From Wine to Spirits: How One Winery Expanded Its Horizons Almost By Accident

Mazza Wines

Mazza Wines has been producing fine wine in the Lake Erie Wine Country since 1975. Over the years, the vineyards have grown to include blends, hybrids, sparkling wines and more. More recently, Mazza has expanded to produce small batch spirits such as fruit brandies, grappa (a grape-based pomace brandy), whiskeys and specialty drinks.

We talked to Mario Mazza, Oenologist/General Manager of Mazza Wines to learn more about the expansion and how they’re compromising exploring new territory with maintaining alive the traditions that matter.

QUESTION: You were the first winery in the US to produce ice wine. Can you tell us what makes ice wine different and what the process entails?

MM: We were the first winery in PA to produce Ice Wine. Not sure where that puts us overall in the US, but we would be a fairly early adopter. We started in the early 80s at the same time as Inniskillin a state winery in the Niagara area. Ice wine is a specialty dessert wine created with frozen grapes, which produce a concentrated, very sweet wine.

QUESTION: In addition to making wine, you also brew spirits, including whiskey, grappa and more. Can you tell our readers about the process of brewing/making so many different drinks and why you decided to expand you reach?

MM: We started in wine over 40 years ago (my father Bob and uncle Frank started the winery in 1972). After studying chemical engineering and working briefly in that industry, I went back to grad school for oenology in Adelaide. The distillery started almost as a joke when my dad and I were talking about opening a new location in NY, and we thought it would be a great opportunity to do some craft distilling. A few months later while I was still overseas we spoke again and had the property purchased and a still ordered from Carl in Germany. It was an ancillary portion of our business till about five years ago when we started dealing the opportunity with craft spirits. We started off making grappa, fruit brandies and fortification spirit (all grape and fruit based spirits). We then moved into grain-based spirits as well as liqueurs and cordials as well as producing products for various clients.

QUESTION: What types of specialty spirits do you make?

MM: We make a range of spirits including grappa, eau de vie, rye whiskey, bourbon, limoncello, and bierschnapps all under our Five & 20 Spirits brand. We also produce products for clients including liqueurs for Bittermens Spirits, Three Hunters Vodka, Manhattan Moonshine as well as blending and bottling various rums for Ed Hamilton’s Ministry of Rum.

QUESTION: You’re part of the Lake Eerie Wine Trail. Can you tell us a bit about what that means for your company and how you take advantage of this?

MM: Lake Erie Wine Country provides a great opportunity for the wineries along Lake Erie in both PA and NY to work together and market our region as well as hosting trail wide events to attract visitors. It’s provided a great cooperative platform for us to grow over the years as the trail has doubled in number of wineries over the past 10 years.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a bit more about your private-label program and how customers can use it to commemorate special occasions?

MM: We have been running this program for over three decades and it provides the opportunity for our customers to commemorate weddings, corporate functions, and even events like the dedication of the Flagship Niagara from the battle of 1812 through labels and decorated bottles whether it is just a few bottles or a few hundred.

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Diana Bocco is a writer and author who writes for Yahoo!, the Discovery Channel website, Marie Claire, Poplar Mechanics, and more. You can find more about her work on her website dianabocco.com.

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