History of Mazza Vineyards
Joseph Mazza left his 40 acres of sloping terrain planted with figs, chestnuts and vineyards in Calabria, Italy in 1954 to make his home in the United States. He sent for his wife, Felecia, daughter Rosina, and sons Frank and Robert the following year.
Today, Joseph’s son Robert, his wife Kathie, and their son, Mario, carry on the family tradition at Mazza Vineyards in North East, Pennsylvania, one of the premier wineries in the Lake Erie Wine Region, and the largest producing winery in the state. The winery, founded and built by Bob and his brother, Frank, in 1973, resembles a Mediterranean structure nestled among acres of rolling vineyards. Step inside the spacious tasting room, and you’ll experience an Old-World ambience.
The Mazzas found the Lake Erie Region, with its cool offshore breezes, sandy soil, and plateau-like topography, has ideal growing conditions for classic wine grapes and European hybrids. While “lake effect” is sometimes associated with harsh winter snows, the same effect produces a moderating climate in the Spring and Fall.
Early on, the winery set out to make exceptional wines. They brought in a young German winemaker named Helmut Kranich, graduate of the world-famous school of enology at Geisenheim, who came to Mazza Vineyards from Henkle and Sekt Co, one of the largest wineries in Germany. At the age of 23, he had the distinction of being one of the youngest winemakers in the Eastern US, and helped Mazza to create distinguished Rieslings and other wines in the Germanic style early on. Mazza Wines have evolved over the years under various winemakers, the longest of which was Gary Mosier, who, from the beginning, studied alongside Helmut. He contributed many of his own signature wines, and was an integral part of Mazza Vineyards until his passing.
Robert continued to expand the operation in North East after his brother, Frank, left the region in 1979 to help develop another winery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He soon found that blending the ancient art of winemaking with the most modern techniques and equipment often brings exciting results.
Mazza was the first Pennsylvania winery this side of Canada to pioneer ice wine, a rare and distinct wine that results from pressing grapes while they are still frozen. Grapes are picked and pressed early in the morning, typically in mid-to-late December. The juice is then fermented slowly, taking up to two months to attain an alcohol level of 11.5%. This process produces a rich, well-rounded wine with a high residual sweetness, best served as a dessert wine with fruits and cheeses.
The winery also broke new ground with its line of Sherry and Port, opening new markets for Mazza and other Pennsylvania wineries interested in producing fortified after-dinner wines.
The winelist at Mazza Vineyards has continued to evolve and change over the year’s under winemaking by Robert’s son Mario, Hungarian winemaker Peter Szerdahelyi, and now under our first female winemaker, Carolina Damiano Cores, who has joined us from Uruguay.
Mazza’s wife and children regularly contribute new ideas to the family business. As early as in high school, Mario and Vanessa developed a private-label program, which continues to provide customers with a unique way to commemorate special occasions. Mario has now rejoined his father as the company’s General Manager and Vice President after training abroad at the University of Adelaide in Australia in enology & viticulture, while Vanessa now contributes as the company’s Creative Director.
For over 30 years, Robert Mazza has been a leader in the Pennsylvania grape and wine industry, working to make Pennsylvania wines competitive with those in California. In 1996, Governor Tom Ridge appointed him to the Pennsylvania Farm Show Commission, where he served as an advocate for winegrowers. Thanks to Mazza’s involvement, wines were sampled and sold at the 2000 Pennsylvania Farm Show, the first time in its 84-year history. He is a charter member of the Pennsylvania Winery Association and the Lake Erie Quality Wine Alliance.
In the early years, when unfavorable regulatory conditions and a slowing economy threatened to close down many wineries, Mazza pressed on. He credits his wife,Kathie, for her encouragement and support. “We were not willing to give up,” said Robert. “We both wanted to succeed.”
And succeed they have. Mazza wines have greeted the lips of presidents, toasted governors and christened ships, including a limited edition Vidal Blanc reserved for the U.S. Brig Niagara. In addition, Mazza’s Niagara is the top selling Pennsylvania wine in the entire Pennsylvania state store system. Mazza Vineyards continues to earn international recognition for its wines and is one of the largest producers of Pennsylvania-grown wine in the Commonwealth.
Mazza Vineyards now has two sister wineries, along with a sister distillery/brewery. Find out more about the progression of Mazza places and products in our storybook.
Mazza Vineyards, Mazza Chautauqua Cellars / Five & 20 Spirits and the South Shore Wine Company are all part of Lake Erie Wine Country, formerly the Chautauqua – Lake Erie Wine Trail, which hosts a variety of special events throughout the year.