Please share your vegan story.
I first went vegetarian when I got into college and I gained that freshman 15 because I discovered that it was easier to keep my weight down and to spend less money if I was eating vegetarian. Through that, I went to the Toronto Vegetarian Association’s Harbourfront Summer Festival that they do every year. At that time, I walked into a seminar room that was showing a documentary on how animals are treated in the slaughter industry. I was so shocked and appalled that I immediately decided that I was not going to be participating in that anymore. And I was very angry because I couldn’t believe what we as human beings are doing to the Earth and our fellow sentient beings.
I was working in advertising, and it was getting hard at that time to be on set doing TV commercials all day long and find vegan food to eat. I fell off the turnip truck a little bit, and I started eating fish and chicken. Then I moved out to Prince Edward County full time in 2010, where they roll up the sidewalks after 9:00 p.m. so there’s not a whole lot to do. I was surfing the internet, and I stumbled across another video about how animals are treated in the slaughter industry. I thought, that’s it, I’m not participating in that. At that time, I also found out that wine is not necessarily vegan. I let my husband [Richard Karlo] know that I was no longer going to be eating animals and I was no longer going to be drinking wine because I didn’t want to participate in that.
Please share your journey into vegan winemaking.
Richard set out to prove to me that he had been making his wine vegan accidentally since he started making wine as an amateur winemaker. We started making wine professionally in 2008, and he just wanted to prove it to me so I would drink with him. He did prove to me that he was using bentonite clay instead of fish swim bladders and scales. Casein, which is powdered milk, egg whites, even ox blood or pig blood, is used in the fining process to take little bits of seeds and skin and must out of the wine to help with the clarity. We mostly use time and gravity here. If we ever need to use anything to push all of those particles down to the bottom of the tank so we can then pump off the clear wine and let the sludge drain off, we will use bentonite clay. It not only has the benefit of not being animal-derived but also bentonite clay is often used in the cosmetic industry because it’s an antioxidant.
We quite often get feedback from critics that our wines taste very clean and fruit-forward. I think that’s partly because they’re non-interventional wines, we’re making them very naturally and the things that we’re putting through the wine are making the wine cleaner, like the bentonite clay. There’s another process in winemaking that decides whether a wine is vegan or not, and that is right before bottling, a winemaker can artificially age wine by stripping out the acids and tannins to get it to the shelf sooner. The problem with that is whenever you strip out acids and tannins, it’s a very harsh process on the wine and it steals the wine’s longevity. The wine no longer has the bones to lay down in your cellar for 25 or 35 years.
That’s often not a problem because most people drink the wine within 90 minutes of purchase. But for those who have a wine cellar and want to lay down their wines and age them to get the most enjoyment, it’s not a good idea to buy wines that have had their acids and tannins stripped out of them. The way that a winemaker does that is they put protein through the wine and the protein attracts the acids and tannins. That molecule becomes heavier and then it precipitates down to the bottom of the tank. Then again they rack off the clean wine into another tank. For us, rather than using ground-up animal parts, if we do have to adjust acids and tannins, we use pea protein, potato protein or pumpkin protein. But we generally use time and gravity in our winemaking process.
Those are just two of the processes off the top of my head that determine whether a wine is vegan or not. At that time, Richard said to me, “If it’s that important to you, it’s going to be that important to other people.” I think with his background as a civil engineer, doing a lot for quality control certifications, he said that we should get vegan certified because that way people don’t have to just take our word—they can see that we have our certification. We got our certification in 2012. They asked us to document our process and all of our suppliers in that process. They contacted our suppliers and obtained affidavits for the things we were buying like corks or any glue on the packaging. Even inks on our labels are made with vegetable dyes.
We use our vegan practices in the vineyard. All of our food offerings at the winery are also plant-based. It’s a complete 100% holistic approach to being as vegan as we can get.