Winter 2012

Say what? Say Nk’Mip for superb B.C. wines

You'd be forgiven if you stumble a bit when asking a wine merchant or a sommelier for a bottle of Nk'Mip QwAM QwMT Pinot Noir. Especially after you've worked so hard on your pronunciation of Viognier.

So let's start with the hard part. The pronunciation guide is right there on the bottle. Nk'Mip: in-Ka-meep. And QwAM QwMT: kw-em kw-empt.

The words are meaningful to the Osoyoos Indian Band of the Okanagan (British Columbia) First Nation. Nk'Mip is the Interior Salish word for "bottomlands" where the band grows its grapes, while QwAM QwMT translates as "achieving excellence," said Randy Picton, senior winemaker since the founding of Nk'Mip Cellars winery in Osoyoos, B.C., in 2002.

"It took a leap of faith for the band to use a name that was so hard to pronounce," Picton said, but using its language to name its winery and wines was vital to reclaiming the band's heritage and honoring the wine's terroir.

Nk'Mip, the first aboriginal-owned and -operated winery in North America, recently was honored as British Columbia's No. 1 winery by the Canadian Wine Awards.

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The Osoyoos Band's connection to the wine industry reaches back to 1968 and the planting of its first vineyards in Oliver, B.C., and the first use of the Inkameep name, spelled phonetically for the vineyards, Picton said. Since then it has been a major supplier for several of the region's award-winning wineries and a respected player in the industry.

As early as 1968, the band had it in mind to start its own winery "to showcase what it was doing in the vineyard," said Picton, who worked as a cellar master and assistant winemaker to California-trained Tom DiBello at CedarCreek Estate Winery in Kelowna, B.C., before coming to Nk'Mip.

Of the 1,500 acres of vineyards now grown by the band under the direction of Sam Baptiste, Nk'Mip uses about 70 to 80 acres for the 18,000 cases it produces annually.

Under the QwAM QwMT label -- "Pretty appropriate for our upper level wines," Picton said -- the winery produces Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay as well as a Riesling ice wine.

Another Salish word, Mer'r'yim, meaning marriage, graces an Nk'Mip Meritage blend of Inkameep's Bordeaux varieties. Nk'Mp recently has redesigned labels with petroglyph figures for its entry-level winemakers tier of Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir. And a new release this fall is the winery's Talon red blend made with Cabernet Franc and Syrah.

Even if Nk'Mip doesn't initially roll off the tongue at first attempt, it's more poetic than "bottomlands."

And "it's our mandate to make wines from the native soils of the Osoyoos Indian Band's lands," Picton said.

Jon Bauer is Wine Press Northwest's Salish Sea correspondent. The longtime newspaperman lives near La Conner, Wash.

Nk'Mip Cellars

Open daily

nkmipcellars.com

1400 Rancher Creek Road

Osoyoos, B.C.

250-495-2985

This story was originally published December 20, 2012 3:53 PM.

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