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Sunday, March 3, 2024
Hulley: the winemaker and the musician

Welding copper might be one of the only things Taylor Hulley doesn’t know how to do.

The dripping pipe in his home next to an elegantly deteriorating barn on Coyote’s Run acreage is incidental, and Hulley is busy turning music into wine.

The local musician and artist spent some time in his twenties travelling in BC and and Costa Rica. On his return he decided to go out and get a job. “I was riding my bicycle, thinking I should apply at Tim Hortons or something when a car pulled up next to me. My friend Andrea Sheppard was in the passenger seat, and her dad leaned over and said, ‘Hey, want to work for us tomorrow?’ I had no idea getting a job was so easy,” he says, smirking at his own joke.

He didn’t even know where Dave Sheppard worked, and had to call his friend to find out that his job the following day would be at Coyote’s Run Estate Winery, where Sheppard was the winemaker. That day of casual labour rolled into another and another, with Hulley’s myriad skills moving him from outdoor construction to indoor tile work to barrel cellar jobs. “One day they told me to come in on Saturday for a job interview for a position in retail. I said ‘Nah, people aren’t my thing.’” He went to the interview anyway. “Turns out the only question in the interview was, ‘What size T-shirt do you wear?’”

Hulley started at the winery in 2010, and eventually became so passionate about the industry that he took a course and graduated from Niagara College in 2016, promptly becoming the assistant winemaker. With Sheppard’s departure Hulley stepped up to become the official winemaker. “I’ve overseen the full cycle now, a full year of winemaking. I can ease up a bit, have some free time.”

“Free time” is a relative concept, given Hulley’s passions. “I love making wine, but when I dig deep and ask myself truly what am I on this Earth for, it’s making music.”

For Hulley, that began when his parents bravely bought their 10-year-old son a drum kit, and signed him up for lessons with local percussion legend Penner MacKay. “I still remember Penner drumming on tables, walls, ceilings. He was amazing,” reminisces Hulley. “I haven’t stopped playing since.”

He’s also learned the bass guitar and sings too. “I was playing bass in the Hammer Brothers [a local funk band], then they all started having kids and the band just dissipated. So I decided screw it, I can learn how to play guitar.” Keen local supporters of live music at Silversmith Brewing Company brought Hulley in in the early days of their own inception, and he honed his singer-songwriter skills in “church.”

Enter Laurel Minnes, Niagara force majeure — or Majora, as her band is called.

“Laurel saw me play, and I asked if she would sing on my album, mostly so I could just look at her and be with her — but also because of her amazing voice,” Hulley confesses. Soon the pair became a couple, and also formed a musical partnership. They share the house in the vineyards with Minnes’ four rescue cats, and share the stage as Laurel & Hulley.

Minnes’ is a long shadow — she’s currently up for three Niagara Music Awards, and has several prominent projects on the go. “I’m trying not to get lost in her personality, which is so big and strong,” says Hulley. “It would be so easy because she is so amazing. But I want to keep my own vision.”

That vision runs throughout his passion for wine, music and Minnes. Part of it is a seemingly simple wisdom he discovered while reading theology during his travels. “I asked myself, ‘What is important? Why am I here on Earth?’ The answer became very clear — fun. I’m trying to blend fun into all aspects of reality.”

Hulley’s mother Judy is a bookkeeper, and his father Doug is a trained clown — he belonged to the Popcorn & Peanut Banging Bump & Beat It Barely Together Band. “When I hold a guitar, I feel my mother’s logic in my left hand, making the chords. I feel my dad’s playfulness in the right hand, which can do anything it wants on the strings,” he explains with great gratitude for his beginnings.

Hulley is a champion Niagarafile. “What an incredible place Niagara is. The thundering waters get into people’s soul.” In his teens, Hulley won a Young Citizen of the Year award. Roddy Heading, who nominated Hulley and ran the fondly-remembered teen-focused Beehive, says, “Hulley represented us all with energy and focus, speaking loudly and proudly for all the young people in Niagara.” Sharing Hulley’s love of the area, Heading goes on to say, “Excelling in paradise is a fine life goal. The future of Niagara looks bright with men like Hulley taking up the torch.”

Hulley’s torch does indeed shine brightly into the future. This 31-year-old winemaker seems to have found roots and wings and everything in between, and is ready to soar. He also seems to have found a way to unfold time — perhaps using fun as the tool. Along with being the winemaker and main management of Coyote’s Run, Hulley is also very involved in a new venture: Garage D’or Ciders. He designs their cheekily clever labels and works in other capacities with the team. The ciders are often available in NOTL at Silversmith and the Pie Plate.

Various music groups in Niagara count Hulley as a member, including alt rock Ol’ Child and Minnes’ award-winning Minuscule project.

He’s also in high creative gear. “I’m ready now to move on to the next album,” he says, pointing to a thick black binder of songs on the kitchen table. “I have an idea of making an album around wine, and wine around music. Make a bottle of wine and an album together — sit down with the bottle and press play. Blend it together: New wine release, new music release, with amazing local talents like Whitney Pea, Majora, Laurel…. The talent around here is immeasurable.” As usual, Hulley starts with his own ideas, and ends up tooting the horns of others.

In further plans and blends, Hulley enthuses about the living organism that is wine, and his belief that it responds to the creative energy surrounding it. “I play music in the barrel cellar — the wines are aged in music.” To further this process, and to celebrate local talent, Hulley is launching the Barrel Cellar Songwriter Series at Coyote’s Run this Saturday, Oct. 6 at 4 p.m. “Free to get in, wine by the glass, maybe some barrel samples, we’re launching some new reds — but the important thing is this is all about listening, really listening to the music.”

Hulley also has plans to revive the Peace in the Park event — a youth-focused multi-entertainer concert with art and other activities in Simcoe Park. “Maybe we’ll even get Starlit Lounge to reunite for the show,” he says dreamily.

Laurel & Hulley will be the Old Winos’ guests at the Old Winery Restaurant on Oct. 12.

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