Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
OSOYOOS, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Sukhi Dhaliwal’s life could fit a movie script. If nothing else, it serves as an inspiration to anyone, from anywhere who aims to climb to success. Dhaliwal arrived at Vancouver International Airport in 1991 with $5 — borrowed cash he kept in his pocket — and boarded a bus to reunite with his wife in Oliver, an agrarian town located in Canada’s largest sub-Arctic desert. Dhaliwal did what many immigrants from India do when they reach British Columbia’s interior; he worked in orchards, picking fruits that were as foreign to him as the climate he weathered and the faces he observed.
After settling in, he sponsored his family members from India’s Punjab state and together they learned the details of how to best cultivate fruit in the South Okanagan. Soon, Sukhi and his younger brother, Balwinder Dhaliwal, leapt from vineyard workers to managers at some of the area’s top wineries and then finally to farming entrepreneurs themselves. Steadily, the Dhaliwals accumulated 350 acres of land in 25 locations in the region. They concentrated on growing vinifera grapes for the thriving winemaking industry and their grapes ended up in bottles that won awards year after year. Thus, the question arose among their family, friends, and acquaintances in the industry, Why don’t the Dhaliwal brothers start their own winery?
Following years of research and education in the winemaking business, they did just that, launching Kismet Estate Winery in 2013. They continue to sell grapes to winemakers in the area, but retain about 10 per cent of the fruit for their own production. The results are wines that are elegant, fruit-forward, and indicative of the terroir of the South Okanagan.
Their tasting room is spacious, featuring a lengthy bar for sampling their products and learning about the family’s heartwarming story, which is also captured in the names of their merchandise.
“One of our Rosés is named Lotus. A lotus flower blooms from mud. You don’t expect something so beautiful to rise from muddy waters but just like my family coming here and starting with nothing, experiencing muddy circumstances, and then something so beautiful like this winery arising, we consider ourselves lotus, and that sweetness fills our lives every day,” says Neelam Dhaliwal, who is the tasting room’s operations manager and Sukhi’s daughter. Proud of her family heritage, she has dived into the wine industry with gusto, professing a passion for food and drink, and driving awareness of Kismet’s products and origins.
With Masala Bistro, an eatery serving quality Indian cuisine, adjacent to it is tasting room, Kismet has expanded into the restaurant business, adding an extra treat for those wine tourists keen to experience the grape-to-glass concept. As Neelam Dhaliwal points out, the sweetness of the Kismet wines, derived from their fruit flavours, pairs with the spiciness of Indian cuisine.
While Kismet offers a unique tasting experience, it also fits in with the established Okanagan culture that suits oenophiles and culinary explorers alike. The opportunity to interact with farmers, winemakers, chefs, and artisan food producers is a distinct aspect of tours to Oliver and Osoyoos, where the grapes that supply much of the Okanagan wine industry are grown.
Another family-run operation, Road 13 Vineyards, is on a hilltop off of Highway 97, a short drive from Kismet. Road 13 is run by former lumber-industry workers who turned farmers after being captivated by the land in the South Okanagan. The company’s logo even includes a tractor. Housed in a castle built by previous owners from Germany, Road 13 has had so much success that it ran out of wine to sell in 2017, according to general manager Joe Luckhurst. A portion of those sales could be credited to Road 13’s accolade as British Columbia Winery of the Year from the Wine Align National Wine Awards. In 2018, Road 13 celebrates the 50th anniversary of the planting of its Chenin Blanc vines, among the oldest in the province. The release of the 2014 Chenin Blanc sparkling wine is reason enough to visit for a tasting. The wine is a suitable match for the operation’s setting, which overlooks the epic landscape of the South Okanagan and makes any viewer glad to be on earth.
Along with the Chenin Blanc, Road 13’s Fifth Element is a must-buy. It’s a blend of red grapes whose smoothness and elegance belies the 15.5 per cent alcohol content swimming in the bottle.
Any wine tour to the Oliver-Osoyoos area needs to include a stop at NK’Mip Cellars, where members of the Osoyoos Indian Band have teamed with Arterra Wines Canada to create one of the leading wineries in the nation. Of interest is the fact the winery’s tasting room is on the same grounds as Spirit Ridge Resort and NK’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, providing a home base for wine tours as well as an all-in-one vacation getaway that features wine, food, and Indigenous culture. Visitors can tour the winery, including the barrel room where NK’Mip’s award-winning wines are stored, and stroll the grounds home to some of the operation’s vineyards.
And if a traveller really wants to have a connoisseur’s night out in the area, then Backyard Farm is the destination to visit. Chef and owner Chris van Hooydonk has created a magical dining experience in his home, which is on a farm populated with fruit trees, honeymaking bee hives, heritage chickens, and herbs and vegetables used in his cuisine. Van Hooydonk serves one exquisite meal a night and it is presented at a 20-seat chef’s table in the centre of his living room. In 2018, he will be teaming with Road 13 for a series of wine-paired, four-course dinners at the winery.
As with so many other entrepreneurial enterprises in the South Okanagan, Backyard Farm showcases the quality of food and wine in the region — and does it with concern for the environment. Increasingly, a visit to Oliver and Osoyoos is not only about the delights you consume but about the education you receive on the land and the people who cultivate it with care.
WIN A PRIVATE LONGTABLE DINNER WITH CELEBRITY CHEF RICH FRANCIS
You and 3 friends have a chance to experience the cuisine of Canada’s premier Indigenous chef, Rich Francis, as he brings his culinary talents to Spirit Ridge and the NK’Mip Desert Cultural Centre in Osoyoos, British Columbia, on June 9, 2018, for an outdoor longtable dinner like no other. Savour legendary wines from award-winning NK’Mip Cellars, and learn their rich story from local Indigenous winemaker Justin Hall, all while dining under the stars next to teepees and traditional pit houses. Winners and their party are put up for the night in a suite courtesy of Spirit Ridge. Three prizes to be won. Don’t miss your chance to be part of this phenomenal and unique dining experience with this former Top Chef Canada finalist.
MORE ABOUT NK’MIP CELLARS
Location: 1400 Rancher Creek Road, Osoyoos, BC (see map below)
Wine-tasting Experiences: The Perfect Union wine-and-cheese tasting costs $25 per person and is an excellent way to learn about NK’Mip’s wines and the local cheeses available in the Okanagan Valley. Also, there are standard tastings that include a sample of five wines for a fee of $5 or a sample of Riesling Icewine for $3 (standard tasting fees are waived with the purchase of a bottle).
Land to Legacy Vineyard and Cellar Tour: Visitors can learn about the full scope of the winemaking process, sample six of NK’Mip’s wines, including the Riesling Icewine, and tour the winery’s facilities that feature a behind-the-scenes look at the barrel room. The cost is $15 per adult.
Osoyoos Indian Band Cultivates Success — The grape-growing land of the South Okanagan resides in the traditional territory of the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB), which is a community of about 540 members within the Okanagan Nation, and their agricultural practices and spirituality tied to the land have been important in cultivating the crops that have led to such success for many in the region. Read more.
This article is the second of an expanded content series focusing on travel to Osoyoos and the South Okanagan. It was created in partnership with the Osoyoos Indian Band, Arterra Wines Canada, Spirit Ridge Resort – Unbound Collection by Hyatt, Destination Osoyoos, and the Oliver-Osoyoos Wine Association..