Here at Our Hen House, we like to feature vegan entrepreneurs from various walks of life — folks who are speaking up for animals and opening peoples’ minds to the joys of veganism, and the imperative of activism.
When we heard about Calypso Organic Selections, we were intrigued (and suddenly thirsty). Calypso Organic Selections is an innovative importer and wholesaler of organic wine, beer and spirits from around the globe. According to owner (and vegan entrepreneur) Beth-ann Roth, Calypso promotes education about the health-, earth-, culture- and community-supporting nature of their products, which include biodynamic, low-sulfite, fair-trade, and vegan alternatives. They also work closely with their producers to encourage wine production methods that eliminate the use of animal products, along with continued advancements in earth-supporting growing methods and the promotion of sustainable living conditions for farmers and production employees.
Recently, we had the pleasure of speaking with Beth-ann all about what makes wine vegan (or not vegan), and some advice for anyone interested in starting up a vegan business.
Our Hen House: I know that one of the specialties of Calypso is vegan wine. What makes wine vegan, and — other side of the same coin — what makes wine not vegan?
Beth-ann Roth: It usually comes as a big surprise to people when they learn that most wines are not vegan. After all – wine is made from grapes, right? Right… but that doesn’t mean animal products aren’t used.
Specifically, wine production can yield particulate matter that the winemaker wants to strip out. The process used to clarify the wine is called “fining”. It turns out that many large-production wineries fine their wines using animal products such as cow-derived gelatin, isinglass (a fish gelatin), and egg whites. Those substances are generally filtered out before the wine reaches the consumer, but the fact is that they are made with animal products and people are entitled to know that.
Interestingly enough, we have found that by engaging in dialogue we can also make a difference. I always ask the question whether a wine in which we are interested is vegan. One producer in the southwest of France told me that he was shocked when, in response to my question, he learned that his oenologist used bull’s blood to fine the wine. He announced that starting with the next vintage that would no longer be the case!
OHH: One thing I really appreciated while looking through your catalog was that the vegan wines were very clearly labeled. I sense you might be a vegan yourself?
BR: I am indeed!
OHH: How long have you been vegan?
BR: I have been vegan for about 18 years.
OHH: Can you expand a little on how you work with your producers to encourage wine production methods that eliminate the use of animal products?
BR: As with many things in life, communication is key. We simply engage them in dialogue and see where it goes. Our producers are an “easy” bunch when it comes to the elimination of the use of animal products, because they already have a respect for the environment, and processing is as minimal as possible. Sometimes it’s just a matter of dialogue – some winemakers do not realize that the oenologist is using the animal product. Regardless of the outcome in a particular vintage, we find that the producers are very receptive to the notion and agree to work toward that end.
OHH: Do you have any advice for people who might be starting businesses — or maybe they are already business-owners — and they are interested in creating a product geared toward vegans (or the vegan-curious) within their company?
BR: Vegans are out there, and we love to find products made with us in mind! As long as you know that your product is one for which there is a market and that your business model is sound, pursue your goal. One of the biggest hurdles is that there is no set group of outlets into which the product will fit. You need to be creative, and also get past the resistance you will face from buyers and other intermediaries who often do not appreciate, until after the fact, how much their customers want what you’ve got. We have had many an “Aha!” moment from our customers who only later on realized how much their own customers want our products because of what they are. We knew it all along, and it took getting the product in front of their customers using a hook other than that it was organic or vegan. But once they more fully understood, our relationship was sealed.
OHH: Where can people find out more info about Calypso’s vegan selection?
BR: Just to clarify, Calypso does not have its own “branded” wines. When we refer to “our” wine, beer and spirits, we’re referring to the products we import. So we’ve got many great labels in our portfolio. To see the descriptions and label images of some of the many products we offer, go to www.calypso-organics.com, click on the “Products” link, and then you can download the product catalog. The catalog indicates which items are vegan. Winelibrary.com and poemardcellars.com are two online retailers that carry our products, and wine-searcher.com can help you identify a place near you. (Note that the ability to deliver to you will depend on the state in which you live.) Also, feel free call me at (202) 664-7171 and I will see what I can do to get the wines into your area.
Thank you to Beth-ann Roth of Calypso Organic Selections for speaking with us! Be sure to check out their Facebook page! In addition to Calypso, I recommend checking out Vegan Wine to find out what wine (and beers) are and are not vegan. They have a helpful list.
Photos: Calypso Organic Selections and Flickr (Creative Commons License)