By Rick VanSickle
When Ilya Senchuk made his very first Leaning Post wines — the 2009 Foxcroft Riesling and Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir — he could never envision a year like 2020.
Of all the milestones, from winemaker at Foreign Affair from 2010 to 2013, to starting his virtual brand Leaning Post, to full-fledged winery status with a vineyard and retail/production facility in 2013, nothing can compare to the COVID-riddled year of 2020 for Senchuk, below, and his wife Nadia, top photo.
The year started innocently enough, sales were good, the wines were gaining popularity and plans were in place for a major expansion all before the calendar turned to March and the first cases of COVID hit. The couple luckily already had acquired a building permit to add a barrel cellar, double the size of the production area, install an outdoor patio and a kitchen for events and staff.
But in March, all work was stopped cold and nothing was would be done until the May long weekend. And then, by sheer determination the projects were knocked off, one by one. And as I stand inside the new barrel cellar on a chilly fall day, all that’s left to complete are the finishing touches on the kitchen and production area. The patio was a godsend, and a stroke of luck to have that in the plans to handle the COVID outdoor tastings that otherwise just wouldn’t cut it indoors.
“We have literally done our full expansion in the COVID year,” says Senchuk.
The Senchuks also completed new plantings at the estate — another 4.2 acres of Gamay and, get this, Niagara’s first Dolcetto, a black Italian wine grape variety widely grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy.
Part of the fun of owning your own winery is experimenting,” says Senchuk. He spent months researching grapes that would do well in Niagara — cold hardy varieties that aren’t well known. He had several to choose from, but “I narrowed it down and had to choose what I liked … Dolcetto is interesting and not like Pinot Noir or Gamay and will work on our farm. We will see if Senchuk’s gamble has paid off in four years, but don’t bet against him.
The pandemic projects did not end there. On, no, they did not.
And I can tell by the smile on Nadia Senchuk’s face as she pops in to the barrel cellar for a sip of Leaning Post’s first traditionally made sparkling, this is perhaps the most important development and it just may have been a marriage safer for Ilya.
“Nadia loves, loves bubbles,” he says. “She kept pressuring me to make a bubble and threatening divorce is I didn’t make one.” At first, he explained, it was a threat that was all in good fun, but as the years went by with no bubbles for Nadia, it seemed just a little less fun and more of a very real threat.
So, the Leaning Post Traditional Method Sparkling Zero Dosage 2017 was just launched at the winery and “now Nadia can have her bubbles every night of the week, if she wants,” a proud (and relieved) Ilya says.
With expansion completed, new vines in the ground and Nadia with her bubbles, all in all it’s been a productive year for Leaning Post in spite of the obvious challenges.
Ilya says Leaning Post enjoys a fairly dedicated group of consumers who support the winery, pandemic or not. Even if they can’t make it out to the winery, he has seen online sales soar. “COVID came along and people flipped a switch and online exploded.”
With a vaccine now in Canada and light at the end of the tunnel for this virus nightmare, the Senchuks, like all everyone in the wine business in Niagara, are looking forward to getting back to normal, whatever that normal will look like.
Here’s what I can recommend after tasting with Ilya Senchuk in his new barrel cellar. All these wines are now available at the winery or online here.
Leaning Post Traditional Method Sparkling Zero Dosage 2017 ($45, winery, 93 points) — This first traditionally made bubby from Senchuk is sourced from over 35-year-old vines on the Beamsville Bench. The base wine was barrel fermented and aged for seven months, spent 28 months on the lees and was disgorged in August and no dosage was added. Going forward, the sparkling at Leaning Post will be a Blanc de Blancs. It shows a light golden colour in the glass with an energetic mousse and has a nose of toasty/brioche notes, golden apple, lemon tart, pear, cream and a flinty mineral edge. It has a creamy, rich texture and persistent fine bubbles on the palate with lovely autolytic notes, apple and pear fruit, toasty vanilla and underlying citrus freshness that carries this through a vibrant and finessed finish. Such an accomplished first effort. Can cellar 5+ years. You may want to get some soon before Nadia Senhcuk buys it all for herself.
Leaning Post Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($28, 90 points) — Senchuk sources this fruit from the Niagara Lakeshore sub-appellation and following fermentation, a portion of the wine was aged in stainless steel tank on the lees, and a portion was moved to oak barrels where it was aged for three months. The nose shows bright grapefruit, gooseberries, guava, lime, passion fruit and subtle herbaceous notes and spice. On the palate, it has lovely texture, juicy grapefruit, herbs, gooseberries for miles, kiwi, a pinch of spice and a lingering, fresh finish.
