The pioneering spirit of being first at something is cause for both great excitement and queasy uncertainty. Thankfully, the dedication and hard work that went into establishing Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet, B.C. spurred plenty of the former and little of the latter.
That’s not surprising, given the amount of research and study that took place prior to the winery’s inception in 2011. Dutch emigrants Rolf de Bruin and Helen Pannekoek began the adventure in 2005, and with a partnership group (now up to eight members) worked with B.C. winemaking legend Harry McWatters, as well as Richard Cleave, to determine what grapes should be grown in the region. (Info from ex-Lillooet mayor Crist’l Rochard’s Lillooet Grape Project also proved vital.)
The result is 20 acres of vines that include varieties such as Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. What can’t be sourced from the vineyards is purchased from Okanagan growers, particularly from the Sundial Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench, as well as from the Similkameen Valley.
Lillooet’s terroir is somewhat similar to the Okanagan Valley in that it gets plenty of heat during the long summer days. The main difference is night temperatures are lower in Lillooet than in most of the Okanagan – one of the reasons cooler-climate varieties in particular tend to thrive. The vineyard’s location near a gap in the Coast Mountain range means vines get more sunlight than they might otherwise get in other nearby locations.
The addition of South African-trained winemaker Danny Hattingh to the production team last year has taken the winery in an exciting new direction without ever losing focus on the core values of freshness and expression of terroir. Hattingh and company are sure to add even more hardware to the Fort Berens trophy case in the years to come.
Fort Berens Estate Winery is this month's featured winery for our Wine of the Month Club! You only have until September 15th to sign up to receive this month's selection of award-winning wines from Fort Berens Estate. Sign up now to enjoy these delicious wines, along with product information and food pairing suggestions!
Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson is the wine columnist and literary editor for the Winnipeg Free Press. He’s on Twitter and Instagram at @bensigurdson.