We shouldn't be surprised anymore that wine -- and excellent wine at that -- is made in Lillooet.
Fort Berens Estate Winery in the Fraser Canyon is geographically and stylistically removed from BC's main grape-growing and wine-making region in the Okanagan.
But since it was established in 2009, Fort Berens has steadily improved and impressed.
The latest batch of new releases from the winery once again proves that.
And what makes it extra-special is that it's the first crop of new releases that award-winning winemaker Alex Nel had complete control over.
You see, Nel, who hails from South Africa via California, France and New Zealand, joined Fort Berens in January 2021 as the pandemic raged.
He finished 2020 vintage reds and then was around for the entire 2021 growing season, harvest and making of 2021 vintage wines.
As such, his finesse in creating elegant, fruit-forward wines from grapes grown in the northernmost reaches of winemaking is evident.
While Lillooet may be north by winemaking standards, Fort Berens' location on benchland at the foot of the canyon is hot during the day and cool at night, which grapes love.
Taste Nel's expertise in these new releases:
- 2021 Pinot Noir ($35) is the follow-up vintage to the 2020 Pinot that won a platinum medal at last year's WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.
It's also medal-worthy with quintessential New World Pinot smoothness wrapped in aromas and flavours of raspberry and a slight earthiness.
- 2020 Meritage ($32) is a red Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon that's soft and juicy with a plum-blackberry-and-vanilla profile.
- 2021 Riesling Reserve ($30) is Fort Berens' top-tier Riesling bursting with lush and exotic aromas and flavours of fuzzy peach, mandarin orange and ginger.
- 2021 White Gold ($32) is Fort Berens' aptly named premium Chardonnay with a lemon-nectarine-honey-and-
- 2020 Cabernet Franc ($33) is velvety and ready to drink now or it can be aged for a few years to see how the cherry, plum and blackcurrant flavours and aromas develop.
Part of Fort Berens' success has also been that its wines are widely available across BC in the wine sections at Save-On Foods grocery stores.
Natural Wine Festival in Victoria
Indie, organic, biodynamic, low-intervention, unfiltered and untamed wines get their own party in Victoria March 23-24 with the Barnyard Natural Wine Festival.
The fest kicks off March 23 with a wine-paired dinner at The Courtenay Room in the Magnolia Hotel, a pop-up dinner at Fol Epi and eat and drinks at End Dive bar.
The main events are on March 24 at Lion's Den Restaurant in the Save-On Foods Memorial arena.
From 5 to 7 pm, glass in hand, there's a 'What is natural wine?' panel discussion featuring winemakers from Vancouver Island, BC and abroad.
From 7 to 10 pm is The Main Event with food and wine stations.
The wine will be from a cross-section of local and international producers.
Tickets to The Main Event are $105 at BarnyardWineFest.ca or $145 if you want to add on the panel discussion.
Steve MacNaull is a NowMedia Group reporter, Okanagan wine lover and Canadian Wine Scholar. Reach him at [email protected]. His wine column appears in this space every Friday afternoon.