Fort Berens’ New Releases


Lillooet’s original pioneering winery, Fort Berens, continues to impress wine lovers year after year.  They are known to offer good quality wines for reasonable prices that often over-deliver.  Savvy shoppers have learned to buy lots when they find a favourite so as not to be disappointed when a current vintage runs out due to high demand.  No wonder Fort Berens was named #3 in the Top 10 Small Wineries of Canada.  In addition, at the Wine Align National Wine Awards, they received silver medals for their Cabernet Franc Reserve 2019 and Pinot Gris 2019.  These were topped by three gold medals for the Merlot Reserve 2019, Merlot 2019 and Small Lot Grüner Veltliner 2021.  But best of all was the Platinum medal for their 2020 Pinot Noir.

In January 2021, Alessandro (Alex) Nel joined the team as a winemaker and viticulturist. Previously, he had worked in The Rhone Valley (France) and South Africa before landing at Fort Berens.  Since his arrival, he has made several changes to their winemaking protocols to take the wines to an even higher level in part by longer barrel aging for the red wines.

Their estate vineyard expansion is now complete and the Red Rock Vineyard is approaching full production.  The ultimate goal at Fort Berens is to be 100% Lillooet VQA and to be a beacon for Lillooet terroir.  At present, grapes come from their estate as well as sources in the Similkameen and Okanagan valleys.  The Reserve wines are all from estate-grown grapes.

The Fraser Canyon town of Lytton was razed in June of 2021.   Being so close to home, this hit the team hard and they decided they needed to do something significant to help. The Winch Spur vineyard, across the river from the town which escaped the fire has been a supplier of their Pinot Gris grapes so a decision was made to create a Special Edition Lytton Strong Pinot Gris.  The goal of this 2022 project was to raise $125 000 for a dedicated legacy project for Lytton.  Proceeds from the sale of the wine, along with a silent auction and corporate and personal donations, were able to raise over $164 000 in all.  These funds will be used to rebuild the Lytton outdoor pool, a long-time local gathering place for the community.

Riesling Reserve 2021
Production – 325 cases

Winemaker’s notes (edited)
“100% estate-grown fruit from our Dry Creek and Red Rock Vineyards.  The grapes were cropped low and picked later in the season, providing great concentration and flavours.  Half of the grapes were crushed and left on their skins for 12 hours before pressing and going into barrels for natural fermentation.  The other half was whole-cluster pressed before barrel fermentation.  The fermentation was low and slow.  It then spent 9 months in French oak, 12% of which was new.

A very aromatic Riesling featuring notes of jasmine, ginger spice, peaches, and orange blossom.  A rich and creamy mouthfeel with a soft and fresh finish.  This dryer-style Riesling will develop beautifully with some bottle maturation. 

This wine will be optimal between 2023-2025 and with proper cellaring, it has the potential to age further. 

Pair with curry chicken skewers, fresh seafood, or glazed ham.”

My comments
I am a big fan of aged Rieslings when they are well-made and this one certainly has what it takes.  Lemon yellow colour with medium-minus intensity.  The nose shows aromas of lemon curd, pineapple, lime, ripe apple, honeysuckle, and orange peel.  Good balance with a creamy texture.  Apple, pie crust, and Meyer lemon on the palate followed by a medium-long finish with flavours lingering.  This vintage was riper than I had anticipated.  Not a sweet Riesling nor a mouth-puckering dry one either, just very nicely balanced.  Serve with curries, shrimp pasta, roasted chicken, or sole with lemon butter.
90+ points

White Gold 2021
Production – 260 cases

Winemaker’s notes (edited)
The estate grapes had a long slow ripening period with cool nights.  Half were crushed, destemmed, and left on their skins for four hours before pressing.  The must settled overnight before being transferred into barrels for natural fermentation.  The other half was whole-cluster pressed before going into barrels for natural fermentation.  The wines were fermented cold and aged for nine months in French oak – 30% new, 30% second fill and 40% neutral oak.  Only partial Malolactic fermentation was allowed to take place.

The Chardonnay is bright pale straw in colour.  Aromas are citrus-driven with lots of lemon peel, stone fruit, honey blossom, and roasted almonds.  On the palate, this is a rich and buttery wine, full-bodied with a well-restrained freshness at the finish. 

Enjoy the wine now or with proper cellaring, the wine can mature for five more years.

