Lake Erie Wine Country
Pennsylvania Winery Reviews
Arrowhead Wine Cellars - After hearing good things about this winery, we stopped in for a visit and were not disappointed. The modern tasting room of this North East, Pennsylvania winery is located on a busy road just off the Interstate. When we walked inside, the first thing I realized was that the room was a lot larger than it appeared from the outside. The tasting counter was right in front of us...but I was very excited about the wine-related shopping bonanza waiting there for us. The tasting counter was pretty busy...so we decided to shop first. I headed straight for their wine jewelry (which is my favorite treasure to find at wineries). I found a necklace that I had been contemplating purchasing at other wineries for several years. It is usually priced around $40.00, but Arrowhead had it marked at $10.00. I knew it was coming home with me....along with the matching earrings. We also browsed their wine racks, accessories, apparel, candles and more. They offer a huge selection that would please any wine shopper.
When we were done shopping, we headed for the tasting counter. By this time, the crowded had dwindled down to two other people. A man approached us with a couple of glasses and asked us what we would like to try. I wanted to start with their Chambourcin (always a favorite of mine), and Gary started with a Riesling. We really enjoyed our first samples at Arrowhead...and moved on to several others. I found their Peach wine to be really nice. Our host told us it was made from actual peaches (not grape wine flavored with peach). All of their wines were very good and flavorful...but my favorite ended up being their Port. It wasn't a really heavy port...but I still got that nice warm feeling inside. I could just imagine sitting at home on a winter night relaxing with a glass before bed.
Our friendly host didn't leave us through the entire tasting. He offered lots of information as he was pouring the wines...and he also answered any questions we had. While we were making our purchase, we mentioned we needed to find a place to eat dinner...and he called two women over to help us locate a good restaurant. The ladies were also very friendly and helpful...giving us ideas and directions.
Arrowhead Wine Cellars offers a large, modern tasting room with a nice variety of wines to sample...and plenty of wine-related merchandise available for purchase. They also have a friendly and informative staff. This winery would make a great stop on anyone's winery adventures. Favorite: Port.
Conneaut Cellars Winery - This Pennsylvania winery is situated in the family resort area of Conneaut Lake. The winery was founded in 1982 with the mission of producing wines that reflect the distinct climate of the Lake Erie Region. They offer a large variety of wines...with 23 wines being offered for sampling in their small tasting room.
This was our first stop of the day and we arrived at approximately 11:00 a.m. We were surprised by how many cars were in the parking lot so early in the day. It is a resort area...so we figured that many tourists might have stopped at the winery before heading over to Conneaut Lake for the day. When we walked in the door, there was a sign asking visitors not to use cell phones in the tasting room (because it would set off their fire alarm). I thought this was odd...but I wasn't expecting any calls and I turned my phone off before entering.
The tasting counter was small - it could only accommodate about six people if they stood close together - and it was full. There was one woman behind the counter and she seemed to have her hands full. She had some friends arrive to talk to her along with someone bringing in flyers for a festival the winery was having. The tasters at the counter were standing there with nothing to sample. I noticed three other employees in the area and wondered why no one stepped in to lend a hand. There were four people standing behind those that were tasting waiting for their turn...so we browsed the gift shop for a few minutes while we waited. A few other people came in the door, so we stood near the tasting counter so as not to lose our turn.
After a few minutes we were able to approach the tasting counter to start sampling. I started out with their citrusy "Reflections of Lake Erie"...which is blend of Chardonnay and Riesling - and Gary started with the Riesling. As we were sampling, we had to ask about the grape varieties used in several of their wines. The tasting sheet gave descriptions...but didn't always mention the grapes that were used. Some we knew before we asked. It's generally pretty easy to pick out Vignoles, Catawba and Concord. This region of the country also uses the Fredonia grape quite a bit...and it became easily recognizable to us on this trip.
As we were sampling, we noticed that many people in the tasting room must have been fairly new to wine tasting. When our hostess asked one man what types of wine he enjoyed so she could steer him in the right direction...he said "I don't know...I just like wine." When another couple tired of waiting too long for their next sample (our hostess was talking with friends that had come in to visit her) they reached out and started pouring their own samples. This was the only time another winery employee approached the counter...but only to tell this couple to stop pouring...they would have to wait.
