Unapologetically Canadian
Unapologetically Canadian

Episode 25 · 2 years ago

Pete Bradford and the Art of Making Vinegar


Cooper Pete Bradford talks about his passion for crafting barrel-aged vinegar in the Prince Edward County, one of three wine regions in Ontario. Canadian Vinegar Cellars operates within the Black Prince Winery in Picton. For more information and a transcript of our conversation, check out the show notes at

My name is Tracy Ail and I am unapologetically Canadian here at the black prince winery and Canadian vinegar sellers, Canadian Vinegar Sellars, and we are talking to Pete Bradford, Bradford, like the town Bradford, Bradford, Yep, and we have just been doing a tasting of the most amazing vinegars I've ever tasted in my life and they all started by accident. So tell me about the beginning of your vinegar experience. It was while I'm a cooper by trade, so I make barrels and the interest in the barrels has been going for my entire life. But I basically started getting a little real about it about thirty five years ago, and it was back at that time where I had spoken to a couple of guys in a greasy spoon restaurant where we have had breakfast and we talked about where we lived and and what we did and all that sort of thing, and I explain expressed at that time that I was interested in becoming a cooper. So was not, and we said our goodbyes and everything, and it was a number of months later where I got a knock at the door and there was a gentleman who had four bear les in the back of his truck and offered to give them to me. So I accepted that and had the barrels and, not knowing what to do with them, or, e. What to do anything about them other than to look at them, over a couple of months time another gentleman showed up and asked me if I was interested in some bulk sherry that it started to go to vinegar on them. I said absolutely, so took it and put it into the four barrels that I had and it, by basically their grace of God, sat in the in the garage for twenty plus years, aging is into vinegars, and then when it came basically to disposal, time of thinking about getting rid of this stuff, because I've forgotten about the barrels, I went to dump it and I tasted some of it and found it quite amazing. So it grew from that particular year three barrels up to about six, and then it went to about twelve and then thirty, and I'm now sitting in about two hundred and fifty to two hundred and eighty barrels full of vinegars. Wow, actually, just to go back to the beginning, because the cooper is a person who makes barrels. Yes, and most people don't necessarily know that this is a art that has been around since, I mean the eighteen hundreds at least, probably the sixteen hundreds, because you had to make barrels in order to keep anything preserved. So the kinds of things that preserve in barrels include wine, an in vinegar and what else? There's soy sauce that's done and and, quite frankly, barrels actually equal back centuries, thousands of years, probably a well, back to the the the the Romans and the Greeks.

So it's been it's been a trade and and and a vessel that has been around, basics, basically since the beginning of civilized world. So it's two thousand five hundred and twenty eight hundred three thousand years old. And then when it comes to the vessel itself, and like you say, it's used for wine, but spirits, suburban whiskys and rums, soy is sauce is done in it, which I'm going to be doing a soy sauce this fall, so I've knew experience. Yeah, I build a build small fermenters woulden fermenters. So five hundred liter from enters and I've got one right now that I'm going to be doing a soy sauce this fallen. So you won't add meek be able to tea that I have got a clue how to make it. But all I'll figure it out like everything else that I've done. And Yeah, but hot sauce and pickles and you name it. So it's just what anything that's fermented or that can be preserved it it has typically historically been put into a wooden barrel. Now, as I'm a hiker, so I've done a bunch of hiking guides and people know that there's cooper lanes pretty much throughout Ontario and Quebec because it's cooper was a traditional industry that people wanted to be part of. But how many coopers are there in Canada now? I mean, well, I I know of two coopers in Nova Scotia and they are called white coopers. So they make barrels out of spruce and pine, so soft woods, and it one is a historical site at the new Ross farms. Walters a cooper that I that both Marl and I had met. We spent today in his shop, and then there's another shop in the southern end of Nova Scotia and they also are white coopers. They make Pales Buckets, small barrels for the fishing industry. When it comes to wet barrels, so hard wood barrels for wine spirits, that sort of thing. Right now is it stand stands. I'm the only one doing it in Canada. Wow, I've got three apprentices and one or two other people have learned from me in the past, but there are three apprentices right now on the go. Wow, that's awesome. So yes, particular tradition is actually going to be carried on. Absolutely. It was always a goal of mine when I first started this to to have a couple of people before I retire. So I've got about ten years left to me to keep on plugging away of what I'm doing. And but yeah, there will be through at least three other coopers. So I'm hoping that they're going to open their own shops and things will carry on and evolved. There's enough business in each province of Canada to have three or four coopridges if the right marketing is done and all that sort of thing. There was always way more work than I ever wanted to deal with. Right, okay. And and in terms of so the Cooper side, you've got a cooper side to your business and you've got the vinegar side to your business. So can you talk a little bit about how the vinegar side has evolved and where you're going from here with that? Um? Well,...

