by Frank Larue
Osoyoos First Nations Chief Clarence Louie has proved to be a visionary when it comes to business. The Osoyoos First Nations has built a spa and resort, rented out land to wineries, and made the first native owned winery in Canada and the United States. All projects have been successful. The Osoyoos First Nation have become financially secure, and they are always open to new challenges. No one is surprised that the resort has done so well, but many are surprised that the winery has prospered since it opened 15 years ago.
The Nk’Mip Cellars has been given multiple awards since its inception, including Best Winery awards for their Icewine and Pinot Blanc. They are now one of the main wineries in Canada, and it all started by partnering up with Vincor.
“We already had 300-acres of very high quality grapes, and they thought it was in our best interest to come together and make a winery,” assistant winemaker and band member Justin Hall told the CBC. “The idea was to utilize our high quality grapes and actually make wine out of them instead of selling grapes to so many people, and them all profiting from it. Why not profit from it ourselves?”
Vincor was bought out by Constellation Brands, who continued handling the corporate such as the marketing and distribution. The OIB are visited by their corporate partner twice a year to inform them of their strategies, and to discuss what new wines they are projecting for the future. “Our mandate for the winery is to produce wine off native soil,” Randy Picton told the CBC. “The band has over 1,000 acres in production, and we have about five or six different vineyards that we source grapes from. We get our cooler climate varietals from vineyards situated more northerly in the valley, and our Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc all come from the 350-acre vineyard in Oliver, which is owned and managed by OIB.”
Picton has encouraged band members to become familiar with the process of wine making, and he has recruited band members to work for Nk’Mip. Picton wants the winery to be cultural to the Osoyoos First Nation, insisting that the selection of names for their wines is influenced by their own culture. This includes their lively white wine ‘Dreamcatcher’, and their smoky red wine – named after the mythical Thunderbird – ‘Talon’.
“You never stop learning” says Picton, speaking on the wineries everyday challenges. “The different thing, from a winemaking perspective, is that you only get one shot every year. You have to wait until the next year to make changes to your program. Over the years, we’ve become more familiar with our blocks of grapes, and we have a very good understanding of the winery.”
The Osoyoos First Nations, led by their entrepreneurial Chief Clarence Louie, have successfully taken native business in a different direction. The only concern now is to maintain a level of consistency, which I am sure the OIB will handle with the pragmatism and caution they’ve carried in all of their enterprises. First Nations entrepreneurships have grown more in the last 10 years than they have in the last 100 years, and it is native leaders such as Clarence Louie that have been the difference.