At one point, our hostess told another taster that they could sample up to six wines. I wished we had been told this going in. We had each sampled four wines already. I would have made my selections more carefully if I had known we were limited to six. Luckily, our hostess must have realized we were serious wine tasters by the questions we were asking. Since we were not personally told about the limit we didn't walk away after six samples and she kept pouring for us. We each ended up sampling the 8 or 9 wines that we wanted to try before leaving.
A couple of the wines we tasted that are well-worth mentioning are: 1. Princess Snowater (basically a white Catawba...but nice because it was not overly sweet like some other Catawbas). 2.Pinot Noir (theirs fell into the blush category and was one of the most light bodied Pinot's I've come across - very nice). 3. Midway Blush (they referred to this as their version of White Zinfandel, but it was much more mellow than a Zinfandel. I would classify it as a great "anytime" wine). 4. Finn Ditch Red (a great blend of Chambourcin, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir). 5. Summit Red (a semi-sweet wine made primarily from DeChaunac grapes - sweet enough for sipping but would also work well with pizza or pasta).
I wouldn't say that we came across anything outstanding at Conneaut Cellars - but many of their wines were very good. The tasting experience left a little to be desired and the atmosphere of the tasting room could certainly use some updating...but visitors will surely find several wines well-worth taking home with them. Favorite: Summit Red.
Heritage Wine Cellars - WOW! There are times when great wine, excellent service and charming atmosphere come together to create some wonderful "wine moments" for us to cherish. Our visit to this North East, Pennsylvania winery was one of those times. While we were here we felt comfortable, informed, treated like family...and left with a lot of very good wine...and if you keep reading you'll find out why.
The winery is located right off the interstate, but I was surprised when we started down the drive and I was suddenly in a rustic setting. The winery is housed in a beautifully restored 18th century barn. At the entrance, you must walk through a huge wine barrel to enter the tasting room. Upon entering I signed the guest book and we wandered around for a minute or two checking things out. They had a few dip samples on a table and I tried a few. The dill dip was really good and I ended up purchasing a package of the dip mix before we left. We approached the tasting counter (which must have had 50 varieties of wine on display) and a very nice woman asked if we had ever been there before. When we told her we hadn't...she explained that tastings were self-serve and we were welcome to try any of the wines that we liked. I was in total shock...and Gary looked at me in disbelief...but I think we both knew we would be staying awhile.
I started reading the wine labels...and everything sounded so wonderful. I wasn't sure where to start. There were so many to try and I didn't want to get carried away. I started out with a Fredonia and worked my way down the line sampling wines that sounded interesting...while munching on the freshly popped popcorn that they provide. It definitely felt strange pouring my own samples...but it was my first (and probably only) taste of "wine tasting freedom". I was not about to let these moments slip away without sampling the wines that I wanted to. I think Gary felt strange too. I poured his first couple of samples for him...but it didn't take long before he was reaching for the bottles himself.
As I was working my way through the never-ending row of bottles...I found many to my liking. Their Isabella was quite tasty as well as the Niagara. They offered some very interesting specialty wines...Almonderia (an almond dessert wine), Holiday Spice, Loganberry, Dark Cherry, Flagship Port and Plum Royal to name a few. They also had several sparkling varieties available for sampling, which is a rare find in tasting rooms. Gary tried the Holiday Spice and commented to me that it was the best spice wine he had ever tried. A minute later the woman behind the counter said that they had just sold the last bottle of Holiday Spice. We told her we were disappointed because we had planned on purchasing some. She said she would go in the back to double check and emerged with two more bottles she found...both of which went home with us.
After our tasting, we found that we were still not ready to leave. We had noticed a sign when we first came in directing customers to a restaurant upstairs. We asked our hostess if we could purchase a bottle of wine to drink in the dining room. She told us we could and we went upstairs and found a table. While we were waiting, we looked over the menu. It was mid-afternoon and we were not ready for dinner yet...although I was tempted to order an appetizer. They offered stuffed mushrooms on the appetizer menu that I thought sounded scrumptious...but Gary won't eat mushrooms (we disagree when it comes to a lot of food) so I figured we would just hold off until dinner. We ended up ordering a bottle of Isabella, a semi-sweet red. Our hostess from downstairs actually took the wine order and told us she would bring out a chilled bottle. While we were enjoying our wine, we took in our surroundings. There were so many interesting things to look at. There were huge windows along the side of the dining room and we could see Lake Erie a short distance away. The restaurant also had a large seating area on an outside deck and I could imagine how wonderful it would be to enjoy dinner out there during warmer months with a scenic view of the lake. The restaurant itself was also lovely. As I mentioned earlier...the winery is housed in a restored 18th century barn. We could tell the beams were original. We were on the second level and with the high ceilings, we could see two more levels above us. We were told that Amish craftsmen were hired to come in and do the restoration work. The architecture was stunning. We asked if the upper levels were used for public events, but were told that the winery personnel actually lived on those levels.
