Mazza Wines: Taste Through the Beverage Diversity of Lake Erie

By | Wine Writer
Last Updated: June 28, 2024
Mazza Wines Awards

A couple of months ago, I received an email from Rebecca Blank of SWELL, a marketing agency. Rebecca introduced herself, her role, and that she represents “an award-winning wine, spirits, and craft beer producer with operations in New York and Pennsylvania.” “New York and Pennsylvania?” I thought to myself. “How intriguing!” Most northeast producers are singularly focused on either wine, beer, or spirits as well as offering wines exclusively within their region of origin. Rebecca goes on to tell me that the producer is putting together press packages and asked if I would be interested in receiving one. As someone who champions for lesser known wine regions, wine from the Lake Erie AVA did pique my interest, so I accepted her offer and was introduced to the world of Mazza Wines and the Lake Erie AVA.

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Beyond the Wine: Visiting the Lake Erie Wine Region

The Lake Erie AVA is not just a wine region; it’s a destination. Stretching 53 miles along the southern shore of Lake Erie, this area offers a unique maritime climate that’s particularly conducive to grape growing. The region has a viticultural history that dates back to the 19th century and has long been a stronghold for white wines. But as we like to often highlight on Winetraveler, it’s not just about the wine; it’s about the experience.

Aerial view of South Shore Wine Company, one of Mazza's locations just next to Lake Erie
Aerial view of South Shore Wine Company near Lake Erie. Image courtesy of Mazza Wines / Paul Gibbens.

Lake Erie is a picturesque area that attracts visitors with stunning natural beauty and wide range of outdoor activities. The lake itself provides a scenic backdrop to the vineyards, with spectacular views and a tranquil atmosphere. Winetravelers can enjoy leisurely strolls along the shore, take in the beautiful lakeside sunsets, or engage in more adventurous activities such as boating, fishing, and kayaking. The lake’s beaches are perfect for a relaxing day out, with opportunities for swimming and picnicking (with a glass of Grüner in hand).

Live music at Mazza Chautauqua Cellars and Five & 20 Spirits and Brewing
Catch some live music in a relaxed setting when you stop by Mazza Chautauqua Cellars and Five & 20 Spirits and Brewing. Image courtesy Mazza Wines.

Dotted throughout the shoreline, wineries around Lake Erie offer gorgeous vineyard views where you can relax and enjoy authentic, handcrafted wines, brews, and spirits. The moderating effect of Lake Erie makes for a longer growing season, allowing grapes to develop complex flavors and aromas. This maritime influence not only benefits the vineyards but also provides a temperate climate that enhances the overall visitor experience.

The culinary scene in the Lake Erie region is also equally vibrant and diverse, with many restaurants and cafes sourcing local produce and ingredients. Farm-to-table dining experiences are common, allowing visitors to savor fresh, locally grown foods that pair perfectly with the region’s wines. When you visit, consider stopping at innovative local favorites like Bar Ronin, owned by chef Dan Kern, which is a contemporary Japanese Izakaya that serves shareable plates, craft cocktails and of course Mazza wines. Also owned by chef Dan, Lucero is another great option if you’re in the mood for a new world take on Spanish tapas. Finally, soak up Lake Erie’s waterfront views at Two45, an upscale traditional American restaurant focused on seafood and coastal fare.

RELATED: Learn More About Visiting Mazza’s Various Locations and See Our Complete Travel Guide to the Lake Erie Wine Region

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When it comes to wine tasting, Mazza is just one of the many wineries that contribute to the region’s reputation for quality and diversity. Mazza is the largest producer in the state and is renowned for its Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, but they also make traditional method sparkling wines and have recently won awards for their Cabernet Franc and Vidal Blanc-based Ice Wine. Their various locations and tasting rooms are inviting spaces to sample their exceptional range of beverage options.

VISIT: See Hours, Reviews and Visitor Information for Mazza Vineyards

Tasting Through Mazza’s Expansive Range of Wines

Diverse wines offered by Mazza with multiple awards
Image courtesy Mazza Wines.

I received a press package of 6 bottles and a compass! I thought the compass was a nice touch. To my surprise this assortment included a Finger Lakes Riesling, a Long Island Merlot, a Lake Erie Cabernet Franc, PA Grüner Veltliner, PA Blanc de Noir, and a rosé made from Lake Erie Chambourcin (a French/American hybrid). It was certainly a diverse assortment of wines from the two regions. I gradually tasted these wines and I have to say, Mazza wines did not disappoint.

Their Cabernet Franc, from their home base AVA of Lake Erie, hit all the notes I would expect of a grape grown in that region. Lighter bodied, with notes of bell pepper, red cherry, and a touch of spice from spending 20 months in French oak. I paired it with pizza from my local spot, and it went spectacularly. No wonder this wine is well received and awarded. The Cabernet Franc was awarded the PWA Wine Excellence award as a Top 10 wine and is a PA Farm Show Double Gold winner.

2024 Decanter Award Winner Mazza Perfect Rosé

A wine that truly surprised me is from their Perfect line. The Perfect Rosé, as it’s called, features an artfully designed cut-out unicorn on the label. It is an easy drinking, refreshing, summer sipper. It is interesting to note that I previously told Rebecca that I don’t like French American hybrids. Well, surprise surprise, turns out I like this 100% Lake Erie Chambourcin Rosé and apparently so do a lot of other people. This rosé was the 2023 Best Rosé by the PA Sommelier Judgement, both James Suckling and Tim Atkin awarded this wine 89 points, and in 2021 the Beverage Institute awarded this wine as part of a series: Best Label Series. Recently this wine was awarded 95 points, a Gold medal by the 2024 Decanter World Wine Awards.

