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6.26.2017

A Tour of Lake Erie Wine Country: Wines, Scenery, History, and More

Lake Erie Wine Country is an awesome area to visit. This series of more than twenty wineries in Erie County, PA, and Chautauqua County, New York, is great for its wines, scenic views, and friendly people. The region is home to one of the largest concentrations of vineyards in the world. 

This region produces more concord grapes than pretty much anywhere else in the world. Close to a thousand different vineyard growers here make up Welch's largest area of Concord grape production. They have two storage and production plants in the region, with their largest facilities being located in North East, PA, and nearby Westfield, NY. Dubbed the "Concord Grape Belt," driving through this area is especially awesome in the fall, when the smell of grapes is so strong that it will often get caught up in your car vents. Roadside stands sell large baskets of fresh and delicious grapes. You have not lived until you've had some fresh grapes from Erie. 

We start our trip by heading up the Lake Erie section of the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, a 518 mile scenic byway that starts at the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio, and heads along Lake Erie and Ontario through upstate New York. This is a beautiful drive and it takes you through the northern flank of the Lake Erie Wine Region.
Our first stop takes us to Penn Shore Winery in the beautiful borough of North East, PA, the heart of the state's largest area of vineyards. 
Words to live by! Penn Shore excels in our favorite kind of wine, Riesling.
This winery has an extremely laid back setting, and in our opinion, it excels with its semi-dry white wines. The Bianca, Vignoles, Reflections, and Seyval Blanc wines were excellent. Their sweeter wines, including their Niagara, Diamond, and Pink Catawba, are yummy as well.
The winery is wide open with their production process. From the hundreds of acres of vineyards that produce the grapes, to the tanks and bottling process, it is cool to see their full process in action. Penn Shore was one of the first two wineries in Pennsylvania, post-prohibition, to get a limited winery license in the modern era within the state back in 1968. They began crushing grapes in 1969, and they opened for business in 1970.

Our next stop takes us to Mazza Vineyards. They operate three different wineries, their main one in North East, South Shore Wine Company, right nearby in what was a 19th century wine cellar, and Mazza's Chautauqua Cellars and Five and 20 Spirits and Brewing in nearby Westfield, New York. All three of these operations run independently, offering many different selections. They take great pride in their operations and are one of the most high profile vinters in Pennsylvania.
Joseph Mazza moved from Italy and started right here in 1973 on this idyllic property, situated right on the shores of the lake and in the heart of hundreds of acres of vineyards. Joseph's son Robert and his family grew their operation into one of the largest wineries in the state, and have advocated for the growth of the industry in Pennsylvania. Joseph was appointed by local native and then governor, Tom Ridge, to the Pennsylvania Farm Show Commission, where he advocated for the grape industry. His mark is clear when you see how much the grape and wine industry has grown in the state. At no place is this popularity more evident than when you see the growing popularity of the grape displays and high quality wine tastings at the Pennsylvania Farm Show every January. 
The Mediterranean styled winery building is always pleasant to visit.
Mazza's is widely acclaimed for their Rieslings, with the recognition well earned, though all of their vinos are excellent. Additionally, they have branched into making cider, which is absolutely fantastic.
Now we head across the border to Chautauqua County, New York, with a visit to Johnson Estate Wines. They are the oldest estate winery in New York, and the oldest winery in the Lake Erie Wine Region.
The winery is housed in an old apple storage facility that was built in 1920. Their wines are all around fantastic. They specialize in dry white wines, specifically their rieslings, though all of their creations are great. The Freelings Creek Chardonnay, Rieslings, Traminette, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Chautauqua Blanc, Liebestropfchen, Niagara, blushes, reds, and dessert wines are all fantastic. 
They opened as a winery in 1961, though their history goes all the way back to 1908. English immigrant Frederick Johnson emigrated to Ithaca to study Entomology at Cornell. He founded an orchard that grew apples, cherries, and peaches, in addition to vineyards. The Johnsons have owned the property ever since. Their pride in their wines and facility are immediately evident when you visit. We have visited many wineries, and Johnson Estate is one of our overall favorites. 

While riding along the wine trail, be sure to stop and get some fresh berries at a roadside stand.
The Lake Erie Grape Discovery Center in Westfield, NY is a free museum that talks about the history and science behind grape growing in the area. In addition to informative displays, they have a gift shop with everything you can think of, including one of my favorite grape treats, Concord Grape Fruit Stix from the Concord Grape Growers Co-Op in Westfield, NY. This beautiful lakeside town is known for its wineries, including Johnston Estate, 21 Brix, Noble's, and Mazza's Five + Twenty Cellars, Brewing and Distilling, and the area is located right near beautiful Chautauqua Lake. A number of excellent wineries are around within a half hour or so north east of this location, all the way up into the Dunkirk and Fredonia area, and all the way up to Niagara Falls and the Buffalo Region. The Grape Discovery Center talks about why this is such a successful area in grape growing.
The gift shop at the Grape Discovery Center.
The exhibition area.
Here is a map of North East, PA, showing how this area is practically covered in vineyards.
From North East all the way up to Westfield, NY, there is nothing but rolling hills, vineyards, and woodlands. When you start to ascend the edge of the Allegheny Plateau, you get these spectacular views of Lake Erie, even on a hazy day like this. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Canada.
A typical scene in this idyllic place, on the edge of the Allegheny Plateau, looking across the rolling hills, covered in vineyards, with the waters of Lake Erie out on the horizon.
Now we had back into Pennsylvania with a stop at Lakeview Wine Cellars. The owners of this vineyard are beyond kind. They have built this beautiful facility, and frequently offer entertainment and host parties and events at their winery.
Their rieslings are particularly excellent!
The view of the lake from the winery.
Some of their Vineyards. 
Next we stop at one of the newest wineries and breweries in the region, Arundel Cellars and Brewing Company.
They make decent wines, but their brews are really excellent, especially their ciders. They also have nice snack/lunch fare, and we ate here for lunch after a great morning going through the vineyards.
Our last stop takes us to what is one of the prettiest vineyards in the region, South Shore Wine Company. It all started in this building in 1864, when it became the first winery in 1864. It became one of the longest running vineyards in the state until it was shuttered during Prohibition. The location was used as a restaurant afterwards for many years, though the old wine cellar area basically sat unused. After the restaurant went out of business, Mazza's purchased the property and founded a winery. It was founded by Mazza's in 2007 after it closed as a long time restaurant. 
The best aspect of this winery is the setting in a 19th century wine cellar. The stone work is incredible, along with the general decor.

Visiting the vineyards of the town of North East, PA, through Chautauqua County, New York is an incredibly relaxing and rejuvenating experience. There are many fantastic wineries, scenic settings, and friendly people. The Lake Erie Wine Region, and the Erie Region as a whole, are highly recommended by us as a place that you need to check out. 

The following map has the locations for the region's wineries. For more information about the region's wineries, be sure to check out www.lakeeriewinecountry.com For more information on the wineries and the region, check out www.visiterie.com

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