Brock alumni paired talents to open Leaning Post Wines
Alumni duo Nadia and Ilya Senchuk paired their passion for winemaking and entrepreneurship to open Leaning Post Wines.
It was a leap of faith they were both trained to make.
Nadia, a 2007 graduate of Brock’s MBA program with a concentration in finance, always dreamed of owning her own business.
Ilya, a graduate of Brock’s oenology and viticulture program (BSc ’03), knew he always wanted to make wine.
“We thought if a good winemaker and someone who has a strong business sense and a love for the wine industry can’t make it work in this industry, who can?” says Nadia.
After graduating from Brock, Nadia put her risk-assessment knowledge to work at RBC Royal Bank where she spent four years in commercial banking providing entrepreneurs with the financing they needed to help turn their dreams into a reality. While working with these entrepreneurs, she started crunching her own numbers and realized that maybe her own ambitions were within reach.
The couple had often talked about opening a winery one day. After seriously looking at the numbers, they realized that the dream was in reach if they approached it the right way. They launched Leaning Post Wines as a virtual label in 2009, built their brand and opened the winery and retail store in Winona, Ont., four years later.
Their journey started when Ilya read a brochure about Brock’s Oenology and Viticulture program in 1999, knew that winemaking was his passion and transferred to Brock immediately.
He never looked back.
“I knew right away that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he says.
For Nadia, the Goodman MBA was the perfect fit to build her business knowledge and skills so she could one day work in the same industry as her husband. She initially started the MBA with the hope of concentrating in marketing but soon realized she enjoyed the world of finance.
Nadia credits Leaning Post’s growth to both degrees and describes her experience in the Goodman MBA as immeasurable.
“The Goodman MBA program is so valuable because it gives you a strong base in strategy, legal, marketing, finance and more,” she says. “You need to know every facet of business to make it work as an entrepreneur. Without my MBA, we would be struggling now. I would rather invest in human capital for ourselves than pay a consultant to help us grow our business.”
Leaning Post Wines is comprised of three employees. Strong connections have already been built with both customers and growers.
Their aim is to make the best quality wine possible and to showcase what Niagara tastes like in a glass.
There is no separation between winemaking and sales at Leaning Post, and customers know that the people they talk with during a tasting are intimately involved with the winemaking process.
Ilya takes pride in the uniqueness of Leaning Post’s wines and the winery, which is a charming restored barn on their family’s property.
“No one else’s wines taste exactly like ours, which is really the point,” Ilya says. “All of our wines are usually from one vineyard in one particular area in Niagara. We’re not making every kind of wine possible. Instead, we concentrate on a small number of varieties that do well each year and focus on achieving the highest quality we can from them.”
What a pleasant surprise to drop in on Ilya and Nadia Senchuk and (finally!) see their bricks and mortar winery and tasting room all finished and open for business.
I have followed the wines from the couple’s Leaning Post brand since it was a tiny virtual winery. It is one of those rare startups that hit the ground running with personable, well-made, terroir-driven wines made from grapes sourced from Niagara’s top vineyards.
Quality wines have always been at the heart of Ilya’s master plan that has now come to fruition with the planting of an estate vineyard on the Winona property, a retail licence and a homey, country estate tasting room that just shouts TASTE ME.
It’s hard to believe that just last year the converted barn looked like an impossible mission to transform into what it is today. It is a pleasant space with subtle lighting, barn board and hand fashioned nails, and an old-style ambiance. In fact, the only thing that stands out as a modern embellishment is the neon OPEN sign hanging in the window.
Ilya Senchuk has jumped head first into the tricky world of winemaker/owner/grape grower and businessman with his wife Nadia. He quit his “other” job as winemaker at Foreign Affair to devote his entire life to making his own good juice in Niagara (well, that, and raising two young sons).
The farmhouse and barn sit on 11 acres of agricultural-zoned land in the Lincoln-Lakeshore appellation. The farm came with an abandoned vineyard that hadn’t been tended in over 20 years. Senchuk cleared the land and planted five acres last July to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
It’s an odd tract of land 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 last September during a visit, pointing out beyond his farm that is slowly being surrounded by urban encroachment on both sides of his property.
I tasted his amazing Merlot and Pinot Noir last September (reviewed here in an earlier post) but came back to taste his newest wines. Here’s what I liked:
Leaning Post Riesling 2013 ($25, winery, 91 points) — Senchuk went back to his original source for this Riesling, Fox Croft Vineyard, and applies some unique winemaking to get the style he wants. He wants an Alsatian feel with more complexity and flesh so he picks the fruit late, ages the juice on the lees and finishes the wine with pretty hefty residual sugar (17 g/l) but balances it out with high acidity. It’s ripe and focused on the nose with lime, peach, grapefruit and a subtle mint note. It has fabulous energy on the palate with lovely texture and ripeness to go with lime, mineral and quince notes. It’s almost a late harvest style, but balanced. “Everybody talks about terroir,” Senchuk says, “but this doesn’t taste like anyone else’s Riesling (from Fox Croft).”
Leaning Post The Fifty 2013 ($22, 92 points) — Perhaps the best “unoaked” Chardonnay I have tasted in Niagara (and, trust me, I have searched far and wide for a style that satisfies my inner Chablis-ness). The Fifty refers to the former name of Winona, which changed names in 1973. The fruit is sourced from the Fox Croft Vineyard and the fruit is fermented in neutral oak barrels and transferred to stainless steel. The key here, for me at least, is no malo — lees aging and barrel fermented, yes, but no malo. So beautiful on the nose with fresh and ripe pear, apple, pineapple and tropical fruits. It has a velvety, mid-weight feel on the palate followed by a stream of minerality and fruit that is pure and expressive of the vineyard. This is unoaked Chard done right. Or as Senchuk says: “A winemaker’s wine.”
