By VALERIE MYERS, Erie Times-News
MAYVILLE, N.Y. — At Mazza Chautauqua Cellars winery and distillery in Mayville, N.Y., 10-, 15- and 30-gallon wooden barrels hold different recipes and batches of rye whiskey.
The distillery made its first whiskey in March and expects to sell its first bottles of whiskey in the summer.
For now, trial batches are aging alongside additional batches made from the same and slightly different ingredients.
“We’re using different recipes and barrel sizes in trial batches while we figure out our recipe,” said Mario Mazza, general manager of operations at Mazza Chautauqua Cellars and other Mazza family ventures, including Mazza Vineyards and the South Shore Wine Co. in North East.
Mazza Chautauqua Cellars has been distilling fruit brandies, cocktail liqueurs and Italian grappas since 2006. Craft whiskeys are an ambitious next step.
“Our major experience is with grapes. In making whiskey, we’re learning about a different agriculture product,” Mazza said.
There are two basic recipes for rye whiskey: using malted and unmalted rye only, and with a little barley added. Aging time and even barrel size are additional variables in the whiskey’s taste.
Although the local distillery hasn’t decided on its final formula for whiskey, Mazza already knows one thing about it.
“There will be a higher percentage of rye in our craft whiskey. We’re not cutting corners on our product,” he said.
Or on production.
Mazza Chautauqua Cellars’ imported 105-gallon copper-pot still will be moved to a large distillery under construction in Westfield, N.Y. It will operate alongside two larger stills also imported from German maker Christian Carl. Total investment in the new distillery, including 80 acres of farmland, construction and equipment, will top $1 million.
“From the work we’ve done here, we learned there was a need for another, larger facility that we’ve designed to be two times, three times, even quadruple this size over time,” Mazza said, in Mazza Chautauqua Cellars’ compact distillery. “We see great growth potential for this industry.”
Mazza Chautauqua Cellars had been among a handful of craft distilleries in New York. There are now 16 small distilleries in the state, Mazza said.
“Craft distilleries are where craft breweries were 10 years ago — growing,” Mazza said.
The Mazza family opened its first distillery in New York partly because Pennsylvania law at the time did not allow product tasting and sales on site. That changed with adjustments to the state liquor code that took effect early this year. Connoisseurs can now sample and buy craft spirits direct from distillers, just as they sample and buy locally made wine and beer.
The new distillery on Route 20 in Westfield will be “something a little different” along the Chautauqua-Lake Erie Wine Trail, now known as Lake Erie Wine Country, Mazza said. The facility will be shoulder to shoulder with local wineries and a stone’s throw from the Grape Discovery Center, expected to open in Westfield in spring.
The new distillery is expected to begin production in March or April. First whiskey tasting and sales are expected as early as June.
The Mazzas haven’t forgotten their grape roots. The distillery will sell Mazza wines alongside its new Five & 20 Spirits.
Twenty-five-foot glass walls will enclose the new still room so that visitors driving in can see the massive copper pots.
“This stuff is sexy,” Mazza said. “People like to see it. And they like to see how spirits are made.”
Visitors will be able to tour the still room before moving on to a tasting room, sales shop and restrooms on the other side of the entrance road. Also planned is a courtyard overlooking a farm pond and silos to store grains that will be grown on the property, including rye, wheat and corn — for bourbon.
“It truly will be a grain-to-glass operation,” Mazza said.
The distillery’s 2013 opening will come 40 years after Mazza’s father and uncle, Bob and Frank Mazza, opened the family’s first winery on East Lake Road in North East. Their venture into distilling has been carefully planned.
“The company’s main focus is grape- and other fruit-based products. With distilling, we are learning about a different agriculture product, which is why we’re involving those who know about grains,” Mario Mazza said.
Experienced Mazza vintners plan to produce signature whiskeys and other spirits as distinctive as their award-winning wines.
“Wines that we make here are indicative of the place where the grapes are grown. We hope to distill spirits that are indicative of the place where the grains are grown — right here,” Mario Mazza said.
VALERIE MYERS can be reached at 878-1913 or by e-mail. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNmyers.