What wine do you pair with bison rib-eye steak?

In keeping with an Indigenous theme, the natural match is the 2016 Merriym Red Meritage ($55) from Nk'Mip Cellars in Osoyoos.

The best place to enjoy this duo is The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry, the new restaurant at Spirit Ridge Resort in Osoyoos.

All of a sudden there's a lot to explain here.

Bison, or buffalo, is the traditional primary meat source of Natives on the Prairies.

The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry is the Aboriginal-inspired resto at Spirit Ridge Resort because the resort is on Osoyoos Indian Band land.

While the restaurant brings in its bison from Alberta, it's still in keeping with the Western Canada eat-local mantra.

Located right beside Spirit Ridge is Nk'Mip Cellars, the first Aboriginal-owned winery in North America, where Justin Hall is North America's first Indigenous winemaker.

"Quite the accomplishment for a kid who grew up on the rez," said Hall with a laugh in reference to him growing up on Osoyoos Indian Band reserve land.

"I was 24 and need a job and knew nothing of wine, but I pestered Randy Picton (now head winemaker at Nk'Mip) to give me one. He finally did and I started as a cellar hand and along the way the band sent me to Lincoln University (in New Zealand) to become a winemaker."

Being neighbours, the restaurant and the winery collaborate extensively, including chef Murray McDonald creating dishes perfect for pairing with Nk'Mip wines.

McDonald himself has Indigenous heritage – Labrador Innu (Inuit) on his mother's side and Metis on his dad's.

"The best way to learn about a culture is through food," said McDonald in a distinctive Newfoundland accent.

"Indigenous cuisine is the original farm-to-table, the original Paleo diet, the original hunt-fish-and-gather and it's full of superfoods."

McDonald also happens to be have been the founding chef from 2012-16 of The Dining Room at Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland.

The 29-room hotel has become a bucket-list destination for its remoteness, incredible food from the sea and foraged from the land and its stunning architecture of rectangular boxes set on stilts and rock.

All this brings us around to the dinner I had recently at The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry with some fellow writers.

We were all invited to experience the new restaurant, Nk'Mip's wines and the Osoyoos Indian Band's burgeoning Aboriginal tourism offerings.

The aforementioned bison rib-eye with Merriym Red Meritage was the highlight of a four-course wine-paired dinner.

The blackberry-vanilla-mocha profile of the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec blend played nicely off the lean-and-tasty bison, which wasn't at all gamey.

Other courses saw three types of appetizer bannock (Aboriginal fry bread) with dips paired to the aromatic 2018 Dreamcather ($18) white blend; seared scallops with Qwam Qwmt 2017 Riesling ($24); and Saskatoon berry sponge dessert serving up the sweet to the dry of the Qwan Qwmt 2016 Syrah ($35).

Pastry chef Tammy Maki, a member of Saskatchewan's White Bear First Nation, made the bannock and the dessert.

You've probably been wondering how a restaurant ends up with a name like The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry.

Well, the bear (skimxist), the fish (salmon or ntytikxw), the root (bitterroot or speetlum) and the berry (Saskatoon berry or seeya) are the four food chiefs in the Osoyoos Indian Band's Syilx culture and language.

As such they are celebrated at the restaurant.

There's no bear on the menu, but the bear does represent the meat proteins the eatery serves.

Salmon is prominent on the menu as are bitterroot (for part of the flour used to make bannock) and Saskatoon berry in desserts and preserves.

The rest of the weekend was spent touring and tasting at Nk'Mip Cellars; catching Dyawen Louis from the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre drumming and telling the Syilx creation story; and joining Osoyoos Indian Bank youth councillor Taylor Baptiste for archery on the sage flats of the desert and stops at Okanagan Falls where the salmon run and Haynes Point on Osoyoos Lake, the finger of land which is Osoyoos in the Syilx language.


What do you get when you bring together several hundred people, a plane and oodles wine?

You have a party, of course.

This WestJet plane won't be in the air, but parked in the Carson Air hangar at Kelowna International Airport.

The several hundred people won't be in the plane, but milling around it drinking wine at the Fall WestJet Wine Tasting at YLW on Oct. 5 from 7 to 10 p.m.

WestJet has been sponsoring signature tastings for years at Okanagan Wine Festivals, but last year brought it to the airport for an aviation-themed spectacle.

The WestJet tasting, tickets $89 at TheWineFestivals.com, is one of the first marquee events of the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival.

The fest is the Valley's biggest annual shindig with more than 100 events over 11 days involving 80 wineries and 90 tourism partners.

The fest kicks off Thursday with five events:

– B.C. Lieutenant Governor's Wine Awards & Reception, 7-9 p.m. at the Laurel Packinghouse in Kelowna, $89

– Pork and Pinot Long Table Dinner at CedarCreek Winery in Kelowna, 6-9 p.m., $191

– Escape from the Vinstitute at Intersection Winery in Oliver, various times 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., $30

– Best Paella in the Okanagan at Da Silva Winery in Naramata, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., $48

– Wine & Cheese Club at Upper Bench Winery & Creamery in Naramata, drop in 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., $7

A full list of events is on TheWineFestivals.com.


Steve MacNaull is a reporter at The Okanagan Weekend. Reach him at steve.macnaull@ok.bc.ca. Listen to his Okanagan Wine & Dine show exclusively on OkanaganValleyRadio.com at 11:15 a.m. every Saturday. If you miss it then, shows are always in the podcast vault.