Thursday, June 9, 2011

Three new wines from Fort Berens

Photo: Rolf de Bruin, Heleen Pannekoek

Can commercial wine grapes be grown successfully in Lillooet? This may be the vintage with the answer.

Fort Berens Estate Winery has a 20-acre vineyard there which is expected to produce its first harvest this year. One of the winery’s consultants reports that the vineyard is looking good and should produce 40 to 50 tons of grapes this fall.

Lillooet is believed to be a warm to hot growing region. Now that the weather is turning after an unusually cool spring, those will be vital growing conditions.

Vineyards in the Okanagan are as much as a month behind normal this year, but making up ground in a hurry. No doubt, Lillooet is also a bit behind but growth will explode with improved weather.

Fort Berens opened in 2009, making wine from Okanagan grapes. That is a practice that likely will continue for a few years, if only to supplement the Lillooet vineyard. Rolf De Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek, the owners of this winery, have been able to get excellent grapes, thanks to their relationship with Harry McWatters and his Vintage Consulting Group.

Rolf and Heleen came to Lillooet in 2008 after leaving high-powered (and high-pressure) bank jobs in Holland. Finding land costs in the Okanagan too high, they leased (with the option to buy) a property on a bench above the Fraser River. There is a considerable history of grape growing at Lillooet but theirs is the first truly commercial vineyard.

Here are notes on current releases.

Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2010 ($18). This wine is made in the broad, rich style of Alsace with flavours of apricot, pear and white peach. There is a honeyed hint of botrytis on the nose and on the finish. The alcohol, at 13.8%, is a little on the bold side for a white wine. 86.

Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2009 ($25). This is a delicious wine with a generous finish. It begins with appealing blackberry and roasted coffee aromas, with flavours of blackberry, black currant and black cherry. The berry flavours on the finish mingle with a hint of mocha. 90.

Fort Berens Meritage 2009 ($28). This is a blend of 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. It has the soft, ripe texture of Merlot, with attractive aromas of blueberry and blackberry. The berry flavours echo these aromas. The rich, ripe tannins give the wine an early accessibility and appeal. 90.


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