Managers Ryan Widdup and Ryan Walley at Indigenous World Winery. Photo by Chehala Leonard.
Okanagan

Indigenous-owned winery raises tasting glasses for the first time in months

Tastings begin and restaurant reopening plans in the works at Indigenous World Winery amid phase two of B.C.’s restart plan.

Now that British Columbia is in the second phase of its restart plan, how are Indigenous-owned businesses doing?

We are checking in with businesses in the Okanagan to find out: How have they adapted during COVID-19? What challenges have they faced? What’s been working? What’s next?

Indigenous World Winery

Today is the first day that Indigenous World Winery has been open for wine tastings in months.

“A significant part of our sales are generated by tasting,” says sales manager Ryan Widdup, whose Syilx business title səxʷqʷl̓qʷl̓tm̓ means spokesperson in the Nsyilxcən language.

“We’re very excited that we can get open again,” he says.

Located on Highway 97, in Westbank, B.C., just west of Kelowna, Indigenous World Winery is home to a 2.5 acre vineyard, a restaurant and award-winning wines. The idea for the winery stemmed from  Robert Louie and his wife Bernice Louie, who are both descendants of the Syilx people.

Indigenous World Winery owners Robert Louie and Bernice Louie with daughter Cassie. Photo submitted by Ryan Walley.

“The concept of Indigenous World Winery emerged as Robert and Bernice’s way of combining the unique terroir of the valley and the Indigenous people’s stewardship of these lands,” according to their website.

How they’ve survived

“We’ve been able to sort of keep the door open and keep most of the staff on and employed as much as possible,” says general manager Ryan Walley.

While the restaurant and wine tastings were unable to continue during phase one of the government’s COVID-19 restrictions, Indigenous World Winery was still selling wine in person and through their wine club.

But their sales dropped by 45 per cent in April says Walley, whose Syilx business title is Xaʔtús, meaning decision maker in the Nsyilxcən language. He credits their wine club for keeping them going.

“Over the last several years we really focused on our wine club,” he says. “Direct to consumer [is] really what’s been keeping things going and it’s fantastic for local businesses.”

They’ve also been able to leverage support provided by the federal government, according to Widdup. “[The] main two have been the federal wage subsidy, and then we also took advantage of the $40,000 small business loans to help us cover payroll through till when the subsidy started coming in.”

The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) is available for Canadian businesses that have been affected by COVID-19. Eligible applicants can access up to 75 per cent coverage for employees wages. Similarly, the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) grants up to $40,000 in interest free loans to eligible small businesses and not-for-profit organizations.

Open for business

Today Indigenous World Winery is open for wine tasting but they need to limit the number of people in the winery, something Widdup says could actually be a positive thing.

“You’re going to get a better experience,” he says. “It shouldn’t be as crowded, which is great for the consumer.”

Inside Indigenous World Winery. Photo submitted by Ryan Walley.

That said, Widdup predicts that the COVID-19 impacts will continue to affect sales until next year.

“Because the Okanagan is so tourist driven, with the majority of the people coming to visit in the summertime, I don’t suspect our numbers this year, this summer will be anywhere close to what they were last year,” he says.

“I don’t think until 2021, we’ll start to see the normal number of visitations from outside of Kelowna.”

In the meantime, Walley explains that they have also received the Health Canada licence to produce hand sanitizer.

“For a first batch, [we] donated a big chunk to the local elders fund. So it’s been nice that we’ve been able to get that up and going,” he says.

While the wine tastings officially reopen today, May 21, the Red Fox Club restaurant, which serves Indigenous cuisine and wine will be opening to the public again on May 28, 2020.