Niagara wines

By Rick VanSickle

What a proud moment for Leaning Post winemaker Ilya Senchuk to finally be able to pour a wine from his very own vineyard in Winona.

The aptly named Senchuk Vineyard was planted from scratch in 2013 after Senchuk and his wife Nadia, pictured below outside the tasting and retail barn, bought the farmhouse and 11 acres of agricultural-zoned land in the Lincoln-Lakeshore appellation. The farm came with an abandoned vineyard that hadn’t been tended in over 20 years. It was cleared and planted to five acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.

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It’s an odd tract of land that Senchuk once called a “sweet spot” in Winona with atypical sandy, stony soil and a hard clay base and some interesting quartz mixed in.

“We are like a weird little island in Winona. It’s like we’re saving it,” he said during an interview when he first bought the property. He was pointing out beyond his farm that is slowly being surrounded by urban encroachment on both sides of his property.

His agricultural zoning ensures his property will be spared any industrial zoning and he’s used that gift to plant the once fallow field grapes.

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Four years later, Senchuk pours me a taste of his new Leaning Post The Freak Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2016 — the first wine to be made from the vineyard that has allowed the winery to make the leap from “virtual” to full-fledged winery with its own manufacturing licence.

Senchuk made the estate’s first wines in the barn on the property in 2012 and he and his wife Nadia built a comfy and homey retail and tasting room shortly after that.

The Freak Pinot is “an early window into our terroir,” said Senchuk just before Christmas during a tasting of new releases. He wanted his first “Senchuk” wine to be raw and natural and decided to put it into the “Freaks and Geeks” portfolio of wines he started last vintage.

The only addition Senchuk made to this wine was yeast nutrients. The wine was made with spontaneous primary fermentation with 50% whole clusters, spontaneous primary fermentation, no addition of sulphites and no fining or filtration.

As Senchuk says: It’s “the most unique Pinot Noir we have ever released.”

Best Niagara wine

Here’s a review of the first wine from the home vineyard, plus some other new releases from Senchuk. Also, Leaning Post assistant winemaker Ryan De Witte is releasing his second pét-nat wine this spring. We have a review of that wine, as well

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Leaning Post The Freak Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2016 ($45, 91 points) — This natural wine, the first ever wine from grapes grown at the home vineyard, has a beautiful and raw nose of crunchy red fruits, bramble and floral notes with an absence of spice. It is finessed and electric on the palate and shows a range of cherry, wild raspberry and red currants with something that feels and tastes like stony minerality. It’s built on medium+ tannins and if I tasted this blind would guess Prince Edward County Pinot and certainly not Lincoln-Lakeshore Niagara, which, oddly it is.

Leaning Post Lowry Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 ($42, previously reviewed as part of Wines In Niagara’s Most Thrilling Wines of the Year, 92 points) — Winemaker Ilya Senchuk has been working with Lowrey fruit since 2009 and prefers a deft touch with the oak treatment to allow the fruit to do most of the talking. He ages the wine in a combination of 35% new oak, 35% year-old oak and the rest pretty close to neutral barrels. The nose shows subtle underbrush, red and dark berries, integrated spice notes and vanilla accents. It picks up some bite on the palate with red fruits, cassis, earthy nuances, savory spices, bramble and a silky smooth delivery that has length on the finish. A pretty Pinot.

Best Niagara wine

Leaning Post The Geek Riesling ($35, 91 points) — OK, so pay attention here, the word “geek” in the name of this wine comes to it honestly. This Riesling, sourced from the Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench, sits on the lees of the entire white wine production (2014 vintage) at the estate for two years. It is bright and perky on the nose with lime, grapefruit, ginger, reductive notes, minerals and subtle yeasty/bready/leesy accents. It’s dry, super-dry, with texture and depth, but still reveals lime, minerals and grapefruit along a zippy frame of electricity. Quite the ride. Wine “geeks” take note: The 2016 version of this wine gets another vintage of lees added to the mix. And so on with each new vintage. Wilder, crazier each and every vintage.