Leaning Post Clockwork Skin Fermented White ($30, 89 points) — This is bottled under the popular Freaks and Geeks series and is made with the same Sauvignon Blanc grapes as the above wine but has a very different profile. The grapes were destemmed, spontaneously fermented and aged on skins for 72 days in clay amphora (42%) and stainless steel (58%). After pressing and settling, it was racked back into amphora and stainless steel for a further 60 days of aging. It was then racked and combined, and had a single sulphur addition prior to bottling but was not fined or filtered. It shows a light copper colour in the glass with a more tropical fruit nose of guava, passion fruit, lime, fresh herbs and nectarine/citrus rind notes. It’s more complex on the palate with some tannic structure to better showcase the creamy broth of grapefruit, passion fruit, gooseberries, subtle reductive notes and herbs all carried on a fresh, vibrant finish.
Leaning Post Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 ($40, 92 points) — The juice for this Twenty Mile Bench Chard was naturally settled, then racked into barrel where fermentation occurred by indigenous yeast and malolactic bacteria. Once fermentations were completed, the wine remained in French oak barriques and 500L pucheons without stirring of the lees for 13 months. It was bottled with minimal sulphur additions and was unfiltered and unfined. It has a classic Wismer nose of pear, lemon, vanilla toast, crisp apple, nougat, spice and flinty/chalky minerality. It’s lovely on the palate with rich pear fruit, lemon curd, apple, a creamy texture, flinty minerality, elegantly spiced and a long, finessed finish. This will age nicely for 4+ years.
Note: Also tasted was the Leaning Post Senchuk Vineyard Chardonnay 2018. That review will appear in a special Boxing Day edition on Wines In Niagara.
Leaning Post The Natural Gamay 2019 ($30, 89 points) — The grapes were picked on Oct. 21 and placed in concrete fermenters. After a three-day cold soak, fermentation took place spontaneously and was hand punched-down twice a day for three weeks. After fermentation, the wine was kept on the skins for 5 days then gently pressed and settled in tank. It was then racked into a clay amphora and three neutral oak barrels and aged for 10 months. After aging, it was racked out of barrel and held in tank for one month before being bottled. No additions of any kind were made, not yeast, malolactic bacteria or sulphur. This is definitely a wine for the dedicated natural wine lovers out there with a funky/reductive, and barn yard nose followed by smoke and charcuterie before the brambly red fruits and plums kick in. There is far less reduction on the palate with purer red berries, herbs, bramble, leather, cassis/blackberry notes and a tangy, tart finish. Only 210 cases of this wine were made.
Leaning Post The Freak Pinot Noir 2019 ($45, 90 points) — Hand-picked and hand-sorted grapes from the estate’s Senchuk Vineyard were placed with 100% whole-clusters in clay amphora with no sulphites added. After a 3-day cold-soak, spontaneous fermentation began. This wine was hand punched-down two times per day for 4 weeks. After 4 weeks on skins it was gently pressed. It was then transferred to clay amphora where spontaneous malolactic fermentation occurred. This Pinot Noir was kept in amphora for 11 months, then transferred out of amphora to tank. A single racking in tank was followed by bottling without fining, filtration or addition of sulphur. It’s much less reductive than the Gamay with a nose of cassis, brambly red berries, earth, savoury herbs, black olives, saline and spice. It’s substantive and rich on the palate and shows a range of earthy/loamy notes, crunchy and tart red berries, cassis, herbs, savoury notes, supple tannins and juicy acidity on the finish. As Senchuk says: “This is definitely Pinot at its dirtiest. And we like it.” Only 80 cases were produced.
Leaning Post Blend Two 2018 ($60, 93 points) — This is only the second vintage of the estate’s flagship red blend Senhcuk has made, the first being in 2016. The blend of 67% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc and 7% Syrah was picked at optimal ripeness, hand-picked, hand-sorted, spontaneously fermented and aged separately in oak barrels (half new oak) for 22 months. Blending trials lasted weeks and there were over 85 blended versions before the final blend was agreed on. The 7% Syrah in the blend plays a fairly large role on the nose adding smoky meatiness to go with concentrated cherries, ripe blackberries, sweet herbs, spice, earth and pepper. It has wonderful structure, plush tannins, complexity and weight on the palate with dense cassis, black currants, kirsch, boysenberries, eucalypt and cocoa all leading to a finessed and long finish. A wonderful assemblage with aging potential for 10+ years.