Owners, from left: Rolf de Bruin, Hugh Agro, John McConnell, Jason Neal, Heleen Pannekoek, Sean Harvey. (not pictured: Dan Barnholden and Patrick Downey)
Fort Berens Estate Winery is the first winery in Lillooet, BC. It is located on a sage-brush covered bench at the base of the Fraser Canyon’s snow-capped mountains. It was established by Dutch immigrants, Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek. Rolf and Heleen embarked on the venture in 2005, when they left the Netherlands and shifted from corporate careers to living and working on a farm. With the founding of Fort Berens, Rolf and Heleen turned their lifelong dream of running a vineyard and winery into a reality.
In 2010 and 2011, the team was further strengthened when ownership of the winery was expanded by way of a major investment from Toronto and Vancouver-based mining and investment banking executives, Hugh Agro, Sean Harvey, John McConnell and Jason Neal.
Fort Berens is currently in the process of building a new 9,500 square foot winery, which will include a 1,100 square foot tasting room overlooking the vineyards with a gorgeous view of the mountains in the background. It has been designed to allow visitors to watch the winemaking process and see the internal workings of the winery through the windows as they approach the tasting room. The anticipated opening date is summer, 2014.
Our vineyard is located in the Fraser Canyon across the Fraser River from the town of Lillooet. While Lillooet is one of the “Hot Spots” in Canada, our average summer temperatures are slightly lower than the South Okanagan, because our night-time temperatures are lower. These cool nights are ideal as they allow the vines to rest before another hot day in the summer sunshine. The Cascade Mountains to the west keep rain and clouds away, ensuring that the vines receive plenty of sunshine.
In May 2009 we planted 20 acres with six varietals: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. After careful consideration, we have chosen various rootstocks and clones to ensure early ripening and increase the complexity of our wines. We strive to craft a portfolio of balanced and distinctive wines that are pure and reflect the unique terroir of this new region and the spirit of our winemaker.
We are pioneers and explorers. We are helping to break ground for the growing wine region in Lillooet. We invite our guests to join us and explore the land with us and experience the thrill of discovery. From the first taste of a new vintage to walking the vineyard with the winemaker, we invite our guests to be a part of the discovery. In every journey there are many explorations, but only one first step.
“At just over 50 degrees latitude, Fort Berens, in Lillooet, sits at the northern limit of the wine-grape belt. But it’s blessed with clearer skies and drier air than pretty much any other wine district at that boundary. Owners Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek had been sourcing chardonnay from the Okanagan to supplement their estate fruit because it takes time for vines to yield much quality fruit. This is their first 100-per-cent all-estate chardonnay. Remarkable, too. Full-bodied and mellow, it shows surprisingly ripe pineapple and stone-fruit flavours, with a buttery texture enlivened by bright acidity. If this were made in California, it would easily fetch twice the price. 90 points.” – Beppi Crosariol, The Globe and Mail, September 17, 2013 on our 2012 Chardonnay
“The latest FB Meritage is another step up the notch for winemaker Rolf de Bruin and puts a spotlight on the Lillooet meso-climate. There is a freshness and balance to this wine that I like and with 65 percent merlot some built in drinkability and softness that has appeal. The nose and palate mix black fruits, with a savoury edge but all in all a ripeness plus acidity and smoothness that makes it food friendly. Well done and fair value. 88 points.” – Anthony Gismondi, Gismondi on Wine, January 12, 2013 on our 2010 Meritage.
“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 points.” – John Schreiner, John Schreiner on Wine, October 19, 2013 on our 2011 Meritage.