Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Class of 2015: Indigenous World Winery

 Photo: Chief Robert Louie of Westbank First Nation

Indigenous World Winery
2218 Horizon Drive,
Kelowna, BC V1Z 3L4
(250) 769-2824

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 of Victoria 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 spinoffs.”

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.

Indigenous World 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.

Indigenous World 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. 88-90.

Indigenous World 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. 89.

Indigenous World 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.

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