By Rick VanSickle
Buying a vineyard and home on the outer edges of Niagara was always a risk for Leaning Post’s Ilya and Nadia Senchuk, but nearly a decade later, they couldn’t be more thrilled with what they have discovered.
“This wine is the culmination of nine years of our life,” says Ilya. “Ever since we bought our property in 2011 we have dreamed of making a wine with this much ‘Pinocity.’ ”
The wine that’s making Senchuk, owner/winemaker of Leaning Post Wines with his wife Nadia, so excited is the 2017 Senchuk Pinot Noir that was grown from scratch in what he has now come to believe is the unique terroir of their farm. Planted row-by-row and nurtured by the couple, and never fully understanding what they had until it was finally in a bottle, the third bottling “truly is one of the best wines we have ever made. We are growing Pinot at ridiculously low yields (1.4-1.8 tonnes/acre), allowing wild ferment and malo and keeping low sulphites to bring you the absolute best of the terroir of our property. This kind of wine is the reason I became a winemaker. If you want to experience the best that Leaning Post has to offer, this is it,” a giddy Senchuk says in a video posted on the Leaning Post Facebook page.
The Senchuks above, bought the farmhouse that sits on 11 acres of agricultural-zoned land in the Lincoln-Lakeshore appellation in 2011. The farm came with an abandoned vineyard that hadn’t been tended in over 20 years. They cleared the land and planted five acres in July of that year to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Two years prior, Senchuk was just launching what was then, his virtual Leaning Post label, and came out of the gate with two wines — a Riesling and a Pinot Noir — while making wine full-time at the appassimento style winery Foreign Affair. The farm and vineyard allowed Leaning Post to make the leap from “virtual” to full-fledged winery with its own manufacturing licence and they were off on a new adventure of independence with a full-fledged winery, their own grapes and a tasting/retail facility. The only mystery left wouldn’t be revealed until several years later.
It’s a unique tract of land that slopes from the escarpment to Lake Ontario that he calls 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 in 2011, pointing out beyond his farm that was slowly being surrounded by urban encroachment on both sides of his property. His agricultural zoning ensures his property will be spared any industrial zoning. He used that gift to plant his once fallow field with five acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which has paid off in spades — both the Chardonnay and Pinot from the home vineyard are exquisite, expressive wines and important cogs in the single-vineyard mosaic of Niagara terroir-driven wines.
I tasted a selection of Leaning Post wines virtually with Senchuk recently via Facebook live. Here is what we tasted, plus some reviews from Wines In Niagara’s Michael Lowe.
Leaning Post is offering free shipping anywhere in Ontario on orders of 6 or 12 bottles (mixed cases welcome). Go here to order or call 905-643-9795 to order directly.
Leaning Post Petillant Naturel 2019 ($25, 90 points) — This 100% Muscat Ottonel sourced from the Twenty Mile Bench was first introduced to Leaning Post by assistant winemaker Ryan de Witte under his First Fruit label. De Witte left Leaning Post this year to become the winemaker at Rust Wine Co. in B.C. but Senchuk liked the wine and has continued to make it in the same style. It’s a natural style sparkling wine with fermentation finished in the bottle and with lees left in the bottle. There is nothing added (including sulphur) and nothing taken away. The only difference is Senchuk inoculated the wine as opposed to wild fermentation. It pours a lovely cloudy light gold colour in the glass with a perfumed nose of peach, grapefruit, creamy/leesy notes, ginger, bright citrus and just the right amount of funk. It’s tangy, juicy and sparkly on the palate with grapefruit dominating and creamy peachy/orchard fruits chiming in. It’s bright, fresh and vibrant through the finish.
Leaning Post Wismer-Foxcroft Riesling 2017 ($25, 90 points) – Look for plenty of lemon, lime and apple on the nose, which follow to the palate where the honeyed lime zest and apple take centre stage. It’s clean, fresh, dry and laden with limestone mineral notes on the finish. (Michael Lowe review)
Leaning Post “The Geek” Riesling 2017 ($35, 90 points) – Definitely a wine for the geeks. The lees of all Leaning Post’s white wines from 2014, 2015 and 2016 are blended in and left to rest for 22 months. It’s then bottled without fining or filtration. The result is a complex wine showing flinty mineral, musk, and bruised peaches on the nose. On the palate, there’s a creamy richness loaded with stone fruit, lively acidity and a definite reductive aspect. It’s a cool wine for us Riesling geeks. (Michael Lowe review)
Leaning Post The Fifty Chardonnay 2018 ($23, 91 points) — Sourced from fruit grown on the Twenty Mile Bench, this version of The Fifty was barrel fermented but aged in stainless steel. The nose shows bright apple, pear, peach, stony minerality and some creaminess. It has a lovely creamy texture on the palate with rich pear, apple and citrus accents with subtle, underlying spice notes through a vibrant finish. Great value here.