Leaning Post Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($35, 92 points) — Penetrating aromas of pear, apple, flinty/chalky minerality, jasmine, toasted vanilla and light spice … what a beauty! This is a well-built Chard on the palate with rich and creamy orchard fruits on a textured frame that reveals profound minerality and integrated spice through a long, finessed finish.

Leaning Post Wismer-Armbrust Vineyard Gamay 2016 ($25, 92 points) — So this is what I would call giddy-up-gulp-gulp-Gamay, it’s that good! Senchuk sources the grapes from a tiny 1.4-acre vineyard at Balls Falls on the Twenty Mile Bench. It’s light in colour in the glass but packs a punch on the nose with barnyard-y aromas to go with red berries, rhubarb, bramble, cherry and a floral note. It’s gorgeous on the palate with a range of savoury/earthy red fruits, subtle spice from mostly older oak aging and freshness that won’t quit through the finish.

Leaning Post The Natural Unfiltered Gamay 2016 ($35, 90 points) — Part of the Freaks and Geeks line from Senchuk, this is exactly the same as the wine above, except it’s whole cluster pressed, no sulphur added, no filtration and no additives other than yeast nutrients. So, it’s essentially a natural wine. It takes on the same light colour as the wine above, but with a cloudy cloak in the glass. The nose displays bloody/iron notes to go with strawberry and cherry fruit and less of the savoury/earthy nuances of the above Gamay. It’s perfectly dry on the palate, feels less acidic than the wine above, and reveals pure red fruits that are gritty and raw. Very interesting.

Having a Field Day, Part II

Winemaker Ryan De Witte with his first Field Day pét-nat, last year’s version, at Leaning Post Winery. His second iteration, called World of Fog, will be released in March but the labels were not completed when it was tasted for review here.

First Fruit: World of Fog Pét-Nat VQA 2017 ($25, March release at Leaning Post winery, 90 points) — Ryan De Witte is the assistant winemaker at Leaning Post winery and makes just one wine under his virtual label First Fruit. The World of Fog Pét–Nat (pétillant naturel) sparkling wine follows closely in the footsteps of the first wine by De Witt last vintage called First Fruit: Field Day, an off-the-beaten-track, nearly 50-50 blend of Gewurztraminer and Muscat Ottonel from the Wismer vineyard in Niagara. It was whole cluster pressed into tank, bottled by hand with nothing added (including sulphur) to provide a natural, cloudy and wholly geeky sparkler.

His second effort, named World of Fog after the Tom Waits song I Don’t Want to Grow Up (performed by the Ramones, above), is a little less wild, still geeky and natural, yes, but not quite as untethered as the last iteration. He has again chosen to use Muscat from the Wismer Vineyard as his muse, but with skin contact Gewurztraminer this time. As De Witte explains: “The destemmed Muscat grapes were soaked overnight then added to the press while it still had some of Gew skins from the previous press load. I tumbled the Muscat with it together in the press for a little while to mix them up, then I pressed. I was hoping to get some of the remaining sugars and spicy aromatics out of the Gew … I think it worked out.

“The finished wine to me ends up with a spicy, ginger character to go along with the floral, grapeyness of the Muscat.”

It’s still made in a pét-nat style (made by taking still-fermenting wine and bottling and capping it to allow the fermentation to complete in the bottle) and is crafted naturally, meaning nothing is added to this wine. In the glass, there is a gentle mousse, a light copper colour and some cloudiness, but not to the extent of last year’s wine. It is beautifully aromatic with pulpy citrus, fuzzy peach, grapefruit and with wonderfully funky, yet subtle, notes of smoke, gunflint and ginger/lychee. It’s bright and expressive on the palate with electric acidity and a slight reductive/mineral note to go with citrus, melon, crushed peaches and fresh-stomped grapes. It’s a funky vino and I’m so happy these kinds of out-of-the-box wines are being explored in Niagara. They deserve our attention.

De Witte says the wine passed VQA in early January, something his first version did not, but still sold out quickly enough through the retail store at Leaning Post. He hopes to have it ready for purchase by March.