Where is Fort Berens – Canada’s newest winery?

Henry & Stephanie Yuen 

Everybody knows Okanagan is BC’s wine country, a beautiful place where many vineyards, wineries and orchards are proud to call home. With its picturesque lakes, mountains, orchards and gorgeous wineries, it is no doubt a popular destination to visit.

Yet, popularity carries a price tag! Real estates up there are not stagnant anymore, regardless whether it is for residential developments or for commercial establishments. The same applies more so when it comes to growing vines and making wines. As a result, high property value and operational cost spiral higher and higher, making a lot of winery business models unjustifiable and even suffering due to the high capital investment and operational costs in real estate.

So what do you do when you have a strong vision, a feasible winery business plan that will work only but if you can lower your capital cost? You go somewhere else!

That’s what Fort Berens Estate Winery did – they go to Lillooet, BC!  Proves that moving away from the wine country Okanagan to a relatively unknown BC town and totally unheard of ‘wine’ area for vineyard and winery operations is a sound strategic decision! Similar to Vancouver Island, theFraser Valley and the Gulf Islands, there are other pockets of regions around BC with suitable vine-growing conditions. 

Ask Harry McWatters, BC’s wine pioneer who consults on the project, he will agree that when there’s a good business plan, great resources and willingness to put in as much effort as required, even Lillooet can become the next wine-making region! To Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek, the new arriving proprietors who took the first step towards putting Lillooet on BC’s wine map, it is a dream come true! Rolf and Heleen, a Dutch couple who came to BC to seek better living and to build a career with their vision to “create a sustainable winery that respects and honours the natural, historical and cultural heritage around us!” are the driving forces, the labourer and the founders of such daring attempt.

Traditionally a forestry town, Lillooet is a distance away from the Fraser Valley and Okanagan. However, the area is in the shadow of the coastal mountains so it enjoys similar semi-arid climate as Osoyoos in the Okanagan with various surrounding lakes providing the moisture for suitable grape growing condition.

Greeted by the whole town welcoming them with opened arms and sparkling eyes, For Berens Estate Winery started construction in 2008.  The winery produced its first vintages in 2011 from its 20 acres property.  The wines are true expressions of the unique terrior of Lillooet, the climate and their hardwork! Not known for growing grapes but rather melons, tomatoes and alfalfa, the soils and the climate are no doubt fit for vegetations, and now, a soon-to-be popular wine region, since the unique but encouraging conditions may well be the next big wine territory outside of the Okanagan.

You can sample their VQA 2011 Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir Rose from 100% BC grapes.  These are all great summer wines or meal starters that can create magical pairings with Raw oysters, Sushi rolls, Sashimi bites and other seafood dishes. For pairing Asian cuisine, the 2011 Riesling, with tropical and aromatic fruit notes, a spicy hint and mellow sips, pairs well Northern Chinese cold plates and S.E. Asian dishes.

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