Photo: Fort Berens winery in Lillooet
The release of its 2014 vintage wines is a landmark for Fort
Berens Estate Winery: all the wines are from its vineyard in Lillooet.
Berens, of course, is the
first and only winery (so far) in Lillooet.
The winery was opened in 2009 by two Dutch immigrants, Rolf de Bruin and
Heleen Pannekoek. They established the brand with wines made from Okanagan
grapes, and made for the most part in Okanagan wineries.
The 20-acre vineyard was planted in 2009, produced its first
crop in 2011 and is now close to full production. Another 20 acres of vines are
being, or will be, planted now that the terroir has proven itself.
The wines are all made at Lillooet now. In the fall of 2013,
Fort Berens opened a 9,500 square-foot winery
that includes an elegant tasting room. It is safe to say this is the grandest
structure in Lillooet. It is situated on the site of an 1850s Hudson’s Bay trading post from which the
winery draws its name.
The winery is marking the release of all-Lillooet grown
wines with a six-week long contest. Contestants can enter between April 17 and
May 31 at www.fortberens.ca or on the winery’s Facebook page. There will
be weekly draws for winery prize package, leading to a grand prize valued at
$1,000. The prize includes a winery dinner for four in the Fort Berens
cellar with the winemaker. As well, the winner gets a year’s membership in the Fort Berens
For those who can’t make the drive to Lillooet, the Fort Berens
wines are widely available in wine shops and restaurants.
One thing struck me when I read the specifications for these
wines. The alcohol content of every wine is significantly more moderate (11% to
12.9%) than those of Okanagan wines. But the wines are not short of flavour. It
seems that grapes ripen adequately during Lillooet’s blistering summers.
Here are notes on the current releases.
Fort Berens Riesling 2014 ($15.99 for 1,145
cases). The wine begins with aromas of grapefruit and apples, leading to
flavours of lime, apples and stone fruits, with a mineral backbone. The wine is
exquisitely balanced so that it finishes dry. However, the 18 grams of residual
sugar gives a lift both to the flavours and aroma and adds to a lingering
finish. There is only 11% alcohol, so the wine is easy to drink. 90.
Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2014 ($15.99 for 1,016
cases). This wine begins with delicate aromas of citrus, apples and spice. The
flavours are expressively fruity, with notes of pear and fresh apple. A good
spine of minerality adds to the backbone of this dry wine. Buy a few bottles and let some rest until
summer when the flavours and aromas will be even more expressive. 89.
Fort Berens Chardonnay 2014 ($17.99 for 966
cases). This wine was bottled a month ago and is not yet released. There is a
very good wine here, beginning with subtle aromas of oak, vanilla, coconut and
citrus. On the palate there are flavours of citrus and apple, along with a
buttery note. The texture is rich, the wine having benefitted from 20% being
fermented in barrel. Some 15% spent six months in French oak. The wine has good
acidity that will enable this wine to age well, probably peaking in three
Fort Berens White Gold 2013 ($21.90 for 152
cases). This is the name Fort
Berens gives to the best
of its estate-grown Chardonnay. The wine was fermented and aged in French oak
barrels. Only half the wine was allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation. The
finished blend shows the buttery notes of ML but still has abundant fruit
flavours and acidity. The aroma is rich and buttery, with notes of orange peel.
On the palate, there are flavours of baked apple, tangerine, nuts and spice.
The texture is generous and satisfying, giving way to a long finish. 91.
Fort Berens Pinot Noir Rosé 2014 ($15.99 for 362
cases). The wine gets its lovely salmon pink hue from having had 48 hours skin
contact. The wine has aromas of strawberries and raspberries, leading to
flavours of raspberry and cranberry. There is an elusive note of earthiness on
the crisp finish. The wine is dry. 87-88.
Fort Berens Late Harvest Riesling 2014 ($17.99 for
390 cases of 375 ml bottles). Here is a delight. Aromas of lime, lemon and
apricot just roar from the glass, setting you for an explosion of tropical
flavours. This wine, with just eight per cent alcohol, has 75.7 grams of
residual sweetness but this is nicely balanced with the acidity needed to give
the wine a finish that is clean and refreshing. With a year or two of bottle
age, the delicate honey notes just hinted at now will develop nicely. 92.