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Caldwell First Nation starts first Indigenous-owned winery east of B.C.

Caldwell First Nation has started a new winery in Essex County, which its founders hope will create jobs along with tasty wines.

Rare wines to be featured in new Indigenous cuisine restaurant

Grapes being harvested in September for a new winery at Caldwell First Nation — the first Indigenous-owned winery east of British Columbia. (Caldwell First Nation)

Members of Caldwell First Nation in Essex County didn't expect to find wine grapes on a property they purchased through a land claim settlement, but when they did, it gave them an idea.

Now, the nation is preparing to open the first Indigenous-owned winery east of British Columbia after having its first harvest in September. It hopes the venture will bring jobs and revenue along with great tasting wines.

Kyra Cole, the economic development officer at the nation, said it was perfect timing when they found two acres of grapes on the property.

"We were concurrently doing an economic development plan through council and through the nation. So part of that was a little bit of market research that talked about some of the business opportunities," she told CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive. "Especially knowing that tourism was a huge consideration for us in our economic growth and economic resilience. So it was through that that once we found the grapes, we decided that we would do a feasibility study to see if we could do a winery on that property."

LISTEN: Caldwell First Nation talks to Afternoon Drive

After discovering two acres of grapes on some of their new property, Caldwell First Nation decided to get into the wine making business. Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre speaks with Kyra Cole, economic development officer and Chef Bill Alexander, culinary advisor to the First Nation. 6:40

The study is still underway, but the nation has started harvesting grapes and preparing to offer their wines at a planned restaurant, Three Fires. They hope to open the restaurant next summer.

"I mean, we really saw that kind of as a gift,"  said chef Bill Alexander, a culinary advisor to the nation, of the grape vines. "And it's a rare opportunity to be opening a brand new, one of a kind restaurant featuring Indigenous cuisine, and also be able to have multiple varieties of wine that are strictly for your location as well to help tell our story."

"That's honestly what we're looking to do, is tell our cultural story, who we are as Indigenous people, through our food and beverage program."

Workers participating in the September harvest. (Caldwell First Nation)

Rare wines

Some of the wines won't be your standard varieties. To help develop them, Caldwell worked with two of Canada's top wine experts, Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble. Caldwell says they hope to make a chardonnay muscat orange wine and a Pét-Nat field blend, along with a Riesling.

"We're quite excited to be able to not only have our own signature wines, but have something that is unique and not seen on very many wine menus in southern Ontario," Alexander said. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed some of their plans, Cole is optimistic about what the winery and restaurant will do for Caldwell First Nation. She says their projections show that they'll not only be able to create enough jobs for everyone in the nation who wants one, but also generate jobs for people in Essex County and Chatham-Kent as well.

"Our goals are really economic resiliency. So not only are we looking at creating revenues, we're also looking at creating jobs," she said.

"We know in a couple of years that Caldwell is not going to be a nation that is unknown to very many people."

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