...the evolution of this stuff, this mess that I've created, it's it's I learned old school when it came to learning how to make barrels and I lend that only to one gentleman outside of Kansas City Dale, and I was I was fortunate enough to learn old school. So what I've kind of done with the vinegars as it's taken a big interest to mine. I'm not a drinker. I don't drink alcohol really at all. I have a glass of wine once in a blue moon or a beer, but I'm not. I'm not a drinker. So I always thought it would be kind of neat to really progress with the vinegars, be being on on alcohol a nonalcoholic beverage or ingredient. So I've sort of studied what the Spanish and the Italians and the Portuguese do with the barrels and how they age vinegars and Celari systems and and cooling systems and how barrels are stacked and how that rope we how with how that affects the aging of whatever is in the barrels, the temperatures, the environment that they're kept in and all those sort of things. So I'm kind of I kind of I love what the Spanish in the Portuguese do with barrels. So it's not just the vinegars, but it's ports and it's Sherri's and olive oils and all of the different things. It's a want. Wine is the kind of at the bottom of the list for me when it comes to barrels and no particular reason. It's just not where my interest really lies. But I find it fascinating what they do. So old school on the vinegars to so that's you know, the peach vinegar has been in the barrel for twenty five, twenty six years. They all of vinegars or aged minimum. It takes five to seven years for the alcohol to dissipate. So every vinegar from a starting point is five to seven years old. Now what's interesting about aging vinegars in a barrel is that the alcohol dissipates through the barrel itself. Yes, and so that's and yet they don't leak. Can you talk a little bit about the leaking versus? It's kind of it's kind of the vapor, but at the same time it's it's a little more. It's a little more complicated than that. There's there's a starter, a mother that I've that I use, that I was given or traded for a number of barrels that I build from our an Italian gentleman in trade for the starter. That starter is really what takes the vinegar to a whole whole new level. But it's that starter work, the work that the starter does on the with the enzymes within the barrel or within the vinegar. So it's pulling air in, it's constantly stirring and drawing air into the wine, which increases the acidic value. So it's basically an overoxidization of the wine to increase the acid. And then it's the that's the water molecules of the water vapor plus the alcohol vapor that evaporates through the wood in the barrel, which is called the angel share. So...

...on a typical vinegar barrel I lose anywhere from five to eight liters of vinegar every year out of the barrel, and that is water, primarily water molecules, and some of the alcohol. Most of the alcohol is eaten up by the actual and it's not even eaten up by the by the mother. It's the mother working away on the enzymes within the barrel that's constantly bringing turning air into the wine, which are evaporates alcohol. So I'm never afraid to pull the Bung on the barrel five six times a month, whereas wine, you put wine in a barrel, you put the Bung in and you leave it until it till you're at least tasting from it, which is an it were, from five to six to eight months down the road. So the barrels are constantly being opened. New Fresh air is being brought into the barrel every time you open undertake the bung out, which regenerates and revives or gives the mother a little more energy to keep working right. And just for listeners as well, then you use mothers with sour dough, you use mothers with COMP Bucca, you use mothers with anything that you're fermenting over a long period of time and that you want to have a starter. Yes, so when I was a kid we used to call sour dough at monster dough, because it actually has to eat all the time, and that's you feeding the mother right. And so in this particular case you don't feed the mother to feed. The mother gets fed by opening the barrel frequently and getting the oxygen and and I'm increasing. So I've got a I've got a mother barrel that I draw mother from. So when I'm starting a barrel, I take five liters of mother out of my mother barrel and put it in the barrel that I'm starting. But when I take five liters out, I'm also taking ten liters of vinegar or wine that's coming in the door and putting it in the mother barrel. So every time I use the mother I'm taking five leaders out, but I'm putting ten leaders in. One to feed the mother with fresh and secondly, to increase the volume so that fifteen liters of mother that I got fourteen years ago is now grown to close to six hundred and fifty seven hundred liters of mother. And I just want to say this because so many people don't actually prepare their own food, let alone actually prepare their own artisan products right this. So it gives you an idea of how, basically, once you start with abundance, you actually create more abundance. Right. Absolutely, absolutely. It's a very important concept in the world. You're either dealing with abundance you're dealing with scarcity, and it's much more happy life if you can actually work on the abundant side. Absolutely so, can you talk a little bit about your how you set up your life? I mean you're as an artisan. It must be kind of hard to make a living in Canada these days. What's going on? Yeah, it's a it's a tough any small business in and I don't have any experience outside of Ontario, but any small business working in Ontario is really tough. There's the labor laws and then there's all of the all of the health and safety and and yes, I it's all necessary, but at the same time it's a tough go. Ontario, or...

