Leonard Oakes Winery's winemaker Jonathan Oakes

By Bryan Calandrelli, Niagara Escarpment Editor
Tasting notes by Julia Burke

Lenn_LOaLeonard Oakes Winery has remained somewhat under the radar here in the Niagara wine region. Lying just outside the Niagara County border a few miles into Orleans County, this young winery hasn’t yet benefited from the busy traffic that makes it to the Lockport/Cambria area wineries in the middle of the trail.

 To be honest, I’m just as guilty as the rest of them because I’d only been there once since they opened – that is, until Jonathan Oakes called me last month and invited me down there to see where they make the wines and taste some new offerings.

I was immediately struck by the knowledge and maturity of this relatively young winemaker. After receiving training on the Canadian side of the border, Oakes grabbed the winemaking reins of Leonard Oakes and hasn’t looked back. His 2007 Frontenac won a double gold at the Finger Lakes International Competition and his 2007 Meritage earned him a silver medal.

Both were made from fruit grown on the family’s estate vines.

While many winemakers would talk down the merits of hybrids like Chambourcin or Frontenac in private, Jonathan sees them as filling a niche and works to preserve their individuality while making the most complex wines he can. A recent tasting of his 2008s proved that he is making buzz-worthy wines from these varieties.

His 2008 Red Oakes is a blend of Frontenac, Noiret, Chambourcin and cabernet franc that shows chocolate, plum, cherry and pepper with some juniper notes on the finish.

The 2008 Frontenac shows blackberry fruit with clove, allspice, cedar and a hint of ginger on the back end.

The 2008 Chambourcin reveals serious jammy dark fruits, herbs and a slight astringent finish in its youth.

Lenn_LObLeonard Oakes grows the three major Bordeaux red grapes and Jonathan has been happy with what he’s gotten from his young vines already. The 2008 Cabernet Franc and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon both show nice acidity, with the franc leaning towards cranberry and cherry with black pepper and the sauvignon revealing more green pepper on the finish.

Jonathan’s Canadian winemaking experiences really shine through in his first estate ice wine and a late harvest Vidal Blanc, both from 2008. His meticulous approach, whereby he sticks to the standards of the VQA of Ontario (Vintners’ Quality Alliance), shows in these amazing dessert wines.

The ice wine shows tangerine, mango and peach aromas with balanced acidity and a clean finish. The late harvest Vidal brings rich apricot flavors and bright acidity.

Through these small batch offerings Leonard Oakes Winery is making a name for itself. They may be off the beaten path and may not be ready for wide distribution due to limited quantities, but they are impressing guests one by one in their tasting room and at the many off site events at which they pour.