, the daytime temperatures can be the hottest and longest-lasting, leading to optimal growing days throughout most of the year. The typical grape varieties that thrive in the soil include all-time favourites of red wine lovers: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah/Shiraz. While only one white varietal, Chardonnay, is included in this list, the climate allows for some spectacular expressions of this grape. Nk’Mip Cellars’ estate winemaker, Justin Hall, has created remarkably delicious and unique bottles from vines provided by the surrounding land and its abundant qualities. While great wines are one of Nk’Mip’s chief objectives, they also reinstate that they aim to pay respect to the land which has afforded the opportunity to produce their wines, and to the over 500 band members to whom it belongs.
I was given a few quotes from Justin, who reinstated the winery’s mission: “Sustainable viticulture practices allow us to maintain our healthy vineyards and create fine wines. As stewards of the land, we give more than we take. We continuously learn and understand the precious balance our ecosystem requires and deserves.” He mentioned that above all, Nk’Mip owes a great amount to the generous ecosystems and to the Indigenous groups that occupy Osoyoos.
“Nk’Mip Cellars’ story begins with the people of the Osoyoos Indian Band; strong, independent and proud, with a rich history as the stewards of the desert landscape… Under the leadership of Chief Clarence Louie, the Band owns the winery in partnership with Arterra Wines Canada.” When it came to Nk’Mip’s wine, Justin mentioned that the Pinot Blanc or Talon blend are great options for days when you’re craving something on the lighter side. On special occasions or gatherings with friends and family, he recommends opening the Quam Qwmt Syrah or the Mer’r’iym, which is a delicious blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cab Franc. The name translates to “marriage”, which is the best way to describe the harmonic amalgamation of these wonderful grapes.
If you want to add the Osoyoos region and Nk’Mip Cellars Osoyoos Winery to your wine tour this year, I recommend visiting their website to get an idea of the winery’s expansive history and relationship to the surrounding Bottomland. Additionally, you can get an idea of the wines they offer – from true expressions of a single grape, like pinot noir, to carefully balanced blends. Of course, regardless of which winery you intend to visit along your tour of the Okanagan Valley, there is no wrong way to be subjected to the abundant (albeit overlooked) wine culture of western Canada.
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