Last fall, my husband and I had the pleasure of visiting Karlo Estate Winery as part of our weekend getaway to Prince Edward County. We arrived in the late afternoon, after a visit to Prince Edward County’s Taste Festival. The sun was setting as we pulled up to the impressive red barn that has become the hallmark of the winery.
The winery was co-founded by master winemaker, Richard Karlo, who passed in 2014 and his wife and business partner, Sherry Karlo. We were grateful for Sherry’s hospitality during our stay; especially as it was apparent that she was juggling a multitude of responsibilities including greeting guests, instructing staff, responding to business calls, conducting our wine tasting and consulting with Derek Barnett – the winery’s current winemaker. Watching Sherry in action underscores how impressive and challenging it is to be an entrepreneur in a dynamic and client facing business. As she describes it, owning a winery is a lifestyle, not a job. It requires her attention and commitment 7 days a week. When asked what has most surprised her since becoming the owner of Karlo Estates, she noted how much work it requires – but was also pleasantly surprised at how open people are to Canadian wine. “Especially the younger generation. Really proud to celebrate what’s ours. So refreshing”.
When I asked Sherry what’s distinctive about the PEC wine region, she explained, “what sets us apart comes right down to the soil. We have fossil life coral reef in our soil…Hillier Clay Loam and it (has) limestone in it…that kind of soil is sought out throughout the world as the best vineyard soil there is…it’s in Burgundy (France) so that’s why a lot of people compare Burgundy to us; because of the composition of the soil. The only difference between ours and there’s is that ours is 4 times as old…that creates a lot of minerality, complexity of taste and that makes the County quite distinct.” She went on to explain that “because [PEC enjoys a] a cool climate, we are great with earlier ripening grapes so, of course, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is what the County is known for. We’re also known for Rieslings and Cab Francs. We also like to do some funky new world varietals.”
Sherry conducted our tasting in the sun room at the back the barn, just as the sun was setting in the distance. We tried a number of wines, including Three Witches (2013), Nebbiolo (2013) and the Triumvirate (2013). She also showed us the Patio Reserve (2014) that had just won the people’s choice “Rose Bowl” award earlier in the day at the PEC Taste Festival. We really enjoyed tasting the wines, paired with tiny bites, and ended up taking home a number of bottles of Triumvirate.
Sherry generously hosted us at the winery as overnight guests and the next morning, we met with Sherry and Derek to observe the juice from the grapes being tested, both qualitatively and quantitatively, to determine its readiness for harvest. When I asked about the most stressful aspect of wine making, Derek noted that it’s “always, the weather”. From a business owner’s perspective, Sherry’s answer was, not surprisingly, “driving traffic and sales”. Derek’s advice to any burgeoning winemaker is that “you need to know how to do everything; grape growing, wine making and selling…most difficult of all is selling”.
In addition to discussing the challenges of the wine business, we also talked about the moments of fulfillment. Sherry remarked, “when you hold a glass of wine when the sun is going down, those 5 minutes makes it all worth it”. For Derek, “[there’s] nothing better than this time of year, just being able to sit out here and watch the sunset…and at this point, it’s harvest time…it’s a feeling of success when you’ve brought the vines out of the ground and nurtured them to grow and produce fruit…that’s the feeling of success”.
We spent the remainder of the morning strolling around the vineyard property and enjoyed a quiet moment of reflection at the dry stone bridge towards the back of the property. A plaque, commemorating Richard Karlos’ life was situated at the base of the bridge.
Karlo Estate Winery is a very special place. Definitely consider a visit if you’re in the PEC region.
*Karlo Estate Winery invited us to visit and provided overnight accommodations. However, all opinions are my own.