Photo: Chief Robert Louie of Westbank First Nation
2218 Horizon Drive,
The Indigenous World Winery, which began releasing its wines
this fall, is the second Okanagan winery with aboriginal ownership.
The first was Nk’Mip Cellars, which opened in 2002. A third
is believed to be under development just outside Penticton.
Indigenous World, which also intends to open a distillery, is one of the numerous
business ventures of the Westbank First Nation under Chief Robert Louie, an ambitious
individual who has come a long way since his birth in 1951 in a home on a
reserve. It had neither running water nor electricity.
“I learned to work at five years of age,” he says. “I
started working in the Chinese vegetable gardens, along side my grandmother, my
mother and my uncle. We have always been hard workers. On our own property
here, we raised vegetables and provided our own food and raised our own cattle.
I have known work since five years of age and I have not stopped working.”
The winery is the latest venture on a plate overflowing with
activities in business and in First Nations politics. Currently, he is chairman
of the Peace Hills Trust, the largest aboriginal financial institution in Canada. He is
also chair of the First Nations Land Advisory Board, a national organization
helping bands take steps toward self-government. He was chief of the Westbank
First Nation from 1986 to 1996 and again since 2002.
“At any given time, I am president and/or director of a
dozen or more entities that the band is involved with,” Robert says. “And I
have been doing that for the better part of 30 plus years.”
In his teens, he dropped out of high school – but not for
long. He finished the twelfth grade, went on to get a business administration
diploma and was on the way to a degree in commerce when he switched to law. He
graduated from the University
in 1982 and practised with a Vernon
law firm for
several years before becoming general manager for the Westbank Indian Band
Development Company Ltd.
“We run today quite a varied number of businesses,” Robert
says of the self-governing Westbank First Nation. “The businesses include real
estate development. We are partners in two shopping centres. We have interests
in forestry. One of our major economic endeavours is management of about
150,000 acres of some of our traditional lands. We have a community forest
license on them. On that we have logging and forestry operations; and
responsibility to maintain the safety and the health of the plants and animals.
We have investments both on and off the reserve. We have quite a number of
entities that are in construction. We have bought and sold business in Kelowna
The Westbank First Nation has about 840 members and a
reserve about 6,000 acres in size. But its proximity to Kelowna has provided an opportunity to
develop residential and other property for non-aboriginals. About 10,000
non-band members live on reserve land.
Robert’s appreciation of wine developed as he mixed with
other business people national and internationally. He began thinking seriously
about a winery four years ago after he met Jason Parkes, a consulting winemaker
in West Kelowna
“I first met Robert at a wine function – it had nothing to do
with Indigenous World” Jason recalls. “He challenged me one day to make a wine
that would be one of the better ones in B.C. When the day came that we shook
hands, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘Okay, the best in B.C.’.”
A small vineyard, 2 ½ acres of Muscat varieties, was planted on the reserve
in 2014, just large enough that Indigenous World qualifies as a land-based
winery. Currently, it gets nearly all its grapes from established growers
elsewhere in the Okanagan.
This summer, a winery was built with the capacity to produce
as much as 10,000 cases a year. An elegant tasting room completed nearby has
facilities for a restaurant in the future. An amphitheatre will be developed
for musical and theatrical productions.
“I think wine is a good thing,” Robert says. “I know that [Osoyoos
Indian Band chief] Clarence Louie and his people are proud of what they have
accomplished with Nk’Mip Cellars. Our intention is to be equally as proud. We
do not see it as a negative thing whatsoever. Times have changed. Wine and
growing of wine and having wineries or distilleries is not a bad thing in this
age. There is a market for it and a demand for it. It promotes tourism in the Okanagan Valley
, not to mention the economic
Jason is also coaching Trenton Louie, Robert’s son, whose
aboriginal name in the Okanagan Syilx language
inspired the label of Hee-Hee Tel-Kin, the winery’s easy-drinking blend of
Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
“That is his ceremonial name,” Jason explains. “It is a
mystical stag, an alpine deer that is rarely seen. I have been working with Trenton for almost two
years now. I am training him in the vineyard, getting him going out there. The
main goal is to get Trenton
learn about the winemaking; get him involved and hopefully develop him onto a
winemaker in the next five to ten years.”
Here are notes on the wines.
Not included are two wines not yet available for tasting – a Chardonnay
and a Pinot Noir.
Pinot Gris 2014 ($19). This fruity wine has aromas and flavours of pears
and citrus fruits. The luscious texture gives it a long finish. 88.
Gewürztraminer 2014 ($19). This wine is crisp and clean, with aromas of
spice and grapefruit that are echoed on the palate. The lightness of body
contributes to the wine’s freshness and elegance. The finish is dry. 90.
Indigenous World Red Fox Rosé 2014 ($17.50). This is a blend of
Zweigelt, Zinfandel and Pinot Meunier. It is a delicious rosé with aromas and
flavours of cranberry and cherry. The finish is refreshingly tangy and dry.
Hee-Hee Tel-Kin 2014
($21). This is a generous and full-bodied red with
aromas of black cherry and flavours of black cherry and chocolate. Think of Black Forest
cake in a bottle, without a sugar overload.
Single Vineyard Merlot 2013 ($35). The wine begins with aromas of cassis
and vanilla that are echoed in the flavour, along with notes of chocolate and
wild sage. The texture is full, giving the wine a long, generous finish. 91.
Indigenous World Simo
Small Lot Red Blend 2012
($40). Simo is
the Okanagan Syilx given to Robert
Louie by his grandmother. The
winery did her proud with this bland of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and
Merlot. It was aged 27 months in new French oak. The wine has integrated the
oak well. It offers a core of vanilla, cherry and other red berry aromas and
flavours. The texture is elegantly polished. This wine has won several solid
awards, including topping the list of Top 25 wines at Cornucopia. 92.