Chautauqua County winemaking family taps into new venture – distilling


WESTFIELD (Buffalo News) – Award-winning wines have long been a staple from the Mazza family’s Chautauqua County vineyards. Now, the family plans to take its skills to a new level – distilling whiskey and other spirits.

The Five and 20 Distillery will be bottling its first samples by Sept. 1, from a new facility on Route 20 in Westfield – a building with high, decorative ceilings and windows overlooking farmland and vineyards. The new location also has a still and all the equipment necessary to produce whiskey from rye, oats and corn.

The distillery process can be viewed through large observation windows, including oak barrels containing the aging stock, nearby bottling equipment and cases of clear glass bottles ready to be filled and labeled.

Bob Mazza’s family has been producing adult beverages since 1972, when they opened a winery in North East, Pa. The new distillery has a license to make spirits as well as beer and wine. Mazza said the new facility will be one of just six in the United States to produce all types of alcohol and the only one of its kind in Western New York.

Mazza prides himself on the “grain to glass” concept, with rye that grows well on local farmland. The grain is scheduled to be planted this fall for a spring harvest. Corn and oats also come from nearby farms.

Besides using local grain, Mazza also will participate in a new experiment – using leftover grain to feed fish. The new distillery will be the site of ponds filled with Arctic char, similar to salmon. It is a freshwater fish that does well in cold climates.

“Someday our customers will be able to enjoy a sip of whiskey or a sample of wine and a taste of smoked fish that came right from our own ponds,” Mazza said.

Mazza’s head distiller, Joe Nelson, who has worked for the family for several years, is a fountain of knowledge about making whiskey. He became interested in brewing when he was young.

“I admit I was brewing beer before I was at a legal age to drink it,” said Nelson, who concedes an ongoing fascination with turning grains into alcohol.

Aware of the huge investment in equipment that the Mazzas have made in the new venture, Nelson pays close attention to critical temperatures, textures and appearance of the grains used in the process. After it is cooked, cooled and distilled twice, it is stored in oak barrels.

And although the barrels are not made locally, they are made in the United States.

The aging process varies. Some whiskeys made from rye will be ready in about a year; then they are tested, blended and bottled. When finished they will be 80 to 90 proof. About 750 bottles will be produced from the batch. Mazza said the initial batches of whiskey will be distributed from his winery location and some select stores and restaurants.

The new location will offer whiskey and the large selection of Mazza family wines.

Mazza said he chose the new location because of its neighbors. The new Grape Discovery Center is just down the road on Route 20, and there are several other wineries nearby.

“A new winery in the area will be a complement to the others,” he said.

The grand opening and first bottling of whiskey at Five and 20 Spirits will be held in early September, coinciding with the official opening of the Grape Discovery Center and the celebration of the grape harvest in Chautauqua County.

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