The winery devotes itself, principally, to producing exceptional Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Riesling, with respect for the unique characteristics of the vineyard site and the conditions of each vintage.
“We listen to the vines, so they can tell us what we need to do to them. After 40 years of listening, we like to believe we are becoming fluent in the language of the vine. Everything we do here, from grape to glass, we do by hand, in partnership with the vines, the earth, and the micro-climate they grow in. Our wines express the natural characteristics of the varietal and the vineyard they come from. Every step of the winemaking process is a dance with them that shifts each year as the vines, the earth and the weather conditions shift.”
- David Lailey (Partner & Viticulturalist)
The partners share a vision of producing wines that rival the best wines from the most distinguished wine regions in the world.
Donna Lailey – Viticulturalist
Donna Lailey was a physical education teacher before becoming a farmer in 1970. She and her husband David converted the Lailey family fruit farm into a thriving vineyard with a reputation for growing top quality grapes. Donna has been an active force in the evolution of the Ontario grape and wine industry and in the Niagara business community. She has also held several government appointments in the agricultural sector. Donna is a founding member of the VQA and was named the first Grape “Queen” in 1991 for the best vineyard in Niagara.
Derek Barnett – Winemaker
Born and raised in England, Derek studied agriculture before emigrating to Ontario in the early 70's, where he worked in an ever changing agricultural environment north of Toronto. There, he learned the art of winemaking and ignited his continuing passion, dedication and enthusiasm for producing the best VQA wines from grapes grown at Lailey Vineyard.
David Lailey – Viticulturalist
David Lailey is a retired teacher of History and English who is very much attached to this piece of land that he farms and on which he has lived most of his life.
Tonya Lailey - Sommelier and Sales Manager
Tonya grew up on the Lailey Vineyard, spending countless hours working in the vines. She left the farm to study political science, completing her Masters at Queen’s University in 1998. In the fall of 2000 Tonya completed her Sommelier certification and helped produce the first vintage of Lailey Vineyard wines.
Judith Barnett – General Partner
Judith has been an active partner in the development of the winery from start-up, and has also acted as office administrator and book keeper.
Yves Starreveld – General Partner
Yves is a neurosurgeon practicing in Calgary. He was an active player in the Lailey Vineyard move into wine production. He continues to provide general management input.
- William and Nora Lailey farmed fruit trees and a few hybrid grape varieties on this parcel of land.
- David, their son, and his wife Donna, bought the farm and began to replace fruit trees with vitis vinifera grape vines.
- After selling grapes for many years to wineries, Donna and David began processing their grapes themselves to sell to home winemakers and small wineries committed to premium wine production.
- Lailey Vineyard expanded again when Donna became a grape negociant – buying, processing and reselling grapes to interested buyers wanting quality fruit from Ontario’s most promising and well-managed vineyards.
- Donna, who managed the vineyard, was named Grape Queen, an award that honors the most impressive and well-maintained vineyard of the year in the Niagara Peninsula.
- Derek Barnett, a devoted customer who had created award-winning wines year after year from grapes grown in the Lailey Vineyard, joined them as winemaker.
- Lailey Vineyard took the next step in their evolution and obtained a winery license.
- Derek and Judith Barnett joined them as business partners along with their daughter Tonya Lailey and her husband Yves Starreveld.
- Derek Barnett was granted the title of Winemaker of the Year in Ontario at the Ontario Wine Awards and Lailey Vineyard Winery produced its first vintage.
- Lailey Vineyard Winery continues to win international acclaim at the world’s most prestigious wine competitions.
Lailey Vineyard Winery is located in the Niagara River sub-appellation with the soils explained by VQA as:
“The soils of this appellation have developed on the bedrock of the Queenstown Formation, a red shale with high silt and clay content. With its proximity to the river, this appellation shows significant soil variation along its lengths, specifically in terms of drainage. In the south, sub-soils are well drained and have medium to low water-holding capacities, favouring dry conditions later in the season. These conditions have a positive effect on grape quality, encouraging vines to grow deep, wide root systems, and devote energy to fruit production. In the north, sub-soils tend to be slightly less well drained and have a relatively high water-holding capacity, providing an advantage in particularly dry seasons.”
