Leaning Post – A Winery Profile

Defining Niagara’s Terroirs

by David Lawrason

This feature was commissioned by Leaning Post.

In 2005 Ontario’s Vintners Quality Alliance identified ten distinct Niagara sub-regions – a bold move some considered premature. Thirteen years later the sub-apps are an accepted matter of fact. Not surprisingly most wineries make wines from their estate vineyards and favoured sub-appellations.

But Leaning Post, by Ilya and Nadia Senchuk, is accelerating terroir in Niagara with bottlings from several sub-apps, while developing their own vineyards in Winona at the western edge of Lincoln Lakeshore. And they are doing it by making very high quality, and sometimes edgy and intriguing wines, that actually deliver sub-regional nuances.

“The point is to release as many wines as possible that show distinct ‘terroir,’” Ilya Senchuk explains. “My business model is to find those really interesting places and make good wine from them.” He is currently making wine from Lincoln Lakeshore, St Davids Bench, Twenty Mile Bench, Beamsville Bench and Niagara Lakeshore.

Ilya and Nadia Senchuk

We will come back to his terroir hunting, but first some background.

Senchuk has had three phases in his Niagara winemaking career. He graduated from Brock University’s Oenology program in 2003 while already assisting at Daniel Lenko, where he worked with some of Niagara’s oldest vines on the Beamsville Bench until 2010. I am betting his terroir fixation stems from that experience. He says he was part of “the wave” that elevated Niagara winemaking in the early 2000s with the arrival of wineries like Tawse, Stratus and Hidden Bench.

From 2010 to 2013 he made wine at the Foreign Affair Winery in Vineland and helped launch appassimento winemaking in Niagara – a vision by Italian-Canadian proprietor Len Crispino adopting an Italian technique whereby wines are beefed up by fermenting overripened, dried grapes. But at this point Senchuk was also already hatching Leaning Post’s terroir driven wines with his first vintage in 2009 of tiny quantities of old vine Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir from the St David’s Bench, sold to a handful of sommeliers.

In 2013, Ilya and Nadia opened Leaning Post on Highway 8 in Winona, at the westerly edge of Niagara wine country (crucially as a destination that is either the first or last stop in Wine Country coming from the GTA). They planted the 11 acre Senchuk Vineyard to pinot noir and chardonnay right beside a new urban subdivision. At the same time, they restored an impossibly beaten up and weathered barn and turned it into a winery. All the while raising three young children.

I first visited soon after they opened and was struck by the quality of the wine, which didn’t really surprise me because I had followed Ilya’s work at Daniel Lenko and The Foreign Affair. Rarely in Niagara has such a new winery actually been opened – on a shoestring budget – by an already proven winemaker who is making top-notch wines right out of the gate. Leaning Post wines have been 90 points plus or minus in my books from the beginning.

There is nothing all that unique about his winemaking, except perhaps an underlying restlessness to tweak and improve as he goes. As I listened to him talk about his various wines I sensed he is not only very knowledgeable about what he is doing, but also something of a detail-oriented perfectionist. All because he wants terroir to show itself.

“Everybody talks about terroir but very often the wines from different terroirs and vineyards taste kind of the same. I am not doing this to have a range of vineyard names on my labels. They have to be demonstrably different from each other,” he said.

Side by side tastings are a theme in the tasting room as well. “We open all our wines, and we don’t charge a tasting fee,” said Nadia Senchuk. “We want people to be really comfortable with the idea of exploring regions and learning about our wines.”

This year the Senchuks will make 14 different wines. The core varieties are chardonnay and pinot noir (three labels each), with recent bottlings from their new Senchuk Vineyard joining the line-up last year. Riesling (two labels) is also a focus, along with gamay. But as he explores new sites, sauvignon blanc, syrah and the “big reds” cabernet franc and merlot and some blends join the line-up.

And, he has begun to make sparkling wine, which is Nadia Senchuk’s favourite. “I’m 98% joking when I have threatened him with divorce if he doesn’t make sparkling,” Nadia laughs.

