York’s Vin 50 wines support graduate student scholarships

It is natural that with more than 90 special events, including academic conferences, symposia, lectures and concerts, planned as part of the celebration of York’s 50th anniversary (U50) in 2009, wine will be part of the mix.

So when a special U50-branded commemorative vintage that could be served at the receptions was first proposed to the U50 organizing committee by Sylvia Zingrone, executive director, Office of University Events & Community Relations, the committee got to work to create a "made for York arrangement". The idea was embraced and developed to include a partnership with a recognized vintner who would not only stock and ship the wine at no cost to York, but also make the wine available for purchase by the public with a return of a portion of sales to the University to benefit York’s graduate student population.

The organizing committee developed a strict list of criteria for a commemorative wine that would be worthy of the York name. The vintage had to be a Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wine made 100 per cent from grapes grown in Ontario, and the vintner should be a smaller local business open to having its wine privately branded and willing to offer a price point that included a return to the University in the form of a donation to support students. After a search, the U50 committee selected Lailey Vineyard, a family-run winery based in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

"Six vineyards were considered before Lailey was chosen to be the official supplier of the U50 vintages," says Cindy Bettcher, U50 project director. "The wines were selected for a number of reasons including their quality, taste and affordability."

Lailey Vineyard was also chosen to be the official supplier of the Vin 50 wines, says Bettcher, because the company was very willing to donate a portion of all retail sales to support graduate student scholarships. The wines, a red and white, were priced at $20 a bottle, including all taxes, and $3.69 from the retail sale of each bottle will be returned to the York to the Power of 50 fundraising campaign to support scholarships for graduate students.

"The Vin 50 wines are a way for York community members to celebrate the 50th anniversary and at the same time help our students," says Richard Fisher, chief marketing officer and a member of the U50 committee.

The University’s agreement with Lailey Vineyard means that all orders are fulfilled by the vineyard and York is not required to stock an inventory. The only cost to the University was that associated with the production of Vin 50 labels, which were designed by the Toronto-based doug agency. All orders from consumers and the University’s special event caterers are placed directly with the vineyard. Once received, the vintner applies the labels to the bottles and the order is shipped from Lailey to the purchaser.

The wines are two distinct VQA offerings, a 2007 Chardonnay and 2006 Cabernet Merlot, which the committee deemed worthy of the York name. Tasting notes prepared for the wines by Derek Barnett, Lailey’s winemaker, describe the Vin 50 Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula, as having sweet aromas of vanilla, yellow apple and pear, with just a hint of spice. On the palate, the wine exudes flavours of peach and pineapple, with a creamy texture balanced well by good acidity. The wine finishes with hints of grapefruit and spiced lemon. Drinking well now, this wine will also age beautifully for another five years.

The vintage of 2007 has been heralded as the best ever for growing vinifera grapes in the Niagara Peninsula. The Chardonnay grapes for this wine were harvested by hand, following a perfect growing season. The juice was cold-settled before being transferred to French oak barrels for fermentation and aging.

Tasting notes for the Vin 50 2006 Cabernet Merlot, VQA Niagara Peninsula, indicate the wine is medium-bodied with dark fruit aromas and a hint of spicy oak. Ripe black raspberry, blueberry and blackcurrant flavours with a sweet vanilla note are on the palate. The tannins are well rounded and well integrated and the rich, full-bodied wine finishes long with good balance.

Grapes for this wine were hand-harvested from Oct. 9 to 26 and are comprised of 44 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 per cent Merlot and 26 per cent Cabernet Franc. All grapes were fermented in small batches and were punched down by hand during ferment two to three times daily. After fermentation, the wine was run off into small barrels where it was aged for 16 months before being bottled.

Located along the Niagara River, Lailey Vineyard is a small winery devoted to producing excellent wines. The vineyard has received numerous accolades over the years for producing distinctive and complex wines. The grapes grown on Lailey’s 20-acre farm come from some of the oldest grape vines in Canada. In the early 1950s, William Lailey, founder of Lailey Vineyard, planted and propagated French hybrid varieties of grapes. In 1970, Donna and David Lailey purchased the vineyard from David’s parents, William and Nora Lailey.

The vineyard, which uses no herbicides in the production of its wines, has since added numerous varieties including Cabernet Franc, Muscat Ottonel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Merlot grapes, among many others. Under the care of Barnett as Lailey’s winemaker, the vineyard has received many awards for its vintages, including most recently a second place 2009 Cuvée Award for its 2007 Syrah, Niagara River VQA wine. Lailey Vineyard has also been recognized for producing exceptional Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and its Chardonnay has been hailed as the best in the area.

The vineyard welcomes visitors and tours are available by appointment at $5 per person. Lailey will host its annual Spring Open House on Saturday, May 9. Visitors can sample the estate-grown premium VQA wines from the winery’s tasting room while enjoying the spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. For more information on the vineyard, visit the Lailey Vineyard Web site.

For more information, or to order your own bottles of these special wines, visit the Shop U50 Web page on the U50 Web site.