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.
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.