Fort Berens Estate Winery Riesling Wins Best White Wine at Pacific Rim Wine Competition
Riesling 2018 GOLD – Best in Class & Best White Pacific Rim Wine Competition 2019 Riesling Reserve 2017 GOLD – National Wine Awards 2018 Riesling 2017 GOLD – British Columbia Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards 2018 Riesling 2016 GOLD – Los Angeles International Wine Competition 2017 GOLD – Pacific Rim Wine Competition 2017 Dry Riesling 2016 GOLD – Los Angeles International Wine Competition 2017 GOLD – Pacific Rim Wine Competition 2017 Riesling 2015 Double Gold - San Francisco International Wine Competition 2016 Riesling 2013 GOLD – Pacific Rim Wine Competition 2014 Riesling 2012 LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR’S AWARD for Excellence in British Columbia Wines, 2014 GOLD & BEST IN CLASS (91 points) – Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition 2013 Riesling 2011 GOLD and BEST IN CLASS – Pacific Rim Wine Competition 2012] LILLOOET, BC – The Riesling 2018 from Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet has just received top honours. It was named Best White Wine at the 2019 Pacific Rim Wine Competition. After winning Best in Class for the Riesling category, it went on to be awarded the Best White Wine in the entire competition.
Rolf de Bruin, co-founder and co-owner of Fort Berens shared, “We are honoured and humbled to see our Riesling recognized with this outstanding award from such a prestigious international wine competition. We could not be more proud that this Lillooet Riesling was judged to be the top of its class in this international wine competition. In addition to the Best White Wine award for the Riesling 2018, we were also awarded a Double Gold for the 2018 Riesling Reserve at this competition.”
Since 1985, the Pacific Rim Wine Competition has held a two-day, blind-tasting event with an esteemed panel of international judges representing all aspects of the wine industry. The judges evaluate the wines and award medals accordingly. This competition celebrates high-quality wines of all styles, from all regions of the world. The 2019 competition featured 1,000 wines from wineries around the world.
While there were many Canadian wineries that received a variety of medals in the competition, the Fort Berens Riesling 2018 was the only Canadian wine to be included in the list of the top 5 wines of the competition.
Rolf explained, “As the first winery in Lillooet, we see it as our duty to showcase the region and our unique terroir. From early days, we knew that the Riesling grape was able to express the Lillooet terroir. Our 2012 Riesling won the very prestigious 2014 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in British Columbia Wines. Since that time, our Rieslings have been awarded numerous prizes along the way. See the sidebar for a list of all Gold medals awarded to Fort Berens Riesling. These outstanding results reaffirm that Riesling is one of the signature grapes for our winery and the Lillooet region. The region experiences huge diurnal variations during late summer and early fall. These swings from high daytime temperatures to cool nights preserve the fresh fruit qualities of our grapes. The retained acidity allows for superb balancing of residual sugar at a number of different points, whether the wine is dry, off-dry or medium sweet. The versatility of the Riesling grape combined with the excellent growing conditions in Lillooet, create an award-winning combination.”
Fort Berens was awarded a number of medals at the 2019 Pacific Rim Wine Competition, including:
Riesling 2018 – Gold, Best in Class, Best White Wine
Riesling Reserve 2018 – Double Gold
Rosé 2018 – Double Gold
Cabernet Franc Reserve 2016 – Gold
Chardonnay 2017 – Silver
Pinot Gris 2018 – Bronze
Pinot Noir 2016 – Bronze
Fort Berens wines are available for sale at the winery, online, and at fine liquor stores and restaurants around BC.
