Sherry and Richard Karlo, Founders of Karlo Estates, PEC PHOTO CREDIT: Marc Polidoro
“His house was like a wine cellar with a four-post bed in the middle,” Sherry Martin quipped of her early days with Richard Karlo. They met just over ten years ago in the most pedestrian manner. She was a creative who ran her own boutique advertising agency in Toronto and a realist painter who also taught at OCADU; he was an engineer climbing to the top of the ladder in a company serving the auto sector.
“We met on Lava Life (an on-line dating service),” Sherry confessed, “I winked at him first, and he winked at me (a tool on the website that signals interest to a potential mate). And then he gave me his phone number.”
“I was too old for him,” she qualifies. “Richard wanted to have children.” Ironically, she was ten years younger than he–and a single mother of a 14-year old daughter. Overlooking these hurdles, they agreed to meet at a local wine bar, the choice made from a mutual interest in ‘wine’ posted in their dating profile–one word is worth a thousand pictures as this story proves. At their first meeting, Martin reports how struck she was by his considerable height at 6’4″, carried with such “kingly-ness”, she maintains. Martin learned of Karlo’s consuming foray into amateur winemaking dating back twenty-five years. He learned of her marketing skills, ones that would soon be instrumental in realizing his long-held dream of becoming a full-fledged winemaker on his own land.
Drystone bridge built without mortar at West end of the vineyards at Karlo Estates PHOTO CREDIT: Sherry Karlo
“I didn’t want him to think I was high-maintenance, so when he served me carpaccio I ate it without disclosing my vegan lifestyle,” she confessed. “He courted me by taking me to Prince Edward County to look at properties for eighteen months. One day we tripped on a property in Wellington but no one was available to show it to us; so, we drove away only to be ensnared by a stake on the driveway, blowing out our tire and forcing us to stay. It’s as though the land was calling us. While waiting 1.5 hours for CAA to rescue us, we were able to visit the property. We knew then this would be where we would start building our dream.” Karlo took possession of the limestone-rich land on Danforth Road in 2005–all 93 acres of it, 60 acres plantable. A large barn dated at 1845 and a stream flowing through the property also fitted perfectly into his vision. And so was the genesis of Karlo Estates.
“The limestone in PEC is four times older than the limestone in wine producing regions of France,” Martin informs. This is the sweet spot for all wineries and vineyards in the region now counting 40 and and 90 respectively.
Painting by Sherry Karlo of Karlo Estates viewed from the West.
Pitchfork in hand, the couple proceeded to clean out and restore the barn. They soon began working five acres of land using a truck equipped with a GPS (Karlo’s engineering background shows up here), planting their first three vines in 2006: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Frontenac Noir. The first vintage in 2008, included 9 varietals, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Lake On The Mountain Riesling, Frontenac Gris Rose, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Quintus (5-Bordeaux blend) and Frontenac Gris Dessert Wine; their award-winning VanAlstine port was still in the works. All grapes were either grown on the estate or bought from County vineyards. By the time Karlo Estates opened their winery to the public, May 22, 2010, thirteen wines were on sale, available for tasting. Karlo Estates showed profit within two years of going to market–a rare, fast return in the industry. Today, seventeen acres are ‘under grape’. This is a remarkable achievement.
Sherry and Richard Karlo Wedding Day – “On the gator” PHOTO CREDIT : Marc Polidoro
Last June 2014, the couple found a brief respite to marry, exchanging vows on the dry-stone bridge they built over a stream on the estate–now the die was cast on this partnership.
Martin intimates to me in a letter, ‘Let it be known, Karlo was a Bordeaux lover at heart. He loved the heavier, fuller-bodied, more masculine wines. He made Quintus (means five in latin), his favourite wine, a classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The only Bordeaux varietal it’s missing is Carmenere which we planted two years ago; so, in a year when we get a half crop of that one acre of grapes, we will put it in into Quintus.’
Quintus will soon be trumped by a feisty little brother, “Sextus”, Quintus with the addition of Carmenere–same DNA but with the addition of the sixth grape expected to result in a more luxurious taste. Karlo Estates has the only commercial planting of Carmenere in Canada as it was thought to be extinct. Sextus will be the first six Bordeaux blend in Canada.
Northern view of 1845 restored barn at Karlo Estates. PHOTO CREDIT: Steven Elphick
It is this kind of cutting edge winemaking that has made Karlo legendary–bottle after bottle crowned with nominations, awards and medals. Karlo was not preoccupied with winning awards, although it is good for business; his innate desire was to produce wines that pleased the public palate. “People buy what they like, not what won awards,” Karlo would state again and again, placing relationships ahead of all.
Karlo’s imprint reaches far beyond Karlo Estates. He became one of 13 Founding Members of Slow Food in PEC and was a leading voice on food safety. He lobbied the Vintners Quality Alliance. He joined PEC Winegrowers Association and took over the design and promotion of the Wine Tour Map. His investment in time and effort in the community was indefatigable.
