The GOODS from Fort Berens Winery
Lillooet, BC | The weather is heating up, the sun is shining and the season is off to a great start for Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet. With some major milestones behind them, including the groundbreaking of their new winery in the fall and winning White Wine of the Year at Cornucopia in November, the team is bursting with excitement as spring blossoms. For Fort Berens, this spring brings new growth to their team, the blossoming of their winery construction project and a bountiful spring release of their favourite and new varietals.
Rolf de Bruin, founder and one of the owners of Fort Berens, announced, “We are absolutely delighted to welcome Megan de Villiers and Danny Hattingh to the Fort Berens team. Megan is our new Vineyard Manager and Danny is our new Winemaker. They are a couple in real life and also in the vineyard and cellar. They have worked together as a winery team for a number of years and join our team with experience from South Africa, the Southern Gulf Islands and the Okanagan. When Heleen and I met with Danny and Megan, we felt an immediate connection with them as we discovered that their journey was not unlike ours. We have all enjoyed many great adventures along the way. While our paths were different, those paths led all of us to Lillooet, and we are so pleased that Megan and Danny are joining us here.”
Megan and their dog Kimbra have already settled in Lillooet and Danny will be joining them in the next few weeks. Megan explained, “We feel like we are very compatible with Rolf, Heleen and the team. We are both ready for this next adventure and to begin exploring Lillooet. Geologically, this area is very different from other areas where we’ve worked, yet the climate is very similar, so we are excited to work in this new area and to see what we can create in this unique geographical pocket. We are both very passionate and motivated as we take on these new challenges in our careers.”
Given the growth that Fort Berens has seen in recent years and their future plans, Danny and Megan are well positioned to help Fort Berens meet their ambitious goals. Winery co-owner Heleen Pannekoek continued, “Hiring Danny and Megan, combined with the building of our new winery, are major steps forward. We have moved from purchasing Okanagan fruit to growing our own grapes. This year, we anticipate 75-80% of our wine will be made with estate grown grapes. In addition, all of our wine will be made in our own onsite cellar and bottled in our own facility.”
Rolf also provided an update on the winery construction process. “We are on track with the building of our new 9,500 square foot building which will include an 1,100 square foot tasting room, overlooking the vineyards with a gorgeous view of the mountains in the background. We anticipate opening the tasting room by the end of July, and we are already working on plans for an official grand opening celebration in September.”
After a few years of working at different wineries, Danny, who is eagerly anticipating the completion of the construction so he can begin making wine in this new state-of-the-art building, is also very excited to work with Megan again. He explained, “We both studied in the same school. We know and trust each other and we can communicate what we need from each other. It’s been said that wine is made in the vineyard and I truly believe this. I want to make wine from the vines and grapes that Megan tends to. We are on the same page and we take a real team approach to the way we grow grapes and make wine. Rolf and Heleen have an amazing vineyard and, along with the other owners, they have a very specific and well thought out plan for the future. There are an additional 20 acres on the Fort Berens property to be planted in the coming years, so we’ll be working hard to learn which varietals, clones and rootstocks are best suited to the area.”
Spring marks a key time of renewal for the team, as they release their latest vintage. Heleen beamed with excitement for their spring releases, “We have finished bottling and are extremely pleased to be launching our latest releases. Our last vintage of wines sold out early, so our shelves have been empty for some time. We are delighted to start showcasing our new vintages, which include our 23 Camels White 2013, 23 Camels Red 2012, Pinot Gris 2013, Riesling 2013 and Pinot Noir Rosé 2013. This vintage marks another important milestone for us, as all of our 2013 white releases are 100% estate grown for the first time in our history.”
“In addition, we continue to expand our portfolio, and we are happy to (re)introduce a new product, our Late Harvest Riesling 2013. This food friendly wine is a beautiful pre-dinner apéritif and it also pairs perfectly with dessert. Our enhanced product line means we now have a Fort Berens pairing for every course in a multi-course dinner.”
“All of the pieces of our plan are really coming together and we feel like we are in great shape going in to this key season. We are very pleased with our growing team, the progress on the construction of our new winery and our new releases. Our vineyard is in great shape and producing at full capacity, and we are ready and excited for the season”, explained Rolf. With everything in place for spring and the upcoming season, both on the team and in the wineshop, 2014 is looking to be an excellent year filled with important milestones for Fort Berens.
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. For more information, call 1.877.956.7768, visit www.FortBerens.ca, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
Owners, from left: Rolf de Bruin, Hugh Agro, John McConnell, Jason Neal, Heleen Pannekoek, Sean Harvey.
About Fort Berens Estate Winery
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 and Wines
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.
Reviews and Accolades
“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.