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New collaboration turns wine into hand sanitizer

Approximately 5,000 litres of wine was donated, which will be used to make around 1,000 bottles of hand sanitizer

Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) is contributing to Niagara’s pandemic efforts thanks to a new partnership with Dillon's Small Batch Distillers.  

CCOVI donated nearly 5,000 litres of wine to the Beamsville-based distiller, which will be transformed into approximately 1,000 bottles of hand sanitizer for the local community.  

Debbie Inglis, Director of CCOVI, says collaborating with Dillon’s on this initiative is a win-win.  

“When guests visit the institute’s wine cellar, they often ask us what we do with our research wine once the projects have ended,” Inglis explains. “Thanks to this partnership, we can tell them the wine is being given a second life, as well as keeping our community safe and healthy in the process.”  

Every year, the institute must discard the wine from completed staff and student research projects to make room in the cellar for new bottles. That research wine is purged and safely disposed of through a waste management program. When Inglis learned Dillon’s could use wine to aid in its hand sanitizer production efforts, she reached out to see how CCOVI could help.  

“Dillon’s has been a client of CCOVI’s Analytical Services since 2012, so we had that pre-existing relationship already,” says Inglis. “We got in touch with them and were able to come up with a partnership that met both of our needs while also giving back during this challenging time.”  

The distillery began donating small bottles of hand sanitizer to frontline workers at the onset of the pandemic. Demand for the product skyrocketed, which meant the distillery required a larger supply of base alcohol to keep up.  

Distiller Louis Hinshelwood, who has also been working on the hand sanitizer project, says donations like the one from CCOVI ensure the company has what it needs to produce a safe, quality product.  

“When people found out we were making hand sanitizer, the response was overwhelming and it was really endearing to see the community come together,” he says. “The relationship that we have with Brock is amazing, and it’s great to see a university step up and provide us with the wine we need to continue making hand sanitizer — because every little bit helps.”  

Hinshelwood says they make their hand sanitizer in much the same way as they distill their premium spirits. In this case, CCOVI’s donated wine enters a still and is heated to the boiling point, where it begins to release alcohol vapour. It is then run through a series of distillations that separate out the pure ethanol (the medicinal ingredient in hand sanitizer) before a mix of water, hydrogen peroxide and glycerol (to help moisturize your hands) is added to create a Health Canada-approved finished product.  

“It’s nice that it’s literally coming from the hands and work of people in the community who are now benefitting from it,” he says. “To be a part of that process and that feeling of coming together, there’s really nothing like it. It makes me proud to be a Canadian.”  

Distillery owner Geoff Dillon feels the same, saying that “it has been an incredibly moving experience to be able to step up with the support of this great community, and do what we can to help during such difficult times.”  

Inglis agrees.  

“CCOVI is a proud part of the Niagara community and contributing to that community is an important part of our mandate,” she says. “It is wonderful to work collaboratively alongside Dillon’s and our other industry partners on this innovative solution to helping our friends and neighbours in a time of need.”