Setting up fort in BC’s newest wine growing region

Fort Berens Estate Winery Establishes Canada’s Newest Wine Region in “Canada’s Hot Spot” Lillooet, BC with New Release

Fort Berens Estate Winery Ltd is excited to release its first wines handcrafted with grapes grown on their 20 acres of estate vineyards in Lillooet, British Columbia. Situated in “Canada’s Hot Spot”, Lillooet is one of the last uncharted wine regions in the province, with average summer daytime temperatures slightly warmer than the South Okanagan. The first winery in the area, Fort Berens is housed in a rustic farm building. As the vineyard matures, there are plans to build a new, gravity-flow winery overlooking the vineyard and Lillooet’s spectacular mountains and rivers. Fort Berens’ vision is to create a sustainable winery that respects and honours the region’s natural, historical and cultural heritage.

One hundred and fifty years ago the Hudson’s Bay Company began construction of Fort Berens on a sage-brush covered bench on the Fraser River at Lillooet, British Columbia. This trading fort was to serve the thousands of prospectors who flocked to the region in search of gold. The fort was never completed and the fertile river bench was used instead for growing crops. Located in the magnificent Fraser Canyon, that historic site is now home to Fort Berens Estate Winery, Lillooet’s first winery and vineyard.

Fort Berens Estate Winery was established by Dutch immigrants, Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek. Rolf and Heleen embarked on the venture in 2008, when they left the Netherlands and shifted from corporate careers to living and working on a farm. With funding from a private group of Canadian gold mining executives, Rolf and Heleen turned their lifelong dream of running a vineyard and winery into a reality. “Like the explorers who came before us, we saw a potential gem for the area with our fledgling winery, and, similar to prospecting for gold, sometimes you just have to take a chance,” said Rolf de Bruin. “We believe quality wines are made in the vineyard first and these inaugural estate vintages express the unique terroir and spectacular beauty of the Fraser Canyon.”

“I am excited about the prospect of Canada’s newest viticulture region. I recommended Lillooet to Rolf and Heleen for vinifera grape cultivation due to a unique combination — affordable agricultural land, an abundance of sunshine with some of the highest heat units in British Columbia, and four distinct seasons. The climate makes for wines with wonderful character, reflective of the heritage of this region,” said Harry McWatters, Vintage Consulting.

The 2011 harvest was the winery’s first vintage produced with estate grown grapes. Fort Berens harvested approximately 16 tons this past year, including Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. The winery is transitioning from Okanagan sourced grapes to estate fruit with the 2011 vintage about 40% estate grown and the 2012 vintage likely to be approximately two-thirds estate grown. Winemaker Bill Pierson’s “less is more” approach in the cellar helped to preserve the unique regional characteristics of the grapes in the wine. The 2011 vintage was partially made on site in Fort Berens’ rustic winery as well as at a winery in Naramata. Expansion planned for in the near future will enable the winery to craft all wine onsite.

The estate grown wines were released at a private media tasting today in Vancouver’s Cork & Fin restaurant in Gastown. The historic building which houses the restaurant is one of the city’s oldest, and was, in Gold Rush days, a hotel where many prospectors stayed while in transit up to British Columbia’s gold country.

The Fort Berens Riesling 2011 has lychee and apple aromas, followed by exotic spices on the palate. A dry Riesling, it has just a touch of residual sugar with bright acidity. Try it with Asian-influenced foods as well as exotic North African or Middle Eastern dishes. The estate grown Pinot Noir Rosé 2011 is crafted in a dry, crisp European style with aromas of strawberry preserves and fresh cherries. Teasing tastes of candied apple provide the right balance of sweet and tart. Suggested food pairings are salmon, charcuterie, or pork dishes. Both wines are priced at $17.99 and are available at the winery, specialty wine stores, restaurants and online at

Already achieving early success, the winery has crafted many medal-winning wines from its small lot production. In addition to numerous silver and bronze medals, Fort Berens’ 2010 Chardonnay and Meritage 2008 won gold medals at the New World International Wine Competition, where they were the top ranking Chardonnay and Meritage from Canada. Last Friday, the estate grown 2011 Riesling was awarded a gold medal and chosen Best of Class at the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition.