By Bryan Calandrelli, Niagara Region Editor
The timing of Leonard Oakes Estate Winery’s party celebrating their two double-gold medal winning wines from the annual New York Food & Wine Classic couldn’t have been more appropriate. Two weeks before, their 2008 Vidal Icewine and Steampunk Cider both received this award, with the Icewine even taking home the honor of “Best Dessert Wine” in NYS, but the real story behind the appropriately named “Double Gold Rush” event: it was the first public release of the aforementioned hard cider.
Being a lucky member of the industry and media, I was invited to the early tasting before the general public arrived and as I walked through the door I was greeted with a glass and some info on the wines, a pulled pork slider and a pour of the new cider. Jonathan Oakes was socializing with some growers and I had a chance to compliment him again on the deliciousness in my glass and get some more information about the newest addition to the winery’s tasting menu.
As diverse as the Niagara USA growing region is with vinifera, native, fruit and hybrid wines, Leonard Oakes is the first to make a true cider and their decision to go traditional was made a decade ago with LynOaken Farm’s planting of ten different English Heritage apple varieties.
After years of experimenting with small batches Oakes was convinced he could create a cider with the complexity and funk of the English ciders with the crisp, clean forward fruit flavors he thought the American palate would appreciate.
“We wanted to go away from the syrupy sweet over processed additive heavy ciders and go for a pure reflection of the apple with the structure of the English style combined with the American ideal of cider,” explained Oakes (pictured below left).
The winery’s own description of Steampunk says it all:
"Using a mélange of traditional English bitter sweet (Elllis Bitter, Binet Rouge, Chisel J, Dabinette, Harry Master, Major, Michelin, Madaille, Brown Snout, Sommerset Red Streak, Tremalt ) and new age dessert apples (Fuji and Braeburn), Steampunk CIDER is the geared up infusion of old world style with new world flare."
From what I’ve tasted, combined with what I’ve seen firsthand from when people taste it, it looks like Oakes has achieved exactly what he set out to. One sip of Steampunk inspires a flurry of words akin to refreshing, crisp, complex, clean, mouthwatering and addictive. The result is a dangerous combination of deliciousness and drinkability.
As the public portion of the event began, a sizable line formed from outside the tasting room through the door past the pork sliders and in front of the winemaker pouring his cider. Jonathan’s enthusiasm and excitement was contagious and everyone I saw was just happy to shake his hand and congratulate him and the winery’s success.
And judging from an equally long line at the cash register as I was leaving, there’s no doubt that Steampunk cider’s popularity will quickly grow among the cider, wine and beer drinkers who can get their hands on it.
I hesitate to even mention what will happen if just a small percentage of grocery stores that carry LynOaken Farms produce are allowed to sell Leonard Oakes’s ciders. Let’s just say there will be more planting of English heritage apple trees in their future.