Okanagan's Indian Wines

Okanagan's Indian Wines

Okanagan Valley in western Canada is home to around 200 wineries making some excellent wines. The valley is found 400 miles, roughly five hours drive east from Vancouver and the sea, over the Cascade mountains. Most wineries are concentrated along the banks of the lakes and connecting rivers along the valley bed. Okanagan Lake runs north-south for 85 miles and is the home of the legendary Ogopogo monster. I didn’t see the famous lake monster, although there were suspicious ripples, but I did taste some legendary wines. They weren’t monsters buy elegant in a European style.

The southern end of the valley just above the US border is officially classed as desert because of very low rain fall. Clouds rise above mountains either side of the valley and drop their loads, but the valley stays dry.

It amuses me that the southernmost driest and least hospitable land was designated as an reservation for the Osoyoos Indian Band, part of The Okanagan Nation because, thanks to irrigation, this land is now the premium wine growing area. The Indians took up fruit and grape growing in the 1920’s and in the 1960’s they were the prime movers in replacing American and hybrid varieties with the classic Vitis Vinifera wine varieties grown today.

The Osoyoos Indian Band owns Nk’Mip Cellars, the only winery in North America owned by aboriginal peoples, and lease land to vineyards and wineries. Nk’Mip (pronounced ‘Ink-a-meep’) was rated by Wine Access magazine in 2011 as number 4 in Canada's top 20 wineries.

Nk’Mip grows red varieties on 21 acres adjoining the winery and farm grapes on another 340 acres along the lake, of which they make wine from around 40 acres and sell the rest of the grapes. They produce 12,000 cases, half being red wines

I toured the impressive modern winery and tasted their wines.

2009 Winemakers Reserve Riesling (13%abv, $18) was crisp and clean

2009 Q’am Q’mt (pronounced kwam kwamt) Chardonnay ($13.5% $25) offered vanilla flavours and a spicy finish. It underwent malolactic fermentation in French oak barrels and had extended time on lees.

2009 Winemakers Reserve Pinot Noir(14%abv, $20): very light colour, bright cherry flavours and some acidity.

2008 Q’am Q’mt Merlot ($14.5% $25): sullen dark red, initial stinky nose leading to damson flavours with a tangy spicy finish.

2008 Q’am Q’mt Syrah ($14% $35): Black peppers on nose, dense and chewy with some wood tannins.

2008 Q’am Q’mt Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.5% $30): Rounded fruity sweetness with a dry finish and bit of acidity.

2008 Q’am Q’mt Riesling Ice-Wine ($10.5% $60): From vines 32 -40 years old. Texture not as thick and oily or sweet as some ice-wines but nice and clean with citrus, apricot and lemon blossom flavours.

If you’re interested in tasting Nk’Mip wines I recommend taking the short $7.50 tour which takes you through the stainless steel tank fermentation room and barrel cellar to finish with a tasting of half a dozen wines plus an ice wine.

The tour departs at 11, 13, 15 and 17:00 hrs. Otherwise to taste one ice-wine at the counter costs $3 and to taste 4 table wines costs $3.

Ask questions and talk about wine on our forum.

Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle and Apple iPad.

Disclosure: Peter F May visited Okanagan at his own expense. All accommodation, meals, food, wine, transport tour-guides and visits were paid for.

Entrance to Nk'Mip winery

View from Nk'Mip over Osoyoos Lake

Location of Nk'Mip

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