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Grand opening bash at Fort Berens


Founding partners Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek, and Hugh Agro, Fort Berens' largest shareholder, raising the flag.

Founding partners Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek, and Hugh Agro, Fort Berens’ largest shareholder, raising the flag.

The trade turned out by the bus load to cheer the grand opening of Fort Berens’ sleek, new winery on September 18. Proud flag raisers included founding partners Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek, and Fort Berens’ largest shareholder, Hugh Agro. The first and only commercial winery in Lillooet, Fort Berens Estate Winery came into being in 2009 when the founding partners, Rolf and Heleen, purchased a 65 acre property on sagebrush-covered benchland along the Fraser River, planting 20 acres of vines. They named the winery after the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post of the same name built on the very same site. From a mere of 170 cases of wine made from Okanagan Valley grapes in 2009, production has soared to a planned 6,000 cases in 2014. The new 9,500 s.f. winery has the capacity to fully process 12,000 cases onsite with extra capacity for custom crushing of grapes from other growers in the area.

Fort Berens from the air.

Fort Berens from the air.

Positioned opposite the largest gap in the Coast Mountain range where Cayoosh Creek runs down to meet the Fraser River, Fort Berens benefits from additional sunlight hours as the sun sets from mid-September to early November. With a long, hot, dry summer similar to the South Okanagan, and gravelly, sandy Fraser River bench soil, Lillooet is recognized as an ideal location for growing grapes. Plantings include three white varieties – Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling – and three reds – Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc red varieties, as well as small test plots with Petit Verdot and Gruner Veltliner.

FortBerensWinery02Prominently situated beside Highway 99, the new. 9,500 s.f. winery is both inviting and functional. The clever design is apparent as visitors enter the spacious tasting room. Windows on one side allow viewing of the functional aspects of the winery from delivery of bins of grapes to filling tanks and crushing grapes. The other side opens to a large patio and offers a sweeping view of the vineyard and the Fraser River Valley and mountains beyond. Building materials and furnishings, while contemporary, fit in nicely with the surroundings.

Recently hired to take care of vine growing and wine making  are partners Danny Hattingh and Megan de Villers. Natives of South Africa, Megan has a earned a bachelor’s degree in viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch and Danny  has degrees in Viticulture and Oenology from the Cape Institute for Agricultural Training in Eisenburg. When I met the couple at Saturna Island Winery a few years for an interview, I was impressed by their efforts both in the vineyard and the excellent wines produced.

Fort Berens Tasting highlights:

Providing guidance to the new owners, industry guru Harry McWatters toasts Fort Berens at flag raising.

Providing guidance to the new owners, industry guru Harry McWatters toasts Fort Berens at flag raising.

2012 Reserve Chardonnay ($25) is made from grapes sourced from Harry McWatters’ Sundial Vineyard on Black Sage Bench in the South Okanagan. Rich and buttery, this complex, oak-aged Chardonnay combines crunchy apple, yellow plum and star fruit with notes of grilled nuts, toast and vanilla. ****1/2

2012 Pinot Noir ($26)  is made from all five clones grown in the home vineyard. The winemaking process includes a bleed of juice to make a saignee rose. This elegant Pinot Noir offers an intriguing savoury character with flavours suggesting lifted strawberry/raspberry/plum fruit, notes of truffle, sage and smoky, toasty oak, and finely textured tannins. ****




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