Because our government established the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) in the aftermath of Prohibition, the “noble experiment” had an especially crippling effect on the state’s wine industry. Created by the drys — or anti-liquor politicians — the newfound organization was mainly focused on stifling bootleggers and the rampant crime that accompanied them, but the newly-established Liquor Code also made it nearly impossible for in-state wineries to operate profitably. (The illegality of selling local wine directly to the public was particularly repressive.) As such, few of the many popular pre-Prohibition wineries attempted to reopen after the 21st Amendment, and even fewer saw any success.

In Erie, grapes remained a thriving business throughout this period, but the money was in non-alcoholic grape juice and table grapes. Wine was an afterthought.

Decades later, a group of enterprising growers and home winemakers in this northwest region lobbied for the passage of the Limited Winery Act of 1968, finally kickstarting an industry that had remained dormant for nearly 50 years.

Mazza Vineyards came along shortly thereafter, in 1972, making them one of the oldest still in operation today. Since then, they’ve established themselves as a torch-bearer for both the region and state, becoming one of the few PA wineries that’s both a large producer and a promoter of quality dry wines.

All this is longwinded way of saying that I recently had the chance to taste through some of Mazza’s vitis vinifera (European grape) releases — including several from their alter ego South Shore Wine Company, named after a legendary Erie winery of the mid-1800s that the company has since taken over. While the two brands obviously sell quite a bit of hybrid, sweet and fruit wines as well, the more I try of the dry portfolio, the more impressed I become. Read on for my specific thoughts:

South Shore Wine Company Grüner Veltliner 2017

A wonderful example of PA Gruner — nice fruit flavors up front, then crisp and clean on the finish.

South Shore Wine Company Pet-Nat Riesling NV

A wine for geeks — pet-nat is short for pétillant naturel, an ancestral method of making sparkling wine — that’s approachable for anyone. It’s a little funky (as most Pet-Nats are), cider-like in both aroma and flavor, with pome-fruit sweetness and great acidity. The bubbles are present but not aggressive. Sparkling wine lovers and those looking for something different would do well to give this one a try.

Mazza Vineyards Riesling 2017

Slightly sweet, but firm acidity creates balance. Dangerous — goes down like juice, especially alongside spicy fare. Honorable Mention at the 2020 PA Sommelier Judgment

Mazza Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2017

Fresh and alive, a nice mix of fruity and savory, this is a lovely medium-bodied wine that will pair well with a variety of mid-weight foods. Although drinkers used to big and bold “Cabernet” from California might find this one on the lighter side, those who give it a chance should be pleasantly surprised. Top Wines of the 2020 PA Sommelier Judgment

South Shore Wine Company Carmine 2017

Carmine is a three-way crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carignan — created to produce bolder wine in cooler US climates — that’s generating some interest in Pennsylvania. I’m not sure I’d describe this one as particularly bold, but it does offer lush fruity notes alongside hints of spice, followed by perfect acidity. A fun wine!

South Shore Wine Company Lemberger 2017

Also known as Blaufränkisch, Lemberger is a German grape that also shows potential in PA. This one offers lots of cherry fruit and a hint of pepper. Plush tannins and soft acidity give it a smooth, jammy vibe.

Press samples were provided by the winery / images courtesy Mazza Vineyards

Have you tried Mazza or South Shore? Write a review!