March 12, 2019
Justin Hall knows the wine business from the ground up. As Winemaker for Nk’Mip Cellars in B.C., he’s had his fair share of experiences in the industry, starting out as a cellar hand.
“You're dragging hoses, cleaning tanks, getting the introduction into wine making. And it’s a lot more hands in terms of labour, let's say,” laughs Hall, “Not that I don't do it now anyway, because we're still pretty a small winery. So I still ended up dragging hoses, but I don't mind.”
Hall got his introduction to wine making at an early age.
“My stepfather used to work in the vineyard when I was a kid. And I would see him get up at four in the morning to get out there by five to beat the summer heat here where it easily gets to forty degrees.”
As a young man, Hall was casting about for a stable job and a career with a future, and he remembered back to his stepfather’s work for Nk’Mip. Soon, he knew what he wanted to do. He started working as the cellar hand, and within days, signed up for a college wine making program.
“It was an exciting, new industry at the time and wine was really growing. I could see that the people that were drinking wine were a bit more sophisticated; having a glass with lunch, with dinner. And it was very attractive. It seemed like a very smart thing to do and I fell right into it for sure.”
Nk’Mip cellars started back in the 1960s, and was one of the first wineries in B.C. It sprung up on the centuries-old home of the Osoyoos Indian Reserve—32,000 acres of Sonoran Desert landscape in the hottest and driest part of Canada. Perfect for growing grapes for wine.
The name Nk’Mip means ‘bottomland’ and for many years the grapes that were grown on it were sold to larger wine brokers. At one time 24% of all the grapes grown in B.C were grown on Nk’Mip’s land.
Today, the winery no longer sells its grapes. Instead it uses them all in its wines*.
“Our predecessors—our ancestors—had the foresight to say, ‘hey, this is something for our people and this is going to be going into the future’,” says Hall, “They needed to create something right here on our land that was for our people to work and benefit from. If you wanted a job, you’d always have the option to get on with the local vineyard. So that’s part of what makes us unique; it was that foresight before anybody else was doing it.”
Hall too seems to have had some foresight. When he initially decided that winemaking might be a prosperous and stable career, he didn’t actually drink wine.
“The first experiences I had with wine—I didn't like it. It was just something I wasn't into. And I came to our winery here and I tasted a flight of wines. I found I really liked the oaky, buttery Chardonnay in the beginning. It was soft. It had good flavours. It just worked for me. So that was the first one that I started to like.”
Today, Hall’s tastes have changed dramatically, and his appreciation has obviously grown. Working alongside Senior Winemaker Randy Picton, the duo are giving Nk’Mip their all.
“During harvest season, grapes are coming in and it doesn’t stop; you might only get two days off in two months in the fall. But I give that 110% because I know that what I give in to the businesses is also giving back to me as an employee. It's giving me back a sense of pride and accomplishment that I've done something really amazing. Making sure that the wines are very successful also feeds me right back. So it's a little bit of a symbiotic thing. As a band member, I really feel like I'm giving back to my people as well.”
Find Nk’Mip Cellars wines at Co-op Wine Spirits Beer.
* Wine selection may vary by location
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