Fort Berens Estate Winery was established by Dutch immigrants, Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek. Rolf and Heleen embarked on the venture in 2005, when they left the Netherlands and shifted from corporate careers to living and working on a farm. With the founding of Fort Berens, Rolf and Heleen turned their lifelong dream of running a vineyard and winery into a reality.
Initially, the founders sought to purchase property in the Okanagan for the business. However, they found it difficult to secure a suitable and affordable property upon which to start the business in this part of British Columbia. Shortly thereafter, two experienced B.C. viticulturists, Richard Cleave and John Vielvoye, pointed them in the direction of Lillooet, located in B.C.ís scenic Fraser River Canyon.
It was in Lillooet that former mayor and long-time resident, Christíl Roshard and her husband Doug Robson had initiated a program several years earlier to test for the suitability of growing grapes commercially in B.C.ís Fraser Canyon. The program was a success and all that was needed was someone willing to plant the first commercial vineyard.
After much study and careful consideration, following in the footsteps of the pioneers that travelled to the region 150 years earlier in search of gold, Rolf and Heleen moved to Lillooet, planted a 20 acre vineyard and opened Fort Berens Estate Winery.
During the start-up phase of the business, the founders recognized that success would be dependent upon their putting together the very best team available. It was at this point that Rolf and Heleen were introduced to renowned B.C. vintner, Harry McWatters, who agreed to act as strategic consultant to the new venture.
Harry, together with industry specialist, John Vielvoye, helped prepare the initial Fort Berens site study and business plan. Consulting viticulturist, Richard Cleave, provided - and continues to provide - guidance and direction in the viticultural area.
In May 2010 and February 2011, the team was further strengthened when ownership of the winery was expanded by way of a major investment from Toronto and Vancouver-based mining and investment banking executives, Hugh Agro, Sean Harvey, John McConnell and Jason Neal.
This latest wave of Lillooet explorers appreciates fine wine and was intrigued by the potential for growing grapes and making premium quality wines in the region. Hugh, Sean, John and Jasonís investment provided Fort Berens with the means to purchase the wineryís 65 acre estate property located on the Fraser River, expand operations and commence construction of a new 10,000 case wine making facility and wine shop.
Long known as a rugged timber, ranching and railroading center, Lillooet offers an attractive climate, fertile bench lands and stunning views. With the expected completion of Fort Berensí new winery facility and wine shop in the spring 2014, Lillooet is expected to become a growing new destination for wine and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
Fort Berens is fortunate to have a great winemaking team led by James Cambridge, a veteran winemaker that gained experience at wineries in both Ontario as well as British Columbia. We are very happy that Tom Dibello continues to support our winemaking team with his experience and expertise.
Vineyard Manager, Trevor Hammond, is another important member of the team and is responsible for managing the vineyard crew that works through the seasons on the various tasks involved in caring for the vineyard. When Trevor is not busy in the vineyard, he doubles as assistant winemaker in the cellar.
Georgia Colton leads our tasting room team, looks after our Discovery Club and organizes numerous events at the winery every year.