Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fort Berens begins new Lillooet winery

Fort Berens Estate Winery owners Rolf de Bruin, Heleen Pannekoek

On releasing these wines last month, Rolf de Bruin, a co-proprietor of Fort Berens, also announced that construction of a new winery was starting beside the Fort Berens vineyard in Lillooet.

By the fall of 2014, the winery will be able to move all of its processing to Lillooet. During the previous five years, Fort Berens has done most – but not all – of its wines at various Okanagan wineries. It has outgrown the modest processing facility it now has.

In his note, Rolf says: “The new winery will feature a stunning tasting room, underground cellars for barrel aging, and a fermentation room to allow for gentle handling of our wines. We’ll also have facilities to serve outdoor lunch and cater events and weddings.”

The architecturally-designed building sounds like an excellent addition to the tourist infrastructure at Lillooet.

Rolf and his wife, Heleen Pannekoek immigrated from Holland in 2008, trading an urban lifestyle in banking and finance for wine growing. When they found that Okanagan land prices were too high, they decided to pioneer commercial winemaking at Lillooet. There is no question that the Lillooet summers will ripen grapes. The Lillooet winters are a risk but the Fort Berens vineyard has, for the most part, been able to thrive. The more established the vines become, the better their choice looks.

It probably is only a matter of time before other wineries are opened in this region. Rolf says that Fort Berens continues “to look for opportunities to work with local famers to establish more vineyards in our region.”

As well, Fort Berens is considering joining a market initiative involving the new Kamloops and Shuswap wineries to draw wine tourists away from the beaten path.

Here are notes on the wine.

Fort Berens Chardonnay 2012 ($18.99 for 275 cases). This is the first Chardonnay winery’s Lillooet vineyard. There is no question about Lillooet’s ability to ripen fruit. These grapes were picked on September 20 at 23 Brix, which translates to 14.1% alcohol. About 30% was fermented in French oak; and a third was aged nine months in French oak. The result is a complex wine that showcases the vineyard’s ability to produce appealing fruit flavours. The wine begins with citrus aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of apple, pineapple and orange peel. The vibrant but well balanced acidity makes this a lively, refreshing, medium-bodied Chardonnay. 90.

Fort Berens Pinot Noir 2011 ($24.99 for 65 cases). The grapes for this wine came from the first harvest of Pinot Noir in the winery’s Lillooet vineyard. The yield was extremely low (about one ton of grapes per acre). As a result, the wine is dark in hue, with dramatic aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry, accented with vanilla from 15 months aging in oak. There is a hint of clove on the finish. The texture is the classically silken texture of fine Pinot Noir. This wine has been offered exclusively to the winery’s Discovery Wine Club. This is a good reason for joining. 90.

Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2011 ($25.99 for 251 cases). Two-thirds of the grapes in this wine were grown in the Lillooet vineyard; the remainder came from Black Sage Road. This is a wine with vibrant red berry aromas and flavours – blackberry, raspberry, cherry. The bright acidity adds to the brambly flavours and the rustic personality. 88.

Fort Berens Meritage 2011 $27.99 for 743 cases). This is a blend of Lillooet grapes and fruit from the Sundial Vineyard on Black Sage Road. The wine is 47% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Cabernet Franc. It was aged 12 months in French and American oak barrels and another six months in bottle before release. Dark in colour, it begins with an appealing aroma of black cherry, black currant and vanilla.  On the palate, the wine’s long ripe tannins give it a generous  richness. The flavours echo the aroma with added touches of chocolate and spice. 91.


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