Pair with grilled pastry dishes, lemon risotto or mushroom-baked pasta.”

My comments
White Gold is Fort Berens’ Reserve Chardonnay.  Pale lemon/straw colour with medium-minus intensity.  The nose is well integrated with aromas of apple, lemon, honeydew melon, stone fruit, butter, and hints of banana, sawdust and cashews.  Good balance and mouthfeel.  The aromas are interwoven on the palate followed by a medium-long finish with flavours lingering.  Serve with roasted chicken, pork loin, or clam linguini.
91 points


Pinot Noir 2021
Production – 360 cases

Winemaker’s notes (edited)
Pinot noir grapes are hand-picked early in the season at optimal ripeness. The grapes are destemmed and crushed and allowed to cold soak for two days before inoculating with a burgundy-selected yeast strain.  Gentle extraction by doing three pump overs a day during fermentation.  The wine is then aged for up to nine months in neutral oak barrels.

 A new world-style Pinot noir showing bright red fruit of raspberries and strawberries with some earthiness following through on the nose.  A light to medium-bodied wine with lingering red fruit flavours with a soft and smooth finish on the palate. 

Enjoy this wine now or allow it to evolve with further aging for another three to five years.

The Pinot Noir will pair well with smoked salmon, grilled chicken creamy-based pastas or mushroom risotto.

My comments
Garnet red with medium-light intensity.  This wine improved greatly with aerating and time to open.  The nose was constantly evolving and showed dark cherry, beetroot, earth, black pepper, black tea, cranberry, plum, and raspberry aromas.  Very good balance.  The palate echoes the nose followed by a medium-long finish.   This paired well with Chinese food – spicy ginger beef, BBQ pork egg foo young, and mushroom fried rice.
92 points



Cabernet Franc 2020
Production – 1000 cases

Winemaker’s notes (edited)
“The grapes were hand harvested, destemmed, crushed, and left to soak for 3 days. The juice was inoculated with yeast and allowed to ferment at 26 degrees.  Pump-overs were done every four hours for colour extraction.  Three days post fermentation on skins for fine tannin extraction before pressing.  The wine was aged for 15 months in 225-litre oak barrels half French and half American.

This elegant Cabernet Franc has enticing notes of dark cherries, dark plums, cassis, and blackberries.  The smooth tannins in this medium-bodied wine led to a velvety soft, fresh finish. 

The wine is aging beautifully and will be optimal in 2023.  With proper cellaring, it is age-worthy until 2027.

Enjoy this luscious Cabernet Franc with roasted pork, a tomato-based curry, or beef burgers.”

My comments
Wow.  This a great example of how good BC Cabernet Franc can be.  Garnet red with medium-deep intensity.  The nose is deep and well-integrated with aromas of cassis, dusty herbs, plum, cherries, sandalwood, and savoury notes.  Well balanced with smooth ripe tannins.  The aromas are reflected on the nose followed by a medium-long finish.  Elegant and harmonious from beginning to end.  Be sure to aerate/decant this one and give it time to show its best.  This wine really over-delivers.  Buy lots and cellar some for 3 – 5+ years.
94 points


Meritage 2020
Production – 1600 cases

Winemaker’s notes (edited)
“This Meritage is a blend of 65% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The grapes were hand harvested, destemmed, crushed, and cold soaked for four days before inoculation with select Bordeaux yeast strains.  Pump overs were done every four hours to enhance colour and fruit characteristics.  Each varietal was vinified, and barrel matured separately for fifteen months in a combination of half French and American oak.  The final blend was crafted once the wine was removed from barrel.

Savour notes of dark fruit, including plums, cranberries, and cassis plus hints of vanilla on the nose.  This soft and juicy wine will age beautifully until 2028. 

Pair this food-friendly Meritage with grilled meats, classic beef burgers, or a rich, cheesy lasagna.”

My Comments
Be sure to give this one lots of time to breathe so it can shine.  Garnet red with medium-deep intensity.  Red fruit, bramble, black olive, leafy, raspberry, red currant, plum, spice, and pencil shavings on the nose.  Good balance with ripe tannins.  Very flavourful on the palate followed by a medium-plus finish.  This wine will continue to improve over the next 3 – 5+ years.  If opening now be sure to pair it with some robust protein.
93 points

During the winter, Fort Berens’ tasting room is open Thursday thru Monday from 10 – 4.


(All photos – Sam Hauck)

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