Photo: Entrance at Fort Berens Estate Winery
The Fort Berens Estate Winery arguably is one of the most
important developments for the sleepy town of Lillooet since 23 camels arrived in
1862 as pack animals during the Cariboo gold rush.
That did not end too well. Smelly and bad-tempered, the
camels spooked the other animals and were finally abandoned by their owner.
The episode was not forgotten. When a bridge was built
across the Fraser River in 1981, it was called the Bridge of the 23 Camels. And
soon after Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek founded the winery in 2008, they
named two of their blends 23 Camels.
That recalls a time when Lillooet, with a population of
15,000, was the second-largest settlement north of San Francisco. While those
glory days vanished when the gold was exhausted, the development of winegrowing
here has definitely breathed life into the town.
The first, and still the only winery in Lillooet, Fort
Berens has become a thriving business. The modern winery built several years
ago includes an excellent restaurant. The food and the wines have begun to turn
Lillooet into a destination for wine lovers who like to explore off the beaten
path. The chef sources much of his food from local farms, surely a boon to the
In this vintage, Fort Berens plans to produce about, 9,000
cases of wine. At full capacity, the winery can make 12,000 cases a year. The
20-acre vineyard, planted in 2009, is now well-established. There are plans to
plant another 20 acres in a few years.
The winery is also extending its portfolio. This fall, an
ultra-premium blend called Red Gold will be released, a partner to the
ultra-premium Chardonnay called White Gold.
As well, the winery has made trial wines with grapes from
its 25 Grüner Veltliner vines. The two and a half cases made in 2014 show this white
variety has considerable promise.
Here are notes on recent releases from Fort Berens.
Fort Berens Riesling
($16.99 for 1,184 cases). This estate-grown Riesling is refreshing,
with aromas of and flavours of lime. A long, cool ferment preserved the fruity
flavours while an excellent balancing of the residual sugar against brisk
acidity led to a zesty finish. 91.
Fort Berens Pinot
($16.99 for 614 cases). A small portion of this wine was
fermented in neutral oak and put through malolactic fermentation to add a
fleshy texture and complexity to the wine. This begins with citrus aromas
leading to flavours of apples and peaches. There is a hint of anise on the
finish of this generous wine. 91.
Fort Berens White
($25.99 for 213 cases). This full-bodied Chardonnay is made with
grapes from the Similkameen Valley. The wine was fermented and aged 10 months
in older barrels. It has buttery citrus flavours reminiscent of fine marmalade.
Fort Berens Grüner
(not released). This is a delicious white with a core of tropical
fruit flavours that linger on the palate. The texture is full but the finish is
Fort Berens Rosé 2015
($17.99 for 352 cases). This is 56% Pinot Noir and 44% Merlot fermented
primarily in stainless steel (a small proportion was fermented in neutral barrels).
Juicy in texture, the wine has aromas
and flavours of strawberry and pomegranate. The wine is balanced to finish dry
but the tiniest hint of sweetness. 90.
Fort Berens Cabernet
($24.99 for 1,045 cases). This begins with a glorious aroma of red
berries mingled with chocolate. On the palate, there are flavours of black
cherry, black currant and blackberry. 90.
Fort Berens Meritage
($23.99 for 1,246 cases). This is 60% Merlot and 20% each of Cabernet
Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The wine has rich, even earthy flavours of black
currant, black cherry and chocolate, with a hint of vanilla. 91.