The Rich History and Community Ties of Mazza Wines

Behind the Mazza Wines label is a story about an exceptional family business that is not only tight knit, but also tightly knitted to their community of the Lake Erie region. Established in 1983, the beautiful region of Lake Erie, PA is by and large unexplored by most wine lovers. It is an American Viticultural region that includes 2,236,800 acres of land along the south shore of Lake Erie. This region encompasses parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, and is the largest AVA east of the Rocky Mountains. Here growers produce a wide variety of grapes including Concord, native varieties, hybrids, and more recently, vinifera. Here varieties like Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc do exceedingly well. There are currently 23 wineries in the region which are open to visitors, the Mazza Wines family being a standout and must visit among them.

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The Mazza family has been making wine in the region since 1972. But their tradition of wine making goes back a little further than that. In fact, all the way to Calabria, Italy where the Mazza family grew chestnuts, figs, and of course, grapes. In 1962, Calabrian immigrant Joseph Mazza purchased the land that would today be Mazza’s vineyard site. His two son’s Frank and Robert incorporated Mazza Vineyards in 1972. Between the two brothers Frank was a lover of the winemaking aspect. Whereas Robert, well, he had his sights set on more than just making some wine. As a long time prominent figure on the Pennsylvania Wine Board, Robert has left his mark on the PA wine industry, helping build it up to what it is today. According to his son Mario Mazza, “My father is a general contractor with a wine making habit.” Robert Mazza, who is currently the President, has successfully acquired more than just his home base winery. Over the years he has acquired South Shore Wine company, renovated it and opened it to the public. Additionally, in 2004 he started construction on Mazza Chautauqua Cellars in Mayville, New York, eventually expanding into a second location located in Westfield, NY.

The Expansion and Innovations of Mazza Wines

Another interesting note of mention is that Mazza Wines, also known as Robert Mazza, INC., is much more than what meets the eye. Within the Robert Mazza, INC umbrella there are six different wine labels: Mazza Vineyards, South Shore Wine Company, Mazza Chautauqua Cellars, Bare Bones, Perfect Wines, and Getaway Wines. All these wine labels are showcasing their range and can be sampled right in their tasting rooms.

Map of Mazza Wines location on Lake Erie, PA
Navigating along the shoreline of Lake Erie, there is an abundance of wine, beer and spirit options across the Mazza portfolio suitable to any palate.

Another venture is Five & 20 Spirits and Brewing, which was opened in 2013 is their sister spirits and beer brand and shares a home with Mazza Chautauqua Cellars in Westfield, NY. This is New York State’s first combination winery, distillery, and brewery. A definite must see if you’re ever in the area. This accomplishment was undertaken right around the time Mario joined his father’s company. I had an opportunity to sit down and talk with Mario Mazza, a former biochemical engineer turned winemaker. Although Mario grew up in a wine family, he started out working for prominent companies like DuPont while specializing in processes relevant to what he does now like distilling.

He mentioned to me about how he would sterilize the production lines for Silicon wafer chips. He goes on to say that it’s actually “so cool! But you can’t drink the stuff, whiskey is way cooler… You can drink what I make, and there’s a social aspect, and there’s a story telling aspect, and that’s the part i enjoy as well,  I think that’s what neat about the business, is you can do something technical, you can do something business, you can do something marketing oriented, the creative aspect, you can kind of get all of these and I don’t get bored…” In fact, Mario is now the general manager and vice president of Mazza wines. With so much to do, he is excited to lead Mazza wines into the future and expand its horizons. When asked about future plans, Mario mentioned that he plans to “diversify our business so that we’re relevant for the next 50 years.”

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I think we all can agree that wine is a melt of both science and art. Mario certainly has a science background but interestingly enough, his sister Vanessa has a strong background in the arts. Vanessa Mazza is a board-certified art therapist, who also serves as the Creative Director. She helps oversee and coordinate packaging, promotions, event planning, web, and social media. “I had always been interested in art. Art is something I always loved, but my brother and I always helped out with the business. I started filling in with web content management, social media, when Facebook started, I was the one who made the Facebook page. I would fill in those little niche spots and it just turned into a job… it kind of just grew that way.”

Even their home base region of Lake Erie has grown. Vanessa herself has seen some changes over the years in the region: “Growing up around this area specifically there were four wineries, everything has grown so much in the past 10-15 years, now there’s 23.” She goes on to say: “I’m a very big supporter of the arts, and I’m a very big supporter of enjoyment with going to a local winery, or enjoying your favorite wine, or enjoying going to check out local music at your local winery.” Vanessa books the bands for the Mazza homebase winery which play on the weekends. It’s a favorite source of entertainment for patrons.

While looking to the future, Robert’s children Mario and Vanessa both play vital roles in the family business. At this point in Robert’s fruitful career, he is only ever involved in the ways he wants to be and none of the ways he doesn’t. Robert’s continued involvement is seen as welcome by his children: “I’ve had the pleasure of working with my dad since I came back in the mid 2000s, I wouldn’t change it for the world.” says Mario. When asked where the business is heading Vanessa beautifully responds: “For Mazza overall, there’s definitely a striving that goes on, striving for quality, striving for constant improvement. There’s always a continual improvement going on with the whole business.” As someone who has not only tried Mazza’s wines, but has also gotten to know both Vanessa and Mario, I believe nothing but continued accomplishments and stepping foot on new ground are on the horizon for them. Mario explains that “we don’t want to be good for local wine, we just want to be good.” I’m excited to see where the next generation of the Mazza family will take their family business.

Visit Erie and Mazza Wines

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