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Lillooet, B.C.’s first winery, Fort Berens, continues to turn out some delicious wines as its ramps up production

Megan de Villiers and Danny Hattingh

Fort Berens Estate Winery, established in 2009, is the first winery established in Lillooet, B.C., located on a sage-brush covered bench at the base of the Fraser Canyon’s snow-capped mountains.

It has quickly established itself as a quality wine producer with a diverse and interesting portfolio of wines. And with the release of its spring lineup comes news of two major developments at Fort Berens.

First, the construction of a 9,500-square foot winery (photo below) is well underway. The tasting room is expected to open in July.

“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, Fort Berens co-proprietor Rolf de Bruin said. “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.”

The winery will be ready to process the 2014 vintage, when about three-quarters of the grapes are expected to come from the winery’s Lillooet vineyard, now reaching full production.

Fort Berens Winery Construction

Secondly, the winery has now recruited a resident winemaker and vineyard manager team, Danny Hattingh and his partner, Megan de Villiers (pictured top), a pair of 30-year-old South Africans previously working in the Okanagan.

Since its initial 2009 vintage, Fort Berens has had its wines made primarily by consultants in various Okanagan wineries. The 2013 vintage was made at the Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland by Matt Dumayne. The 2012 vintage was made at the Township 7 winery near Penticton by James Cambridge (now the winemaker at Backyard Vineyards in the Fraser Valley).

“We are very excited now to finally be able to make our wines on site in our own facility,” de Bruin said. “With Megan and Danny’s input, we have high expectations for the next vintages.”

De Villiers said the couple is looking forward to the challenges ahead.

“We are both ready for this next adventure and to begin exploring Lillooet,” she said. “Geologically, this area is very different from other areas where we have worked, yet the climate is very similar. 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.”

It is interesting to note, the newly released whites from Fort Berens all are made with estate-grown grapes for the first time.

Here’s what I liked from the new releases:

ft berens white

Fort Berens 23 Camels White 2013 ($17, 88 points) — Made from estate grapes grown in Lillooet, this is a blend of 46% Riesling, 42% Chardonnay and 12% Pinot Gris. The nose shows guava, pineapple, apple crisp and spice notes. The fresh apple fruit on the palate is joined by citrus, lychee and orange peel. A unique blend made in a perfectly dry style.

Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2013 ($18, 91 points) — What a beauty! Aromas of ripe melon and orchard fruits that is fresh and inviting. In the mouth look for juicy nectarine, pear, peach and melon. Like a bowl of summer fruit in the glass.

Fort Berens Riesling 2013 ($18, 88 points) — The nose shows crips apple, citrus, Mandarin orange and racy lime and mineral notes. The palate reveals honeydew, peaches and citrus with a touch of honey and balanced out by fairly good acidity.

23 camels

Fort Berens Late Harvest Riesling 2013 ($25 for 375 ml, 92 points) — Sourced from the estate’s five-acre Riesling block, this is the first desert wine from Fort Berens. I love the nose of sweet summer peach, apricot, poached pear and mango. It’s made with an incredible 56 g/l of residual sugar but the high acids help maintain good balance. It shows lovely tropical fruits that exhibit both richness and vibrancy. Simply delicious desert-style semi-sweety to be enjoyed with cheese, pate or old fashioned apple pie.

ft late harvest

Fort Berens Pinot Noir Rosé 2013 ($18, 88 points) — The nose is exciting with wild raspberry, strawberry and cherry notes. It’s fresh and vibrant in the mouth with an array of red fruits made in a dry style.

Fort Berens 23 Camels Red 2012 ($22, 88 points) — A blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, the nose shows savoury/spicy aromas to go with cherry-raspberry fruits. It’s smooth and friendly on the palate with black cherry, pepper, herbs and toasty-spicy notes on the finish.