Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario is a must stop on every wine pursuer’s bucket list. The budding to burgeoning vintner may not call Beamsville, Vineland, Jordan, Virgil, St. David’s or Niagara-on-the-Lake home, but turning off of the QEW and onto the Fifty Road need never be thought of as a time-wasting detour.
Set in a warm nook abutting the Niagara Escarpment, Ilya and Nadia Senchuk‘s base is but a mere stone’s throw from significant points metropolitan, rural and urban Niagara, from Toronto, Hamilton, the towns along The Bench, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Oakville and Burlington. I have meandered through portfolios, tanks and barrels with Ilya mano a mano three times now, twice during visits on spring pilgrimages. His wines reside in the complex realm of obliquity, in a physical zone known as the borderland between fracas and order. And while they seem to follow no comfortable or obvious pattern, without prevarication I can safely say there is such a thing as the Senchuk style.
Related – Lean on, Macduff
Ilya Senchuk has little interest is making wine like everyone else in Niagara. His modus vivendi is predicated on basic, unembellished and crucial tenets. Three V’s. Vineyard, vintage and variance. Senchuk truly believes that greatness is determined by varietal variegation, from vineyard to vineyard and from year to year. Perspective and point of view are an advantage, not to mention prejudice. Hands-off winemaking? Natural wines? Forget about it. Make the best possible wine using the best possible fruit and in the best possible way. End of story.
Senchuk is on mission. He is a Pinot Noir specialist and is one of only three winemakers to produce from holdings in arguably the finest Grand Cru (sic) Peninsula site, a.k.a. the Lowrey Vineyard. The others are Thomas Bachelder and Wes Lowrey. He makes Riesling with impunity. His Chardonnay is modernity incarnate. Gamay in a class of its own. Syrah to redefine what can be done in the cool countenance of the New World. The 2012 was pressed the night (second son) Ruslan was born so the wine is (rightfully so) dedicated to wife Nadia. It is also in support of a farm growing Syrah purposed for greatness.
Ilya arranged a tasting through his current portfolio. Melissa Bogaert was tasting next to me in the barn’s renovated room with assistant winemaker Ryan Corrigan. It was nice to put a face to a Twitter personality. Senchuk and I followed the current selections with a ride through some tanks and barrels to get a sense of the resting ’13 Pinot, Merlot and Syrah. My interest in his agglomerated use of both French and American oak was certainly piqued, but we’ll save that talk for another, finished wine in bottle day. The notes here are (mostly) on the finished wines.
Rosé 2014 (Winery, $25.00)
A Gamay (70 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (30) split, all picked at an acidity weight-bearing 19 brix from Cattail Creek’s farm. Unlike 99.9 per cent of the Rosé produced on this planet, this fruit was explicitly grown and picked with complicity for Rosé, not red wine. Saigneé be damned, Ilya Senchuk has entered a world of savoury relish, as opposed to herbal pain. From berries to citrus and mouth feel only such blush can know. There is weight without density, more rutaceae on the finish and in a strange Winona way, like a red ringer for skin contact Sauvignon Blanc. So says just a messenger. Drink 2015-2017. On tap at Barque Smokehouse. Tasted multiple times in June and July 2015
Gamay 2014 (Tank Sample), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00)
Increases the colline built of earth and endemic Gamay character. Keeps the funk grooving with a precise, focused beat. So very like Pinot, with grains and tannin interwoven to length. Chewy, sanguine and gamy, a manducate of meaty sashimi or a mouthful of raw, marbled rib-eye, seconded on charcoal for a split second. On tap at Barque Butcher Bar.
Gamay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00)
Guiltless and virtuous straight out of stainless, the meaty side of Gamay game boldly goes where few from the Bench have gone before. Like a rare venison steak sitting in a silky pool of lavender-scented demi-glace. Floral like Fleurie and despite zero new oak, vanilla joins the gravy. A Senchuk steal of quality Wismer (McLeary…sort of) fruit sets this Gamay up for easy sell success.