Canada's a player heart place to have a small business. There's no question about it. But I think, you know, I've been through my hardships. I went bankrupt not too long ago, it was five years ago, and basically lost everything and it's kind of I think it's the entrepreneur thing. It's going to happen to you once or twice and you jump in with both feet in if you get knocked down, you stand up, you wipe the dirt off your jeans and you carry on it or you start over. So that's kind of what I've done. And you know as much as I hear I am sixty years old and wishing that I had a retirement programm or retirement fund, which I don't, but at the end the end of the day, it's only money and and at the end of the day you have to enjoy it. So I enjoy the people that I meet. I mean amazing people from all over the world. I get invited all over the world to go and do things and and be places. I haven't taken any of them up on it yet, but and I've met some crazy musicians and movie stars and artists and all, and it's all has to do with this, so that I'm a believer and opening up everything to the universe. and not to sound to Corny or anything, because I hate sounded Corny, but just if you open up and you let the good things happen, then the good things that happen and the bad things that happen. You just got to kind of get over it and get on with it, so that that's sort of the way I look at it and I take on the day with the smile on my face and I hope I end the day with the smile on my face. And the ones that do that for me are the ones that I meet in between. And in terms of your creative entrepreneurship, because that's basically that's what you are. You have both sides. Can you tell me some of the challenges that shocked you about being on either side, either the creative side or the entrepreneurship side? Wow, that's a that's a big question, Teez. Without, without pulling it some industries into this, and I because I don't want to. I don't. It's been a it's just been a tough go and I think probably one of the hardest things that I found as a cooper one was your Canadian see you don't know what you're doing. I had that response from a number of different companies. We'll just call IT companies, right. Is that because coopers are considered a your European trade? Yeah, so it does. It's very typical for almost all our artists, any artist, creative person in Canada faces that. I mean how many you know the Group of seven went and studied in Europe. Yeah, and then, and then the other thing that that I but I always find it funny and I still too to do to this day, and that is you're a cooper. What are you doing? Making Vinegar, because vinegar is out there in the world.

Is Bad wine? Won't know. Actually it's really good wine. That just happened to go to vinegar. But but so when you're when you're a cooper, a company that's that's developing and you're making barrels for different industries and they're learning that you age vinegars and barrels, then that's kind of an oxy moron, or whatever you might want to call it. We love to call it multi passionate. Yeah, and and and I call it a big all, whatever, take your opinion and shall that kind of doesn't matter to me. Now we were talking earlier a bit about the the different kinds of you don't actually do any advertising. You tend to get your attention from word of mouth, and yet you're actually exporting now your work to several different companies. Can you tell me which, which work it is and how you divide your two businesses up and where it goes. Well, of the bear the barrels themselves. I don't do too much anymore. Have got three apprentices. I'm letting those guys learn. Learn that the the recoupering skills. I'm not building very many barrels, new barrels at all and and that made. That will change over time over the next couple of years. But in and it's only to introduce the the apprentices to building new barrels. They all have a lot to learn. There's way more to would barrel than just knowing how to physically make a barrel. That's as matter of fact. That's the easy part. It's even the sizing. What's the there's three different sizes of barrel, though. There's like thirty sizes. Thirty, yeah, there's the I mean I'm pulling a number over of the air, but yeah, there'd be a bitch of there's thirty sizes. Okay. So how many sizes do you specialize? There's a twenty four to thirty leader Furkin, then there's a fifty leader barrel, of one hundred liter barrel, a two hundred and twenty leader barrel and then a five hundred lead. Those are the key goes. Those, those are the ones that I that I typically have done. and which countries are they going to? Where are they going to? Just it's been Canada and some to the United States. When it comes to Barrelson, that's that's this big UN as far as I ever wanted to stretch or reach, because any more than that it involves more than one person and I'm only one person. So I were here at Prince Black, prince winery, and they actually are one of the few wineries that have decided to use your barrels. So these are Canadian oak barrels in order to do one of their I don't know what's Slaris Cast Uh Huh. It's like a brandy, but it's yeah, yeah, there's that. In princework county there's probably about fifteen, eighteen wineries that have used my barrels in the past. Some of them still have a couple of the barrels that they're using and then it's some went down into the states and that that's pretty much as far as the barrels have gone. When it comes to the vinegars, though, it's gone to Tokyo, Saudi Arabia,...

