Faik Turkmen regards the vineyard's legacy with respect – and the founders are delighted
Lailey Winery on the Niagara Parkway has a new owner – and founders Dave and Donna Lailey say they’re “thrilled.”
Faik Turkmen, who bought the property in October, exudes a contagious sense of joyful wonder, along with a deep respect, for the vines, the soil and the climate that nourish them.
Lailey was one of the earliest vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake and until the family sold it in 2015 it produced and was renowned for a range of fine table wines.
The new owners focused instead on high volume sales of icewine and large group tours, from 2015 until 2021.
Turkmen's purchase of the property portends a return to its roots.
"We are going to forget the last few years happened," he says. "I’m not interested in continuing with the bus traffic. We are a small winery, just 21 acres. It was a family winery and we want to replicate that going forward.”
Turkmen is unequivocal in his expression of appreciation for the legacy and tradition of the Lailey vineyard and wines.
The path that eventually led him to buy Lailey last fall began many years earlier.
Turkmen, who worked in finance and consulting at the time, began visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake with his family in 2007, when they first came to Ontario from Turkey.
His children were young then and, for the family, “this was our happy place. We came here every other weekend, to buy wine and have dinner. Eventually we thought, maybe we should buy a piece of land here.”
Fate appears to have played a hand in what happened next.
Turkmen, who comes from a farming family, tells the story this way.
“In 2005, I lost my mother and she left me a small sum of money. One day, years later, when we were visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake, we crossed Line 5. The property there was for sale. The downpayment was exactly the amount my mother had left me. I thought it was a sign and we bought the land.”
Turkmen has added to the few rows of Chardonnay grapes that were already on the 46-acre parcel of land and he is producing wine under the Stonebridge label.
“With Stonebridge, I want to produce wine that reflects the area, with as little intervention as possible,” he explains.
Acclaimed winemakers Peter Gamble and Ann Sterling work with Turkmen, and he’s had seven harvest seasons on that land so far. As the wine aged, he knew he needed a bricks and mortar winery where he could sell it.
Turkmen planned to build a winery, but issues with permits and supply chains were exacerbated by COVID and made construction difficult. So instead, he began to look for a place to buy.
“The agent called me one day and said, 'There’s a place. It’s way out of your budget, but let’s look.' So I walk in and make the standard mistake – I fell in love with it!”
“It,” of course, was Lailey Vineyard.
Turkmen took the money he had saved for construction, got some partners, and bought the place within six weeks.
He reached out to the Laileys and they walked through the vineyard together.
“It’s more their place and I wanted their blessing," Turkmen says. "I have a philosophy of respecting the land. What I want to do is not very different from what they used to do.”
The admiration is mutual.
“I was thrilled to meet Faik. We spent 45 years of our life on this land, so we’re very happy to see it in good hands,” says Donna Lailey.
When the Laileys bought the land from David's parents in the early 1970s, it was planted with fruit trees, but farming fruit wasn’t profitable. The Laileys gradually replanted.
“First I planted the Pinots and Chardonnay. I looked after those. Nobody touched my grapes. They were the 10 rows at the front of the property,” Donna recalls.
The work was hands-on – and hard.
“I remember one winter, it was the same year that Terry Fox was running across the country. I was pruning the vines, and it was cold, so cold. I went inside for a moment and saw Terry Fox on the news, and I thought, 'If he can do that, I can do this.' And I went back outside and finished pruning,” she recalls with a wry grin.
After many years of selling grapes and grape juice to area winemakers, they decided to build the winery in 2001, and it became very successful.
“We were at our peak when we sold in 2015,” Donna says, adding, “David was 76 and I was 75, so it was time.”
“Derek (Barnett) was our first and only winemaker,” she says.
Barnett, who founded Meldville virtual winery after Lailey was first sold in 2015, is also happy with the new change in ownership.
“I think it’s great. I hope it will get back to where it was. I got a lot of enjoyment making wine from those grapes. It was amazing. We made lovely wine that people enjoyed drinking, and we saw a lot of familiar faces come back. It was a great time.”
Turkmen muses he may “try to convince Derek to come and produce one of his classics, maybe in a couple of years.”
In the meantime, there is much to do, tending to the vineyard, and enhancing the production and storage facilities on site.
“We’ll find creative solutions, to use space more effectively, and we will produce everything here.”
The retail space features both Stonebridge and Lailey wines.
And Turkmen is intent on welcoming NOTL residents.
“We want to get locals back. There are so many people who have stories and memories here,” he says.
“We’ll be doing tastings and wine by the glass outside. After Easter, we’re partnering with Pig Out food trucks to do BBQs on the weekends and we’ll increase seating capacity outside.”
Reflecting on his transformation from successful consultant to grape grower and winery owner, Turkmen flashes a friendly smile and says, “This is more fun.”