The bit about it having significant variation is very true. Our vineyard is long and narrow with the soils at the back (furthest from the river) being mostly loamy sand. There are some quite gravely bits in the middle (old vines), and the closer you get to the Niagara River the more clay is found. The 3.2 acre parcel that is right beside the Niagara Parkway is in fact the very spot where in 1799 John McFarland set up a kiln to fire the bricks needed for his home (still standing across the street). The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown there have a significantly different character from those grown on the rest of the site.
In the 1950's Bill and Nora Lailey farmed tender fruit trees. In the 1970's David and Donna Lailey replaced the trees with grape vines and learned to grow them for wine. This involved studying the land - the make-up of the soil in all of its wild variations, the low spots where frost rests, how the air flows and what varieties grow best where. There is a lot to know and to observe about even the smallest parcel of the planet and we have come to respect the slowness of sound viticulture and of good farming generally.
We are proud of our farming heritage and as eager as ever to become better at and smarter about what we do here. The long-term viability of a farm is a measure of sustainability. We consider Lailey Vineyard to be a farm of the future, as much as it is one of the past. We feel privileged to be able to grow vitis vinifera in one of only a few spots in Canada where this is even possible. As the pressure builds to develop much of Canada's most valuable agricultural land, we want to ensure that this vineyard remains one.
The paradox of preservation is that it requires change. Flexible and responsive practices have long been the crux of a viable farm. So, we will continue to make changes to lessen our environmental impact and to improve the efficiency and viability of our vineyard.
Winemaker and business partner, Derek Barnett, favors low tech methods and relies heavily on his highly trained palate and his wisdom collected over nearly two decades of critically acclaimed winemaking from Niagara grapes. Yes, there is a lot to know and to observe in even the smallest lot of fermenting grapes.
Here is what we are doing now, to ensure that Lailey Vineyard has a future as a healthy farm and winery - ecologically and economically speaking, as the two will increasingly go hand-in-hand.
- no applications of herbicides - hand hoeing and mechanical weed control only
- natural fertilizers - mushroom house compost, grape pomace, brush cuttings, cover crops
- hand-work-centred viticulture vs. tractor-work-centred: less soil compaction and less fuel consumption and exhaust from tractors
- biodegradable tying twine vs. plastic ties
- prevention of fungus through disciplined management of canopy growth - creating good air flow through the vines to avoid the conditions in which funguses thrive
- hand harvesting - low impact - good for soil, good for vines, good for the condition of the fruit for winemaking
- our winemaking practices are hand-centred rather than mechanically-centred
- manual punching down of fermenting reds
- small lot production in barrels that are rotated through many phases of use until they are eventually sold for home decorating uses or used to make wine bottle stands or wood chips for barbecuing
- manual lees stirring in barrel
- gravity fed bottling
- minimal use of pump to move wine generally
- use of the naturally cold temperatures in winter for cold stabilization whenever possible
To help to cultivate a thriving local food and wine culture, all of our winery events that involve food revolve around locally grown and made food. We are excited about the evolution of the local food culture and the quality and practices of a growing number of local food producers. We not only serve these local products enthusiastically and with careful attention to wine pairing, but we let our customers know where they were made, who made them and where to buy them.
- built in the summer/fall of 2001
- designed by Donna Lailey's brother Barry Isenor
- constructed from IntegraSpec insulated concrete forms - this is a highly energy efficient, strong, sound absorbing design with the properties for excellent air quality
- the winery is clad with untreated white oak - it is silvering well
- in-ground cellar (next to Brickyard Vineyard so it is built in heavy clay) keeps barrel-aged Chardonnay and Pinot Noir cool naturally and warm enough naturally for all but the very coldest days of winter
- Tonya Lailey - Sommelier and Sales Manager