When we were finished with our wine we went back downstairs to the tasting room. We started looking over the wine list again and ended up taking a case home with us. Since we visit so many wineries, it is unusual for us to purchase this much wine at one place, but there were so many wonderful wines and their prices were very reasonable. We felt like kids in a candy store...and it was actually hard to limit ourselves to 12 bottles.
When we returned home, friends asked me how the wine trip went. The first thing I told them was that they needed to make a trip to Heritage Wine Cellars. We left this winery with big smiles on our faces. The casual self-serve tasting with popcorn was a refreshing change of pace and the staff couldn't have been more accommodating. I got the feeling that customers were encouraged to stay for awhile at this charming winery. I could tell that Heritage Wine was doing it right...because I watched most customers leaving with cases of wine. My only regret is that I didn't purchase a bottle of their almond dessert wine to bring home. Now that I'm home (more than 5 hours away) I really wish that I had bought a bottle. I recommend that everyone visiting this area visit Heritage Wine Cellars...and while your there...please drink some almond wine for me. Favorites: Almonderia, Elderberry, Loganberry, Holiday Spice and Isabella.
Mazza Vineyards - While traveling down grapevine-lined Route 5 in Pennsylvania, you can't help but get a sudden craving for wine. There are several wineries along this stretch of lakeside road...and Mazza Vineyards in North East is one of them. When we first pulled in, I thought the place was very pretty. There was a nice fountain bubbling right out front and a wooden staircase leading the way to the second floor tasting room. We started up the stairs in anticipation of what was waiting for us at the top.
When we walked through the door at the top of the stairs, we found ourselves in a small sales room. We walked through looking at the items they had for sale. I stopped to look at their t-shirts for awhile. They had some very nice Mazza Vineyards shirts available for purchase. When we reached the end of the room, I finally laid eyes on the tasting counter in an adjoining room (I didn't see it at first and started to panic). The tasting room was also small, but the counter zig-zagged, so that many people could find a place to stand. A very friendly young man approached us with some glasses. He asked what we wanted to try...and we told him to give us just a few minutes to look over the tasting sheet. I decided to start with the Chambourcin (which was very nice) and proceeded to move through some of the sweeter wines. Each wine at Mazza Vineyards had a lovely, distinct flavor. I could tell they took great pride in the production of each individual wine. Our young host was very knowledgeable and talked to us about each wine that we were sampling. I watched as samples were being poured for other visitors in the tasting room...and Mazza does a great job informing their customers about the wines they are sampling.
We soon found ourselves at the very sweet end of the tasting...so I opted to sample their Port. It was very interesting with plenty of "chocolaty" sensations in the aroma and taste. I find myself quite fond of Port lately. Gary didn't want to sample it, but I ended up asking him to take a sip of mine. I thought he might enjoy this one. After the Port, we inquired about their two premium dessert wines. We asked our host if he recommended we try the Crystals of Steuben or the Ice Wine...and he poured us a sample of the Ice Wine. It was very rich and flavorful....one of the better ice wines we have tried. Looking back, I wish I had also sampled the Crystals of Steuben. It sounded like something I might have enjoyed.
We moved from the tasting room back to the sales room. We roamed around picking up the wines that we wanted to take home with us. It was a little hard, because a couple had come in with four very small children and they were letting the children wander around on their own. I was getting slightly irritated trying to maneuver around them...but this was no fault of the winery. We finally made it to the register to pay for our wine. There were two women there that were exceptionally friendly and helpful. Actually...we found everyone at Mazza Vineyards exceptionally friendly and helpful. If you want to experience superb service and first-class wine...be sure to stop at Mazza Vineyards on your next wine excursion. Favorite: Country Red.