Leaning Post Wismer-Foxcroft Chardonnay 2017 ($40, 93 points) — Senchuk has been making a Wismer sourced Chardonnay from the Twenty Mile Bench since 2012, but it is the cooler years like this 2017 version that he prefers to make and drink. “There’s weight and power, but it’s really about the length,” he says. The grapes were hand picked, hand sorted, and whole cluster pressed. Once the wild fermentations were completed, the wine remained in French oak barrique (40% new, 20% 1-year-old, 40% 3+ year-old) without stirring of the lees for 14 months. Such a lovely perfumed nose of ripe pear, apple, quince, lemon accents, toasted almonds, spice and that vein of chalky minerality that rages through the Wismer vineyard. Beautiful mouth feel on the palate with pear, pineapple, citrus, creamy/spicy notes, saline/chalky minerality and all perfectly finessed through a long, racy finish. Can age 5+ years. Gorgeous.
Leaning Post Wismer Vineyard Gamay 2018 ($25, 89 points) — The 2018 vintage in Niagara was tough, of that there is no doubt. “It was a lot of work. Timing for Gamay was the worst and it was a pain in the ass to make,” says Senchuk. “But when it was over we were super happy with it.” It shows the lighter colour of the vintage but lovely aromas of jammy raspberries, cherries, savoury herbs, earth, forest floor, plums and spice. It’s nicely held together on the palate with earthy/spicy red fruits, smoky notes and freshness on the finish.
Leaning Post Senchuk Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 ($65, 94 points) — You may question the $65 price tag, but consider the incredibly low yields Senchuk gets from his home vineyard — 1.4 to 1.8 tonnes per acre. There’s that, plus the fact this is a rare treat from a new terroir at the far edge of Niagara just now being realized. Senchuk is also one of the five winemakers in Niagara to source Pinot Noir from the Lowrey Vineyard in St. David’s, so you can buy and taste both Niagara Pinots side by side from vineyards that couldn’t be farther apart in the region. Senchuk is much cooler than St. David’s and needs long hang time to ripen the concentrated berries. “It shows density and power, but it’s not heavy all,” Senchuk says. “I think it’s one of the best wines I’ve made.” It’s actually the third vintage of from this vineyard, but the first that is widely available (if you call 110 cases widely available). It spent 17 months in French oak barrels (60% new, 20% 1-year-old, 20% 3-year-old). Such an impressive perfumed nose of black cherries, beets, floral notes, forest floor, integrated spice notes and a lovely foraged mushroom/umami thing going on. It has depth, intensity and power on the palate with firm tannic structure that caresses a range of savoury red berries, minerality, underbrush, or as Senchuk likes to say “dirt,” and spice that all builds to a finessed and long finish. Attractive now but will benefit from cellaring 3-5 years. A blockbuster.
Leaning Post Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 ($45, 92 points) — Senchuk sources only fruit from the oldest block of the Lowrey Vineyard in St. David’s. He’s been making Pinot from that historic vineyard since the 2009 vintage. It’s the lightest colour I’ve seen on the Pinot from Lowrey but it still has an intense floral nose with rose petals, crunchy red fruits, beets, damp earth, spice and a subtle reductive/savoury notes. It has depth and power on the palate and a concentrated core of crushed red berries, stony minerality, integrated spice notes, smooth tannins and a pretty feel through a long and finessed finish. Really quite beautiful. Cellar 5+ years.
Leaning Post Merlot 2017 ($45, 92 points) – A complex nose of blackberry/currant, mulberry, spice and dusty oak notes sets the stage for this impressive wine. The palate is concentrated with lots of dark berry and black plum flavours framed by tobacco, dried herbs, anise and mocha on the long finish. Tannins are firm but not aggressive — delicious stuff! (Michael Lowe review)
Leaning Post Cabernet Franc 2017 ($45, 91 points) – The nose is intense with aromas of blackcurrant, plum, star anise, sweet wood notes and herbs. In addition to the ripe, lush black fruits on the palate, there’s a slight meaty note. Juicy acidity balances the ripeness of the fruit before finishing with some minerality and lingering oak. (Michael Lowe review)