Leaning Post Wines was until very recently virtual and to the uninitiated, wholly abstract. The young Niagara Peninsula operation located at 1491 Highway 8, in Winona, Ontario is now the real deal, a bricks, barn board, mortar and hand fashioned nails winery. The risk taken and the effort put into establishing a winery in Winona is nothing short of heroic. LPW is the hands and knees, sweat and blood project of winemaker Ilya Senchuk and wife Nadia, Winnipeggers living the dream on the eastern edge of Niagara’s winegrowing Escarpment.
Grapes need the support of posts and wires, thus the name. With a couple of vintages under his actual Winona belt, new acreage planted and only a couple of years away from producing estate fruit, now is the time to lean on Ilya Senchuk for righteous Niagara wine. Senchuk is no Macbeth. His tasting room is no Dunsinane Castle. The alternative choices he has made are emphatic but not combative ones. He would not say, “Lay on, Macduff, and damned be him who first cries ‘Hold! enough!’” He’s confident his locale and his methods will lead to success. He believes in the microclimate and soil composition of the Winona flats tucked in like a pocket between the Escarpment and the Lake. Ilya has taken up the good fight. He is an antagonist and a hero in the Niagara play.
Senchuk is part of a breed of young and risk-taking Niagara winemakers ready and willing to push the envelope. Ilya’s wines may not fall into a stylistic category defined and categorized by standard Niagara varietal or appellative descriptions. Some of his wines challenge the notion of what is considered a true representation of the Niagara Peninsula. Though he may run into VQA panel consternation on some future occasions, he will be a part of the evolution and reworking of its mandate towards the open-minded acceptance of modern, varietal expression. He believes in ripe fruit. He’s a strong proponent of terroir, even if it means redefining or pioneering new plots.
The wines will offer a balance of Bench terroir, with its vigorous, heavy clay meets loam and the Winona landscape, where sandy soil is maculated by largish stones three to four feet down. This atop a bed of grey clay so the low vigor of the sandy soil will be offer up a flipside, a foil to the heavy clay of the Bench. The agglomeration should be more than interesting to follow.
On the occasion of the “eve eve” for two new Leaning Post releases, the 2013 Chardonnay ‘The Fifty’ and the 2013 Riesling, here are some notes on the wines I tasted two weeks ago at the Winona winery. Senchuk led me through the new releases, along with the comings along of his wines in barrel and in tank.
The 2012 Chardonnay has now been in bottle four months, just enough settle time to grant access to its magnanimous 14.2 per cent alcohol frame. This from fruit that came in at 22.5 – 23.5 brix, or as winemaker Ilya Senchuk calls “the conversion rate of the century.” From a warm year that offered a sweet Smörgåsbord for the inoculated (as opposed to wild) yeast. Chewy, dense, catalytic toast with butter. Butterscotch flavour atop a waft of Crème Brûlée, the sugar in a feverish pitch to reach hardball. This is a really big wine, a confident expression, a national statement. Lean on this Chardonnay and let it lead because “everybody wants a sip of wine to drink, everybody wants a little more time to think.” Tasted April 2014
This is a barrel-fermented but not barrel-aged Chardonnay that borrows its name from the old town of Winona. From approximately 9-10 barrels of Foxcroft fruit racked off and thrown into tank. The aught omission of full Malolactic fermentation means a clean and jerk feel, though the wine’s lees perform the middle palate and textural duty. Bottled just eight days before sampling and yet eminently drinkable. “A wine to make friends” and make friends with. A soft and creamy sensation brings to mind Bordeaux Blanc, or more specifically Semillon’s contribution, but also the notion of Wismer Sauvignon Blanc. Make no mistake, it’s absolutely Chardonnay, in toto unique and still influenced by both the barrel and the vineyard. Tasted April 2014
Marks a return to the variety for Senchuk, with a dynamic and resounding charge. This barely resembles what may be pigeon-holed as Niagara Peninsula Riesling as it disses the lean, citrus pierce of the dry norm. Don’t panic, it’s not that different, but it does comment on “homes, places we’ve grown, all of us are done for.” From 18 year-old (south block) Foxcroft vines, 15.8 grams of residual sugar and 11.3 grams acidity. Bottled just eight days ago, this is a wine that was “left to develop on its own,” on it lees and with no stirring. “It’s not late harvest, it’s mature, with just enough sugar to make it palatable.” Makes a cold play for warmth, extract, viscosity and natural sweetness. Reaches for complexity beyond acidity, to places old and new, to Germany and to Niagara. Gotta citrus back, endgame palate. I can’t say with certainty that in time this vintage will push the sweetness to the background and develop leathery, gamey and earthy characters. I can say that given some more experience, Senchuk will develop the acumen to make it happen. “There’s nothing here to run from ’cause here, everybody here’s got somebody to lean on.” 200 cases made. Tasted April 2014
Notes on wines from barrel and tank
Gamay 2013 – 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.
Pinot Noir Lowrey 2012 – Sweet fruit, remarkable purity, length and certainly warm.
Pinot Noir Mcnally 2012 – The vineyard made famous by Peninsula Ridge. In Ilya’s hands and from young vines higher in elevation there is spice-spiked orange, in clove, cardamom and also black cherry. A bigger style, akin to Central Otago (as per the Senchuk half-beat). Only two barrels (45 cases) will be made.
Syrah Keczan Vineyard 2012 – White pepper, smoked meat, game all in but still somehow delicate. Mediterranean sensation, in black olive and with some salinity. The least ripe and the most savoury of all the wines. Has got grit, tang, florality, hubris and verdigris.
Good to go!