First Nations winery in Canada’s only desert


Nk'Mip Cellar, Osoyoos, BC, First Nations, travel

Nk’Mip Cellars seen through the vineyards. ©Nk’Mip Cellars

Story by Kathleen Kenna

OSOYOOS, BRITISH COLUMBIA — There are only a few vintages that stay in your memory, and “Qwam Qwmt” is one of them. The phrase means “achieving excellence,” in the Salish language of Canada’s First Nations.

It’s an excellent pinot noir, made even more special by its origins: “Q2” is the top wine of Nk’Mip Cellars winery, the first aboriginal owned and operated winery in North America.

First Nations winery Nk'Mip in Osoyoos, B.C.

Justin Hall aims to be the world’s first aboriginal winemaker. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

The man who helped make it, 29-year-old Justin Hall, aims to be the world’s first aboriginal winemaker. He’s already the assistant winemaker at Nk’Mip in British Columbia’s gorgeous Okanagan Valley.

Hall has studied oenology and viticulture in New Zealand and Canada, and is learning everything from pruning vines in the Nk’Mip vineyards to correct aging of wines in French oak barrels.

“There’s a passion when you find a job you love,” Hall says.

It’s clear he loves his work. He and winemaker Randy Picton have won many awards for their young wines, including platinum for Nk’Mip ice wine at the 2010 New World Wine Awards.

Hall discusses Nk’Mip’s mission over salmon tartare, greens, sausage, yogurt cheese and preserved peppers — all house-made from local sources. (Where possible, the winery buys from the Okanagan Native Alliance in the orchards-rich region.)

Also on the menu at the winery restaurant: elk, venison, bison.

The patio at Nk’Mip is a romantic spot for lunch, high on the rolling Okanagan hills that overlook steely-blue Lake Osoyoos.

The land is beautiful, with vineyards sloping to the lake.  The first plantings in 1968 have helped the Osoyoos Band, which owns the winery, vineyard and surrounding land, to develop an eco-tourism model for a luxury resort — Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa.

First Nations Resport Nk'Mip in Osooyoos, B.C.

Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre features impressive artifacts and historical tours. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

The dry weather here allows visitors to golf year-round at the band’s sonora dunes course nearby.

Near the winery, on the opposite side of the resort, is the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, where films, artifacts and the informative staff explain Osoyoos’ history and culture. There are also snakes: This is a research center for the largest rattlesnake population in the country right at the southern tip of the Okanagan where the Great Basin, Canada’s only desert, ends.

DIRECTIONS: Nk’Mip Resort is just minutes east of Osoyoos on Highway 3, located at the end of Rancher Creek Road. The Town of Osoyoos is two hours south of Kelowna, a short drive from the Canada/US Border, and is a beautiful drive from three major airports.

FLY: National airlines provide daily flights into Penticton, Kelowna and Kamloops, while international flights arrive in Kelowna. National and regional airlines servicing these local airports include Air Canada, WestJet and Pacific Coastal Airlines.

Contact Nk’Mip Cellars: Telephone: 250-495-2985; Email:

Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa: Toll free: 877-313-9463

Desert & Heritage Centre: Open 9 am to 8 pm (June to September); Toll free: 888-495-8555

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Kathleen Kenna is an award-winning writer who has traveled the world, and tells everyone British Columbia is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. She has traveled from the Arctic Circle to the South Pacific; worked in some of the most dangerous places as the Toronto Star's South Asia bureau chief; and finds peace, always, kayaking the Pacific Coast. She blogs with her husband, photojournalist Hadi Dadashian, at

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