South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, there's about four or five states and pretty much across Canada, and it's the foodies and the big the people that kind of appreciate what you do, for for for what they have or what they like, is food. And then the chefs pretty much every one of those places that I just mentioned. That's that's the reason why it's gone primarily over the ocean. Across the ocean is two different restaurants and shafts. Now these shifts are all taking what your peach, vinegar or yeah, they're they're doing that. They're doing the peach. And then the Clearra, the the original one, which I'm down to only about ten twelve leaders left, and that then, that's the end of it. That's the thirty seven year old, it's sixty, it's it. Yeah, it's over the top. And then they take the peach, the peach in the risberry and the and the balsamic seem to be the three main ones that are that are traveling around now. Yeah, they are the ones that are totally appreciated. Yeah, and how do you actually ship them? By the box, or I mean it's in there bottled yeah, yeah, they're, but it's Bob. It's bottled and then packed in boxes and and and and most of the shipments are only small shipments, you know, like two or three cases, are not even sometimes not even that half a case two different places. And then there's other places. We did a big order in January and it was four hundred cases and it went to Taiwan, oh my God. And and that's how we need and that representative is already contacted me back saying that they received it, they at they and he's liking it, they're liking in Taiwan and that he's hoping to put in in order twice or three times the size for December because he wants to take it to China and in Japan. So it's yeah, so you're working with other entrepreneurs to who are actually a spreading your word. Yeah, that's very exciting. So before I get to my last question, which you know about, is whether or not your Canadian and what you think. Is there anything that I didn't ask you that you really want to mention? Um, no, I don't think so. No, okay, okay. So then my last question, and all of my podcasts are always this, are do you tell do you consider yourself a Canadian and, if so, what does that mean to you? Wow, yes, I am Canadian. I'm a one hundred percent Canadian. I'm very proud to be a Canadian. My my generations of my family have been Canadian. Six generations. Started in Ireland and East Coast to God rich, Gottish Ontario, and done again in Ontario. So my great grandfather and my great great grandfather will both blacksmiths in Dungannon, Ontario, outside of Godridge. My grandparents had a butcher shop in Gottridge. My grant, my father, was a was a butcher before you became a vice principal and Scarborough Board of Education at Toronto. But yeah, I take great pride in in in the fact that my family was not... any of the military services because the services they provided were necessity in necessities in the communities that they were living it, which is the blacksmith thing in the butchery. So I take great pride in that. And Yeah, I've got my great grandfather's blacksmith shop. I just found his blacksmith shop and done again and four years ago and and I managed to buy the the bench. His last is named carved into the back of the bench. George Bradford Nineteen One thousand nine hundred and twenty three is carved into the bench. I managed to get his blacksmith vice, which is part of it, and and the blower from the from the from the forge. So I yeah, I'm Canadian, a hundred percent Canadian. I love it. I wouldn't, I wouldn't. I wouldn't live any other any any other place in the world. We've got the greatest country in the world and and yeah, it would either. Canadians like to have fun. If they if they give them the chance, the opportunity to have fun. So yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate your time and I love, Love, love your vinegar. Thank you very much for introducing us. Thank you us to your art. Very nice meeting. Good to you two. Thank you for listening to an apologetically Canadian. This episode was brought to you by Cobo. Use My affiliate link from the show notes for five dollars off your first order today.

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