For the full list of winners visit: http://pacificrimwinecomp.com/pacific-rim-wine-competition-results/
Fort Berens Estate Winery is a culmination of the dreams, vision and pioneering spirit of several entrepreneurs – Heleen Pannekoek, Rolf de Bruin, Hugh Agro, Sean Harvey, Jason Neal, John McConnell, Tara Christie, Raymond Rae, Joseph Neal, Dan Barnholden and Patrick & Caroline Downey. The owners of Fort Berens share a common belief in the incredible winemaking potential of the area and a shared vision to make Fort Berens into one of Canada’s leading producers of fine wine. With its vineyards on sagebrush covered benchland along the Fraser River at the base of towering mountains, Fort Berens embraces the spirit of Lillooet. Discover Fort Berens Estate Winery, Lillooet’s first winery, in BC’s newest wine region and explore 150 years of pioneering spirit. For more information, call 1.877.956.7768, visit www.FortBerens.ca, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
2018 started off well. We had a mild winter, so there was not a lot of bud damage. We had a normal start to the growing season; it wasn’t particularly early or exceptionally late. Warm weather in April accelerated the vine development and the buds began swelling. By the end of April, after multiple days of 25-degree weather, all our varieties had experienced bud break.
The heat and sun continued in May, which the vines loved. By May 17th, the shoots were growing rapidly and we could see the formation of flowers. We started to see bloom a little earlier than normal, on June 2nd, which was followed by hot weather. We had near optimal conditions during bloom, which meant bunch formation was very good. We had a little spot of rain on June 13th, which was the first rain we had had since April. The heat continued through June and July. As we had in the previous two summers, there was smoke from BC wildfires that stuck around for a part of the summer. The smoke caused reduced temperatures in the hottest summer months and as a result, the development of the grapes slowed down a bit.
We were anticipating a larger yield, and so in July, we started to thin the vines and dropped 45-50% of the grape clusters onto the ground. We did this to ensure that the remaining grapes were of the highest quality. Before veraison, in late July, we had a lot of rain which caused the berries to swell and the bunches to add weight and we ended the growing season with higher yields than normal.
Harvest started on September 12th, which is a normal start date for us in Lillooet. Chardonnay and Pinot Gris were the first varieties to be picked. Although we were surprised with an early snowfall in the vineyard on October 2nd, harvest continued as normal. We finished picking on November 2nd.
In addition to managing the ongoing summer smoke and fires, the greatest challenges we faced in our 2018 vintage related to the higher yield. Having more grapes meant a lot more work through every stage of the process. Our team met the challenge with long work weeks. Because of the higher yield, we also had space and capacity issues to manage in the winery, as barrels and tank space became tight.
Thanks to our wonderful growers in the Lillooet-Lytton region, as well as the Okanagan and Similkameen, our 2018 vintage turned out to be our largest ever.
Our 2018 vintage wines are beautifully balanced, lovely and fresh. We’ll see the return of our Dry Riesling this year, along with our Classic Riesling and Reserve Riesling. All our Rieslings are fruit forward, lively, and zesty on the palate. The Pinot Gris is also fruit forward, clean and very approachable. The Rosé is again a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes. Fans of this wine will be happy to know that we produced more Rosé this year, so hopefully we’ll have enough of this wine to make it through the summer. This year, we’ve added a Rosé that we made exclusively for Everything Wine, called “Rosé - Orange Edition”, which contains Pinot Noir, Gamay and Muscat. The Chardonnay is still in tank and barrels and is promising to be fantastic. Danny said it’s some of the best wine he’s ever made. The reds are patiently ripening in barrels and will be bottled in August.
We are proud of the wines in our 2018 vintage. Everyone on the team worked incredibly hard to produce these wines and we can’t wait to share them with you. These wines are special for another reason. They also mark the last wines that Danny and Megan will make with us. After five wonderful vintages, our talented winemaking and vineyard management duo decided they were ready to travel and explore. Megan stayed with us until the last grapes were harvested, and Danny remained until the white wine was bottled. We are thankful to both Danny and Megan for their contributions to our team, our winery, and to our wine region. While we are so grateful to them for producing such amazing wines over the years, they are also very thankful to every one of you that enjoyed these wines. They loved making wines for you, and they appreciated the feedback you provided to them. We wish them all the very best as they embark on their new adventures.
