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Erie, Pa - ground-zero for Concord Wine Country

Sunset from Lakeview on the Lake
Sunset from Lakeview on the Lake
by Doug Bardwell - DougBardwell.com

For sixty miles or so, along the southeastern shores of Lake Erie, you’ll notice the air smells a little different. Not the typical fresh lake air that you get driving along the coast of the Great Lakes. No….once you are around Erie, Pennsylvania the air takes on a fragrant, grapey, soda-popish aroma that comes from the Concord grape.

Welcome to the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt – with 30-40,000 acres of vineyards in the region, this is the largest Concord grape region in the world. Better yet, in this one stretch along I-90, there are twenty-four wineries specializing in not only Concord, but numerous other varietals as well. This has all the makings of a great getaway weekend.

Let the sampling begin

I had my sights on three locations I’d never tried before. First stop was Mazza Chatauqua Cellars, which also happens to be home of Five & 20 Spirits. They recently moved to this new location in Westfield, NY, just over the border from Pennsylvania and only 25 minutes from my hotel in Erie (see below). They needed the additional space as they intend to not only produce wine, but they’ve started a distilling operation for their eau de vies and grappas. 2014 will also see their introduction of unaged whiskeys, liqueurs and small-batch distilled specialty products.

They are known for their “Pear in the Bottle” pear eau de vie. I dare you to figure out how they get that whole pear in the bottle. I was amazed.

Mazza also has a vineyard in North East, Pennsylvania. Their wines are available in numerous outlets in Erie. I especially liked their Concord and Niagara table wines as well as their Bare Bones White.

Mazza Chatauqua Cellars; 8398 West Route 20; Westfield, NY 14787; 716.793.9463

Second stop was another relatively new location – the Lake Erie Grape Discovery Center, also in Westfield, New York. Not a winery per se, but rather part museum, part educational center, part tasting bar and lots of retail items to choose from. The discovery center is the official Visitors Center for the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt.

The exhibit area takes you back through 150 years of grape production in this region. Interactive displays let you try your hand using old-school grape harvesting tools and techniques.

This location was formerly a car dealership and was purchased back in 2008. Doors opened in September 2013 as the newest good-will ambassador for the grape. A large sign outside will point you to the two dozen wineries located within a 24-mile radius.

The Lake Erie Grape Discovery Center; 8305 West Main Road; Westfield, NY 14787; 716.326.2003

Third stop was the Arrowhead Wine Cellars in North East, Pennsylvania. (Don’t let that city name throw you – North East is actually almost as far northwest as you can get in Pennsylvania. Whatever????)

If you like semi-sweet wines, be sure to try my two favorites: Diamond and 4 Winds – a white and a rose. They offer an extensive list of 100% fruit wines as well, eight flavors in all; but be sure to try the Peach.

[For more photos of all these locations, click here.]

Arrowhead produces not only some great wines, but they also feature what have to be the best grape juices on the planet. Pick from four: Concord Grape Juice, Diamond Grape Juice, Steuben Grape Juice or Cherry Juice. Actually, instead of trying to choose, pick all four. Your family will love them.

Owners Nick and Kathy Mobilia first started producing grape juice back in 1980. As the business grew and since they already had a great vineyard producing wonderful grapes, the opted to start the winery in 1998. Since then it’s been one award after another and one innovation after another. They now also have one of the biggest wine-themed gift shops around, as well as a fruit market in the summer months. This is on place you definitely won’t want to miss.

Arrowhead Wine Cellars; 12073 East Main Road; North East, PA 16428; 814.725.5509

You gotta sleep

On my latest trip, I set up my base of operations at Lakeview on the Lake, a great spot right on the southern shore of Lake Erie. You’ll have your choice of accommodations from historic motel rooms, to guest cottages to a brand new three-bedroom lake house. Or, for something special, rent an Airstream trailer and “camp” for the weekend. The property overlooks the lake and there’s a 972-step staircase down to the water’s edge. (Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration.)

A little known fact is that Erie was voted years ago as being the 2nd best location in the world for consistently seeing beautiful sunsets. The night I was there, I wouldn’t disagree. While it was mostly cloudy, the clouds parted just enough for a quick light show. Being like a good Boy Scout, I was ready for it.

Each of the units is fully equipped with cable TV, Wi-Fi, in-room coffee pots, microwave and mini-refrigerators. Despite all the different accommodations on this eight-acre property, you don’t feel cramped at all. There’s plenty of parking, your hosts are quite personable, and it’s just a great alternative to the chain facilities that you’ll find in the city.

From Lakeview on the Lake, it’s just a few minutes into Erie and you’re within quick striking distance for all of your winery sorties.

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Watch my blog for more about Erie. Going to be sharing some great places to eat and some non-alcoholic ways to spend a great day in Erie in the near future. Sign up for the new newsletter coming out soon to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Doug Bardwell, based in Cleveland, OH, writes about travel destinations, photography and tech topics across the country and around the world at DougBardwell.com. Feel free to drop him a line at travel.dougbardwell@gmail.com with suggestions for future stories. To get his stories delivered to your inbox, click the RSS feed or the "Subscribe" button above or follow him on Facebook , Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. To read Doug’s disclosure notice, click here. For travel ideas in Cleveland and around the world, check his Calendar of Events. To see his travel photo collection, see BardwellPhotography.com.