Last week, my phone buzzed with a text from Jake Skakun, my pal and editorial colleague here at My Wine Canada.
“Whoa! Stoked to see Fort Berens on MWC!’
It was actually the first heads-up for me that the Lillooet, British Columbian winery’s wares were now available from coast-to-coast on this platform and I have to say, I’m more than a little stoked, too.
You see, when we look at British Columbia’s wine regions in terms of vines planted, it’s no surprise that the Okanagan is the biggie, with about 82 percent of vineyard acreage, followed by the Okanagan’s southern adjacent region, the Similkameen Valley, at 7 percent. Between the two of ‘em, we’re practically looking at 90% of B.C. wine land. As far as official designated geographical indications go, we’re rounded out by Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the Fraser Valley in Vancouver suburbia. All of those total to around 97 percent of B.C. vineyards, with the province’s remaining plants affectionately referred to as emerging regions.
Lillooet is one of said emerging regions, and Fort Berens is currently the only winery holding fort there. While some of their wines come from Okanagan-grown grapes, they have an ever-increasing amount that are produced from estate fruit.
So where’s Lillooet?
If you look at the picture accompanying this post, it’s where the red pin is placed, and you can easily see its proximity to Vancouver (where I’m sitting right now) and Kelowna, which sits in the northern half of Okanagan wine country. While easily accessible from the Okanagan, to Vancouverites it’s thought of as the end of the road if you left the city, driving up the coast through Squamish, beyond Whistler, through Pemberton, and BOOM! You’re in Lillooet.
So, is it suitable for grape growing? Yeah, actually, it totally is. It happens to enjoy a similar climate to Oliver, where you’d find some of our most notable wineries, Road 13, Tinhorn Creek, Burrowing Owl and so on.
Soil composition comes from glacial remnants, just like the Okanagan, so it’s fairly mineral-rich, along with gravel, loam, river rock and sand. While the days and short-yet-intense summer bask in ultra-hot, great-for-ripening temperatures, the evenings are a touch cooler than the Okanagan’s – a gift that brings the preservation of natural acidity.
Fort Berens’ wine are well-crafted, hence Jake’s exuberance. Their Cabernet Franc is now up to 70 percent estate fruit, and I love that they won’t go to 100% until all of their fruit is good-to go. Their Chardonnay, however, is all from Lillooet and bright with mangos and citrus fruit.
Here in British Columbian wine country, we’re truly the most recent of the New World and still learning about the potential of our region. Who knows? Maybe one day, we’ll marvel at the fact that there was a time not everyone knew about Lillooet.
Kurtis Kolt is a Vancouver-based wine consultant, writer, competition judge and enthusiast. He’s not half as fancy/boring as that sounds. He Tweets and Instagrams @KurtisKolt.