Splash of Wine: Lovers of wine have much to discover in Lillooet and Whistler

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      For many folks fleeing the city for the natural magnificence of Whistler and beyond, enjoying a glass or two of wine might be part of the vacation plans.

      Before we get to places to sip terrific wine in and around Whistler Village, we recommend a day trip two hours north along spectacular Duffey Lake Road to Lillooet, the home of Fort Berens Estate Winery and Cliff and Gorge Vineyards.

      Situated at the southern end of the Cariboo Chilcotin region, Lillooet has a long, hot, dry summers, like the Okanagan (sometimes getting up into the 40s), while cooler nights mean overall summer temperatures are lower. Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris all grow here.

      Cliff and Gorge is located on Texas Creek Ranch. Getting there isn't for everyone: "The last 9 km of the road is gravel, suitable for most vehicles except for low-riders, dragsters and Lamborghini Diablos," the winery's website notes. For 2020, C&G has Peasant Wine Rosé, Petite Milo White, and Maréchal Foch Red on offer. The tasting experience aligns with the times, with DIY approach in effect. You order the C&G Tasting Kit ($60) in advance, and it will be ready for you when you arrive. It comes with a C&G corkscrew, Vacu-Vin wine preserver (so you can take unfinished wine with you), acrylic stemless wine glasses, and map of the ranch's trails along with winemaker Eckhard Zeidler's notes about the wines and his grape-growing process. He describes the wines as clean and pure, without any adulteration, not even oak.

      You can roam the grounds and vineyards on your  or sit in the shade of Siberian elm trees in its stunning licensed picnic area (bring your own food); either way, you'll have the paradise to yourself for two hours. 

      A team of eight owns Fort Berens, which launched in 2009 and has gone on to win scores of awards, including Gold for its 2018 Chardonnay at last year’s San Francisco International Wine Competition. The winery prides itself on making on clean, fresh, terroir-driven wines that combine Old World elegance with New World fruit-forwardness.

      New releases include the Rosé 2019, a 100-percent estate grown Pinot Noir Rosé with notes of strawberry and crab apple, and Pinot Noir 2018, a sophisticated vintage aged in French oak barrels with hints of berries and pepper.

      Fort Berens is offering VIP tastings and guided tours for small, exclusive groups this summer ($50 per person). If not at the winery itself, you can find Fort Berens wines at various liquor stores, grocery stores, and restaurants throughout B.C. While dining out in Whistler, order it at Araxi, Bar Oso, Il Caminetto, Sushi Village Japanese Restaurant, and Legs Diamond, to name just a few spots that carry it.

      To discover other wines you never knew you loved, head to Bearfoot Bistro, which has B.C.’s biggest wine cellar, with more than 10,000 bottles. Among the 1,500 different labels the acclaimed restaurant offers are Dom Pérignon (eight vintages), Penfolds Grange, Château de Beaucastel (13 vintages), E. Guigal’s La, La, La (14 vintages), and Screaming Eagle. B.C., Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, Piedmont, Napa Valley, and Spain are regions of the lengthy list’s focus. Happy Hour runs Wednesday to Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m. with glasses of red, white, or rose for $9, and, with summer here, the Champagne Lounge is set up out on the swanky patio.

      SIDECUT Modern Steak & Bar at Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler is taking the party outside to its pretty courtyard patio all summer, while the interior undergoes major renovations for a December 2020 launch. While listening to live music surrounded by greenery, pore its extensive and sophisticated wine list. It breaks down every type of wine into Old World and New World options, from Allegrini Corte Giara I.G.T. delle Venezie 2017 Pinot Gris to Bonterra Bartolucci Vineyard Muscat (Lake Country) 2009. Then there are “other interesting” bottles, like Spain’s Bodegas Portia Ebei Ribera Del Duero 2016 and Pentâge Winery’s Roussane/Marsanne/Viognier 2012 from Penticton.

      Basalt Wine & Salumeria is another Whistler destination where you can indulge in tantalizing wines. B.C. labels have a leading role on the thoughtfully curated wine list, with selections ranging from Okanagan Falls’ Synchromesh Four Shadows Riesling 2017 and Liquidity Viognier 2018 to the Okanagan Valley’s Volcanic Hills Gamay Noir 2018 and Oliver’s Culmina Hypothesis 2013. Old World, New World, sparkling, rose, dessert, and fortified wines are all on offer in this popular resto that specializes in cheese and charcuterie boards with exquisite ingredients like caramelized onion labneh and elk Goldberg salami.