Continuation of The Chautauqua Chronicles Part 1: Origins
Continuation of The Chautauqua Chronicles Part 2: Peek 'n Peaking Too Early?
Sad to leave Peek 'n Peak so early, we revved up the not-so-all-wheel drive sleigh and headed out into the snow storm. Our next stop, Johnson Estate Winery was only a short ride away. This trip, however, would've been significantly easier if our rental car didn't suck, it wasn't dumping snow and we didn't have to take the unplowed back roads that we drove in on the night before. I'm fairly certain, I didn't see any black top the entire way there. Such is the life though, when your après ski shenanigans lead you to New York's oldest estate winery and the state's first ever combination winery, distillery and brewery Mazza Chautauqua Cellars and Five & 20 Spirits and Brewery.
A Joyous Greeting at Johnson Winery
Sliding into Johnson Estate Winery like a skier doing a hockey stop, we were elated to be there.This joy was only amplified by the greeting that we got when we walked in. There, waiting and excited for our visit, were owners, Frederick and Jennifer Johnson; Head Winemaker Jeff Murphy; Executive Director of Lake Erie Wine Country, Monica Mazur; and our incredible trip coordinator Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Megan Arnone. You could feel their excitement from the moment we walked in until the time we left. It was a passion that really shown through in the winery itself and their delicious array of wines that we sampled.
Making Us Feel at Home in New York's Oldest Estate Winery
Fred and Jennifer could not have been more accommodating hosts and were proud to show Brian and I what is New York's oldest estate winery. Fred is the third generation of the Johnson family to run the winery that was started by his grandfather Frederick back in 1908. The tasting room is beautiful, highlighted by a modern rustic decor that you'd expect from a farmhouse winery. In full view as you walk in the entrance are the tanks used in the wine making process, an unintentionally intentional accessory that is the ideal accent to your tasting experience. It was fascinating to walk among the tanks and oak barrels and really get a feel for each step of the process that Fred and Jennifer were pointing out along the way.
The real piece de resistance though was when we headed out back and got a peek of the vineyard itself. As far as the eye could see there were grape vines now blanketed in snow that at some point in the future would begin their new growing season. A cool contrast that isn't often seen with vineyards but yet one that had me anxious to start tasting, particularly their award winning ice wine which tends to be very good when coming from northern regions like this.
Piquing My Foodie Senses With Homemade Appetizers
Back inside we sat down in the tasting room to a wonderful spread of hors d'oeuvres that Jennifer had prepared for us to pair with the wine sampling. She is the resident gardener at farm and often plants fruit and herb gardens on the property. Using a variety of what she had grown, there were some spiced pecans, sausage pinwheels, and herb bruschetta that we were told that we "had to try with each wine." Arm twisted, my foodie senses were piqued and of course I willingly obliged.
A Wine Tasting Highlighted by Johnson Winery's Award Winning Ice Wine
I'm always fascinated when wineries from the northeast produce wines that you would not consider characteristic of this region. There is a stigma that all of the wines from the Northeast taste like grape juice, one that was not even close to the case with any of the varietals that we tasted at Johnson Winery. I spoke at length about this topic with Fred, Jennifer and Jeff as they recognize that blot on the geographical wine map and strive to and succeed in overcoming it. Their wines are delicious! It was tough to pick a favorite from their core offerings but I do remember really liking the Pinot Noir, a varietal that is more my wife's go to than mine.
For me, where they really excelled was in the Ice Wine. Their multi award winning 2017 Chambourcin was to die for. Well balanced and not overly syrupy, it had a sweet melange of fruit flavors that included strawberries and finished with an almost honey like quality. There was even a touch of spice at the end that I found to be a nice contrast to the sweetness of the wine and a flavor profile that was only evident in that vintage and not the 2018. Needless to say, I left with bottle of this and their Pinot Noir (for my wife), awesome parting gifts from our generous hosts.
Meeting a Fellow Calabrian at Mazza Chautauqua Cellars and Five & 20 Spirits and Brewing
Heading back out into the storm this time our trek took us only minutes down the road to Mazza Chautauqua Cellars and Five & 20 Spirits and Brewing. New York state's first ever combination winery, distillery and brewery did not disappoint. Bob Mazza, the co-founder was ready and waiting for us, as we were a bit behind on our schedule. Walking in, I knew I was at home when he introduced himself and spoke about his Calabrian heritage. My eyes lit up as I exclaimed, "my family is from Calabria too!" Us spicy southern Italians have to stick together, if you know what I mean?