And speaking of new adventures, in addition to a fabulous vintage, 2018 was a milestone year for other reasons as well. We planted 4 acres of Merlot and 5 acres of Cabernet Franc in our new Red Rock Vineyard. We congratulated our friends Jodi and Keith as Fraser Bench Vineyard celebrated their first year in full production. We proudly celebrated Lillooet grape growing legends Doug and Christ’l Roshard, as this year marked the first year that we used some of their grapes in our wine. We saw continued growth and success at Frugal Vineyards and Winches Spur Vineyard in Lytton. In addition, we are proud that we now have a second licensed winery in Lillooet. Cliff & Gorge, located on the majestic Texas Creek Ranch, will open the doors to its tasting room in 2019. It seems very fitting then, with all the growth in both grape growing and winemaking in Lillooet, that 2018 also marked the year that Lillooet was officially marked on the map, receiving our very own Lillooet VQA designation.
There is much to celebrate from 2018 and beyond. Looking ahead to 2019, we’ll be celebrating our 10th year in business. To mark this major milestone, we have a special 10th Anniversary project on the go. All we can say at this point is that we are making something very special to celebrate our 10th anniversary and the Lillooet grape-growing region. Stay tuned for more details.
Fort Berens Reserve Wine Pairings
At Fort Berens, we offer a wide range of wines each with a distinct style. Over the years, we have been able to cultivate and refine our approaches in the vineyard and cellar and have expanded our collection to include a full series of small lot, ultra premium reserve wines which express the unique terroir of our region. We have currated for you here a quick reference to some food pairing suggestions that we think would work wonderfully with these wines.
Chardonnay Reserve (White Gold)
Wine style: dry, crisp, with juicy acidity, fruit forward, medium body, oaked
Food pairings: Enjoy with a stuffed roast chicken, potatoes au gratin, or for the ultimate luxury, lobster.
Wine style: off-dry, crisp, with higher acidity and minerality, fruit forward, concentrated, medium body
Food pairings: Enjoy the Riesling Reserve with spicy Pad Thai, cheese fondue, or a rich and creamy Alfredo sauce over linguine.
Wine style: rich, velvety, full bodied, long and intense finish, plush tannins
Food pairings: Red Gold is the perfect wine to pair with your finest cuts of beef or big game. Enjoy this bold wine with a well-marbeled porterhouse steak or hearty moose stew.
Pinot Noir Reserve
Wine style: concentrated, savoury earthy flavours, bright cherry fruit, elegant, long finish
Food pairings: While a fireplace is not required, it is certainly recommended while enjoying this wine paired with a fire-roasted tomato lentil stew, grilled salmon, or roasted duck.
Cabernet Franc Reserve
Wine style: opulent blueberry and blackberry aromas, purple floral perfume, medium body, ripe tannins, long finish
Food pairings: This wine pairs beautifully with lamb, duck, or tomato and basil pizza.
Wine style: Earthy, intensly structured, powerful, high acidity and tannins, boldy flavourful
Food pairings: Enjoy this wine with roasted lamb, spaghetti bolognese, or lasagna.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 21, 2018
LILLOOET, BC – The results are in and Lillooet’s Fort Berens Estate Winery has some new awards to add to their growing list. Fort Berens won four awards in the second annual Best of BC Wine Country 2018 awards.
The Best of BC Wine Country is a crowdsourced online survey curated by the BC Wine Institute, inviting the public to vote on their favourite BC wine experiences from a variety of "Best of" categories: Best of BC Wine; Best of BC Place; Best of BC Experience. Wine lovers voted for their favourites in each of the various BC wine regions, including the Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Vancouver Island, Gulf Island, Fraser Valley, and the new appellations (Thompson Valley, Lillooet, Shuswap and Kootenays).
As voted on by the public, the Best of BC Wine Country 2018 included the following regional awards for Fort Berens:
Fort Berens Estate Winery Riesling – Best BC White Wine
Fort Berens Estate Winery Rosé – Best BC Rosé Wine
Fort Berens Estate Winery – Best BC Winery Tasting Room
The Kitchen at Fort Berens – Best BC Winery Restaurant Showcasing Local Food
Rolf de Bruin, co-founder and co-owner of Fort Berens explained, "We were absolutely delighted to find out that we won these four Best of BC Wine Country awards. To have the support of our community in Lillooet and beyond vote for us means so much to our entire team. These awards show that we are meeting our goals of producing outstanding quality wine from Lillooet, providing an outstanding experience to our guests in the tasting room, and showcasing the incredible local food in our restaurant, The Kitchen at Fort Berens. As the first winery in Lillooet, we are so honoured to be able to showcase our emerging and growing wine region.”
