Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Introducing Erie's Wine Country

How many eastern U.S.er's look for wine country getaways?  I hope you, like myself, are one of them!  I can tell you that there are some cute, cultural places to visit that include a wine country right in your backyard all along the Mid-Atlantic!  I've been in utter turmoil over how much I should talk about Pennsylvania wines (considering, I do work with the PA industry quite a bit now), but then I realized, I should help spread the good news of what everyone is doing in this state, as well as many of the other states in the Mid-Atlantic.

I actually visited the Lake Erie region for the first time recently, and am honestly looking for another excuse to venture up that way.  It was so pleasing to the eyes to see miles upon miles of grapevines again.  With Lake Erie in the backdrop, I can't image why more people aren't flocking to this grape growing region. 

A sea of grapevines

More vines upon vines!

A bit of Erie history: Erie was originally settled by French immigrants, and by 1860 it was one of the most prolific grape and wine producing counties in the state of Pennsylvania (along with Berks, Allegheny, Lancaster, Washington, and Schuylkill Counties).  In 1864, South Shore Wine Company opened its doors to the Pennsylvania wine market, and its first vintage was well received by consumers.  (South Shore Wine Company is back in business today - currently owned by the Mazza family!)  In addition to its wine roots, Erie also became a fundamental center for table and juice grapes.  By 1882, the "Nickel Plate" railroad was firmly established, which allowed national transport of Erie's grapes.  By the onset of Prohibition, pasteurized grape juice was becoming a common staple in the American diet, and with the introduction of Welch's Concord Grape Jelly in 1923, Erie became the standard area for growing the Concord grape variety.

The South Shore Wine Company Cellar - step back into history...

The gorgeous view from inside the historic cellar - I love the way the
 light shines through here

The railing from the entrance into the cellar - such detail

Breathtaking tasting bar at South Shore Wine Company
(Restaurant upstairs!)

However, I believe Prohibition (1920 to 1933) drastically changed the look of Pennsylvania's wine industry, and with that, the Erie region.  The railroad, which had proliferated Erie's grape industry also helped destroy it.  As California's grape industry was also drastically affected by Prohibition, it was refrigerated railroad cars that would allow them to transport their wine grapes in larger, and cheaper, quantities to the north eastern United States.  The Erie region battled hard to maintain their industry, but slowly Prohibition's damage continued to leak onto the Erie wine and table grape growers.

Efforts were made to retain Erie's grape heritage.  Many Concord and Niagara growers today still sell to Welch's.  And in the past few decades, the wine industry in Erie is slowly regaining reputation with wines beyond the Concord, Niagara, and Catawba varieties even though they hold a near and dear place in many Pennsylvanian's hearts.  You can look at several of Erie's wineries through the Chautauqua (said "sha-taw-qua") and Lake Erie Wine Trails.

In my visit, I saw several places that I fell in love with.  Plus, you can cross over between PA and NY within a few minutes!  (Extra bonus!)  Each winery holds its own personality and I truly believe there's a winery for everyone.  What's good in Erie?  I strongly you suggest trying their Rieslings, especially if you're a first-time wine taster.  Riesling is made in many styles from dry to semi-sweet to very sweet, still to sparkling.  It's very light and aromatic, which is usually why it's so pleasing.  

Not into Riesling?  Check out the red wine Noiret (said "No-or-ay"), which is typically dry but spicy, with a good tannin structure, and solid red fruit.  

If you want to adventure into some other whites, try the Traminette (said "tram-in-net"), which is also aromatic like Riesling, but in a floral sort of way.  It can also be made into several styles.  

And finally, you know you're in Erie when you try some good solid Lemberger and Cayuga (said "ky-oo-ga").  Two grapes that are underrated in my opinion, and worth discovering.  I hope you enjoy my pictures of this beautiful region Pennsylvania and New York have to offer!

Why do I love Courtyard Wineries?  
Because there's a something here for fun and serious wine drinkers!

Courtyard Winery from the Parking Lot

Beautiful Entry into Courtyard Winery

 Here's the fun side - Barjo Bons wines - sweeter, fruitier, lighter - just plain FUN!
Check it out - the tasting bar changes color!

The Barjo Bons Label - full of funness

The serious wines - drier, more contemporary
LaCourette Label

Going to Erie primarily for the sailing?  Then don't miss Lakeview Wine Cellars
There's Sam Best, the winemaker, getting ready to host your wine tasting

The view of the vineyards from the porch at Lakeview Wine Cellars

The theme at Lakeview is sailing.  The tasting bar is filled with sands from all around the world.
There's a little bit of CA in these tasting bars - the dark sand is from San Francisco.
I believe this lighter sand was from the Floridian coast.  But Same has a whole
collection of sand from all around the world!  (As well as some amazing 
wines for you to try.)

Arrowhead Wine Cellars was so charming!

I loved Arrowhead's tasting room - so many things for you to buy that are wine related.
I loved this little antique-looking wine dispenser.  It's so cute!  And I've never seen this 
anywhere before.

Want to make your own wine?  Arrowhead will give you juice to get started!

Presque Isle - One of the first wineries to open its doors after Prohibition

The award winning wines at Presque Isle.  You can find several good wine
books in this tasting room as well. 

The comfort of Presque Isle - enjoy a nice glass of wine while watching
a rushing PA stream flow by.

Johnson Estate is magical.  I had no idea what kind of exquisite tasting room
I was entering when I walked into this one - absolutely breathtaking

Johnson Estate's tasting menu - try the Sparkling Traminette!
(And all their Rieslings!)

The other view of Johnson Estate's tasting room

The wine cellar at Johnson Estate - here's a place where you can 
watch all the action, especially during harvest

The vineyards at Johnson Estate

Ooo la la - check out that packaging.  :)

Penn Shore Winery - another winery where you will literally step back in time.
In fact, the winery here focuses on bringing Erie's history straight to the consumer.
You HAVE to check out their museum while sipping on some wines!

Loved the floral work out back at Penn Shore Winery

Penn Shore Winery also hosts music nights - you can sip on wine, enjoy some music,
and watch the sea of grapes flutter in the backdrop.

You can't go to Erie without visiting Mazza Vineyards

Loved their tasting bar - so traditional and yet very wide open!

Anybody need a wine related job?  Mazza will hire you!  :)


  1. I am planning a wine trail tour and appreciate the insight you provide! Thanks

  2. I just came across this terrific article--thanks for visiting, Denise! I'm the director of Lake Erie Wine Country, a wine trail with 24 wineries on a 50-mile stretch between Harborcreek, PA and Silver Creek, NY. Our wine region includes both the Erie County, PA wineries and the Chautauqua Co., NY wineries. info about the region can be found at www.lakeeriewinecountry.org. All other websites regarding our wine trail are not up to date or "official."

    Thanks again for the great review! Please come again sometime!

  3. Denise,
    Somehow, I am only just now reading your nice blog about Lake Erie Wine Country's wineries. Thank you for the nice article and comments! Please do let us know when you are in the area as we would love to meet you and to share the latest releases at Johnson Estate. A Founder's Red has just been released - a hot-pressed Chancellor in honor of our founders and Father's Day. Jennifer Johnson, Johnson Estate Winery