This year, Leaning Post has also released three unusual wines that enter the “natural” winemaking world. They are called The Geek (a riesling aged long in a kind of lees solera system), The Freak (an un-sulphured, unfiltered pinot noir), and Clockwork (a sauvignon blanc fermented on its skin that might technically be called an ‘orange wine’, but it doesn’t look orange, and is therefore not called Clockwork Orange – google that if you are under 40).

“I am never going to become ‘a natural winemaker,’ Senchuk explains. “These wines are creative sidelines that allow me to explore and experiment, and sometimes what I learn might be applied to my classic wines. They are curiosities and I price them accordingly.”

When I asked Ilya to talk about what’s new and interesting in the terroirs of Niagara he landed, naturally on his own vineyard first, and I was very impressed by a pair of chardonnays from the site. It sits on sandy soil, atop heavy clay limestone, at the far western edge of Lincoln Lakeshore. The distance between the lake and escarpment narrows, creating cooler conditions ideal for pinot noir and chardonnay. “We pick up to 14 days later here than farther east along the bench,” Senchuk said.

Over in the warmer St. Davids Bench appellation he has long been sourcing pinot noir from the famed Lowrey Vineyard, one of the oldest pinot plantings in Niagara. “Lowrey is simply distinctive flavour-wise,” he said. “The concentration is very good, and the wines age very well.” And he loves the depth and complexity also being attained from the large, well established Wismer Foxcroft vineyard in Twenty Mile Bench where he sources some chardonnay, riesling and a new gamay.

He is also making syrah from the Keczan Vineyard that sits on red clay soils in Lincoln Lakeshore east of Beamsville, near the new Redstone winery, and this year has introduced a cabernet franc from Twenty Mile Bench, plus a new Bordeaux Red blend that he will only do in warmer vintages. “I am actually a big fan of cabernet franc and merlot,” he said. “But you have crop low and pick late. As a region, Niagara is now starting to show maturity with these varieties.”

When I asked what other Niagara terroirs are of interest, he quickly mentioned Niagara Lakeshore for varieties like sauvignon blanc and merlot. He explained that it is cooler closer to the lake, slower ripening, without the mid-season heat of some areas, yet the season is longer due to lake moderating effect.

Senchuk has become familiar with this area while consulting for Hinterbrook Winery. He has also been making the wines at The Good Earth in the recent vintage.

So, to say Ilya and Nadia Senchuk have their plates full is in an understatement. Leaning Post has been growing 30 to 40% every year – reaching 5,000 cases – and there will always be new terroirs to explore and wines to make. Stop by on your next trip into or out of Niagara wine country.

Here are links to recent reviews of Leaning Post wines recently tasted by WineAlign crew.

Leaning Post Riesling Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard 2016

Leaning Post Riesling The Geek 2016

Leaning Post Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Leaning Post Clockwork Skin Fermented White 2017

 Leaning Post Riesling Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard 2016 Leaning Post Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Leaning Post Clockwork Skin Fermented White 2017

Leaning Post Wines The Fifty 2016

Leaning Post Wines Chardonnay Clone 96 2016

Leaning Post Wines Chardonnay Senchuk Vineyard 2016

Leaning Post Gamay Wismer Armbrust Vineyard 2016

Leaning Post Wines The Fifty 2016 Leaning Post Wines Chardonnay Clone 96 2016 Leaning Post Wines Chardonnay Senchuk Vineyard 2016 Leaning Post Gamay Wismer Armbrust Vineyard 2016

Leaning Post Pinot Noir The Freak 2017

Leaning Post Pinot Noir 2015

Leaning Post Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2014

Leaning Post Pinot Noir Senchuk Vineyard 2016

Leaning Post Pinot Noir The Freak 2017 Leaning Post Pinot Noir 2015 Leaning Post Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2014 Leaning Post Pinot Noir Senchuk Vineyard 2016

Leaning Post Cabernet Franc 2016

Leaning Post Merlot 2016

Leaning Post Blend One 2016

Leaning Post Syrah Keczan Vineyard 2016

Leaning Post Cabernet Franc 2016 Leaning Post Merlot 2016 Leaning Post Blend One 2016 Leaning Post Syrah Keczan Vineyard 2016

This feature was commissioned by Leaning Post Wines. As a regular feature, WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, and its content, is entirely up to WineAlign.