Travel expert and best-selling author of Travel Best Bets, Claire Newell supported the awards on social media blogging, “Here in BC they are essentially the people’s choice awards of wine. Winners are voted on by tourists and locals – not wine experts making this a truly consumer-based award.”
"The results show authentic recommendations from the public on what to do and where to go for the best wine touring experiences throughout BC's diverse wine regions, and we are thrilled to share their choices!" notes Maggie Anderson Director of Communications and Content of the BC Wine Institute.
Click here for the full list of regional winners.
Wine Club and Event Coordinator (Maternity Leave Contract)
Fort Berens Estate Winery is looking for a customer-service oriented and hard-working individual to fill the role of Discovery Club & Event Coordinator. The Fort Berens Discovery Club is growing rapidly and the Coordinator is responsible for creating a premium club experience for our members.
The Discover Club Coordinator will be responsible for:
- Coordinating shipments including sending pre-shipment notifications, processing member requests and exceptions, creating collateral inserts and packaging of the shipment
- Organizing member-only events in Lillooet, Whistler, Vancouver and other cities across Canada
- Creating bi-weekly newsletters and club related marketing collateral
- Extending our membership acquisition strategy and culture within the organization
- Training, mentoring and working closely together with the marketing and hospitality team
- Developing phone, web-based, and email campaigns to increase member engagement
This role allows for a flexible work schedule and a home office.
- Proven retail sales or customer service experience
- Experience managing a wine club considered an asset
- Strong organizational skills with attention to detail
- Outstanding verbal and written communication skills
- Passionate and knowledgeable about wine, ISG/WSET level 2 preferred
- Strong technical skillset, MS Office, expert Excel skills and experience with WineDirect is an asset
- Ability to prioritize and manage multiple projects at one time
- Must be at least 21 years of age with valid driver’s license.
This role is best suited to someone with initiative, who demonstrates an entrepreneurial spirit, and who is customer service oriented.
Please note that this is a temporary, full time maternity leave coverage position.
We offer a 14-month contract starting Sept 1, 2018 and includes a part-time training period from Sept 1 till Oct 15 and a full-time term from Oct 15, 2018 until Nov 1, 2019. Compensation package will include salary, bonus, benefits and wine allowance.
To our Lillooet neighbours, we wanted to give you a head's up that in the coming days we will be operating our air cannons (otherwise known as propane cannons or bird bangers or audible bird scare devices). These air cannons help scare away birds and other wildlife. We just started up our air cannons because the deer are particularly problematic in the recently planted vineyard right now. We are trying to ensure the deer don't strip these young vines. The good news is that this is a short-term issue. We anticipate it will be just another week where we have to run these air cannons. While we wish it wasn't the case, the deer and birds are very active in the early morning, which is why we need to start the air cannons so early in the morning. This is why there are exceptions to the noise bylaws for agriculture properties. In the days ahead when we know that the air cannons will be operating, it might be good to go to bed with some white noise such as running a fan or music in your bedroom. You can also try an app on your phone or tablet called "Calm" which features free sleep music and sleep stories which may offset the noise of the air cannons. Again we apologize. We thank you so much for your understanding.
For more information on this common farming practice, click here.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 29, 2018
LILLOOET, BC – The Kitchen at Fort Berens Estate Winery will reopen for the season on May 18th under new leadership of Executive Chef Jean-Sébastien (JS) Ouellette. Rolf de Bruin, co-founder and co-owner of Fort Berens explained, “JS was our Sous Chef for the last 2 years, and we are very pleased that he is taking over the leadership of our culinary team for this new season.”
JS completed culinary school and worked at Michelin star restaurants in France and Italy. In France, surrounded by vineyards, he developed a love and appreciation for wine, and how wine and food together create the meal. JS worked in the Italian Dolomites in a tiny village called Plois d’Alpago, where he lived in the mountains and worked with produce from their 2-acre garden and meat from the neighbours. JS spent 5 years in Whistler, working in a series of positions at Nita Lake Lodge before making the move to Fort Berens.