One of several tasting rooms, the bar, at Karlo Estates. PHOTO CREDIT: Steven Elphick
“What brilliant wine…” Zoltan Szabo, Good Food Revolution (on Quintus wine)
“The most innovative winery in Ontario.” Angela Aiello, iYellow Wine Club
“…a stunning achievement.” Michael Pinkus, Ontario Wine Review (on Frontenac Gris Rose)
A DETOUR ON THE WAY
Sherry Karlo pruning the vines at Karlo Estates. PHOTO CREDIT: Horst Herget
Sextus will be the first posthumous launch at Karlo Estates, Martin (now Karlo) as a solo act. The community will surely embrace her leadership. This new wine conceived by the couple will be brought to market under her watchful eye and with her marketing prowess.
Richard Karlo, larger-than-life community leader, winemaker, friend who enriched everyone he encountered–more than is common–succumbed to cancer on the evening of November 26, 2014. His passing leaves a gaping hole in the community’s heart. For his spouse, an abrupt end to their blossoming love and vibrant life together can only be assuaged a little with the Herculean task of continuing on with Richard’s dream.
“C’mon in. C’mon in. Tell me everything that’s going on in your life,” Reverend Steve Spicer reiterated, words often spoken by Karlo–now laying inches away, lifeless, before all his friends at Wellington United Church last December 4th.
The view from Richard’s bed, monitoring construction of the new building at Karlo Estates.
“Every minute of his life was lived in true grace”, the Reverend continued. He spoke of how Jesus’ disciples were grief stricken by His departure, paralleling the grief in the room. Warm reflections by those who knew him are innumerable. ‘His laugh was like a great big hug’, writes one. Indeed, his laugh was full-bellied filling every place he visited. “People would always come to talk with him,” Martin reflects. “He was so generous with his time.”
“We were doing so well. Everything was falling into place. Everything was good”, his spouse reflects, incredulous. She will spend years making sense of a dream cut short; yet, she will continue on with added vigour, recalling ‘Richardisms’–phrases Karlo used for each crisis.
“Don’t put things off. Do it now.”
“Don’t make anyone wrong.”
“People Appreciate Appreciation.”
“Go right up to people, say hello and give them a handshake or a hug. Even if you don’t agree with them, it puts them at ease and makes them easier to get along.”
“Move it. Move it. Move it! In the time it’s taken to complain about it, you could have had it done by now.”
“Let it be their idea.”
“People connect to authenticity. Be genuine.”
“What happens in the County stays in the County.”
“Don’t cheat. If you’re going to be the best you want it to be real.”
“In life, bite off more than you can chew and just keep chewing.”
“Don’t tell people what to do. Ask them.”
“What’s good for the County is good for us.”
“It’s relationships that matter.”
“Starting is the most important thing.”
The new building at Karlo Estates to house increased production. PHOTO CREDIT: Sherry Karlo
Richard chose to spend his last weeks in the porch at the back of the trailer, laid out on a hospital bed in a weakened state, where he could watch “the shed” being built–a gargantuan building that will house increased production. Now almost complete, Karlo Estates is set for the next phase in its evolution under the leadership of the other Karlo, one who has learned the business and the art of winemaking by working 24/7 with one of the best in Canada.
On the day of his passing, Karlo approved his wife’s bottle label design for his last vintage, a 2013 Sangiovese. Tragically as his life ended, “finishing [became] the most important thing.”
Sherry Karlo pouring Quintus, Richard Karlo’s favorite. PHOTO CREDIT: Marc Polidoro
“I want to honour him by continuing on his work”, she states as her voice breaks. Camera rolling, I listened and watched her communicate with such aplomb their ten-year journey despite overwhelming grief. This beautiful woman is perhaps unaware of her own strength. Over time, as her heart heals, able to gaze at images of his “kingly-ness” and smile, the public will see her hand. It will be remarkable.
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REFLECTIONS FROM THIS AUTHOR
Oddly, as our time together wound down on January 2nd, my film camera ran out of power–both batteries. My ‘big enough’ digital chip ran out of space. This never happens. Perhaps it was the biting cold. It seemed we were deemed to open our hearts as we sat in her truck. I was so inclined to act on a Richardism and hug her, saying, “there there.” No, that would not do. No one can ease such pain. Then from above the words came to me, “You have been given a tremendous gift, such love and such a wonderful journey so few ever receive.” As I drove away, I realized I forgot to say, “You made an enormous difference in Richard’s life. He found a great love, a muse and a talented partner to share the last ten years of his life. You enriched his life immeasurably. He too was given a tremendous gift.” What a blessed man he was to have tripped on a woman of such “queenly-ness”–one who dared to ‘wink’ at him ten years ago, unwittingly enriching what little remained of his life.
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Have a look at few more images below before you go! (all pictures above and below can be enlarged by clicking on them)
Acclaimed Quintus, Richard Karlo’s favorite. A blend of five Bordeaux varietals.
Award Winning VanAlstine on display and at-the-ready.
Only 6 bottles left : 2010 Strange Bedfellows. A little whimsy.
Unfinished portrait of Richard Karlo by Sherry Karlo, rests on easel in her atelier.
Portrait painted by Sherry Karlo hangs in Loft Gallery above. It is her favorite.