Fort Berens Estate Winery expands ownership team 

Lillooet winery working on plans to grow production capacity with additional vineyards

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRANDON BARRETT - BRIGHT FUTURE Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet followed up a remarkable 2014 with an announcement last week that the ownership group is expanding.
  • Photo by Brandon Barrett
  • BRIGHT FUTURE Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet followed up a remarkable 2014 with an announcement last week that the ownership group is expanding.

Lillooet's Fort Berens Estate recently welcomed two new owners to the team, building on a remarkable year for the award-winning winery located along the Fraser River.

Vancouver residents Dan Barnholden and Patrick Downey have joined husband-and-wife founders Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek, along with a group of four other early partners.

"We are delighted to make this announcement. Dan and Patrick round out Fort Berens' Ownership Team and their investment will allow us to expand the production and distribution of estate-grown grapes and wine from our Lillooet vineyard," said de Bruin in a release.

Barnholden is a long-time associate of the founders with deep connections to Lillooet making him "a natural addition to the team," the release stated.

Downey, meanwhile, is also a friend of the owners and frequent visitor to Whistler as an avid skier and biker.

The move comes on the heels of a milestone year for the Lillooet winemakers, which included the opening of a new state-of-the-art $3.5-million winery facility and tasting room this past summer, as well as being honoured with one of the industry's most sought-after pieces of hardware: the Lieutenant Governor's Award for Excellence in B.C. Wine for their 2012 Riesling.

That momentum looks to have carried into 2015, with plans to begin offering lunch service this summer on the winery's patio with stunning views of its lush vineyards and nearby Coastal Mountains.

The owners are also exploring options to expand on its 10,000-square-metre vineyard and increase production levels after selling out of a number of its wines last year.

"We are working together with a few local farms to plant additional vineyards in the Lillooet region. We are also starting to think about the first steps in the development of our second estate vineyard on the benchlands directly north of our current vineyard," de Bruin explained. "We have exciting plans for this year and we think 2015 will be another successful year."

As the closest winery to Whistler, the people behind Fort Berens Estate have a vision of putting Lillooet on the tourist map for those increasing number of visitors making their way from the resort and the Lower Mainland, as well as those travelling west from the Okanagan region.

With the emergence of Fort Berens, which opened its doors in 2009, Lillooet is quickly becoming recognized as B.C.'s newest up-and-coming winemaking region, blessed with cool nighttime alpine breezes, hot and dry summer conditions and moderate winter that lend itself to a unique terroir ideal for growing grapes.

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