“I fell in love with Lillooet. It is perfect for me. It’s a perfect blend of my passions. Small town living, the mountains and vineyards, and working with locally-grown and produced ingredients,” explained JS.
JS and the culinary team are passionate about featuring locally-sourced ingredients and working with local farmers to ensure that fresh, high quality local food is served. Guests experience the full farm-to-table experience at The Kitchen at Fort Berens with an ever-changing menu that reflects the availability of the freshest produce throughout the season.
The Kitchen at Fort Berens will be open for lunch daily throughout the season from May 18th through Thanksgiving. This year they will also be featuring a la carte dinner service on the weekends, special wine-paired dinners, tapas and music nights, bootcamps and more. Follow them on Facebook or check out their website to stay up-to-date on all of the upcoming events.
For further information, please contact:
DogLeg Marketing & Business Solutions
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 29, 2018
LILLOOET, BC – There is lots of activity happening over at Fort Berens Estate Winery these days.
Rolf de Bruin, co-founder and co-owner of Fort Berens explained, “After nine years of tending our first vineyard, experimenting and learning, we are now working on our second vineyard, which we currently refer to as our north field. We have plowed the field, and we have started planting our second vineyard, so things are getting very real and exciting.”
The north field vineyard will represent a total of about 18 new acres to be planted in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, planting will include 4 acres of Merlot and 5 acres of Cabernet Franc. Planting will continue in 2019 with 3.5 acres of Riesling, 2 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon,1.5 acres of Gruner Veltliner, and 2 acres of Merlot.
Rolf continued, “This is exciting news for our emerging wine region. The expansion of the vineyard reflects our confidence in the Lillooet area growing region. It also shows our determination and commitment to produce wines from our estate and from grapes from other vineyards in the Lillooet region.”
This vineyard expansion means that in the years ahead there will be more Lillooet grown grapes, and therefore more wine will be made here in Lillooet. This will be a welcomed response for wine lovers, as the demand continues to increase for wines from Fort Berens.
Currently, the team at Fort Berens is looking for a new name for the north field vineyard. If you have any suggestions, comment on their Facebook post or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information, please contact:
DogLeg Marketing & Business Solutions
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 7, 2018
LILLOOET, BC – The 2018 Canadian Culinary Championships, held recently in Kelowna, brought together eleven of the country’s top chefs for the prestigious Gold Medal Plates competition. The competing chefs participated in a series of tough challenges, including the Mystery Wine Pairing Competition.
In the Mystery Wine Pairing Competition, Chefs were given a mystery bottle of wine and they were challenged to create a dish with local ingredients that best complemented the mystery wine in a set amount of time and with a set budget. Each chef then served this dish to 400 guests, who had the opportunity to vote on their favourite pairing of the night.
While the competing chefs and guests were held in suspense until the end of the event, the suspense finally ended when it was announced that the mystery wine was the 2016 Pinot Gris from Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet, BC.
Rolf de Bruin, co-founder and co-owner of Fort Berens explained, "We were delighted to have our Pinot Gris selected as the mystery wine in the Mystery Wine Pairing Competition. As the first winery in the emerging wine region of Lillooet, our wine region is still very much a mystery and a surprise to many people, so it seems fitting that the mystery wine was from Lillooet. During the event, many guests guessed that it was a Pinot Gris. Many even guessed that it was from BC. But very few guessed that it was from Lillooet.”
The suspense also ended with the announcement of the People’s Choice Award for the best food and wine pairing going to Chef Mike Robins from Sous Sol in Winnipeg. Chef Robins created a dish featuring cold smoked halibut cheek and Salt Spring mussels, juniper berry, chantrelle mushroom lobster bisque with parissienne gnocchi and cashew cream.