Leaning Post Chardonnay Fox Croft Vineyard 2012 ($35, 92 points) — Senchuk sources his fruit for this Chardonnay from Fox Croft Vineyard, two rows away from where Thomas Bachelder sources his fruit, and four rows down from where Kevin Panakapka (2027 Cellars) gets his. Primary fermentation (almost 6 weeks) took place in barrel, followed by full malo fermentation. Once fermentations were completed, the wine remained in French oak barrique (35% new, 65% 4-year-old) for 12 months. This is a contemplative Chard with a mélange of ripe pear, citrus and spice against a background of limestone minerality. It has some weight on the palate, with ripe fruit in tandem with butterscotch cream, minerality and a long, smooth finish. Senchuk has embraced the warmth of the season but found balance with the acidity.
Vineyards, Winemakers and their Sense of Place – Michael Godel November 11, 2013
Leaning Post Wines
Ilya Senchuk may as well be Niagara’s fresh face poster boy for the young and brilliant but he already holds a wealth of Niagara winemaking experience. He worked for Daniel Lenko going back to 2002 and has made the wines at Foreign Affair Winery since 2008. In February 2011 Senchuk and his wife laid it all on the line and bought property in Winona, defined as Hamilton/Grimsby by geography, Lincoln Lakeshore by appellation.
Senchuk began making (virtual) wines under his private label in 2009 on premise at Foreign Affair. He made a 2009 Pinot Noir from the Lowrey Vineyard and a Riesling from the Foxcroft block of the Wismer Vineyard. In 201o there came another Lowrey Pinot and also a Merlot, from the McCleary block on the Wismer property. In 2011 there was only the Lowrey Pinot and 2012 was the first vintage he made on site in Winona, “in a barn” he notes. Just this past month he opened the tasting room. Virtual no more.
To the uninitiated, Senchuk’s chosen Winona locale may seem unconventional, curious and even peculiar to make wine in Niagara. Make no mistake about it. Ilya Senchuk is obsessed with Niagara soil and terroir. Set right off 50 road and straddling drawn circles within a Hamilton/Lincoln lakeshore Venn diagram, five of the 11 acres (10 plantable) were planted the past spring. Senchuk used clone 777 (reliable) along with 115, 667 for Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay are from clones 96 and 548.
Leaning Post has added Pinot Noir from the Mcnally Vineyard (Beamsville). By the time the 2015 harvest has come and gone, Senchuk will have made Pinot Noir from three Niagara terroirs. How many other Niagara winemakers will have that claim to make? There will also be Syrah from Keczan, from the east side of Beamsville and adjacent Tawse Winer’s David’s Block (formerly Thomas & Vaughan Estate). This unique spot is a clay bowl of climatic specificity, with a natural slope and dubious, vigorous vines.
I sat down with Ilya and tasted through four wines from his Leaning Post line-up. I was struck by the concentrated flavours but even more so by the language of the land clearly spoken in the vernacular of each sample. I have no doubt that Senchuk’s experience and deft hand will make the most from his soon to be realized young vines.
CHARDONNAY FOXCROFT 2011 ($34, winery)
Sourced from fruit split 50% each north and south blocks and picked a bit (September 26th) later than Bachelder, towards the end of a very warm vintage. Sharp, piquant and kissed ever so tenderly by older (100 per cent) oak. Full malolactic gauging, this 14 per cent ’12 comes across ripe, without pushing the envelope. A minute trace of tropical fruit draughts in a mineral wake. Quite an astonishing first solo Chardonnay effort, in constitution and viscidity where the solder is king. 170 cases. 91 Tasted Nov. 7, 2013
PINOT NOIR ST. DAVID’S BENCH ‘LOWREY VINEYARD’ 2009 ($38, winery)
From a tight, late-picked vintage (Oct. 25th), this Lowrey pushes chance’s unpredictable climatic envelope and scores a crouched, subjacent, slowly gained ripeness. Grapes come from the most sloped part of the farm, rows that are actually a hybrid of St. David’s Bench and flats of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Perfumed of the earth, where soil and beet meet raspberry. Wears its vigor on the palate’s sleeve, in spiking spice, as if new world Burgundy. “If central Otago and Pommard had a child,” this ripe but earthy Pinot were it. Tannins are still in effect so four plus years of downtime need be part of the package. 160 cases. 92 Tasted Nov. 7, 2013
PINOT NOIR ST. DAVID’S BENCH ‘LOWREY VINEYARD’ 2010 ($38, winery)
Can’t say I’m all that surprised but this is so much more approachable, pretty and glamorous. From an unrelenting hot vintage (picked Sept. 11th), a full six weeks earlier than ’09 and from the same vineyard. This was necessary as a means to preserve freshness. More sunshine, less earth but still there’s a cure and metal tendency that really defines Lowrey. Could of course be considered more of a crowd pleaser but it’s not as simple as that. That I can taste these two mano a mano, in my life is a rubber soulstamp. “All these places have their moments.” 125 cases. 92 Tasted Nov. 7, 2013
MERLOT ‘MCCLEARY VINEYARD’ 2010 ($38, winery)
Uniquely cultivated and fashioned at the top of the Escarpment, this “Niagara Peninsula” designated Merlot is lush, dusty, full of phite and barn door tannins. It’s cool, minty, cast by an iron, sanguine tendency and chalky, metal funk. No simple song this McCleary, whacking away at the shins. Were it listening, you might say to him, “I know that things can really get rough when you go it alone, don’t go thinking you gotta be tough, and play like a stone.” Never mind. Senchuk gets it right: “Merlot has to be in the right spot, treated the right way.” 115 cases. 91 Tasted Nov. 7, 2013
Good to go!