Last tasted May 2015
Senchuk’s swallow of Lowrey fruit from rows part sloping St. David’s Bench and Niagara-on-the-Lake flats are heretofore known as The “Pommatago.” Stated with utter, dire, climeractic swoon, it begs saying that it’s actually pretty. I mean gorgeous. Florals range from roses to violets. A departure from ’09 and ’10 to be sure, this combines Pommard (al fresco detail) and Central Otago (potpourri). The late grip, girth and mirth rounds out like Nebbiolo, with a (13 per cent alcohol) finality in litheness with legs. Structure to age is written in blatant physiognomy. The tannic grain wields from out of 15 months in barrel, followed by eight plus months in bottle, to release its hounds. Says Senchuk, “I like what Pinot does after 24 months.” So will we. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted June 2015
Here, the numbers game. The 2012 Lowrey is riper and yet lighter than ’10, like taking ’10 and turning it up to ’11. A Pinot Noir of spine, tapped from Grand Cru Niagara Peninsula fruit, of St. David’s Bench underwritten by Niagara-on-the-Lake. From a year where 20 degrees was the new 28 (as in 2010) and so density at its very core is bankrolled by that vintage. Accents are the beast; spice, smoked brisket and still a hint of haute, though not quite as delicate like ’11. The delicacy is enriching even in the early absence of litheness. It’s gastronomy is old world, albeit a western one and then in retrospect on the finish, you realize it dances remarkably light on it hovering feet. The transition to tannin on the finish is seamless, moving beyond the fits, stops and restarts of ’11. The barrel sees it to this end. “Certainly, in the topsy-turvy world of heavy rock, having a good solid piece of wood in your hand is often useful.” Accessibility be thy Pinot name in 2012. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted June 2015
Pinot Noir McNally Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00)
“I want you to see the difference between vineyards. That’s terroir.” This the crux and the impetus to abide and acquiesce fruit from McNally, a cooler, higher site of younger vines. For Ilya, this is “truffle hunting, eating roasted pig, at the base of an oak tree.” The forest floor and the catalytic funk come across more in flavour than smell, following cherries in the dead of an aromatic night. Modernity be damned, this strikes ripe, layered and nearly indelicate. The wine’s got some real chew to it, along with crispy flowers, like nasturtium and lavender. “I think this is the best Pinot that I’ve made,” boasts Senchuk, from 15 year-old vines at Peninsula Ridge. Ilya’s muse came from the 2010 made by winemaker Jamie Evans, along with the Voyageur ’10 made by Ross Wise at Keint-He. Wines that spoke in a vernacular that Senchuk could understand and relate to on a deeper level. Prime ripeness defines 2012. Though it teases of grandiose terroir, its complexities reign in the power with each sip, every time. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted June 2015
As much as Pinot Noir attempts to define what Leaning Post represents, this intoxicating inhalant from the Lincoln Lakeshore elucidates the bent and the intent for 2012. Rich in smoking meats, lavender and white pepper, the Hwy. 8 vineyard (where Quarry Road comes down) site transmits flavour, purports cool-climate necessity and is yet warm enough to purpose ripe fruit of a briny, Mediterranean cure. The plot is one km closer to Beamsville than the Redstone Vineyard and very near to Malivoire’s Stouck. More than just prime Cabernet Franc territory, Keczan is the epicentre of Niagara Syrah. This has layers of texture, at once gripping and then conversely popping. At 13.8 per cent alcohol it’s physical without being crazy, warm yet short of cured, rich but shy of acting nubilous. A benchmark. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted June 2015
Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ 2014 (Barrel Sample), VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00)
A oaked/unoaked split that Senchuk says this about.”I don’t like air in my Chardonnay. I like a bit of reduction (for freshness) but don’t want to make a reductive wine.” Tasted from barrel, on its lees (not stirred), this is all about texture. It is creamy with a hint of nuts in nougat. The reductive aspect is negligible to unnoticeable. Has kept its dextrous, youthful charm, inoculated by the lees, exhibiting nary a disparaging phrase. Will champion the style that is so very Senchuk.
Good to go!