OKANAGAN First Nation have been harvesting plants, roots and berries in Canada’s British Columbia province for centuries.
So it makes sense in a way that they would take so well to growing grapes. While some native chiefs were reluctant to allow alcohol production on Indian reserves, which were established in the 1800s after European settlement, members of the Osoyoos band started planting grapes to make wine at Inkameep Vineyard in Oliver in the late 1960s. When they opened Nk’Mip Cellars nearby in 2002, it became North America’s first Aboriginal owned and operated winery.
Chief Clarence Louie, who has led the band for three decades, is passionate about his people’s economic independence and self-reliance. It hasn’t always been easy. They’ve struggled with weather, disease and labour shortages, but have adapted to meet market demands with hybrid varietals and European-developed wines.
Pinot blanc, pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling are among the varietals grown, with Inkameep manager Sam Baptiste and Nk’Mip Cellars winemaker Randy Picton working closely to ensure that the fruit earmarked for Nk’Mip Cellars is of premium quality. The winery offers 14 wines to taste, as well as a restaurant, The Patio, where outdoor tables on the grass provide a lovely place to soak up views over the vineyards below and watch sailing boats on the lake.
The complex also includes a spa resort, golf course, villas, conference rooms and a cultural centre.
About 350km east of Vancouver in Canada’s south, the Okanagan Valley is the country’s second largest wine-producing region after the Niagara Peninsula, in Ontario. There are about 300 wineries in British Columbia, with nearly half in the Okanagan, which stretches from Kelowna south to the US border.