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A vineyard takes root in Lillooet



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They decided to couple their longtime passion for wine with a fresh start here in Canada. So, they began researching the best place to open a winery. While they originally wanted to set up shop in the Okanagan, land prices were too high.

"It's so terribly expensive that it would be impossible to make an economic return," she said with a shrug.

So, at the suggestion of a few wine experts, they decided to check out Lillooet, which has a similar climate and temperature to the Okanagan.

While they're actually not the first to try and grow grapes in the area - former Lillooet mayor Christ'l Roshard has been testing grape growing conditions on her property for a while now - they are the first commercial winery to open for business.

"It's easier to start a new vineyard in an upcoming market than, like, in France, where they're pulling vineyards out because they're overproducing," she said.

They visited Roshard's test vineyard and another two that are just outside of Lillooet to do some research before making the decision to base their winery in the area.

"There's a lot of tourists going through Lillooet, so a lot of traffic in the summer. So we wanted to find out how many tourists," she said.

They must have liked what they discovered, because they quickly found a plot of land to lease for their winery, which they dubbed Fort Berens Estate.

You see, they were also attracted to Lillooet's rich history. About 150 years ago, during the Gold Rush, Lillooet was a supply point for miners heading to the Cariboo gold fields. The Hudson's Bay Company decided to build a fort on the east side of the Fraser River in Lillooet to act as a trading post and supply outlet. They began construction, but never completed Fort Berens, and the site was eventually used to grow melons, tomatoes and alfalfa.

To pay homage to the history of the region, Pannekoek and de Bruin decided to reference the area's Gold Rush roots in their name.

"We've had a very warm welcome," Pannekoek said with a smile.

"For us, Whistler and Kamloops are our main markets, so Whistler is where we want to focus on first. We're just two hours away and I know there's a lot of restaurants and people who are really big fans of the 100 Mile Diet, and we're within a hundred miles of Whistler!" she said with a laugh.