Niagara wine

By Rick VanSickle

It’s becoming more and more common in Niagara wine country — tiny boutique wineries beginning their quest with a laser focus on two or three key grape varieties and that’s it. Often that means Pinot Noir for the reds and Chardonnay for the whites.

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It is that way with 16 Mile Cellar, located at the foot the Twenty Mile Bench on the 16 Mile Creek. Owned by Bay Street lawyer Joseph Groia and his wife Susan Barnacal, the estate was founded in 2010 on a 28-acre property with 12 acres planted to Pinot and Chard beginning in 2012 and 2013.

Since 2014, the vineyard has been nurtured organically and wines have been crafted with minimal intervention, with little or no additions to the wines, by winemaker Regan Kapach (very top photo).

The winery calls it a “hands-off” and “pirate winemaking” philosophy where they are “making and breaking conventional rules as we see fit to make the best wine we can.

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“At the end of our efforts we hope to express our own terroir: the ancient glacial lake bed of Lake Iroquois on which when the vines are grown.”

To goal is to reach about 1,200 cases of wine per year and stay small, says Kapach, who has made wine in B.C. at Tinhorn Creek, Red Rooster and Le Vieux Pin, and worked in Niagara at Southbrook and Flat Rock Cellars.

Kapach says the mantra at 16 Mile Cellar is simple: “Our focus is on two wines and to do them well rather than a plethora” of other varietals.

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I sat down recently with Kapach to taste through the Pinot and Chards at the estate. All but one of the wines we tried was a blend of estate fruit and sourced fruit from either the Twenty Mile Bench or Beamsville Bench. The 2015 Tenacity Pinot Noir, from a vintage that claimed 75% of the crop, was the lone wine in the portfolio that was entirely estate fruit. The goal is to be 100% estate grown and made wines.

Here’s what I liked (note: wines are for sale at the winery on Saturdays by appointment or online here:

16 Mile Cellar Civility Chardonnay 2013 ($25, 89 points) — The nose shows ripe pear, lemon pie, and toasted oak spices perfectly integrated at the moment. It’s a comforting Chard with pear fruit, spice and just enough acidity to keep it fresh on the finish.

16 Mile Cellar Civility Chardonnay 2014 ($30, 92 points) — This is bottled unfiltered (as are most of the wines at this estate) with a minimum of intervention and a deft touch with French oak aging. The grapes are sourced from two vineyards on the Beamsville Bench. Such a gorgeous and penetrating nose of poached pear, apple, lemon, flinty minerality and subtle oak spices. It is rich and creamy on the palate with juicy orchard fruits, toasted vanilla and layered through a long, clean and fresh finish. Very tasty Bench Chardonnay.

16 Mile Cellar Rebel Pinot Noir 2013 ($23, 89 points) — The 2013 Rebel is a blend of sourced fruit from the Beamsville Bench (30%) and the rest from the Twenty Mile Bench with only 16% new French oak used in aging. It has a lovely savoury opening note with cherries, raspberries, bramble and subtle spice in behind. There is good balance in this wine with everything fairly well integrated through the finessed finish.

16 Mile Cellar Incivility Pinot Noir 2013 ($30, 91 points) — A blend of the two benches with a fine nose of red fruits, forest floor, rhubarb and savoury spice notes. It is a light red colour in the glass but shows plenty of personality in the mouth with red and savoury/earthy fruits, cassis, bramble, barrel spice notes and nicely finessed through the finish.

16 Mile Cellar Rebel Pinot Noir 2014 ($23, 90 points) — 35% of the fruit for this Pinot is from the estate with the rest coming from the Beamsville Bench. Only 7% of the French oak used to spice this wine is from new barrels. More cherry richness than the 2013s with brambly raspberry, red currants and oak spice accents on the nose. It’s soft(ish) on the palate with broad red fruit flavours and savoury accents all delivered on a super smooth finish.

16 Mile Cellar Incivility Pinot Noir 2014 ($35, 91 points) — Almost three-quarters of the fruit is from the estate. Like the 100% estate from Pinot below, there is an enticing perfumed note on the nose that draws you into the glass then black cherries, some darker fruits, earthiness, integrated spice and a light hue in the glass. It’s like silk on the palate with wonderful fruit penetration, depth of flavour, complexity, spice accents and energy through a finessed finish.

16 Mile Cellar Tenacity Pinot Noir 2015 ($50, 92 points) — A terrible spring frost in 2015 meant yields were 75% of normal (hence the name) at the estate’s Susan’s Vineyard in the Creek Shores sub-appellation, which is a shame as this was the first Pinot 100% from the home farm. Nevertheless, said Kapach, “it’s exciting … hopefully this is an example of what we will see from the vineyards.” She found the wine “more robust than what I was expecting.” Indeed, a really personable nose with rich, perfumed red fruits, dried herbs, earth and elegant spice notes. It’s bright and textured on the palate with firm tannic grip that carries a basket of savoury and concentrated red fruits, touches of earth/loam, minerals and oak spice all lifted by freshening acidity. Should improve in bottle for 4+ years.

16 Mile Cellar Renegade Rosé 2016 ($17, 88 points) — A blend of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Creek Shores with a nose of red fruits, cranberries and lime/lemon accents. It’s both juicy and fruity on the palate and gushes with cherries, raspberries and lifted citrus accents that keep it fresh on the finish.