Producing Wines, Craft Beers and Spirits All Under One Roof
Founded in 1972, Bob has been producing wines at their main production location in Northeast Pennsylvania since then. Over time, they opened the Chautauqua Cellars, where we were, and added the distillery as well as the craft brewery. Touring around this specific facility and listening to Bob talk, you really get a scope of just how impressive the Mazza operation is. It is one thing to individually produce wine or spirits or craft beer well on their own. It is a whole other ball game to produce wine, spirits and craft beer well within they same operation. Mazza Cellars and Five & 20 Spirits and Craft Brewery is doing just that.
Working with farmers in the area, they are very much a farm to glass operation that prides themselves on keeping it local. Tasting their wines, beer and spirits I was very impressed with the quality of what they produced. Their Rye Whiskey has won multiple awards and sipping on it, I can easily understand why. Rye whiskies can be a bit harsh due to the spicy nature of this particularly grain. Their's, however, showed none of this. Smooth and dry with notes of caramel and a hint of spice from the rye it was beautifully done.
Their craft beers were also quite tasty. I was told to try the cream ale and it was a good one, however I was particularly fond the brown ale and the red ale which walked away as my two favorites. Brian and I also had a sampling of their red and white table wines, which, similarly to Johnson Estate Winery, showed no signs of being overly grape forward and would have been wonderful to pair with some delicious Calabrian delicacies.
Dua Lipa Guides us to Holiday Valley
Having sampled all of the spirits in a two mile radius it was time to hit the road and head to our final destination, The Tamarack Lodge at Holiday Valley Resort. Singing along to Dua Lipa's Don't Start Now, and knowing all of the words after having heard it on the radio roughly 40 times in the last 24 hours it was smooth sledding right into Holiday Valley.
A Mountain Of Nachos Highlights Après Ski at John Harvard's
A quick visit to our room to drop our bags and we headed right downstairs to check out the Holiday Valley après ski scene at John Harvard's. Thanks to their night skiing, it was still pretty rocking for the later hour. We sat down and our host Jane Eshbaugh, the marketing director at Holiday Valley, popped in to meet us almost seconds after. Apparently, we stuck out like sore thumbs since she walked right over to us in the corner of the bar without even knowing what we looked like. So much for fitting right in.
We watched in awe as the group of twenty something girls next to us, banged back shots and ordered a butt load of mixed drinks to go. I turned to Brian and said, "I'm pretty sure we won't see them on the first chair tomorrow."
Hungry from all of the driving, we ordered what was described to us by our bartender as a mountain of nachos. A strong recommendation from Jane, who clearly knew her stuff after having been at the resort for 40 years, it was as advertised. The tortilla chips were piled high and topped with a healthy dose of pulled pork, cheese and other tasty toppings. YUMMY!
Jane filled us in a bit on Holiday Valley as we were shoveling hefty size portions of chips, cheese and pork into our mouths. Excited, I joked about getting out there early tomorrow morning. Well...at least she thought I was joking. Determined to take advantage of the upcoming powder day, my continued prodding resulted in her, prior to heading home for the evening, agreeing to meet us at 7:45 am the next morning for breakfast.
A Mesmerizing Experience at Ellicottville's The Depot
Packing it in for the night did not cross our minds. Brian and I did not come all the way to Ellicottville to sleep. It was a little late to head downtown for that scene so we, instead, went across the street to The Depot. Heather at Peek 'n Peak adamantly suggested that we check it out and she did not steer us wrong. Walking in I was instantly mesmerized by the amount of STUFF that covered the walls and ceilings. I've seen places like this before but when I come across a bar with similar decor it never ceases to impress. My head on a swivel checking it all out the night became a fun scavenger hunt for tchotchke shit while sitting at the bar drinking beers. That is until we met Big Sexy and the Boys.
Big Sexy and the Boys Fill Us In on the Ellicottville Après Ski Scene
Once again, we must've had signs on our head that said, Not From Around Here, Talk to Us as almost instantly upon sitting down the snowmobilers next to us chatted us up. That's just it though, people around the region are so friendly. When you come from the NYC area where everyone puts their head down and says nothing to one another, cordiality like this is often forgotten. As a social person this type of kindness is something that I rather enjoy and it was nice to hear some of the interesting stories that Big Sexy (the one guy's nickname) and the boys had to share. Let's just say, cocktails don't seem to matter much when you have to rip home at 100 mph on a snowmobile and their toasty tales were endless. Nonetheless, our new best friends were great. Prior to parting ways, they filled us in on the trails we needed to ski (including the infamous Wall) and key après ski bars and restaurants that we had to visit while in Ellicottville the next night.
Finally calling it an evening, we headed back to the lodge for some much needed rest. Remember it was still dumping and we were determined to get first tracks on tomorrow's powder day. One last dose of Dua Lipa on Spotify as we rode the elevator to our room (I just had to) and the night was over.
Too be continued...