In celebration of both Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day (which was on March 8th), VineRoutes is highlighting three stars of the Canadian wine industry, both rising and established. From British Columbia to Ontario, these are the intrepid women inspiring future generations of wine entrepreneurship.
Each woman was originally profiled in their own separate feature stories, which can be read by accessing the respective links below:
Gina Fernandes Harfman: Owner & Winemaker at Nostalgia Wines in Oliver, British Columbia
(Original profile by Paula Henriques)
Harfman is a fourth generation South Okanagan winegrower and owner of her own well established 16 year-old winery – formerly known as Oliver Twist Winery and recently rebranded as Nostalgia Wines. She’s a single mom of two little ones, and sole owner of her business since 2012 (when she was just 32 years old). And just like the winery’s General Manager Sheila Whittaker, Harfman was born and raised in the South Okanagan, and that makes her winery 100 percent locally female-owned and managed – something Harfman is very proud to boast.
Harfman sources grapes from her family’s farm, and from treasured, long-term grower partners, offering up three tiers of wine – the Family Collection, Nostalgia Series, and the mischievous Pin-Up Series labels that depict 1960s-inspired artwork (so chic and fun!). Nostalgia’s portfolio ranges from dry to off-dry whites and rosés, medium to full-bodied reds, and sparkling and dessert wines (including a fortified Port-style).
Asked how her family’s Portuguese roots has influenced her winemaking, Harfman answered saying:
“My mother’s side of the family are from Madeira Island. They were farmers more than winemakers or grape growers. Their biggest influence on me is a hard work ethic. They taught me how to farm and be passionate about growing.”
Sherry Karlo: Vintner & Owner at Karlo Estates in Prince Edward County, Ontario
(Original profile by Priya Rao)
Sherry Karlo wears many hats on a day-to-day basis, but she’s most recognized in her small, Ontario region as a pioneer, marketing genius, keen businesswoman, and a friend to all—humans and animals alike. As the owner of the world’s first vegan certified winery – and a vegan herself – Sherry walks the walk and talks the talk.
Years ago, having discovered that wine was not always vegan, Sherry told her late husband, Richard Karlo, that she would not be drinking wine anymore. He set out to prove to her that the wine he was making was vegan and had always been so. “It was Richard that realized that if it was that important to me, it would be that important to others as well. So, it was his idea to get certified,” says Sherry.
Thinking back on those early days, Sherry recalls the wine community not seeming to notice that Karlo Estates had become officially vegan certified, “or they would make jokes about it”. But as the winery grew in popularity, people began paying more attention. It’s interesting that now Prince Edward County has the highest number of vegan certified wines in Canada, and wineries that used to joke on social media about it now advertise on the front page of their website that their wine is vegan.
Asked what Sherry is most proud of in her journey with Karlo Estates, she says:
“I am proud we brought the winery back into a strong position after Richard died, despite writing off the entire 2014 vintage. I’m proud of us earning 23 gold medal scores in 2021 and how we have been able to quickly pivot during COVID to offer virtual tastings and creating outdoor concerts where everyone can feel safe and have a sense of normalcy during the pandemic. I’m proud that we are considered the “go-to” for award-winning vegan wine. I’d have to say I’m most proud of the team we have assembled. We are tightly-knit and more like a family than co-workers.”
Kelly Mason: Owner & Winemaker at Mason Vineyard in Niagara, Ontario
(Original profile by Leah Spooner)
Ten years ago, Kelly Mason took a giant leap towards her ultimate dream of owning a winery and bought what she thought would be the perfect site for a vineyard in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-region of Niagara, Ontario. But before reaching a place where that dream could be realized, Kelly knew that there was a lot of work that still needed to be done.
She got started in the industry as an intern at Saintsbury Winery in the Napa Valley before returning to Canada to officially study Winemaking at Brock University. Kelly would then go on to intern at Ontario winery moguls Tawse Winery and Le Clos Jordanne, all the while keeping that dream of hers at the forefront of her mind.
In 2021, Kelly Mason was, at last, able to launch Mason Vineyard, releasing estate low-intervention pinot noir, cabernet franc, and a blanc de noirs sparkling rosé.
“My own label has always been the goal – from the first day I got into the industry, I knew that was the objective. I needed time to learn about my vineyard and winemaking, but also how to run a small business. I spent the past years making wines across multiple appellations, managing different projects simultaneously and experiencing the various Ontario growing seasons. I like to be as prepared as possible, but at a certain point, I just had to jump and make it happen. I think to me it means personal accomplishment; that my focus paid off and it was rewarding this year to open my notebook that I’ve kept over the years and check that goal off.”