Pioneering Winery Releases Inaugural Vintage
Is Lillooet the next major wine-producing region in British Columbia?
Once settled by the Hudson’s Bay Company as an outpost for gold prospectors in the 1850s, Lillooet, British Columbia is now striking gold as a wine producing region. The area’s first winery and vineyard, Fort Berens Estate Winery, has released its premier vintage made with estate fruit to critical acclaim.
Located in the Fraser Canyon, the 20-acre vineyard has taken advantage of the region’s fertile soil and warm temperatures for growing vinifera grapes. Established by Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek in 2008, the Fort Berens Estate Winery is hoping to validate Lillooet as another major and sustainable wine-producing region in British Columbia. They also want for their product to honour the natural, historical and cultural heritage of the region.
“Like the explorers who came before us, we saw a potential gem for the area with our fledgling winery and, similar to prospecting for gold, sometimes you just have to take a chance,” explains de Bruin. “We believe quality wines are made in the vineyard first and these inaugural estate vintages express the unique terroir and spectacular beauty of the Fraser Canyon.”
And they are off to a good start with the release of their first vintage crafted with estate-grown grapes. The Fort Berens Riesling 2011, dry with aromas of lychee and apple, with exotic spices on the palate, was recently awarded a gold medal and chosen Best of Class at the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition. The medal will add to the many they have already collected for its handcrafted small-lot production wines. They’ve also made a Fort Berens 2011 Pinot Noir Rosé crafted with estate fruit.
Looking toward the future, Fort Berens is planning to build a new gravity-flow winery overlooking the vineyard and continue the transition from Okanagan-sourced grapes to estate fruit so that all wine will be fully crafted on-site, boosting the profile of Fort Berens and the Lillooet region.
“I am excited about the prospect of Canada’s newest viticulture region,” says Harry McWatters of Vintage Consulting, who advised de Bruin and Pannekooek on the choice of Lillooet. “The climate makes for wines with wonderful character, reflective of the heritage of this region.”
For more information, visit Fort Berens online or follow them on Twitter.
Story by Lynn Wayling