Originally Published January 9, 2023 at wineindustryadvisor.com
As has become a January tradition, Wine Industry Advisor has again chosen 10 individuals from within the wine industry who showcase leadership, innovation, determination and inspiration — both within the industry and in society at large — as its Most Inspiring People honorees.
These individuals were selected from more than 100 nominations submitted by WIA members last November. It wasn’t easy, but the editorial team zeroed in on people who, they felt, have positively impacted the U.S. wine culture (and beyond) over the past year.
We are pleased to announce that our Founder and President, Robert “Bob” Mazza, has received this well-earned recognition this year.
You can read Robert’s full profile here and below:
Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2023: Bob Mazza — Raising the Profile of Pennsylvania Wine Since 1972
By Paul Vigna – January 13, 2023 – view original article
Bob Mazza has been behind the wheel of his family’s namesake winery in northwest Pennsylvania since 1972. And you’ll find that driving is an appropriate metaphor to use for Mazza, 72, whose marathon career has allowed him to enjoy two passions — wine and auto racing — while passing many significant mileposts as a leader in the state’s wine industry.
For the sake of the wine
Mazza has pioneered efforts for the wine industry at the local, state and national level, demonstrating a leadership role throughout his career. He was part of the initial steering committee that founded the Association of American Vintners (now WineAmerica). He provided leadership in the formative years of the Pennsylvania Wine Association (PWA) — and stepped in again decades later. Mazza was instrumental in the formation of the Pennsylvania Wine Marketing & Research Program Board (PWMRB) and first to represent the state’s wine and grape industries on the boards of both the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce and the Pennsylvania Farm Show Commission. Throughout his career, he’s been involved with legislative efforts, particularly at the state level, benefitting the interests of the Pennsylvania wine industry and its growers.
Says Pa. State Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, “Bob Mazza has been a driving force behind raising the profile of Pennsylvania’s wine industry and making our vineyards top tourism destinations. He was instrumental in bringing the wine competition and wine sampling and sales to the Pennsylvania Farm Show, exposing hundreds of thousands of visitors every year to the quality and variety of Pennsylvania wines, and the vintners who produce them.”
Family and industry
Growing up, Mazza helped maintain his father’s vineyard in Erie County’s Harborcreek. When he and his brother, Frank, were seniors at nearby Gannon University, they decided to incorporate Mazza Vineyards. Today, Robert Mazza Inc. (“Mazza”) is a wine, spirits and craft beer producer with operations in northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York. Established in 1972 with a single vineyard, Mazza now operates three primary locations in the Lake Erie AVA: Mazza Vineyards in North East, Pa.; South Shore Wine Company in North East, Pa.; and Mazza Chautauqua Cellars in Westfield, N.Y., that serves as home to Five & 20 Spirits & Brewing – making it New York State’s first combination winery, distillery and brewery.
Mazza served three terms as president of the PWA, became involved in the creation of the Wine Marketing & Research Program Board and collaborated with other industry leaders to make wine a staple at the annual Farm Show in Harrisburg.
Asked about which accomplishments brought him greatest pride, Mazza says that “not all [of them] were things that propelled our business and our business only. Oftentimes, I worked more on an agenda that would help the industry but also recognized that, ‘Hey, if we do this, we’re certainly going to benefit from it as well.’
“One of those, of course, was the Farm Show,” he continues. “I think that’s helped get people to the point of understanding that wine is an agricultural commodity. Believe me, they didn’t feel that way in the 1970s and ‘80s.”
Getting things done
Mazza raising the profile of wine in his home state was important for the long-term health of the industry, says Jamie Williams, who, along with his family, runs two wineries in Pennsylvania and another in Ohio. “One of the things that I think goes unremarked upon is [Bob’s] influence with the Department of Agriculture and how he helped convince the department that vineyards and wineries were an important member of the agriculture industry,” he says. “[Bob] is certainly an icon.”
Fran O’Brien, former chief counsel for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (and who would later represent the PWA), is well acquainted with many individuals who’ve served in leadership roles for the industry, including Mazza.
“[Bob] is someone who looks out for the good of the industry: the long-range plans, what we need and how we fix it; he’ll come up with a plan and get everyone engaged and moving forward,” O’Brien says. “[He’s] worried about getting something done, not who is going to get the credit for it.”
With all that he’s accomplished on the wine side, Mazza also found time for his other longtime pursuit. Beginning in 1991 as a member of Porsche Club of America, he remembers, “I had an Early Porsche 911. I always tried to mix business with pleasure a little bit, to try to justify what I was doing.”
For at least five years, the Mazza organization was national sponsor for the club. Later, his interests shifted to open-wheel racing. In 2016, Mazza’s company began a partnership with Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). “It’s rewarding to give back to the Club that has given me so much over the last 20 years,” he was quoted as saying when the relationship was announced.
While he has throttled down at the winery — son Mario is VP/GM and daughter Vanessa is creative director — he’s not ready to hang up the keys for good. He was reached for this interview only after he was finished pruning in the vineyard.
“I’m still involved,” he says. “I’m here every day.”
Paul Vigna is a writer and editor in Harrisburg, Pa., who has been covering East Coast wines for 10 years. He was the first winner of the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association’s Birchenall Award in February 2018. You can find him at the Wine Classroom at www.pennlive.com and follow him on Twitter @pierrecarafe
About Wine’s Most Inspiring People:
Each year, Wine Industry Advisor chooses 10 individuals from within the wine industry who showcase leadership, innovation and inspiration. For the first time in 2021, WIA opened submissions to the industry at large, and the success of this new nomination process was quickly recognized, as honorees came from more diverse wine regions and had more distinct stories to tell. With more than 100 nominees in 2022, the editorial team selected the top 10 individuals who, they felt, had truly positively impacted the U.S. wine culture over the past year.