Photo: Nk'Mip Cellars
Earlier this year, Nk’Mip Cellars of Osoyoos was named the
Canadian Winery of the year at the InterVin International Wine Awards, held
this year in St. Catherines.
Winning major awards has become routine for this winery. The
first aboriginal-owned winery in North America when it opened in 2002, its is
one of the most successful businesses operated by the entrepreneurial Osoyoos
Three recently released reds from the superb 2014 vintage
showcase the quality of the wines. The wines – a sold-out Merlot, a Cabernet
Sauvignon and a Syrah – are in the winery’s Qwam Qwmt tier. The phrase means “achieving
excellence” in the band’s aboriginal language. It was chosen to designate the
top tier because the usual term, “reserve,” would not have been meaningful for
a winery whose vineyards and operations are literally on the Osoyoos Band’s
A number of the band’s businesses are, or have been,
structured as joint ventures with partners who can bring specialized expertise
to the project.
The joint venture partner for Nk’Mip initially was Vincor
International, with a 49% interest and an agreement to market the wines. That
arrangement is still in place, although the partner today is the Ontario
Teachers Pension Fund. This fall, the fund purchased the Canadian wineries
originally owned by Vincor and then by Constellation Brands, which had taken
over Vincor in 2006.
It appears that Teachers will leave the management,
including the marketing staff, in place. When it comes to sales, this is a
well-oiled machine that benefits Teachers and, in this instance, the Osoyoos
One of Vincor’s earliest decisions in 2002 was to recruit Randy
Picton, (right) a late-blooming winemaker with immense talent.
Born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, in 1958, he has a business
administration diploma from Calgary’s Mount Royal College. After an industry
recession derailed his first job in the purchasing department of a lumber
company, Randy and his wife, Lynele, ran a Penticton campground and motel. When
that business was sold, Randy spent 10 years as a tree planter. “It was
extremely physically demanding work,” he recalls. “I decided I should start
looking at other options.”
He enrolled in the inaugural winery assistant program at
Okanagan University College in 1995. “At the time, what I knew about wine was
that it was either white or red.” In April 1996, he joined CedarCreek as a
cellar hand. Within five years he was the associate winemaker. On several
occasions, he filled in as interim winemaker during staff changes. “We didn’t
have anybody else in the cellar,” Randy recalls. “I had to go down and put my
boots on and do all that, and then come up and make sure we were getting things
done properly in the lab and that the paperwork was being done. It was a good
At CedarCreek, his mentor was winemaker Tom DiBello who
handed more and more responsibility to Randy as he gained experience. Randy
passed this forward at Nk’Mip by mentoring two aboriginal cellar staff, both of
whom started at the bottom, like he did. Both have also flourished.
Osoyoos Indian Band member Justin Hall, now the assistant
winemaker, asked Randy for a job after he completed high school. He was soon
cleaning barrels and doing the other unromantic work necessary before great
wines are made. As he added to his winemaking qualifications – including a
diploma in enology and viticulture from Lincoln College in New Zealand - Justin
was given more responsibilities in the winery.
Aaron Crey, a member of the Cheam Indian Band in the Fraser
Valley, also started cleaning barrels (along with other jobs at the Spirit
Ridge Resort). He has since completed the Lincoln University program and is now
the cellar supervisor.
Personnel practices are just part of the explanation behind
the consistency of the Nk’Mip wines. The winery sources grapes from several
premium sites, including the vineyard around the winery and the legendary
Inkameep Vineyards near Oliver. The latter is one the oldest, if not the
oldest, vinifera planting in the Okanagan.
Combine talented winemaking, good grapes and a well-equipped
winery and you should get good wines.
Here are notes on three. All of them have been aged 18
months primarily in French oak barrels.
Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt
(Sold out but likely available in restaurants and private wine
stores). This begins with aromas of blackberry, black currants and vanilla, leading
to bold flavours of black cherry, figs and a touch of vanilla. 92.
Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt
Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
($30.49 plus tax). The wine begins with aromas of
black currants and blueberry with a touch of spice and cedar. On the palate,
there are flavours of cassis, black cherry and vanilla. The texture is
polished, with long ripe tannins. This is a wine for cellaring until 2024. 91.
Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt
($30.49 plus tax). This wine announces itself with aromas of
black pepper and plum that are echoed in the complex, layered flavours of black
cherry, leather and deli meat spices. The body is full and generous, with a
long finish. 92.