Friday, December 14, 2012

Fort Berens finds its feet in Lillooet

Photo: Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek

In 2008 Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek, newly arrived in British Columbia from Holland, decided on an audacious gamble: they would establish the first winery in Lillooet, beside the Fraser River.

There is a history of trial vineyards in the region going back decades, but theirs was to be the first commercial vineyard. There is no doubt that Lillooet has the heat units to ripen many varieties. The question was whether untimely frosts or cold winters would stop the project.

So far, their gamble is looking quite promising. Here is their report on their 2012 vintage:

“The 2012 harvest in the estate vineyard at Fort Berens Estate Winery started on September 21st and was completed on October 25th. We are very excited about both the quality and the quantity of the fruit this year. The flavours are impressive and the fruit was very clean. The quantity allows us to continue the transition from grapes sourced from the Okanagan to grapes from our estate vineyard in Lillooet.

“Overall, the 2012 growing season was quite good, with a long frost free period. The spring was warmer than last year, which encouraged earlier bud break (May 1st) – about one week ahead of 2011. A cool yet dry May & June period resulted in bloom starting on June 20th. Summer temperatures were average with a few hot spikes in July, where temperatures approached 40c. The temperatures in September and early October were higher than average with lots of sun and no rain till mid October. Second half of October was much cooler. During harvest we saw balanced development of sugar and acids in our early whites and reds. The cooler second half of October required some patience with our later varieties including Cabernet Franc and Riesling.
“Lack of rain, good air movement throughout the season and low humidity resulted in a very low disease pressure. With a new deer and bear fence and bird netting on our red (and gris) varieties, we saw little loss to wildlife.
“In addition to the 47.5 tons harvested from the Estate Vineyard in Lillooet, we sourced approximately 15 tons from the Okanagan. Total production in 2012 will exceed 4,000 cases with more than 75% of the grapes coming from our estate vineyard in Lillooet. This is a significant growth in production aimed at fulfilling the strong demand for our wines.
“The first 2012 wines, including our Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Noir Rosé and 23 Camels White will be released at the Vancouver International Wine Festival from February 25th till March 3rd 2013.
“While our production is growing quickly, many of our wines are still short in supply and high in demand as our wines continue to perform well in international competitions. The best way to assure access to these limited production award winning wines is to join the [winery’s] Discovery Club, where membership has some tasty privileges.”
With the end of the vintage, Fort Berens also has released four wines from 2010 and 2011. Here are my notes:

Fort Berens Chardonnay 2011 ($18 for 288 cases). A gold medal winner at the New World International Wine Competition, this wine combines grapes from the Okanagan (40%) with grapes from the winery’s vineyard in Lillooet (60%). By fermenting and aging only about a third in oak, the winery produced a fruit-forward Chardonnay with a touch of complexity. The wine begins with aromas of tangerine and butter, going on to flavours of lemon and pineapple. The finish is crisp. 88.

Fort Berens 23 Camels Red 2011 ($22 for 292 cases). This is 65% Cabernet Franc, 17.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17.5% Merlot. The 23 Camels wines from this winery are aimed primarily at the restaurant trade, as wine by the glass. A 19.5 litre keg of this wine sells for $399. Aged only six months in oak, this wine is all about showing off its brambly fruit, with flavours of cherry, spice and pepper. The soft tannins make it an easy quaffer. 88.

Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2010 ($24.99 for 136 cases). This wine has an impressive awards list, including a double gold at the All Canadian Wine Championships and gold at the Los Angeles Wine Competition. The wine begins with dramatic aromas of blackberry and vanilla, leading to flavours of black cherry, blackberry, chocolate and pepper. Give this time to breathe: the texture becomes generous and satisfying. 90.

Fort Berens Meritage 2010 ($26.99 for 475 cases).  This wine scored a gold and best of class at the Pacific Rim Wine Competition, among other awards. It is 65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. It has aromas and flavours of black currants, blackberries, spice and vanilla. To get the best from this wine, either decant it or cellar it a few years. On decanting, it opened to a rich and satisfying texture. 90.


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