By Bryan Calandrelli, Niagara Correspondent

With only twelve wineries in the Niagara region, news just doesn’t happen everyday. During most of the winter, a few wineries may only open on weekends, or in one case, one weekend out of the month. So now that winter is loosening its grip, some good news has surfaced with the melting snow.

Frontenac The 2009 Finger Lakes International Competition was good to several Niagara wineries, and there was one standout result. Leonard Oakes Estate Winery was awarded a double gold medal for its 2007 Frontenac. If you haven’t heard of this grape, don’t worry, it’s not on Wine Spectator’s radar yet. Bred by the University of Minnesota, this extremely cold hardy grape is meant for the climate of Lambeau Field or other frozen tundras.

Leonard Oakes does have small plantings of red vinifera and they are a winery to watch as their young winemaker, Jonathan Oakes, begins to get experience with the family's grapes. I am looking forward to their 2007 Meritage as well as tasting this Frontenac in my next visit to our easternmost winery on the trail.

In other goings-on, the official Niagara Wine Trail guide has added two more wineries to the map, both of which are listed as coming in 2009: Black Willow Winery and Victorianbourg Estate Winery have targeted late this year to open their doors to the public. Both are north of the Escarpment and the latter is situated right off of Route 18, Lake Road, a short walk from Lake Ontario. Victorianbourg has planted mostly vinifera including the heartbreak grape, pinot noir. In the near future we will be able to compare pinot from the clay-heavy soils of the escarpment to the lighter gravel soil near the lakeshore.

Freedom Run Winery, where I get to help with all sorts of stuff, has released three estate selections last week. These are the first such estate-grown vinifera wines released to the public from the winery. Their 2008 Riesling and naked Chardonnay are still adjusting to the bottle but they are already showing potential. Their estate Pinot Noir from 2007 has been showing well for months and has finally seen the light of day in the tasting room.

In fact, this year should see plenty of estate-grown wines in local tasting rooms. Arrowhead Spring, Freedom Run, Spring Lake, Victorianbourg, and hopefully a couple others will release their first wines from estate vineyards. With plenty of area wineries sending samples to wine magazines and competitions these days, I’m sure I’ll be reporting on some scores and medals again soon.