Our Ownership Team
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference”.
- Robert Frost
Fort Berens Estate Winery is a culmination of the dreams, vision and pioneering spirit of several entrepreneurs. It was founded with a pioneering spirit and forged on the road less traveled. The winery is owned by a team of eight individuals who share a common belief in the incredible winemaking potential of British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon and a shared vision to make Fort Berens into one of Canada’s leading producers of fine wine.
Founding partners Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek initiated the venture in 2005 with a search for suitable land and a dream that was to become Fort Berens. The pair emigrated from Holland and settled in Lillooet, British Columbia, with their young family in 2009 to establish Lillooet’s first commercial vineyard.
Soon after planting the vineyard, Rolf and Heleen welcomed retired executive, Hugh Agro, corporate director, Sean Harvey, investment banker, Jason Neal, and mining executive John McConnell into the business. These four new partners helped to purchase the estate’s 65-acre property, build a commercial scale winery and retail operation and execute on developing Fort Berens into the business that it is today. Investment banker, Dan Barnholden and mining executive Patrick Downey, later joined as the seventh and eighth partners.
Rolf de Bruin
Armed with 15 years of management consulting expertise and proven experience helping other businesses improve their performance, Rolf de Bruin pursued his own dreams to become an entrepreneur. With his wife Heleen, they moved from Holland to BC, eventually choosing Lillooet to plant and grow their own dreams, in the form of a vineyard and winery. A hiker, a camper and an outdoor enthusiast, Rolf is passionate about the Lillooet terroir and the connection to the land with the wine, the wine to the people and the people to the land. On a day-to-day basis, Rolf helps lead the Fort Berens team by example and by inspiration. He also manages the sales and marketing for the business.
Raised in a family that nurtured her interest in fine wine and cuisine, Heleen has always been intrigued by exploring and seeking new adventures. With a 15-year background as a banker for small and medium-sized businesses, Heleen leveraged that expertise to pursue her own entrepreneurial dreams alongside her husband Rolf. Heleen helps lead the Fort Berens team on a day-to-day basis with both kindness and strength. She is the glue that keeps the team and the business together. She can be found working in the vineyard getting dirt under her fingernails, leading a winemaker’s dinner at a high-end restaurant or doing a tasting at the local liquor store.
Hugh first visited Lillooet more than twenty years ago and although he has lived and worked in many places around the world since then, he always finds his way back to Canada's "hot spot". Hugh met Rolf and Heleen when Fort Berens was just getting off the ground. A like-minded pioneer by nature and an early backer of several new business ventures in the past, Hugh joined with the founders to fund and help build the business. Hugh is a big believer in Lillooet’s long-term agri-tourism potential and is Fort Berens’ largest shareholder. His passion for making Fort Berens a success is matched only by his love of Lillooet’s striking scenery, desert-like climate and gentle pine-scented breezes.
Sean's passion for wine is legendary on Bay Street where he made his reputation as a formidable investment banker, mining executive and corporate director. A world traveler, Sean thrives on lively conversation and roars of laughter. Whether in the boardroom or on the dock enjoying a fine glass of wine, Sean calls them as he sees them.
Jason resides in Toronto where he is Co-Head of BMO Capital Markets’ Metals and Mining practice. A strategic thinker and highly sought after investment banking professional, Jason has been at the forefront of some of the global mining industry's defining merger transactions. A keen supporter since first becoming involved, Jason brings to Fort Berens his business acumen and a special fondness for our reds.
If it weren't for his day job as the President and CEO of Victoria Gold Corp., John might very well be found pruning the vines and harvesting grapes at Fort Berens! A mining engineer by training, John has spent a good deal of his career living and working in the remote north. Today John resides in the Yukon but he has a special warmth and appreciation for the community of Lillooet and the fine people that craft our wines.
Dan's family roots in BC’s interior trace back several generations and include family in Lillooet. A recent addition to Fort Berens' ownership team, Dan resides in Vancouver where he heads up National Bank's Metals and Mining practice. A good friend and long-time business associate of several of the owners, Dan’s personal integrity and high standards of performance set the bar high for Fort Berens’ next phase of growth.
Paddy’s quick wit and boisterous spirit make for lively times at the winery when this owner is in the house! Another recent addition to Fort Berens’ ownership team, Patrick resides in Vancouver and has had a long and successful career in the global mining industry. Welcomed for his comradery and infectious energy, Fort Berens’ guests and patrons can expect to see a lot of Patrick at the winery in Lillooet and in the nearby town of Whistler where he frequently skies and cycles.