Osoyoos, British Columbia (Okanagan valley).
The first time you visit the Okanagan region makes for a surprise. The region, with its striking landscapes of lakes, mountains, desert and vineyards, is booming, and wineries are just one part of the equation here, with resorts and leisure activities plentiful to accommodate the tastes of the visitors from Vancouver and Calgary for whom the area seems to be a summer vacation spot (winters are also nice here). There has been much construction going on, and the suburban sprawl, especially near Kelowna, gives the feel sometimes of a huge mall strip with all kind of commercial activity. For some odd reason, the investors and developers seem to have selected the "Santa Fe" architectural style in some of the new buildings, adding to the mix of Sun City and Las Vegas touch.
The NK'MIP winery (pronounce in-ka-meep) is 49% owned by Vincor, the largest canadian wine company. Vincor itself has recently been bought by even bigger US-based giant Constellation (which bought Mondavi last year).
NK'MIP has a plus : It is North America's first amerindian-owned winery (51%) working on amerindian-owned vineyards, and the fact plays a central role in NK'MIP marketing strategy, with amerindian-inspired artifacts and logos all over in the tasting room and on the property. The Indian Band, under the lead of energetic, business-minded Chief Clarence Louie, also built the "NK'MIP Desert Heritage Center", a museum centered on the aboriginal culture with a funding of 1,5 million dollars by the canadian government (Canadian Heritage).
The Osoyoos Indian Band owns some 32 000 acres of land in the area and there are about 400 members who share the benefits of the different investments on their land, which are very diverse and include the winery, a golf course, a hotel, a spa and maybe soon, a casino : The Band has also been lobbying for allowing the gaming industry to open branches in Osoyoos. A referendum was held locally last june 17th on the subject and the result of the referendum was... Yes, showing a large majority of the voters in favor of an all-out economic development.
After walking into the tasting room/boutique and on the terrace, both bathing in neo-aboriginal music, after looking on the beautiful vista on the Osoyoos Lake and the vineyards, we met Randy Picton, NK'MIP winemaker, who explained the origin of the estate and toured us in the facility. Randy Picton works here since 2002 and previously spent 6 years as associate winemaker at Cedar Creek, a major winery of the Okanagan region.
NK'MIP has about 10 acres of vineyards around the facility, plus vineyards elsewhere, for a total of 65 acres. Production this year has been 18 000 cases, the bulk will be in Chardonnay and Merlot (with an increasing share of Merlot in the future). They are quite happy with the Pinot Noir too, even with this southern-type climate they have here, because the terroir is fine. They need to wait for phenolic maturity and flavors, so they have like elsewhere picked up with high alcohol. Picking-up earlier would bring green flavors and green tannins which is not suitable. Harvest is stretched 2,5 weeks in the region as the long north-south valley has different maturities.
Speaking about the Osoyoos Band land, he says that over 25% of all British Columbia grapes are grown on the Osoyoos Indian Band lands. This shows the important role the aboriginal population (named the "First Nations" in Canada) here has in the wine production, with their vast land expanses between Osoyoos, McIntyre Bluff and the US border, being distinguished as one of the finest grape-growing areas in Canada. The Osoyoos Band here began planting grapes in the area in 1968 and for years sold the grapes to wineries, until 2002 , when the winery was created. Parallel to the winery's vineyards, the Band still grows for other wineries, from the nearly 1200 acres of vineyards it grows on its lands.
Randy offers a tasting of the wines:
__1 Pinot Noir 2005. From a cask. The wine stays there since early september and will be on the market next january (300 cases). Nose : nice, intensity. Nice glycerol in the glass. They use external yeast for the fermentation. We look at the dozens of casks, from several coperages, Alain Fouquet, Berthomieu, Seguin-Moreau. He says there are about 800 casks in there... We also look at a few 45 000 liter stainless steel vats made by Slimline Manufacturing, a British Columbia maker.
__2 Chardonnay 2004. Bottle, at the tasting bar. Nice acidity on the nose. Woody, buttery mouth.
__3 Meritage 2003 QwAM QwMT (Cuvée name means "achieving excellence" in the okanagan language). 14°. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot. 18 months in french oak casks (80%) and american oak casks (20%). Quite woody in the mouth, pleasant. Some astringence too.
NK'MIP is located near Osoyoos, at the southern tip of the Okanagan wine region, which is a long and narrow stretch along several south-north oriented lakes, notably Osoyoos lake, Vaseux lake, Skaha lake, Okanagan lake and Shuswap lake.