DiscoverNative American-Run Vineyards in the USA You Should Know

Native American-Run Vineyards in the USA You Should Know

Viticulture in North America hasn’t had a very long history. Despite rapid expansion since the late 1900s, the New Wine World continues to evolve, shedding light on the overlooked history of its terroir. Vineyard sites have become intertwined with the indigenous peoples of the continent, who have been utilizing agriculture land for thousands of years. However, the narrative of winemaking has often overlooked the contributions and participation of Native American communities. In recent years, there’s been a quiet but significant movement: Native American-run vineyards are emerging across the United States. These vineyards mark a reclamation of land and contribute unique perspectives and flavors to the American wine scene.

The Historical Roots

As always, let’s start with a little bit of history. Native American involvement in viticulture predates European arrival, albeit in different forms. While not necessarily engaged in winemaking as we understand it today, many tribes cultivated and utilized wild grapes for various purposes. The European introduction of vinifera grapes and the concept of vineyards changed the landscape of North American agriculture and subsequently influenced indigenous practices and economies.

The modern reclamation and establishment of Native American-run vineyards serve multiple purposes: they are reclaiming ancestral lands, asserting cultural and economic sovereignty, and contributing to the diversification of the global wine industry.

Spotlight on Native American-Run Vineyards

1. Nk’Mip Cellars, British Columbia, Canada

Photo Courtesy of Montecristo Magazine 

Located in the South Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Nk’Mip (pronounced “inkameep”) Cellars holds the distinction of being the first Native American-run vineyard in North America. They produce award-winning wines that reflect the rich heritage of the Osoyoos Indian Band. Their Merlot is particularly noteworthy, featuring velvety textures and deep berry flavors.

Notable Wines:

Merlot 2020: The medium-bodied Merlot is fruit-forward with aromas of red berries, vanilla, and spice.

Talon 2020:  Named for the mythical Thunderbird, Talon exhibits aromas and flavors of raspberry, blueberry, anise, pepper, and a hint of chocolate. 

Dreamcatcher 2022: A vibrant and luscious white blend, tantalizing the palate with tangy citrus fruits and pineapple.

2. Twisted Cedar Wines, Utah, USA

Photo Courtesy of Twisted Cedar Wines

Managed by the Cedar Band of Paiutes, this vineyard focuses on sustainability and the expression of its heritage through wine. The Cedar Band of Paiutes people are ever conscious of their relationship with the earth and are proud of their sustainably grown wines. Twisted Cedar Wines also produces a tremendous benefit to the Band’s community, by providing employment opportunities and socioeconomic programs on the reservation. Their Cabernet Sauvignon has received acclaim for its balanced tannins and depth of flavor.

Notable Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot

3. Salmon-Safe Native Wines, Oregon, USA

Focused on environmental stewardship, several Native American-run initiatives in Oregon have embraced the Salmon-Safe certification, pledging to farm in ways that protect Pacific salmon habitats. While not a singular vineyard, this movement has produced exceptional Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that reflect the integrity of their production methods.

4. Séka Hills, California, USA

Photo Courtesy of Seka Hills 

Owned by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, Séka Hills is nestled in the fertile Capay Valley. They’re known for their versatile Viognier and robust Cabernet Sauvignon, each telling a story of cultural heritage and connection to the land. They also sustainably produce olive oil, wildflower honey, nuts, beef, and other pickled vegetables. 

Notable Wines: Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon.

5. Owen Roe Winery, Washington State, USA

Photo Courtesy of the Grape Chronicles 

Though not entirely run by Native Americans, Owen Roe shares a deep respect and collaboration with the indigenous tribes of the Yakima Valley, where they source many of their grapes. Their Cabernet Franc is known for its elegance and depth, while the Syrah offers a vivid expression of the valley’s unique terroir.

Notable Wines: Cabernet Franc, Syrah.

6. Red Fox Cellars, Colorado, USA

Photo Courtesy of Kazzit

Owned and operated by the Ute Indian Tribe, Red Fox Cellars takes a bold approach to winemaking by experimenting with aging processes. This includes the Bourbon barrel aging of their Merlot. This unique method adds a smoky richness to the wine, making it a standout offering. Additionally, their venture into hard ciders offers a refreshing alternative with a wide range of flavors.

Notable Wines: Bourbon Barrel Merlot, Cider.

7. Native Vines Winery, North Carolina, USA

Photo Courtesy of Helen A. Lockey 

Claimed to be the first American Indian-owned and operated winery in the United States, Native Vines Winery incorporates traditional Lumbee tribe influences into their winemaking. Their Green Apple Gewürztraminer is a crisp, fruity delight, while the Blackberry wine is deeply flavorful and reminiscent of handmade preserves.

Notable Wines: Green Apple Gewürztraminer, Blackberry.

8. Kitá Wines, California, USA

Photo Courtesy of Wine Enthusiast

Kitá Wines, located in the heart of Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley, is a small, premium winery that meticulously tends to its vineyards to produce a diverse range of handcrafted wines. Owned by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, Kitá is rooted in the Chumash principles of harmony, balance, and respect. The winery is a testament to environmental stewardship and dedication to showcasing the unique terroir of their land. The Cabernet Sauvignon is celebrated for its complex structure and depth, showcasing dark fruit flavors balanced by a touch of oak. Their Grenache is noted for its vibrant red fruit characteristics and spice, while the Syrah is lauded for its robust profile and smooth finish.

Why It Matters

The burgeoning field of Native American-run vineyards is significant for several reasons. Economically, it opens up new avenues for indigenous entrepreneurship and for tribes to diversify their income sources. Culturally, it allows for the preservation and evolution of Native American traditions and their expression through viticulture. Environmentally, many of these vineyards emphasize sustainable, organic, and land-stewardship practices, contributing to the health of the American landscape.

Reclaiming and cultivating land for vineyards is more than an act of economic development; it’s a profound statement of resilience, sovereignty, and heritage. Each bottle from these vineyards tells a story not just of the wine itself, but of the land, the people, and the journey that brought it to fruition. As the world of winemaking continues to evolve, the contributions and perspectives of Native American vintners will undoubtedly enrich the cultural tapestry and biodiversity of American wine.



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