The little winery just over the mountains announced recently that it has big plans for the future. Lillooet's Fort Berens Winery broke ground this fall on a new building, which will house winery operations in the future at the northern terminus of Highway 99.
Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek, the husband and wife co-owners of the winery, are moving ahead with a 9,500 square foot building. The new building will include a tasting room, a gravity-fed fermentation room, barrel chambers, a crush pad and a wine bar and bistro.
"It's been a three-year process," de Bruin said from the winery in Lillooet. "We needed to first prove the viability of the grape-growing from our vineyard, assemble our ownership team, get our financial and strategic plans in place, and consult with experts in the industry."
The ownership team includes investors Hugh Agro, Sean Harvey, Jason Neal and John McConnell. The foursome is from the Canadian mining and banking sectors.
The original vision created by de Bruin and Pannekoek, who left the Netherlands to pursue their dream of operating a winery in B.C., started becoming reality when grape vines were planted on their Lillooet property alongside Highway 97 in 2009.
"We planted 20 acres and that's the current vineyard that we have," said de Bruin.
Another 20 acres of land is standing by for future expansion once the new building is up and running. In the past the winery operators imported grapes from other growers to produce the Fort Berens wines. The new facility will turn that scenario around so Fort Berens can process grapes grown in other vineyards along the Lillooet-Lytton corridor.
"We produced 4,000 cases in 2012, we estimate 5,000 cases this year and we are planning for 6,000 cases in 2014," says Pannekoek. "Once the new building opens, we will have capability to fully process up to 12,000 cases onsite."
Most of the product is being sold in B.C. with the bulk of it selling in Vancouver. The wineries biggest support, though, is being realized in Lillooet.
"We have a wine club, the Discovery Club, with about 600 members and a third of the members actually come from Lillooet, which is huge because 10 to 15 per cent of the entire town are members," says de Bruin.
He noted that Whistler is also supporting the winery by making the wines available for purchase at many restaurants in the resort.
The Fort Berens Chardonnay, the winery's first wine featuring only grapes grown in the vineyard, was named Cornucopia's 2013 white wine of the year.
Last week’s column about the Rimrock Café’s popularity with Trip Advisor users misidentified one of the Rimrock partners. I got Rolf Gunther’s name backwards and it was spelled incorrectly. I apologize to Rolf for mangling his name in the column last week.