Sunday, November 4, 2018

Fort Berens releases six reserve wines

Photo: Fort Berens founders Rolf  de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek

The nine wines released this fall by Fort Berens Estate Winery include six reserves.

If memory serves, this is the largest proportion of reserves I have ever seen in a Fort Berens release. And these are wines that really merit that designation.

Fort Berens is the winery located in Lillooet, a recently approved sub-appellation that will appear on Fort Berens labels beginning with the 2019 vintage.

The number of reserve wines points to at least three conclusions. The red wines (and one white) are all from the 2016 vintage. The more 2016 reds I get to taste, the more I am impressed with the vintage. The wines usually as nicely balanced with fruit flavours that are bright and refreshing.

Secondly, the winery’s investment several years in a well-equipped winery is paying off. Danny Hattingh, the winery’s young South African winemaker, has excellent wine-making tools.

Thirdly, the vines are now well established in the estate vineyard. It is apparent that Lillooet can no longer be considered a trial region for vineyards, as was the case a decade ago when Dutch emigres Rolf  de Bruin and his wife, Heleen Pannekoek, decided to put make wine in this area when they were deterred the high cost of Okanagan land.

The 20-acre estate vineyard just outside Lillooet was planted in 2009. It produced its first crop in 2011 and is now in full production. Another 20 acres of vines are being planted this year and next, now the terroir has proven itself.

This spring, the winery planted four acres of Merlot and five acres of Cabernet Franc. In 2019, Fort Berens will plant a further two acres of Merlot along with two acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5 acres of Riesling and 1.5 acres of Grüner Veltliner. Over the next few years, an increasing number of Fort Berens wines will come from the estate vineyard.

The pioneering work of Fort Berens is now attracting other entrants to this region’s wine business.

Heleen Pannekoek, in a note with these releases, says: “There are now four additional vineyards in Lillooet, including Frugal Vineyard, Winches Spur Vineyard, Roshard Vineyard and Fraser Bench Vineyard. We are thrilled to work with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir grapes from these vineyards.”

And the news gets better. A project at the Texas Creek Ranch near Lillooet has recently received its winery license. The winery is called Cliff and Gorge Vineyards. It plans to open its tasting room next spring.

Here are notes on the latest Fort Berens wines.

Fort Berens Chardonnay Reserve 2016 ($25.99 for 187 cases). This wine – 80% of the grapes from Lillooet, 20% from the Similkameen - was fermented in barrel with indigenous yeasts. The wine begins with buttery and toasty aromas mingled with ripe apple. On the palate, the texture is rich and delivers flavours of orange and apple mingled with oak. The wine has a long, luscious finish. 92.

Fort Berens Riesling Reserve 2017 ($22.99 for 213 cases). The wine begins with aromas of lemon and raisin. It is rich on the palate, with layers of fruit flavours – citrus and ripe nectarine. The finish is off-dry but the sugar and acid is superbly balanced. The finish is persistent. 92.

Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2016 ($25.99 for 1,061 cases). This wine is 79% estate grown fruit, with the remainder from the Similkameen.  The wine begins with aromas of cherry and raspberry. The wine is lively on the palate and displays the classic brambleberry flavours of the varietal. 90.

Fort Berens Cabernet Franc Reserve 2016 ($31.99 for 350 cases). This wine is made with 70% estate-grown fruit, 30% from the Blind Creek Vineyard in the Similkameen.  This is a selection of the best barrels – with the wine being transferred under nitrogen to keep it away from air. It begins with aromas of cherry mingled with hints of spice and herbs. On the palate, the brambly flavours are framed by the polished texture. The finish is long. 92.

Fort Berens Pinot Noir 2016 ($25.99 for 810 cases). This wine was made with 74% estate-grown fruit; the remainder was from The Rise Vineyard in Vernon. The wine was aged nine months in French oak (30% new). It is a pretty wine with aromas of toasted oak, cherry and strawberry, echoed on the palate. The silky texture adds to the wine’s delicate charm. 90.

Fort Berens Pinot Noir Reserve 2016 ($29.99 for 131 cases). Made with fruit from the estate vineyard and The Rise in Vernon, this wine was made by placing 25% whole clusters at the bottom of the fermenter and covering them with crushed fruit. The objective was to extract more fruit aromas and flavours. The wine also was fermented with indigenous yeast and aged 12 months in French oak. The colour is deeper than the previous wine and the aromas of cherry and vanilla are more intense. The flavours are complex – cherry and ripe strawberry – with a lingering finish of sage and spice. 92.

Fort Berens Meritage 2016 ($25.99 for 1,302 cases). The blend is 76% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc, with 56% of the fruit from the estate vineyard and the rest from the Similkameen and the Okanagan. Some 20% of the bunches went whole into the fermenter, along with the stems. The remainder was destemmed and crushed. The technique is designed to accentuate the fruit and soften the acidity. The wine begins with aromas of blackberry and cherry, leading to flavours of  red fruit mingled subtly with toasty oak. 90.

Fort Berens Meritage Reserve 2016 ($31.99 for 350 cases). This is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc. The varietals were fermented separately and aged 10 months in oak, with the best lots being blended into this outstanding wine. It begins with aromas of black cherry, cassis and spice. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied, with flavours of black cherry, cassis and plum. The texture is polished and the finish persists. 92.

Fort Berens Red Gold 2016 ($44.99 for 173 cases). The wine also produced 174 magnums of this, its flagship red wine. This is a blend of 38% Cabernet Franc, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Merlot. The fruit is 46% from the estate vineyard, with the remainder from the Similkameen and the Okanagan. The wine was fermented in open-top French oak barrels, then aged a year in barrel and another year in bottle before release. The result is an elegant wine with a polished texture. It begins with aromas of black cherry, blackberry and plum which are echoed in the core of sweet fruit on the palate. There is a hint of sage and licorice on the finish. 93.


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