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Pennsylvania Wine: Erie and the Chautauqua Lake Erie Wine Trail

January 4th, 2009-- by Jim Hofman

Pennsylvania Wine

As part of a recent eastern state swing, we discovered abundant clusters of wineries and wine trails all along the southern and eastern boundary of Lake Erie, from Ohio to New York.  Along the way, a small area of Pennsylvania awaits, offering the wine traveler a chance to visit some of the Keystone State’s most prominent wineries.  This area is part of the Chautauqua Lake Erie Wine Trail, one of 11 wine trails encompassing Pennsylvania wineries.

Like most states in this general geographic area, Pennsylvania has a long history of grape growing and wine making.  At present, the state ranks fourth nationally in grape growing and eighth for overall wine production.  As you might expect, there are plenty of Pennsylvania wineries to explore, with the state’s varied topography offering many distinct types of grapes and wines.

Wineries of the Chautauqua Wine Trail:  Day One

Everywhere we went in Erie, we were greeted with a smile.  Take the time to visit this friendly city and enjoy all the area has to offer. From Erie, it’s a short 15 mile drive east to the beautiful Victorian themed town of North East, home to 5 wineries on the Pennsylvania portion of the trail.

As you enter North East, you’ll notice and even catch the fragrance of thousands upon thousands of grape vines.  Agriculture and grape growing are a source of community pride here.  In fact, Welch’s Grape Company has a production plant in North East, and various festivals celebrate the grape and other crops.  The rolling terrain and proximity to Lake Erie make this an ideal grape growing climate.

In our sights for the afternoon were two of Pennsylvania’s oldest wineries, Penn Shore Vineyard and Presque Isle Wine Cellars.

Penn Shore Vineyard, open since 1970, is one of the first wineries established in Pennsylvania.  It’s a big, inviting place that offers tours to a few hundred people daily.  The tour takes you through the wine cellars, bottling operation, and finally the tasting room.

Penn Shore offers all sorts of approachable wines, and a few surprises as well.  There’s a full line of reds, whites, and sparkling wines.  We enjoyed the Bianca, a semi dry white, and the richly flavored Burgundy.  We also bought a bottle of Penn Shore Champagne, and wish we’d bought more.  Dry but not too dry, and perfectly carbonated, we thought it was far better than many imported champagnes.

Presque Isle Wine Cellars is another Pennsylvania veteran, having opened their doors in 1968.  Wine making is just part of the business here, as Presque Isle also is well known as a wine supply and grape juice operation.

When you visit, try the Falling Waters Sparkling Wine for a real taste of this area’s grapes.  It’s a sparkling white, with a pleasant fruity finish.  Not to be outdone is the Freeport Red, which practically explodes with rich berry flavor and aroma.  Finally, we recommend the Reflections of Lake Erie White, a blend of Riesling, Vidal, and Cayuga.

Wineries:  Day Two

Morning brought another gorgeous day, ideal for wine touring.  Three were in store for the day, but first we spent a few hours at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at the gateway to Presque Isle.

This “green” environmental center, free to the public, is designed to educate visitors about Presque Isle and other important environmental issues.  The TREC is an interactive experience, with an orientation film introducing visitors to the natural wonder that is Presque Isle.

Plan for a few hours at the TREC.  There’s a great nature shop and gallery, cafe, educational exhibits, and much more.  We truly came to appreciate the efforts of various environmental agencies housed here, and learning more about beautiful Presque Isle.

After a quick bite at TREC’s Sunset Cafe, it was off to North East to visit the remaining three wineries on the Pennsylvania portion of the Chautauqua Lake Erie Wine Trail.

First stop was Heritage Wine Cellars, with a history as long as the rows of grape vines proliferating this area.  This family farm and winery is run by 6th generation Bostwick family members, whose ancestors purchased their 100 acre fruit farm in 1805.

Open as a winery since 1976, the vineyard is largely Concord grapes, most of which are used for juice.  Some are used in wine as well, so do plan a stop here to taste some of the freshest clean wines on this wine trail.

We felt the reds starred here.  In particular, we liked Solebury Red, a unique semi dry red with a light berry fruity finish.  Just as enjoyable was the Blush, an easy drinker perfect for picnics or happy hour.  If you’re in Erie and can’t get to the winery, you can buy Heritage wines at the Millcreek Mall, the largest shopping mall in the area.

Next up was Arrowhead Wine Cellars.  Owners Nick and Kathy Mobilia harvest most of the wine making grapes themselves, directly from their 250 acre North East farm.  This is truly a destination, with a large gift shop with all sorts of interesting items, and a fruit stand next door.  A rich Chardonnay, crisp Pinot Grigio, and a fresh and sweet Concord were among several we tasted.  Be sure to stop at the fruit stand – it’s ideal for a mid afternoon snack.

Last but certainly not least in this journey was Mazza Vineyards. Since 1973, the Mazza family has proudly produced some of the best Germanic style wines anywhere.  Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted inside the beautiful Mediterranean style main building, where you can opt for a tour or proceed to the tasting area or gift shop.

This evolving winery produces not only a full range of reds, whites, and fruit wines, but specialty sherrys and ports as well. We opted for the Riesling, upon a recommendation from a BrewErie waitress.  And it’s fantastic, with fruity overtones and pleasantly crisp finish.  The Port, aged in bourbon barrels, has delicious fruit flavors (we sensed plum and dark cherry).  We also took home a few bottles of Country White, a pleasant and mildly sweet white blend.

Author Jim Hofman travels the country and writes frequently for his website, Wine Trails USA.

Tags: Jim Hofman · United States - Other

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Becky Best // May 11, 2009 at 9:43 am

    It’s too bad you didn’t try out the newest winery in North East during your visit. Lakeview Wine Cellars is just 1 mile south of Arrowhead. We have a very scenic location with rolling vineyards and veiw of Lake Erie. Our wines have won 14 medals in our first year open. Please check out our website and consider visiting us if you are ever in the area again.

  • 2 Thevinofan // Jul 3, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Try Quincy Cellars!!! Their food is awesome. We had the World Cheese platter paired with several different of thier outstanding wines. Amazing. Will do again. I heard the owner is opening up another winery/art gallery across the street. Exactly what Western Chautauqua County neeedddds!!!

  • 3 SaraKO // Aug 30, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    My bachelorette party and I dropped by Quincy and were amazed simply because ALL their wines were yummy….esp the Seyval! The place is also a beautiful mix of old barn and industrial. Really unique decor and really nice people! Should have booked my reception there….

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