Rolf continued, “It was an absolute honour to have these incredible chefs from across the country try our wine and showcase their amazing culinary creations designed specifically to go along with our Pinot Gris. The competing chefs created dishes that were diverse and distinct, much like our wine. Congratulations to all of the chefs for their incredible talent in creating amazing dishes to pair with our wine. And a big congratulations to Chef Mike Robins for winning the People's Choice Award for creating the best dish to pair with our wine.”
Chef Mike Robins, thrilled with his win, explained about his winning pairing. “After tasting the mystery wine, my team and I felt we knew the varietal was Pinot Gris. We didn’t want to overcomplicate anything, so we thought about what the wine made us want to eat. Grapefruit was used in our brine to bring out the nice low acidity of the wine. We also heavily charred some green onions to make our green oil. We felt the wine was calling for a bit of char and buttery seafood, so we spent the majority of our budget on the shells to make the bisque and the halibut cheeks.”
David Lawrason, national wine advisor for Gold Medal Plates was instrumental in choosing the mystery wine for this year’s competition. “The Pinot Gris from Fort Berens, an emerging wine region in Lillooet, BC, was a wine that was discovered when I was part of a media tour last year. The goal each year is to select a wine that will challenge chefs, guests and keep everyone guessing.”
Now that the mystery has been unveiled, wine lovers are invited to uncover the mystery for themselves.
Gold Medal Plates is the ultimate celebration of Canadian excellence in food, wine, beer, athletic achievement and entertainment. Net proceeds from Gold Medal Plates are provided to the Canadian Olympic Foundation, which supports Olympic athletes and high performance programs. For more information, visit the Gold Medal Plates website.
Fort Berens Estate Winery is a culmination of the dreams, vision and pioneering spirit of several entrepreneurs – Heleen Pannekoek, Rolf de Bruin, Hugh Agro, Sean Harvey, Jason Neal, John McConnell, Dan Barnholden and Patrick Downey. The eight owners of Fort Berens share a common belief in the incredible winemaking potential of the area and a shared vision to make Fort Berens into one of Canada’s leading producers of fine wine. With its vineyards on sage brush covered benchland along the Fraser River at the base of towering mountains, Fort Berens embraces the spirit of Lillooet. Discover Fort Berens Estate Winery, Lillooet’s first winery, in BC’s newest wine region and explore 150 years of pioneering spirit. For more information, call 1.877.956.7768, visit www.FortBerens.ca, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
High-resolution images from the competition can be found here.
For further information, please contact:
DogLeg Marketing & Business Solutions
The 2017 growing season started with a longer and colder than usual winter. Temperatures remained above critical levels, so we did not see significant bud damage this winter. The winter did last longer with snow and frost persisting longer than normal. Early spring was very wet with a lot of precipitation. With frost in the ground, we saw some early surface spring run-off and for the first time in many years, our dry creek bed became an actual creek.
Bud break began in late April and we were in full bud break by early-May, which is in line with a normal growing season. Just after bud break, a cooler period delayed normal shoot development. During this period, we saw some pressure from rust mite that impacted the development of some of the primary buds. This cool phase lasted until mid-May, when the weather turned dry, hot and sunny. This lag in development resulted in a lighter canopy and a slightly delayed bloom.
Early June marked the start of a very dry and hot summer. The warmer weather helped speed up development and the vines were in full flower by early June, which is fairly normal. The heat and the sun continued throughout the summer, and we had no rain at all from June 10th through September 8th.
The hot and dry conditions in the early summer were great for grape development, but also led to major forest fires throughout the province. The Elephant Hill wildfire was the closest major fire and started south of Ashcroft on July 6th. Smoke from this fire moved into our region for about fifteen days in July. Although the summer was hot, we had no days above 37 degrees Celsius, perhaps thanks to the smoky skies that moderated some of the extreme heat spikes.
Veraison started in early August, which is normal. Fortunately, the smoke cleared in Lillooet at the onset of veraison, when the grapes become more vulnerable or susceptible to the impact of smoke. We took a number of measures in our winemaking process to reduce the risk of smoke taint. These measures included whole cluster pressing on most of our whites, limiting the time of skin contact of our whites, and whole cluster ferments and whole berry ferments on many of our reds. We have not been able to notice any smoke taint in our wines.
