By Rick VanSickle
Leaning Post winemaker/owner Ilya Senchuk (above in the barrel cellar) is not your prototypical wine baron in Niagara. He and his wife Nadia have carved out their niche from years of hard work and pouring their hard-earned cash (with help from friends and family) into a business that is still ramping up, still growing, and best of all, still exploring.
Ilya Senchuk is a winemaker with over 14 vintages under his belt in Niagara and New Zealand and honed his craft locally as the winemaker at Daniel Lenko and Foreign Affair wineries while establishing his Leaning Post “virtual” winery. When they were able, the couple bought a farmhouse and vineyard on the outer western reaches of Niagara in the tiny town of Winona and realized (only recently) their dream of becoming a full-fledged winery licenced to produce and sell wine from their own retail facility.
His wines have always impressed, sourcing grapes from top growers and usually bottling them under single-vineyard designations. Senchuk is one of the few winemakers who gets his hands on the personable Pinot Noir fruit from the historic Lowrey Vineyard.
While he has always sourced his fruit from around Niagara, his own vineyard in Winona yielded its first fruit this harvest and will start appearing in future Leaning Post wines under the Senchuk Vineyard designation.
It’s safe to say that Ilya and Nadia are firmly entrenched in the wine community of Niagara. But that is no reason to play it safe.
Senchuk released his first “secondary” label of wines in 2016, what he calls the “freaks and geeks” brown label wines. They are (and will continue to be) “two or three wines every vintage that are new, or natural, experimental or just things I wanted to try,” Senchuk tells me. “It’s a study on a theme, trying a particular idea.”
There are three wines in the debut “freaks and geeks” lineup: Leaning Post “The Geek” Riesling 2014, Leaning Post “The Barrel” Gamay 2014 and Leaning Post “The Freak” Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013.
Each wine has its own unique treatment, or lack of treatment, if you will.
For The Geek Riesling, Senchuk took his entire white production’s lees — that’s 11 tonnes of dead yeast cells, by the way — and let the juice rest on those lees for 24 months. The wine was wild fermented and finished with only 7.5 g/l of RS. “The wine gains complexity,” Senchuk explains. “We want to show a different side to Riesling. We are trying to give people a peek, a window, into what we’re doing here. We don’t do enough of that.”
“The Freak” Pinot is by far the geekiest wine in the series. It consists of one single barrel of McNally Vineyard fruit aged for 15 months in a one-year-old barrel. It was wild fermented with wild malo and no sulphur was added for a year. Minimal sulphur was added when VA (volatile acidity) was creeping up. “The idea was to use as little as I could in order to sell it. This was as natural as I’m willing to go to avoid high VA.”
The wine passed through the VQA panel “with flying colours.”
Note: A proposal to form a separate category for orange and natural wines is before members of VQA at the moment, which most expect to pass. Training of VQA tasting panel members will also take place, if passed.
“The Barrel” Gamay, made with a bit more structure with two years in a single two-year-old barrel and finished unfined and unfiltered. “It reminds me of steak tartar,” says Senchuk. “Almost bloody with a bunch of herbs.”
I tasted the “freaks and geeks” with Senchuk and some of the future brown label concoctions (watch for a 100% sulphur-free all-natural Pinot next year) plus a few from the current lineup at Leaning Post. Here’s what I liked.
Leaning Post Niagara wines
Leaning Post “The Geek” Riesling 2014 ($35, 89 points) — As mentioned above, wild ferment, two years on the lees of all the winery’s white wine production’s lees and finished nearly dry. Only 36 cases made. The nose is smoky with creamy and mineral-laden citrus/apple fruit and just a touch reductive. Under the creamy feel and sharp lemon-lime flavours is profound chalk and flintiness with bracing acidity and lime zest. Compare with below.
Leaning Post Wismer Vineyard Riesling 2015 ($25, 91 points) — I should note that the lees of this 2015 Wismer will be used for “The Geek” 2015 along with the rest of the white lees of the winery’s production — a modified solera system, if you will (crazy, right?). The nose has a floral edge turning to more lime, ginger, mineral, citrus rind and a baked apple character. With nine months resting on the lees, there is a certain texture to the wine in the mouth, a creaminess, with citrus, green apple, Mandarin orange and limestone minerality bolstered by a firm acidic backbone.
Leaning Post The Fifty Chardonnay 2015 ($22, 90 points) — The wine is 100% barrel fermented with partial malo and then transferred to stainless steel, so no barrel aging, with 10 months on the lees. It has a pronounced mineral nose with notes of apple skin, pear and soft tropical fruits. It’s creamy with chalky minerality and texture that highlights the ripe orchard fruits. Nothing is lost with the lack of oak in this wine; it’s a pure expression of Niagara Chardonnay.
Leaning Post Gamay 2014 ($25, 89 points) — Classic Gamay with 80% of the fruit seeing 10 months of oak (one new barrel, 14 older barrels). Nothing fancy here, just bright strawberry, cherry, cassis and plums with a bit of spice on the nose. It’s made in a perky, gulpable style with juicy red fruits and integrated spice notes.
Leaning Post “The Barrel” Gamay 2014 ($30, 89 points) — Same fruit as above but made unfiltered and unfined and two years in a single two-year-old oak barrel. Senchuk describes it as “funkier, earthier and dirtier” than the above Gamay. I love the nose, it shows complexity with dark fruits, more evident spice, earth and a floral tinge. Tannins are evident on the palate giving the wine a dry feel to go with sour cherry, plums, loam and barrel spice notes. Can cellar this for a couple of years.
Leaning Post “The Freak” Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013 ($45, 91 points) — Let’s start by saying this wine will not appeal to everyone, just looking at it, turning a brick red colour in all its cloudy goodness, will turn a few people off. But I revel in the geekiness of it, the near-natural aspect of the wine, and the aliveness of it. It’s so interesting on the nose with strawberry, earth and funk to go with savoury spices, herbs, spices and subtle earthiness and barnyard notes. It’s every changing in the mouth (I tasted this wine with Senchuk and later with staff at Bolete, a new St. Catharines restaurant in St. Catharines) with an array of wonderful meaty fruits, savoury spices, stewed herbs, loam and bright acidity. Something for the adventurous wine lover, but I would drink sooner rather than later.
Leaning Post Keczan Vineyard Syrah 2013 ($33, 88 points) — You take what the vintage gives, in this case, a cooler 2013 delivered a leaner, lighter vintage for Syrah, but still offers classic Syrah aromas of cherry, white pepper, herbs, spice, cassis and a lovely floral note. It’s a juicy wine on the palate with integrated spices notes and nicely balanced.