Penn Shore - We enjoyed our early morning visit to this winery in North East, Pennsylvania. As we drove from our hotel to Penn Shore...we got our first glimpse of the weekend of Lake Erie. The winery sits along the lakeshore road that is lined with acres of grapevines. When we pulled in, the parking lot was pretty bare. We entered the tasting room and found one other customer purchasing some wine. We looked around for a few minutes and one of the ladies behind the cash register asked if she could help us. I inquired about a tasting and she led us to another counter and set up some glasses. I felt sort of strange asking for a tasting so early in the morning (I had just finished a bagel and coffee 15 minutes earlier), but sometimes we need to get an early start on the day.
Since it was so early...we started on the sweeter side with a Diamond (a favorite when we're visiting Pennsylvania) and then moved on to Penn Shore's Lambruscano. Our hostess told us the Lambruscano was their best seller...and we could immediately see why. This luscious semi-sweet immediately danced on our taste buds. We then moved through the Niagara, Concord, Kir and a warm Holiday Spice. As we were tasting, I noticed a sign on the counter informing customers that they sold wine by the glass. The Lambruscano was so good, I was half tempted....then I came to my senses. We used to think that sampling wine before noon was a little much (though it has become common lately)...but drinking a glass at 10 o'clock in the morning is going a bit too far.
We thanked our hostess for the tasting and set off to find the bottles of wine we wanted to take home with us. By this time, the winery was getting a little busier. I took a few minutes before leaving to look at the wine jewelry they had in a case near the cash register. Though they didn't have a huge selection, they had some grape earrings that I thought were really pretty.
Penn Shore makes a great stop when traveling along the Lake Erie shore. Though you wont find the charm and ambiance that you hope for when wine traveling...you will find yourself sampling some top-notch wines. Favorite: Lambruscano.
Wilhelm Winery - Our visit to this Hadley, Pennsylvania winery was rather frustrating. I had heard nice things about the wines at Wilhelm and the winery was having their beginning of summer festival the weekend we visited. It sounded like it would make for a relaxing visit. We figured we could do some wine tasting and then purchase a bottle of wine, get our lawn chairs out, and listen to some live music for awhile. It didn't quite work out that way for us. In all my years of visiting wineries...I've never seen anything like this event before.
As we approached the winery in our car, we knew there must be a lot of people present because they had people out front directing traffic. We were directed to park in a field across the street. When we got out of the car, we decided to stick to our plan and we crossed the street to the tasting room. We were hoping most of the people were out in the field enjoying themselves at the festival and were not inside sampling wine. The tasting room was crowded, but not too crowded. The counter was full, but we stepped behind some people to wait our turn. We knew as soon as they were finished sampling, it would be our turn at the counter. This is when all the fun began.
We waited...and waited...and waited for our turn - but the people at the counter were intent on staying for awhile. We heard the people nearest to us say "I'm going to start at the top of the list and taste them all." With approximately 19 wines on the list...this was going to take awhile. Then we heard the people beside them say "The winery closes at 5:00, so we still have four more hours to taste wine. We should have brought stools." We must have waited 30 minutes and still couldn't get close to the counter. All the while, a crowd was forming behind us. The people in the crowd started shouting out what wines they wanted to sample and the cups would be passed back to them. People were pushing up to the front attempting to get their free samples. We did manage to get one taste of Chambourcin before we decided enough was enough.
We decided our best bet may be to purchase of bottle and get our lawn chairs out so we could enjoy the festival for awhile. We walked over to the sales area which was completely empty. Everyone seemed to want the free samples, but no one was buying wine. Even though we hadn't sampled it, we bought a bottle of Fredonia and headed outside. Gary got the chairs out of the car while I scouted out a quiet spot. We set up the chairs and sat down. We poured some wine into our glasses and proceeded to get even more frustrated. Even though there was plenty of room, people kept feeling the need to stop and have conversations two feet in front of us. We felt very crowded and couldn't enjoy the atmosphere of the festival. I had never encountered so many rude people in my life. I guess when you're giving away free wine samples and free food (they were grilling out hot dogs and hamburgers and everything was completely free) everyone within a 50-mile radius shows up to take advantage. I could tell most of the people had never visited a winery before. I wondered if they realized if they came at any other time they could still get free wine samples. This wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
It looked like a storm might be blowing in, so we took the opportunity to move on to our next destination in hopes of a more civilized wine tasting experience. We hadn't consumed much from our bottle of Fredonia, so we re-corked it and folded up our lawn chairs. If we find ourselves in the area at another time, we may try to stop by Wilhelm Winery again when they are not having a special event. We certainly didn't get a true idea of what a normal tasting experience would be like...and we didn't get the chance to sample the wines that we wanted to try.