Leonard Oakes Estate Winery
Medina spot is a must-do on the Niagara Wine Trail
Clockwise from top left: Jonathan Oakes, the tasting room, scenes from the orchard grounds
When Leonard Oakes broke ground for the first apple trees at his LynOaken farms in 1912, he could not have imagined that some 100 years later his land would be transformed by his great-grandson into one of the region’s first wineries and cider makers.
By the turn of this century, the Oakes family—including trained winemaker Jona- than Oakes, great-grandson of Leonard— saw the need to diversify the family farm beyond the established apple crop. Falling produce prices and changing tastes led the family to seek income alternatives. Fortunately, the growing popularity of local foods and a booming regional wine industry were just the catalysts needed to transform the family farm.
Today, Leonard Oakes Winery bridges tradition and trend. Jonathan Oakes and team are crafting top ice wines and other trendy beverages, while honoring their history of a family farm steeped in local pride.“We try to make wines that are representative of the flavors of our area,” says Oakes. He admits that it’s a develop- ing wine culture in western New York State, but one that is growing.The winery is part of the Niagara Wine Trail, which now boasts twenty-two member wineries (with more opening every year). The trail is becoming well known for ice wine, riesling, cabernet franc, and more recently, hard cider.
With summer in full swing, take a scenic drive on route 104 west of Rochester— past cobblestone homes and antique markets—to Leonard Oakes for an enjoy- able afternoon of wine tasting. The tasting room is a beautiful open space where elegance meets country charm. The large patio overlooks apple orchards, and, on a hot summer day, its proximity to Lake Ontario makes for cooler breezes and comfortable temperatures. Be sure to try the award-winning ice wine. The syrupy-sweet goodness is gold in a glass. These wines are produced by allowing the grapes to freeze on the vine, in the perfect temperature conditions of thir- teen degrees for four hours. The grapes are then quickly harvested and pressed to
obtain the sought-after dessert wine. “There are few places in the world that will give you this balance of the right soil and the right climate,” says Oakes. “The beautiful thing is that it’s a niche product.”
Lake Ontario creates a microclimate that makes the Niagara region a great place for grape growing.The Niagara Escarpment—a band of limestone that forms a ridge running east to west through western NewYork and beyond—helps maintain more moderate temperatures compared to the surrounding region.This creates a growing climate similar to Burgundy in France.The limestone in the soil subtly influences the taste, too, creating unique wines with a distinctive local flavor.
The Leonard Oakes ciders are also making a name for themselves in the beverage industry. Recently named one of the best ciders in the Unites States by the New York Times, the Steampunk Cider is a crisp and refreshing summer brew. Made entirely from apples grown at the family’s LynOaken Farms, the cider, too, blends tradition with trend. Hard cider was popular with early settlers in the region, and Oakes is taking it to a new level with this refined version of a classic beverage.
At Leonard Oakes, the family’s passion for their farm and its prod- ucts overflows into every glass they pour. Jonathan and his aunt Wendy—who runs the tasting room—are outspoken advocates for the Niagara Wine Trail. They’ve teamed up with local brewer- ies and restaurants to build awareness for this hidden wine region because they believe the buzz creates a rising tide for everyone. oakeswinery.com
Katie DeTar (katiedetar.com) is the host and producer of the PBS series Fringe Benefits. Follow her on Twitter @katiedetar.