We did have some powdery mildew pressure from the smoke, but we were able to manage this well thanks to our spraying program.
Harvest started around the same time as usual when we harvested our Chardonnay on September 18th. Other varieties followed in short sequence, with Pinot Gris, Merlot and Pinot Noir all being harvested within two weeks from the start of the harvest. In all of our varieties, we saw strong sugar development early in September. This allowed us to pick based on phenolic development, and we were able to achieve great balance in our fruit. Harvest finished earlier than normal, after frost settled in the lower areas of the vineyard on October 13th. Riesling and Cabernet Franc were picked shortly after this event.
Overall, our yield in 2017 was down 30% compared to our average yields. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling were down 40%, Merlot and Pinot Gris were down 20%, and Cabernet Franc was down 10%.
The lower yield is likely due to a few factors. The lag phase, just after bud break, led to a slowdown in the flower formation. This lag phase also led to less productive secondary shoots replacing damaged primary shoots. This resulted in smaller bunches, with fewer berries per bunch, and smaller berries.
The lower yield led to an acceleration in sugar development and a relatively shorter harvest. In some instances, we had the opportunity to let the fruit hang a little longer for the phenolics to develop. The result was ripe and expressive fruit.
The flip side of a low yield is that generally the quality is very high. With fewer grapes on the vines, the flavours are concentrated in fewer berries and become more intense. This means that we have high expectations for the 2017 vintage and expect rich and concentrated flavours.
In a lot of ways, this was one of our most challenging vintages. After a few abundant vintages, we are now dealing with a smaller vintage. As farmers, we have to deal with the impacts of fluctuations in seasons and a variety of other new challenges.
Every year, we continue to learn. Sometimes our learning is unplanned and chaotic, but we try to lay out a number of experiments each year. These experiments are aimed at trying to understand which vineyard and winemaking practices are best suited to our local terroir. In 2017, we embarked on the following trials:
- Pinot Noir: For the first time, the Pinot Noir was 100% whole cluster fermented and 100% spontaneous ferment. In previous years, we experimented with whole cluster ferments on smaller lots. This process doesn’t break up the berry as much, and results in a wine that is more fruit forward. We also learned in our previous vintages that the wild yeasts in our area work well for fermenting Pinot Noir. The native yeasts add complexity to the wines. The 2017 Pinot Noir features 100% estate grown fruit using two clones of Pinot Noir grapes (828 and 667). These two clones created the best fruit and therefore the highest quality Pinot Noir. It is beautiful complex and balanced.
- Merlot: To increase the concentration of flavours in our Merlot, our winemaker Danny Hattingh and vineyard manager Megan De Villiers worked together from the start of the season to decrease the berry size, through a number of vineyard practices, including deficit irrigation. Smaller berries have a lower juice to skin ratio, which delivers more concentrated flavours.
- Natural Ferments: The higher sugar levels in this vintage have the potential to create higher alcohol in our wines. We used spontaneous ferments in our Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot to reduce the alcohol percentage and to add complexity and terroir to the wines. Typically, wild yeasts are not as effective in transforming sugar into alcohol as the commercial yeasts.
In 2017, we also saw further developments in the Lillooet-Lytton grape-growing region. Our 2017 vintage features a small amount of Chardonnay grapes from Fraser Bench Vineyard in Lillooet and some Pinot Noir grapes from Frugal Vineyard near Lytton. Starting in 2018, we anticipate receiving Pinot Gris grapes from the Winch Spur Vineyard in Lytton.
2016 Vintage Overview
As we reflect back, we are very happy with our 2016 vintage. The season started very early with some consistently warm days, lots of rain, followed by warm, dry weather. The longer season and lots of rain at the right time helped produce a bigger crop than we saw in 2015. The summer was hot, without excessive heat spikes, which allowed the heavy crop of grapes time to ripen beautifully, resulting in nicely developed phenolics and good acidity.
