Nk’Mip Cellars Patio

The view from the patio at the Nk’Mip winery. 

As a wine enthusiast, one of my many joys is charting the uncharted and discovering unique and yet-untasted wines. As summer vacations progress, I am reminded of the thousands of wine regions across the globe, many of which are producing wines that have yet to make an appearance on the local stage.

Take a look at the shelves in your local supermarket. No doubt you’ll see wines lined up from Napa to Sonoma and Tuscany to Burgundy. But I find that increasing satisfaction in discovering wines not found on the path of mainstream wine culture.

While Canada may be known primarily for snowy winters, hockey, and even Tim Horton’s Donuts, it is also home to new and up-and-coming wine regions in Ontario and British Columbia. One of these regions in British Columbia is the Okanagan Valley, aptly referred to as the “Napa of the North.” More than 150 kilometers long from top to bottom, grape growing in Canada’s Okanagan Valley began in the late 1800s but was primarily used for religious purposes. Now one of the newest winemaking regions in the new world, its winemakers produce consistent vintages and deliver respectable wines in addition to the already reputable ice wines. 

Like many other wine regions across the globe, its climate is moderated by the lakes found in the area. But it also feels the moderating effects of a coastal mountain range to the west. The climate in this region is sunny and warm during the day and cool in the evening — a perfect combination for grapes to thrive, as evidenced by the 170 wineries that call the valley home. Stretching from Lake County and Kelowna in the north to the southernmost wine-producing areas of Oliver and Osoyoos, the Okanagan Valley is primarily known for its productions of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in the northern parts and Pinot Noir, Bordeaux Blends, and Syrah in the south.

In Osoyoos, the southernmost part of the Okanagan, Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced: Inkameep), produces about 18,000 cases a year and has risen in recognition and popularity in recent years. It is well known for being the first indigenous-owned winery in North America and was recently presented with several wine awards at competitions across North America as well as Decanter’s World Wine Awards.

The vineyard itself sits at the bottom portion of 32,000 acres, part of the Osoyoos Indian Reserve, and is an interconnected part of the Sonoran desert. That accounts for extremely warm daytime temperatures, arid climate, and a longer season than the rest of Canada.

The vineyard was founded in 1968 and was mainly used to produce hybrid grapes until the late 1970s, when it was replanted with vitis vinifera varietals (Cabernet, Merlot, Riesling, etc.). Additional vines were added in the 1990s. Finally, in the early 2000s, the Nk’Mip Cellars were built.

The team at Nk’Mip is committed to sharing their passion for the land while honoring and celebrating the region’s historical traditions. Justin Hall, one of the winemakers at Nk’Mip, said, “Picking grapes from your own land is really important to me….we enlist sustainable practices as much as possible. We are the people of the land, and we should be protecting it.”

The winery produces an array of varietals from Chardonnay to Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and even a Meritage Blend. This Meritage wine, called Mer’r’iym (pronounced mur’-eem’) translates to “marriage,” both a symbolic and literal showcase of the grapes used to create it.

Meritage wines, as many wine enthusiasts know, are a Bordeaux blend of “noble” grape varietals (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc for the reds, and Chardonnay and Semillon grapes for the white), in a similar fashion to the French Bordeaux wine region. They are not produced in Bordeaux’s AOC areas, so they are called “Meritage”.

The 2015 Mer’r’iym takes 57% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, 21% Malbec, 16% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc, and is aged 18 months in French oak to create a deliciously robust wine.

About this wine, Hall said, “The Meritage (blend) grapes used in this wine were from one of 'the hottest vintage we’ve had.' — very ripe Cabernet and Merlot grapes...(that) were just on the verge of shriveling, giving it a concentrated juice and tannin structure." 

The wine, which as it sits in your glass glimmers with deep ruby and an almost burnt red hue, features a wonderfully intense coloring and tearing along the side of the glass, indicative of higher alcohol wines. The wines' smell includes aromas of ripe plum, blackberry, stewed peach and thyme, followed by baking spice and warm vanilla.

Plum and blackberry are noted in the taste too. Vegetal green pepper and herbaceous qualities of thyme begin to showcase as it rests on your palate. High in alcohol and acidity, this wine is very dry and offers a medium finish.

Look to pair this wine with foods that are bold and fattier in nature. Elk and Lamb are great options, as well as fattier cuts of beef. Other options include braised beef tip pasta with creamy balsamic and goat cheese sauce, as well as beef stews braised with rich, red wine sauce.

With Canadian wines being a relatively new addition on the global stage they, with the exception of ice wine, can be quite difficult to track down outside of Canada. My recommendation is to take a trip to the Okanagan and see Nk’Mip Cellars for yourself and experience the Osoyoos lakes and desert landscape, multitude of restaurants, and off-the-beaten-path retreats. With more than 170 wineries in the area, you will have no trouble locating great vineyards with fabulous wines to share!

Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers and is currently studying for his certified CMS exam. Always on the hunt for his next great bottle of wine for his collection, he is an avid jetsetter and devout foodie. After moving to Quad-Cities from Iowa City in 2013, Carson now resides in Bettendorf.

Contact Carson Bodnarek at 563-383-2299 or cbodnarek@qctimes.com.