Our 2016 whites, which will be released in spring 2017, are fruit-forward, complex and aromatic. Our estate-grown Pinot Gris is by far the best we’ve ever produced. For the first time, we’ll have our traditional, slightly off-dry Riesling and we’re excited to introduce a new drier-style Riesling. Our 2016 reds, which will be released in the fall of 2018, will be beautifully balanced. They will be bigger with lots of fruit characteristics, while remaining very approachable and very drinkable. We’re very pleased with our Pinot Noir and anticipate it being a real highlight of this vintage. We’re also thrilled with how the barrel fractions are tasting for our 2016 Red Gold.
With the great growth of grapes, new techniques in the cellar and the expertise from our hardworking vineyard and winemaking teams, we are expecting some of our best wines from this vintage. Not only are we proud of the quality of this vintage, we are fortunate that the heavier crops means we’ll have more wine available to keep your wine cellars full! 2016 is going to be a fabulous vintage and we can’t wait to share it with you.
2016 Vintage Report – An In-Depth Review
Our 2016 vintage had an early start with a consistently warm March, April and May in Lillooet. This led to a strong start after budbreak where the canopy developed quickly. Most of the early stages of development after budbreak were 2-3 weeks ahead of normal.
June & early July were hot and dry. From mid-July onward, we had a number of rain events followed by warm, dry weather. The increased precipitation lead to a higher vigor in canopy than normal and continued growth of our cover crop. Normally, vigor is reduced starting mid-July and the cover crop dries up. While the unusually green vineyard was a beautiful sight, it did demand more attention to keep the canopy in check. With the warmer days and the steady wind, disease pressure was not higher than normal. The summer did not have any excessive heat spikes, like we normally see, which meant that the vines did not shut down due to heat shock at any point during the summer.
Sugar development after veraison was very strong. Temperatures decreased in September during a cooler and cloudy week, which allowed the phenolics to develop without the sugars increasing a lot. Harvest started on September 14th which is consistent with prior years. The quality of the grapes ranged from very good to outstanding, with a great balance in the fruit.
The 2016 vintage was similar to our vintage in 2014, so we had a better sense of how to gauge what was happening in the vineyard and how to manage it better.
What happens in the vineyard is only part of the equation. In the cellar, we applied some new techniques based on our experimental trials from prior years. We continue to create experiments in the cellar that help us learn which techniques really work well with grapes from our Lillooet terroir.
We had a great winemaking team for our 2016 vintage. It was not uncommon for them to work 12-18 hour days. To make great wine, we need to have great people on our team. We were very thankful for these great people that set 2am wake-up calls to do pump-overs and punch-downs. It’s this commitment to excellence that helped us create a vintage we are very proud of.
Highlights from our 2016 Vintage:
- Our estate 2016 Pinot Gris is by far the best we have ever produced. Our winemaker Danny used a different type of yeast to bring more fruit-forwardness to the Pinot Gris and some increased aromatics. A small fraction was barrel fermented for about a month in new American Oak barrels. This gives the wine more layers. It is more fruit forward with more intense aromatics.
- Learning from some experiments done with our 2015 Chardonnay, almost 25% of our 2016 Chardonnay was naturally fermented. This spontaneous fermentation uses natural yeast in the vineyard, in the air and in the tanks rather than commercial yeast. This natural fermentation increased the length of the fermentation time, which resulted in a broader flavour profile with more depth and complexity in the wine.
- Our 2016 White Gold features Chardonnay grapes aged in 60% new oak barrels, resulting in tropical fruit notes that dominate the wine. So even those that don’t like oak-aged Chardonnay will be in for a pleasant treat.
- Our 2016 Pinot Noir grapes did exceptionally well in the vineyard. Because we didn’t get the scorching heat in the summer, the flavour development was really great. All of our Pinot Noir was made with natural, spontaneous fermentation. In addition, about 25-30% of the grapes were whole-cluster fermented. This resulted in more layers of flavours and more depth to the wine.
- Our 2016 reds will be beautifully balanced. Because they are not too light or too full, they will be very approachable, very drinkable, with lots of fruit characteristics.
- The fractions of our 2016 Red Gold are barrel fermenting at this point. In mid-2017, we will begin the blending process. We are committed to a good aging program with our Red Gold, so they will be bottled and bottled aged for another year before release.